When I looked up to the sky, I did not see any blue. The azure heavens had been replaced with a mosaic of rich reds, glowing greens, cool cobalts, pastel purples, all dancing around one another in a labyrinth of patchwork patterns.
A sudden jolt of turbulence sent my hands flying to the prickly edges of the basket, clinging to it with all my strength. Just over the edge of the woven container, I watched the rocky earth glide by below me, looking for every natural phenomenon, from the mammoth arches the park is celebrated for, to the minuscule signs of continuing erosion around each geological feature.
Below me, Utah’s Arches National Park lived and thrived; above me, the vibrant envelope of a hot air balloon carried me through the sky.
At 5:45 that morning our car stopped in the middle of a vast red-orange field. My parents had not told my two siblings and me why such an early awakening was necessary, but the overt trailer with pictures of multicolored hot air balloons and overly enthusiastic quotes from past adventurers revealed the surprise.
We tumbled out the car doors all at once and waited impatiently while our parents gathered the necessary release forms and medical records. As we approached the rest of the tour group in the center of the field, we caught a glimpse of an enormous bright piece of fabric, and watched as the pilots began inflating it.
While most of the group was absorbed in a state of wonder or curiosity, a man with a thick Scottish accent clearly did not feel the same way. “Do you realize,” he began, mumbling to his wife, “that piece of cloth will be the only thing preventing us from falling 2,000 feet? Who decided to book this trip anyway?” His wife dismissed the comment with a subtle smirk.
Their conversation did not make me feel any better about mounting the basket. I would always tell people my worst fear was gravity – the feeling one has when standing on a tall ledge, knowing the Earth’s pull is far stronger than any human could resist.
Heights in general have never been frightening since I have always known there was something keeping me strapped in or a thick wall of glass in front of me. On a hot air balloon, however, the only material separating myself and the rocky ground was a piece of wood.
Once the balloon was inflated – standing 80 feet tall, holding 120,000 cubic feet of air, and hauling 800 pounds of fuel – the pilots slowly ushered everyone into the basket, considering each person’s weight and whether they were prone to motion sickness.
Takeoff was nothing like it was depicted in the Wizard of Oz. It was a slow process as opposed to floating straight up into the air. The pilot was continuously switching the loud burner on and off to control the amount of hot air contained in the envelope and the basket moved horizontally within 6 inches of the ground for about one minute.
Then, suddenly, the aircraft ascended into the sky. The space between the basket and the ground grew larger and larger as the air around me grew colder and colder. As we floated above the tree tops, immersed in the thin morning fog, the radiant beams of sunlight penetrated the rolling clouds. Glistening dew drops began to form on the metal fuel containers.
Below the basket, I could see some of the extraordinary arches my family and I had hiked to earlier in the week. I could see the throngs of cars parked at the Mesa Arch trail and the hikers making their way up to capture the moment the sun shines through the middle of the arch.
I could see all of the small pools of rainwater from the night before, peppering the park with deep blue freckles.
As an outer space fanatic, I had always craved to know what it was like to view the planet from the sky. I wanted to see every little detail and the story hidden in its eroded sediments and perfect carved formations. As just another human being wandering city streets and going from building to building and workplace to workplace, it is difficult to comprehend the vast beauty that is easily observable from above.
In this moment, as I flew high above the surface of the planet, I realized how breathtakingly beautiful, vibrant and dynamic Earth is.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.