Vacation highlights- not what you would expect

The family vacation I spent in Tucson had its share of exciting activities. Hot air ballooning,

visits to the zoo and the Biosphere 2, were at the top of the list; but we also had some fun activities on a daily basis, namely playing tennis and golf, badminton and bocce, which we could do right in mom’s neighborhood. If you asked my kids their favorite one, I am sure they would say the balloon ride.

While I loved it, I would put some more intimate moments at the top.

One of these was the sunny spot where mom and I would sit in the morning, sipping our coffee and admiring the beauty of the mountainous landscape behind her house. She looks out on a hillside of prickly pears and ocotillo,

where we often spotted rabbits, Peregrine Falcons and coyotes.

While we slowly woke up, we would sit together and enjoy the view. During these peaceful moments, we chatted about our plans for the day or reflected on life in general. I looked forward to our conversations every morning.It was a great way to reconnect as if we did not live thousands of miles apart.

Another time of day for bonding was in the late afternoon, sitting around the fire pit with our cocktails.

Sometimes the kids would join us and spark the conversation with observations of  the day’s activity. One example was after the Biosphere 2 visit,

we discussed what it would be like to inhabit as a subject of a scientific study and why it was important to do that experiment. This conversation led us to rent The Truman Show, a movie about a fake world created as a reality tv show. If their grandmother had not been there to get them thinking, I am sure the kids would have blown it off as one of my “teachable moment” activities. Instead, we were able to compare the movie to what we had seen, which made for another memorable discussion.

My mother encouraged me to go out for dinner with my husband. She really wanted to give us a chance to do something nice together; but I actually preferred eating together as a family and participating in a board game, a Wii tournament, a movie or some stargazing and S’mores.

I told her we would go out when we got home as the kids can fend for themselves. It was more unusual to have such a nice block of time, without distractions of homework, friends or after-school activities, during which we could all interact and have fun.

It does make you appreciate how quickly kids grow and become independent. You think you will have them around forever, and then you start seeing adulthood on the horizon. It makes you treasure every moment you have with them. Hopefully when mine are grown, they will want to come back “home” often and keep our family bond strong. I know how appreciative my parents are when I make the time to see them. That is why these moments of either one-on-one or family time are the most important to me and the highlights of my vacation.

Sunrise Over Tucson

If you have been following my blog, you know I have been away for the last 2 weeks (actually I was only gone for 12 days, but I needed at least 2 days to get caught up on things). So without further delay, I will tell you about the most exciting part of my vacation- the hot air balloon ride- since I had suggested this would happen in my last post.

My family has been visiting my mother in Tucson for many years. Usually we hike the trails in Catalina State Park, tour the Reid Park Zoo or the Desert Museum and hang out at the pool. This year we decided to try something new- a hot air balloon ride. I’m not sure why we chose that activity, especially since I am afraid of heights and don’t like standing near the rail of my mother-in-law’s high-rise balcony. Maybe it has something to do with the peaceful image of colorful balloons floating in the sky, or the song about the beautiful balloon. Either way, I was determined to do this and not let my psychological hang-ups hold me back.

We arrived at the launch site by 6:30. The sky was still dark, but a sliver of the moon was hovering on the horizon near a rim of red light which gradually brightened.

Eager to get involved, my son and I each grabbed a side of the balloon and held it open while the high-powered fan blew air inside. It was fun to peer into the mouth and watch how quickly the balloon inflated.

Once it was full, Kevin- our pilot and owner of Tucson Balloon Rides (  – added hot air from his fuel supply. The sound coming from the blasts, as well as the flames shooting out, were extraordinary! 

While we waited for instructions to board, we posed for a family photo, appreciating how lucky we were to be able to do this adventure together. Even though it was an early wake-up, we got no complaints from our teenagers. My daughter and I were willing to put aside our fears and trust our instincts that this would be an experience to remember.

There were 4 other passengers accompanying us on our flight, only one of whom had ever done this before. She was taking her 80 year old mother on this adventure. Her mother seemed very relaxed and ready for the ride. The woman joked with me that if her sisters found out she was doing this, she would be in big trouble. I had to laugh because the night before, I had made one more invitation to my mother to join us, but was also thinking what my sisters would do to me if they found out.

On the ride to the launch site, Kevin had gone over the safety instructions and prepared us for what to expect. Once he gave us our cue, we quickly climbed into the basket. It was a little gusty on our take-off, but we easily rose up with the current which gave us the most serene feeling as we watched the beauty of the sunrise over the mountains.

As we rose up, high over the Saguaro National Park we felt no wind in our face. Even though we were above the mountains, I was not afraid. There was something so relaxing and peaceful about soaring over the desert and mountains, watching the shadows decrease on the sides of the cliffs as we coasted through the pass.

There was something comforting about the sight of our shadow on the ground, as well as the view of other balloons in the vicinity.


Kevin skillfully took us up and down or rotated the balloon so we could get different shots of the landscape. I was thrilled to have a bird’s eye view of the saguaros. My son kept his eyes open for wildlife. We saw dozens of rabbits and a few coyotes. I made my husband take my picture as proof that I actually did this.

The thing about a hot air balloon ride is that you never know where it is going to take you. For someone who always wants to know exactly what is going to happen, this means letting go of a planned destination and literally “going with the flow” of the current. We never reached some of the landmarks that Kevin pointed out as the possible landing sites. Instead we ended up crossing the CAP and landing in a field just beyond the aquifer.

Of course, Kevin had his crew following us on the ground and used radio contact to tell them his plan. He had us all brace for landing, which was much smoother than I expected after his warning. Once we came down, he asked several people to climb out and help hold the basket. My husband and daughter helped drag it back away from the fence so the balloon wouldn’t get tangled. Then the rest of us climbed out and the crew set about deflating the balloon.

         And just like that, everything was packed up. Our beautiful balloon ride was over and we were headed to a municipal park for a champagne brunch to celebrate. Kevin gave everyone a flight certificate with our stats. According to this I was airborne for 1 hour 37 minutes, travelling 8.03 miles at a maximum speed of 17mph (which includes vertical as well as horizontal speed combined) and reaching an altitude of 2800 feet above ground level!

But even more than these facts on paper, I overcame my fear of heights (although I’m sure I’ll still be nervous on that balcony) and did something I really wanted to do and will never forget. We had a wonderful family experience together and are already talking about doing it again.  The 80 yr-old woman loved it. She and her daughter had a great adventure together and were already discussing their next trip. Maybe next time I’ll be able to convince my mom to go up.