Saturday, November 8, 2008
Fire in the Skies of El Dorado County
We had to be on the banks of the American River prior to dawn. As a new mom, getting up before your child isn't high on the list of musts, but they informed us that we could lift off and see the sun rise over the rolling hills--a sight, they claimed, that would awe even the most grumpy morning person.
A coffee and pastry later, the balloon's fire roared, lifting it off the ground. Inside the basket, we could hardly hear the instructions of our pilot--which I later learned was a good thing, since he wanted to make the trip into an adventure by telling us all the near miss landings he had experienced. Quickly we floated into the air, coasting along the river.
If you are among the countless who think the Sierra Foothills are only good for a gas stop on the way to Yosemite and Tahoe, you, like me, would have been impressed. The golden hills rolled like sheets of silk in the breeze, while oaks filled the crevices, seemingly grounding them to the earth. As the sun began to rise, it reflected off the roaring river and sprayed rays in all directions. Below, as they heard the roar of the fire in our balloon, weary campers waved from their sleeping bags. Horses and dogs greeted us as we passed. It seemed that no one below could ignore the spectacle of a balloon floating over the town of Columa. I looked over the site where James Marshall first struck gold and understood why the pioneers stopped in these valleys, made them their homes, believed in the power of the earth.
After 45 minutes of floating through the air, it was time to land. However, the wind had picked up and kept veering us towards the trees instead of a meadow. The pilot was radioing his crew to get them to find a safe space to land to no response. He wanted us to try and land without assistance. But without extra hands to pull us in, we needed a lot of space. We floated towards the Sierra Mountains until a field opened beneath. Seven false landings later, our crew appeared and we finally set down in a field of brush.
Our pilot had all the confidence in the world that our landing would be safe, and he was correct. However, his sense of adventure during the flight did make my heart race. And for our adventurous spirit, the pilot offered a champagne picnic and a toast to the newly minted members of the hot air balloon club.
A hot air balloon ride is an experience unlike any other. Is it worth the $200 per person you'll spend? Depends on how much you have to skimp to go on the journey. If money isn't an option, this is a not to miss experience--complete with adventure and out of sight photo opportunities. Why should you take a trip in Coloma rather than Napa or Shasta or Tahoe? It is a dash cheaper here, quite picturesque, and the pilot doesn't make you clean up the balloon after landing--which you do in many of the Napa trips. Besides, it is a great way to get a feel for the winding American River rapids before a rafting trip. Contact skydrifters.com for more information.