I’m flying high over Phoenix, looking down at the mountains and the desert as the sun sparkles over Lake Pleasant. Every so often, I hear a roar, then watch as a flame climbs several stories above my head into a nylon sphere. The wind is blowing through my hair, it’s sunrise, and there’s a giant rainbow (in the form of a hot air balloon) overhead.
I have to admit that, before my balloon flight, I was kind of anxious – jittery enough, at least, to give just a tiny bit of credence to my husband’s warnings (“Those things go really high,” he cautioned, “And the pilot carries a giant spatula to remove the evidence after you go splat on the ground. Joking!”). But I listened when the Rainbow Ryders crew told me that the most dangerous part of a hot air balloon flight was the van ride to our launch site (or maybe the rattlesnakes in the desert), and I tried to believe.
Now, 2500 feet in the sky, I feel solid as a rock, almost as if I’m riding Aladdin’s carpet to a “whole new world” – and that’s so even though I’m in a wicker basket with a pilot named Brooke who’s pulling on ropes and working levers to make us rise and fall. “Do you ever get nervous up here?” I ask him. “Well, think of it this way,” he says. “I have a seven month-old daughter. I want to make it down safely as much as you do.” That’s why the company won’t fly if desert breezes turn into heavy winds – there’s no such thing as borderline or “close enough” when it comes to safety.
Back on the ground, I call my husband. “The good news is that I’m just fine. The bad news is that I’m thinking of becoming the Wizard of Oz and riding off into the sunset in a balloon.” I make him promise not to tell our adventure-loving daughters that I’ve crossed an item off my bucket list – I’ll take them ballooning as soon as I can.
Fast forward two days, and I’m once again looking down over the mountains, but this time it’s evening. I’m at a Different Point of View, the mountaintop restaurant at Phoenix’s Hilton Pointe Tapatio Cliffs. Although I weighed the possibility of taking in one of the resort’s late afternoon exercise classes (I’ve never tried belly dancing, and it sounded like a hoot), the folks at the “Tap” advised me that I wanted to be up the cliff by 6:15 at the latest, all the better to see the magnificent sunset. It was good advice. Now that I’m out on the restaurant’s terrace, belly dancing sounds a lot less appealing – the view is that magnificent. It’s matched only by the food; in my six-course tasting menu, I try braised pork belly over corn grits and pureed apples; lobster and pancetta ravioli with pea shoots; diver scallops with butternut squash; deconstructed duck breast salad with goat cheese, micro-greens, strawberries, and marcona almonds; lamb loin with prosciutto, potato galette, and golden beets; and chocolate cake with a hot chocolate chaser. I sip a cup of coffee as I look out over the lights of the valley. It’s dark now, but Phoenix shines.
Before I came to Phoenix, I heard it was a special place. But I’m leaving on a real high – ready for my next balloon ride.