Fantasy Balloon Flights.
PHOTO BY DANIELA STALLINGER
Start the new year by getting a fresh perspective — and maybe conquering a fear of heights. Fantasy Balloon Flights has served the Coachella Valley for more than four decades, giving riders a bird’s-eye view of country clubs, palm groves, and the vast, open desert.
I became an aeronaut in November, embarking on my first hot air balloon ride during the annual Cathedral City Hot Air Balloon Festival. My pilot: Steve Wilkinson, who founded Fantasy Balloon Flights in 1981. The business is a family affair. His son, daughter-in-law, and wife Cindy also fly. In fact, Cindy helped to launch the Cathedral City festival a decade ago. In addition to offering flights locally and in Temecula and Ventura, the Wilkinsons travel for races. Steve lists Turkey, New Zealand, and Italy among his favorite destinations.
Despite a little apprehension hopping into the basket and watching a 6-foot flame blast into the envelope (that’s aeronaut speak for “balloon”), my worries dissipated quickly. The sailing was smooth, and Steve’s banter about the landmarks we saw along the way taught me a thing or two about our beautiful valley. Following a 200-year-old tradition, we popped a bottle of Champagne upon touchdown. What a ride!