My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Flying in a Hot Air Balloon Over Bluff, Utah

2010/01/26by Donna Hull

Updated 01.01.2013

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Hot Air Balloon in the Red Rocks of Utah

When Alan and I attended the 2010 Bluff Balloon Festival, we enjoyed a boomer trip to Utah that included our favorite activities—photography and exploring. But what we really longed to do was fly in a hot air balloon.

During check-in at our accommodations, Desert Rose Inn, I mentioned to innkeeper Cindy Tumeh that I was a writer covering the Bluff Balloon Festival for several online markets.

“Would you like to go up in a balloon?” Cindy asked.

“Absolutely!” I replied.

Cindy made a call and our early morning balloon ride was arranged for the next day. Alan and I would ride in Koshare Gallup during the Hare and Coyote Race. Our balloon would be the hare that the rest of the balloons (some 20+) chased.

At 6:45 a.m. the next morning, we followed Cindy to the Bluff Community Center for the pilots meeting where we met Bill Lee, pilot of Koshare Gallup balloon. When he led us outside to the parking lot to begin setting up the balloon, we quickly learned that, at balloon rallies, riders become part of the crew. In the semi-dawn, with the temperature in the low teens, the crew helped Bill prepare the basket before laying it on its side. After the balloon was stretched out in the snow-covered parking lot, Alan and another crew member had the freezing job of holding the balloon open as a fan blew cold air into it. Then, Bill turned on the gas burner, which added hot air so that the balloon would rise. Once the balloon inflated, the basket was tilted upright. We were ready to fly.

To get into the balloon, each rider placed a foot into the foothold, then swung a leg over. Alan and I found that our boomer legs didn’t have that much stretch so Bill pulled our legs over the edge and assisted us into the basket. Then, he explained the rules:

Do what I say.

Don’t be offended if I get too close, we’re in tight quarters.

Don’t touch the lines.

Tell me about any power lines or obstacles that you see. Repeat until I acknowledge you.

Don’t lean out of the basket.

Keep knees bent and soft for the landing.

Don’t get out of the basket until I instruct you to do so.

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Koshare Gallup Balloon

With five of us in the basket, as well as equipment, space was extremely tight. The whoosh of the gas burner alternated with complete silence. Well, except for: “Wow this is great.” “Did you see that?” “Bill, we’re coming awfully close to that bluff in front of us.” “Did you get a photograph of our shadow, Alan?”

After almost two hours viewing snowy Utah from the air, we bent our knees and prepared to land on scrubby desert next to the highway. With a soft thud, the ride was over. The chase crew had been watching from the ground, following our movements. Once they reached us, they put their weight on the balloon basket, keeping it on the ground, as Bill directed each of the passengers on when we could exit the basket.

Packing away the balloon took just as much effort as preparing it to fly. The heavy, bulky balloon was stretched out on the ground before being folded away into a large canvas bag. Then the burner was disassembled from the basket. All of the equipment needed to be packed into a trailer that the crew placed as close as possible. But we still weren’t finished.

“Was this your first hot air balloon flight?” Bill asked.

“Yes,” Alan and I said.

“We’ll have a ceremony once we’re back at the parking lot,” Bill answered.

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We’re initiated into the hot air balloon fraternity.

When we returned to the community center, Bill conducted our ceremony. But I can’t tell you about it. It’s a secret. However, it does involve kneeling on the ground and drinking champagne without any hands. That’s all I’m saying. When you take your first hot air balloon ride, you’ll find out for yourself.

If you’re planning a winter adventure in southeastern Utah, be sure to put the Bluff Balloon Festival on your itinerary. But, remember, it’s a rally for balloon enthusiasts. You cannot pay to fly in the balloons. The only way to hitch a ride is to become a paid sponsor or crew for a balloon team. Most balloonists bring their own crew but check with the rally director to see if there’s a need.

And, if you’re looking for a new hobby, consider hot air ballooning. Becoming a pilot is a long process, and the equipment is expensive; but you’ll be traveling and socializing with friendly people while seeing amazing sights. As with most hobbies that take time and money, you’ll be meeting lots of baby boomers.

Do you attend hot air balloon rallies? Post a comment to tell me about them. Alan and I will be adding a few to our list. They make great photographic adventures.

Thanks to Bill Lee of Koshare Gallup Balloon, for providing this baby boomer adventure.


A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

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