There's nothing like bubbly and donuts after your first hot air balloon ride. Our 'driver,' Brooke, offered both as he distributed flight certificates and lapel pins, and read the Irish Balloonist's Prayer aloud:
The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well that
God has joined us together in laughter and set usgently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.
A whoosh of hot air and whisper of breeze had ushered us into the early morning sky outside Albuquerque. With arm muscles bulging, Brooke deftly adjusted heavy-duty synthetic ropes that secured the rainbow-striped balloon to the passenger basket, and the burner that helps change the air pressure and balloon shape. Cameras clicked and whirred in every direction.
A smaller balloon to our right shimmered silver and blue against wispy clouds. The Rio Grande snaked below us, across the fall-colored landscape, and beneath a highway bridge where passing cars resemble ants. The balloon nearly skimmed the river’s surface before it rose to the treetops and traveled within several yards of upper branches.
Fifty-five minutes, three ground miles, and 1,700 feet in elevation later, Brooke slowly allowed hot air to escape through a vent in the balloon's crown so it could land in a field near where we started. We gently touched ground and departed the basket. Several passengers helped the crew squeeze air out of the spent balloon and then the festivities began.