Let's Get carried away ...

It all started when...

I was just a little guy growing up here in Lancaster County. I remember always getting excited at the sight of hot air balloons rising into the sky from far across the fields. I've continued to enjoy watching folks drift by in the mornings and evenings, particularly as I got into photography. Sometimes when I would spot them I would follow them around trying to get a unique element to landscapes I had captured previously. Although I still hadn't really considered the idea of flying in one at that point.

Then back in January of 2016 I was invited to join the United States Hot Air Balloon Team and VisitLancasterPa.net on the Cold Hot Air Balloon Photography Tour. I jumped at the opportunity, then signed up for another tour in May over Bucks County. Much of those photos and video clips have just been sitting on my hard drive until now.

check out The Video ...

Links to Available Tours on USHOTAIRBALLOON.com

MY Lancaster Tour

On January 23, 2016 Lancaster awoke to over 26" of snow and a travel ban in effect so that crews could clean up the roads safely. Not that anyone was going anywhere without a snowmobile anyway. The night before the storm hadn't reached the wind speed criteria to be labeled a blizzard officially, but the amount of snowfall overnight was the most we had seen since the blizzard of 1996.

The travel ban remained in effect for two days, but in the early hours on January 25 we made our way to the car to join the United States Hot Air Balloon Team and VisitLancasterPa.net for the Cold Hot Air Balloon Photography Tour at the Smoketown Airport. It was a slow drive there, but with so much of the area still under a heavy blanket of snow we were in for the most spectacular sunrise I've ever witnessed.

Inflating the balloons before sunrise at the Smoketown Airport.

There was a lot of anticipation on everyone's faces as they arrived one by one. I wasn't sure what to expect. Sure I've jumped out of a perfectly good airplane before, but balloons had been a mystery floating by since I was little. Bit by bit the sky was getting lighter to the east as we watched the team prepare the balloons for liftoff. As the first balloon began to float away whatever nervousness that was in the basket turned to excitement. Then suddenly we too were in the air and rising quickly. 

As we made our way over the treeline we were greeted with the warm rays of the sun stretching across the neverending countryside under piles and piles of snow. It was an absolutely breathtaking view. It was still early enough that everything was casting long dark shadows on the lightly colored landscape bathed in the golden glow of sunrise.

Rising high above the Smoketown Airport at sunrise. The golden rays of sunrise blanket what seems to be never ending countryside just beyond town. Everything on the ground casts long shadows on the lightly colored landscape.

You might think that because it was so freezing cold on the ground it would be colder in a hot air balloon right? That was actually not the case. I found out that day that hot air balloons are floating with the atmosphere. Since you're moving with the wind there's no windchill. I quickly found myself unzipping my jacket and taking off my gloves, but as soon as we landed the gloves went right back on!

I also learned that because you're moving with the atmosphere you lose your sense of motion. At one point some of us became worried because one of the other balloons was descending rapidly. Not to worry, our pilot Kyle set us straight, we in fact were going up. We couldn't even tell the difference. Personally I love heights, but I'm afraid of falling. I would imagine that's a fairly common feeling, and one shared among some of the riders on our tour. In the end none of us had problem with the height aspect of the flight. The overall experience and views are so thrilling I think everyone overcame their initial fears with ease. 

Looking west down Lincoln Highway East (Route 30) towards the city of Lancaster, PA.

The flight lasted about 45 mins or so before we gently landed in the parking lot of Target on Route 30. One of the other balloons landed in a nearby neighborhood, and the other one ended up all the way down by The Strasburg Railroad. As we captured Lancaster from above a number of photos began popping up on Instagram of us from the ground. Since the roads just opened people were a little surprised to see us floating by.

As we waited for some more team members to show up and help pack up the big balloon they tethered it to the truck while we waited. A couple from New York were leaving Target and came over to take a picture. Stan being such a nice guy we let them hop in the basket for a quick tethered ride while we waited. They were so excited, it was really cool! Literally!

Here's a few more views from the tour:


MY Bucks County Tour

Later that year I join The United States Hot Air Balloon Team and VisitLancasterPa.net yet again for a photography tour. This time the tour was over Bucks County, and we planned to shoot some photos in Philadelphia afterward. It was extra exciting for me as it happened to fall on my birthday.

I had to be up a little early so i wouldn't miss my flight leaving from The Inn at Barley Sheaf Farm in Bucks County. Which nearly happened thanks to some extra rest stops and some very silly wrong turns on my part. However, I made it as they were inflating the balloons and preparing for takeoff. 

A panoramic view as the team prepares the balloons and the moon approaches the horizon to the west.

Having had a great experience on my first flight I was very excited for this flight. There was much less to worry about now that I knew what to expect. It was also great getting the opportunity to see an entirely new landscape as well.

I'm personally not very familiar with the Bucks County area. As we rose above the tree line I wasn't sure what we would see. The area surround The Inn at Barley Sheaf Farm was fairly lush with trees with large patches of open fields and pastures between the rows. It's definitely a bit of a different feel than Lancaster County. As the balloons lifted higher the sound spooked a deer which had been grazing along the tree line. It quickly darted across an open field headed for the opposing woods.

At first we were floating just above the trees. Only some scattered buildings and roads could be seen in breaks from the treetops. Then we began to climb even higher. It was difficult to see in the morning haze, but off in the distance we could see the Philadelphia Skyline on the horizon. The city was very far away, but it was interesting to see the rolling hills with farms and houses laid out in the foreground of this shot ...

The Philadelphia Skyline lying beyond the rolling hills of Bucks County.

Looking to the north you could see the Delaware River Basin. The mighty Delaware River was snaking it's way through large patches of dense morning fog at the time. It was interesting to see it as we rose because it's such an obvious visual landmark that clearly identifies the eastern edge of Pennsylvania. It's a really unique and interesting feeling to be so high above the very busy, very noisy, world below. You can see so far and see these distinct landmarks that you know are huge, but when you're in the basket they're just these little tiny squares and squiggles.

Here you can see the dense morning fog churning over the Delaware River.

Much like the Cold Hot Air Balloon Photography Tour the views were amazing from beginning to end. The landing had a little hop and a bump this time, but that was only due to our pilot making a skilled landing in a small place. I absolutely loved both tours and would highly recommend the experience to anyone.

Here are a few more photos from the Bucks County Tour:

Quick Note:

Who Should Fly ...

I'm willing to bet just about everyone has some fears and reservations before stepping into the basket for the first time. However, on both tours I witnessed everyone quickly overcoming those fears and enjoying the excitement of the experience. Not one person had a bad time.

This would be a great experience for a company outing, or team building experience. USHABT handled our large group with no problems. They've been doing this for so long they are like a well oiled machine. They've also been know to help many guys pop the big question and propose to the loves of their lives in an unforgettable moment. Other times they can be seen in their handi-accessible basket that provides a unique opportunity for those living with a disability to enjoy the view for themselves. Perhaps you may have even seen them at a private event offering tethered balloon rides. 

Still unsure? USHABT offers the ability to give the gift of flight through gift cards on their website. That's a gift your friends, family, employees, or anyone else can use to create lifelong memories. Checkout the link below to find out more information on everything USHABT offers and plan your high flying adventure today!. 


DISCLOSURE: I reached out to Stan Hess the owner of USHABT a few weeks ago and asked if he would be interested in being a sponsor of some upcoming Grand Lancaster content. This content was not part of that deal. I have published and released this content in support The United States Hot Air Balloon Team. The basis of our dealing was as simple as "i like what you do", "and I like what you do", and that's it. I sincerely recommend this experience with The United States Hot Air Balloon Team to all of you. I am grateful to Stan for two amazing experiences of my own, and I am glad to be able to rely on such an amazing local business for their support! I was my pleasure to share this content with you, and I hope you will share pics of your Hot Air Balloon Tour with us in the Grand Lancaster Society Facebook Group!