An Oz Experience: Flying With The Oldest Balloon Company In The USA
There’s really no place like home. And if you’re lucky enough to call the Black Hills home; well then, you’re lucky enough. Just ask @jessebrownnelson.
I recently married my soul mate. The kind of guy you can be your complete self with, share your deepest darkest secrets and always know he’ll be the warm smile waiting for you at the end of the day. My mom likes to refer to him as “the human version of a hug”. Anyways, that’s beside the point. My new hubby and I received the most wonderful experiential wedding gift involving a 450 pound fully-fueled balloon and basket, endless sky and an admirable landscape complete with a champagne picnic; a truly spectacular combination. The entire experience made me reflect on The Wizard of Oz, but I bet you that even The Wizard himself never flew over a land so downright stunning.
We waited to book our Black Hills Balloons adventure until the fall, right before flights ended for the winter. A sunrise flight at that time of year was a little chilly, but nothing long sleeves, a sweater and two coats couldn’t handle. Oh, and that massive flame warming my body every few minutes. Basic science class will teach you that air gets colder the higher up you go, and I’m here to tell you that when traveling upwards, a hot air balloon is a must.
Preparing for Lift Off
Remember the parachute game in elementary school?! Picture that. As soon as the balloon inflation process started, my seven-year-old self had a strong desire to run into what looked like a giant beach ball. Actually, my adult self (who am I kidding).
I’ve read that a good ground crew can inflate and launch a balloon in fifteen minutes. The Black Hills Balloons crew launched two in that time, tossing four of us in one basket with the pilot.
Fun fact: Not only does Black Hills Balloons take you on a bucket-list adventure, but they also teach you things you didn’t know. Like how the hot air balloon was the first successful human-carrying flight technology and where the word pilot came from. Fly with Pilot Damien and he’ll tell you a fun story (much more exciting than Googling the answer yourself).
Flying 1,500 Feet in the Air…is that you Toto?
We flew at a pretty steady 1,500 feet that day. Enough to make the cows, horses and a dog look like tiny plastic toys and low enough so they still could gaze mysteriously at the giant floating balloon. Toto barked from his backyard the entire time we were flying. Apparently he always does that. Black Hills Balloons has flown higher, around 8,000 feet, weather permitting of course. They have a couple different flight locations. This one happened to be a quick hour’s drive from Rapid City. In this specific location, you are offered an uninterrupted view of Crazy Horse Memorial not far off in the distance.
A Champagne Picnic
A picnic with mimosas in the middle of a field topped off the entire experience. We did have to fly over a pond in order to make it to the middle of that field - and I swear if I leaned over far enough I could touch the water, but I’m all for a dramatic ending.