On my first morning in Calistoga, California, it was so cold I could see my breath. I stood in a wide open field waiting, while the sun slowly crept up over the mountains, the birds chirped, and I forgot how chilled I was as the bright yellow hot air balloon began to expand.
It was like watching a finely choreographed dance routine, where everyone clearly knew their part. Even the timing was in sync that morning with the balloon standing upright just as the sun topped the mountains in the background.
I didn’t expect watching a balloon being filled with air to be so interesting. But then, I really didn’t have any expectations. I wanted to do something different, and riding in a hot air balloon is definitely different.
Thanks to Calistoga Balloons, it was an experience I will always remember.
Once the balloon was upright, we all climbed into the basket: the pilot, a family of three, and me. The crew helped anchor the balloon while we were given instructions on how to prepare for landing, and what to expect during the course of our flight over Napa Valley. Then the pilot used the burner to heat the air inside the balloon, and the ground crew waved goodbye as we slowly lifted, the wind carrying us toward the sunrise.
Hot air balloon travel has gained popularity in recent years as a leisure activity. On the most basic level, balloons are envelopes filled with heated air. As long as the air in the balloon is warmer than the outside temperatures, you can fly. Also, for obvious reasons, wind and weather can affect your flight. You don’t travel very fast at all in a balloon – only as fast as the wind takes you.
Those first moments can only be described as exhilarating. I had thought I’d be at least a little bit nervous, but I wasn’t. I fell in love with ballooning immediately. To be able to fly in the air, but you’re not in an airplane – I was positively giddy. “Good morning Calistoga!”
The first half of the trip we were all so excited our cameras and iPhones worked overtime. There were four of us in the basket plus the pilot, who had her own space sort of separated from us. It was cozy, but not uncomfortable. As we ascended the sun rose and took the morning chill off.
And then you notice it. The silence. It’s so quiet that you can feel it. The silence hugs you, holds you close, envelops you. If you want to know what silence sounds and feels like, take a hot air balloon ride.
We drifted north toward Old Faithful, Calistoga’s thermal geyser. We were close enough to see it erupt several times during our hour long ride.
In fact if you watch closely, you can see it in the video.
Seeing a place from above is a great way to gain perspective on where you are and the geography of the area. Even though you’re in a rather small gondola or basket and you have to exchange places with the other passengers to be able to move within it, you still feel free and light as the air that is propelling you across the valley.
Farah, our pilot, pointed out a life size rhinoceros on someone’s property. Then what looked like Roman ruins and a grotto appeared. What was that place? I found out later it was Ca’Toga, the home of Italian artist Carlo Marchiori. A Venetian who has made Calistoga his home, Carlo is nothing short of a genius. Ca’Toga is his vision of a Venetian Palladian mansion, and a must see if you are in Calistoga. You can’t imagine anything like it.
The crew that had prepared the balloon for us that that morning tracked us on the ground, and kept contact as we drifted across the valley. All to soon it was time to return to terra firma.
What a great start to my Calistoga trip. All I can say is, “I want to do it again!”
My balloon ride was sponsored by Visit Calistoga. As always all thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.