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A Tale of Two Balloon Companies

A "lighter than air" experience of a lifetime


Taos Ballooning



When I called to inquire about balloon rides, I asked if they had a weight limit.  He replied it would cost an extra $100 for me for being overweight -- without ever asking how much I weighed or if I were "overweight."  He never defined "overweight," nor offered a discount for my wife being "underweight."


(If you haven't read the other pages, the author is handicapped and can only walk about 50' at a time.  Like most people who can't exercise, I tip the scales.)  Now you know how Taos Ballooning treats handicapped people.


I then called Ed at Pueblo Balloon Company.  The experience was marvelous and is detailed to the left.

If you don't do anything else in the Enchanted Circle, take a hot-air balloon ride.  Taos is the place, and Pueblo Balloon Company is the company to use.


First, here's what it isn't:

  • It isn't scary

  • You don't get the feeling of falling off a skyscraper

  • You don't get motion sickness

The hot-air balloon ride is extremely stable.  We were surprised to discover it was more like floating than flying.  The stability keeps you from becoming air sick.  Because you have a giant balloon over your head, you don't get the panic of being on top of a building.  We're told that a lot of people are scared, but ride anyway, and are then amazed at how fun it is only moments after launch.  What's a shame is the number of people who don't ride because they think it's scary.  There were quite a few people in our group, and we were all unanimous ... we all wanted to do it again.  (We returned several months later and took the ride again.  This time, there was a hysterical young lady who was coerced into riding by her two friends.  As she felt the basket start to move, she screamed and then stopped.  She loved it, and thanked her friends repeatedly for convincing her to go on the trip.)  The hour and a half felt like only a few minutes.  While not cheap, it was worth every penny.


After a beautiful landing

But more on the accommodations of Ed, the owner and primary pilot.  Because I cannot stand for over a few minutes at a time, I asked Ed if I could bring a stool upon which to sit.  Ed told me not to bring one -- that he'd bring one for me.  He also used a larger basket that day so I'd have a more comfortable landing, and assisted me in getting into and out of the basket.  Even more amazing (I found this out from his son after the trip) is that he could have put all the passengers that day in the large basket if it had not been for my chair.  He ran a second balloon, hired his son to pilot it, and did it all to accommodate a handicapped person.  When I found out, I offered to pay the difference -- this wasn't a matter of tipping the scale, Ed had spent real money on a second balloon, fuel, and pilot.  He refused, saying his only interest was that we had a good time.  We did, and that's an understatement.  We've now made a second trip with Ed, bringing our daughter and son-in-law, and have another trip planned soon.



The Experience:


You barely feel the movement as you rise above the ground and approach what has to be the best area in the country for a hot-air balloon -- the Rio Grande Gorge.  You gently descend down into the gorge, viewing the river below and evidence of volcanic activity on the edges.  This gorge was not created by erosion, but by volcanic activity which split the earth.


You drift slowly down the gorge toward a famous bridge:  the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  650' above the Rio Grande, it is the fifth highest bridge in the U. S.  The bridge has appeared in Natural Born Killers, Twins, She's Having a Baby, Wild Hogs, Terminator Salvation, and more.


You ascend within view of the bridge.  Suddenly, you're several feet above the ground and back over the plateau, but it's so smooth you don't even feel it.  He lands the balloon, you may assist in packing the balloon (the "chase" crews were there within 60 seconds), and then you are driven to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge Park for a "breakfast" of fruit, snacks, soft drinks, and the traditional champagne.


How do they bring the balloon back?  Winds typically move in different directions at different altitudes.  If the winds are cooperating, the pilot simply finds a wind that is travelling the way he wants to go, and then he makes his descent.  He won't come back to the launch site, but it keeps the balloon close to the chase crew.


In case you're curious, they don't hound you for tips, but the "customary" tip is 10%.  Ed shares it with the chase and support crews ... you'd be surprised how many people are involved in getting you off the ground and back to the park ... and they do it well.



That Morning:


You start out early in the morning because that's when the wind is right.  We skipped this treat on a previous trip to the area because I didn't want to get up that early -- that was a big mistake.  It's worth it!


If your hotel is in Taos, the balloon company will pick you up at your hotel.  Otherwise, they'll meet you at a landmark (such as Michael's Kitchen) and pick you up there.  You can't take your car to the launch site because you depart from several miles north of the bridge, and end up at the park on the west side of the bridge.  They then return you to your hotel.  (Even if they took you back to the launch site, you'd never find it in the first place ... it's rather obscure, and you might not want to drive your car down that road!)



What to Know:


Personal:  It takes a little while to get to the launch site, and about 30 minutes for them to get the balloon ready.  The balloon ride is about 1.5 hours, and, unless they have to land in a very remote spot, it's another 30 minutes or so while they pack the balloon and drive back to the park.  It could be longer if the winds don't cooperate.  Obviously, there is no restroom on the balloon.  There is a restroom at the park, but not at the launch site.  The launch site is very remote, and there are several large bushes.  In short, depending upon your bladder, you might want to refrain from drinking much that morning, and a trip to the restroom prior to being picked up is strongly suggested.  Another visit to one of the large bushes prior to launch may also be in order ... several in our group took a "casual walk" while waiting.  Ed keeps a box of facial tissues in his truck.


Temperature:  It can be a little cool, especially if you're accustomed to 100 degree heat, as are us Texans.  Ed told us we'd be warm, and I was fine, but my wife was a little chilly, especially at the park.  The balloon was actually warmer, due to the burners that heat the air.  Bring a "medium" jacket and a camera.


Basket:  The basket is very nice and comfortable, but requires standing unless you make prior arrangements.


Timing:  We started very early in the morning, enjoyed our ride immensely, had snacks and champagne at the park, and then found our way to a brunch at Michael's Kitchen.  Since this is early, you'll still have the afternoon free.


Champagne:  Ed will explain why champagne is served ... it's a tradition of hot-air ballooning.  Then again, who cares why as long as we get some?


Safety:  Hot air balloons are the safest method of air travel.


Ed:  Everyone loved Ed.  He is a highly experience hot-air balloon pilot, and was extremely concerned with our comfort.  This man knows how to run a business.


Coincidence:  What are the chances that two families who know each other would take the same balloon flight on the same day?  Not only the same day, but in the same balloon (of two)?  Just after launch, a couple from Metairie, LA, saw a young lady (who was there with her father and brother) from Houston, TX, and said she recognized her.  It seems the young lady had taken her mother to a particular chiropractor's office in Houston when the lady from Metairie had worked there as a physical therapist!  Click here for another coincidence on the same trip.






Click on thumbnails to view full-size picture.







Fire to inflate the balloon



Ed, pilot and owner

Leaving the launch site and the 2nd balloon


Approaching the Rio Grande Gorge



Descending into the gorge

Our shadow on the gorge walls



The 2nd balloon makes its appearance






Out of the gorge, watching the 2nd balloon.  See balloon's shadow (far right).




Top - buzzed by ultra light.  Bottom -- gorge

Deflating the balloon


Champagne and food!

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Taos Scenic Railroad Vietnam Memorial
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