With more than two decades of airborne experience under their wings, Scott Johnson and his wife Terri teach students the fundamentals of sport piloting during tandem paramotor and trike flights. After mastering the helm of a trike or the cords of a paramotor on the land, pupils and teachers soar over the stunning vistas of southern Arizona's expansive landscape for hands-on experience. Scott draws from his time spent helping film nature documentaries for the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet to help students identify shorebirds and sandhill cranes midflight. Arizona Trike School also deals in new and refurbished sport aircraft as well as piloting necessities such as parachutes and headsets that play the Top Gun soundtrack on repeat.
When Randy Long and his family recently went on spring break, they didn't laze around on a beach staring at the sea. Instead, they trekked around the world to China. The choice of destination isn't surprising given Randy's extraordinarily adventurous spirit—the former travel agent has trotted the globe a few times, dog sledding in Alaska and scuba diving in Bermuda along the way.
Despite his eagerness to explore, Randy probably surprised even himself when he was caught by an unexpected wave of inspiration during a 1986 Rotary Club meeting in Illinois. When hot air balloonist Harold Lovelace spoke to the club, Randy was so transfixed that he immediately offered to buy one of Harold's balloons. By the end of the year, Randy had his pilot's license, was flying in the world's largest hot air balloon event, and became a pro at photo-bombing the portraits of landscape artists. Within five years, he sold his travel agency and set up shop in Arizona as a full-time balloon pilot.
Since founding Arizona Balloon Safaris, Randy has maintained a perfect flight record, successfully piloting more than 2,000 flights for more than 20,000 passengers (including Shakira and J.W. Marriott). His colorful balloons ride the Sonoran Desert's breezes, gently carrying passengers as far as seven miles while maintaining a feeling of near motionlessness. From any corner of the balloons' sturdy wicker baskets, people can scan all 360 degrees of the desert panorama without a single visual interruption. Whether skimming the tops of cacti or reaching the flight's 5,000-foot apex, groups will likely spot—and sometimes hear—deer, coyote, and jackrabbits during the 45-minute ride. Passengers can bring a camera to take pictures of these sights along the way. Upon landing, the chase crew welcomes groups back to Earth with celebratory glasses of champagne.
As the sun rises and illuminates the jagged Sonoran Desert with rose-colored light, colorful hot-air balloons rise into the sky right along with it. This scene occurs seven days a week from September to May during Tucson Balloon Rides' one-hour sunrise floats. Soaring with the morning's easy wind currents, FAA-certified pilot Kevin Wilbur ferries passengers for 10 to 15 miles at altitudes between 500 and 4,000 feet over the cacti forests of Saguaro National Park West and the shrub-covered flatlands of Avra Valley. While gliding over the Tucson Mountains, he also points out important sites as well as deer, foxes, and coyotes. After a gentle touchdown, Captain Kevin and guests enjoy a champagne toast and brunch. If the voyage inspires anyone to become a hot-air-balloon pilot or a cloud, he can also help them earn their private or commercial pilot license with his training program.
Served by the flight, glass, or bottle, the wine at Bear Track Bistro & Winery makes for a tasty accomplice to the eatery's gourmet Mediterranean-style food. À la carte menus feature specialties from the sea, such as smoked oysters and sturgeon, and from the land, including all-natural artisan-cured meats seasoned with organic spices. Visitors can also share platters of cheese—feta, asiago, and smoked edam, among others—all handcrafted by a fourth-generation Wisconsin cheese maker. To go along with its food and wine, Bear Track also hosts special events throughout the week, highlighted by ladies nights and live music every Saturday.
By hosting haunted houses and spooky events, The Slaughterhouse has raised more than $40,000 for organizations such as the American Diabetes Association. Visitors interested in befriending the venue’s mischievous specters can embark on ghost tours, which explore the premise’s haunted depths. Alternatively, on-the-go partiers can select from a rental fleet of trailers packed with haunted-house-style frights or sound-system-equipped hearses, ideal for proving coolness to judgmental teenage vampires.
The FAA-certified commercial pilots at the helm of Southern AZ Balloons have glided groups across Tucson for more than two decades. During aerial adventures, the luxurious, wind-blown aircraft float as low as the treetops and as high as 2,000 feet depending on conditions. Varying heights present extravagant photographic opportunities, including of mountain ranges and of Catalina. Finally, after traveling anywhere from four to 15 miles, balloons coast to a landing for celebratory champagne brunches.