Up, up and a way to beat the heat

By Katherine Kisiel

Arizona Summer Wildcat

The propane gasoline bursts into a surging flame of fire that blows up a bright-colored balloon.

As soon as the balloon expands to its fullest, the eagerly awaiting riders climb into the brown, sturdy basket. After the people are safely inside, the ropes that tether the balloon to the ground are severed away and the balloon gently starts to skim the earth.

The Southern Arizona Balloon Excursions company offers hot-air balloon rides in the early sunrise hours this summer that overlook the Sonoran Desert landscape.

The once-in-a-lifetime experience does have a price, $110 per person.

The ride is costly, but according to Bobby Sturges, an employee of the Southern Arizona Balloon Excursions, "The ride includes beautiful scenery, as well as pastries, orange juice and a glass of champagne to celebrate the soothing experience."

Sturges said the panoramic view of the city lasts for about an hour to an hour and a half.

Sturges said the most beautiful scenery is the Sonoran Desert, where 100-year-old cacti flourish in desert terrain.

Southern Arizona Balloon Excursions have been in business for 11 years and is family-owned and operated.

The pilots are professionals, who are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Patrick Nilz, who has been flying hot-air balloons since 1983, said, "I like flying balloons much better than airplanes, it's a smoother, more enjoyable ride."

Nilz said he flies the hot-air balloons anywhere from 500 to 3,000 feet. He said it's not too high to see a coyote's den or birds that rest on Silverbell Lake.

Nilz said the hot-air balloons have the right away in the sky and this makes it more relaxing and enjoyable for the people in the balloon.

"It was just the biggest thrill looking down at the beautiful landscape," said Mary Park, who flew with Southern Arizona Balloon Excursions last month.

Park said she felt completely safe drifting 3,000 feet above the desert. "It was an incredible experience, and something everyone should do while they're still able," she said.

Taking a hot-air balloon ride is a great way to see the historic scenes of the southwest and a pleasant way to spend an early morning in Tucson. For more information, contact the Southern Arizona Balloon excusions at (520) 624-3599.

The Cat's Meow is the Wildcat staff's weekly recommendation on events to keep cool and have fun during the summer months.

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