Dawn, Canyonlands National Park,Utah
The first surprise was the actual pre-dawn hush. There really was “a kind of hush all over the world,” at least outside of Moab, Utah. Following strangers to a dark van in a dark parking lot could have put us in mind of Scandi noir, but instead we felt the hush; no one in the van spoke on the drive to the balloon, which lay flat and ghostly on the dark ground. Shapes began to emerge into the other-worldly red rock terrain of the canyon although we could not see the tops of the canyon.
The previous night I had read a review that exalted over a balloon’s basket hitting the ground and bouncing up nearly to the top of the canyon, then again touching ground and bouncing up, and then a third time. The reviewer ended by saying, “I just can’t wait to do it again.” I’d imagined a soft landing on target the very first attempt; that review was surprise #2. Wait, what? Those peaks are high. Are we even going to get over them?
By now, the crew was bustling happily around the balloon, inflating and checking it and calling out to our pilot Lou. As the balloon rose in the air now tinged with shades of rose and gray, I inspected my fellow passengers and the basket itself, which was subdivided into sections. I couldn’t tell which was the safest section, just like I don’t know where to pick seats on a plane, but I wanted to see everything, so I climbed over next to the pilot’s section. Any trepidation fled due to listening to the whoosh of flame heating the air. It wasn’t a long steady roar but came intermittently, another surprise.
We rose slowly, very slowly I thought; those peaks are high and we have to get over them. But very soon the reverential silence was back— between whooshes— and the terrain resolved to a glow on the red rocks, followed by a brightening from sky to earth. The best surprise was it was now what I dreamed a hot air balloon ride would be: the silence, the soaring, the “heavenly peace” (now I thought of Christmas carols and not Herman’s Hermits) and the absolutely delighted faces around me. Time felt elastic, and I held tightly to the hand of my best friend since the age of 6.
Our pilot didn’t try to do a travelogue as we soared past and between canyon walls, so I finally know what the word “entranced” feels like. At some point, Lou announced we would try landing at a spot where he pointed, which was near where the crew waited in the “following” truck. That is what they called it, and that is what they did because we sailed quietly past the point on the road which Lou had chosen.
Now I wondered about the crazy reviewer: “Oh no, were we going to hit the ground and bounce again and again?” That was not how I envisioned a landing. The very next moment Lou announced THE spot, and this one was quietly — except for a whoosh or two— on target, just like gliding down.
Lou has a special toast he repeats after he pours champagne for all the passengers: “The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with warm hands. You have flown so high and so far. May the Gods join you in your laughter and send you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”
Yes, Lou, thank you for the ride I dreamed of. I can’t wait to go again. As the OLLI Hikers say, “Stay Curious. Stay Adventurous!”
If you are interested…
Lou Bartell, Pilot
Lou and Sandra Bartell, Owners
English was not Delia’s first language, but she went through life marveling at its beauty and teaching others to love it. After four decades in academia, both as student and professor, she transformed her love of English into her retirement mantra. With poetry as her guide to exploration of the natural world, she became a member of the OLLI Hiking Groups, a supporter of the Happy Trails Newsletter and a contributor to the Evergreen Catalog. Over the years Delia’s association with Pan American University Women and Las Damas of Centro Asturiano, has allowed her to reconnect with childhood friends and provide valuable mentoring services to Latina scholarship recipients. It is her wish to assure future young women as well as her own grandchildren that they will never have to wonder if any university or any career is open to them.