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Up and Away

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Take to the skies in a balloon tour for a different view of the Sonoran Desert — then end your day with a gourmet meal in the desert
ballon tour
Ready for takeoff. Image courtesy of Float Balloon Tours.

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a … hot air balloon carriage? For Matt Cooley and Olivia Laux, owners of Phoenix-based Float Balloon Tours, that’s kind of how it went.
The recently engaged pair launched their boutique balloon tour company in 2013 as a way to highlight the natural beauty of the desert that sometimes goes unseen.
“Ballooning is just so cool,” Cooley says. “You can float low to the ground in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. It’s a great way to show off where we live, to get people out into an area that they wouldn’t otherwise explore.”
While ballooning is the main event, it’s what comes after that makes a Float balloon tour particularly unique — the hour-long voyage over the mountains and desert of Arizona culminates with a gourmet open-air brunch, prepared onsite. No box lunches here: A wood dining table complete with plates, silverware and gorgeous florals awaits guests disembarking their balloon. The local, seasonal fare is prepared by Chef Robbie Tutlewski of famed Pizzeria Bianco and paired with seasonal mimosas made with Arizona Hops and Vines’ sparkling wine.
“Our guests get to watch the chef in action and enjoy a menu based on what’s fresh and in season,” Cooley says. “We’ve gotten to know local farmers and built meals around the exciting produce they share with us.”
The meals have been so popular that Cooley and Laux are now looking to launch a series of standalone food projects.

Float owners Olivia Laux and Matt Cooley. Image courtesy of Float Balloon Tours.
Float owners Olivia Laux and Matt Cooley. Image courtesy of Float Balloon Tours.

“We plan to bring different local chefs out and host collaborative chef dinners in the middle of the desert, preparing intrinsically desert meals that really speak to the area,” Cooley says.
As for the hot summer months when the Sonoran Desert becomes less hospitable?
Head north, Cooley says.
“We’re looking to set up shop at the south rim of the Grand Canyon for summers, and hopefully set up a luxury campground there that would be home base for balloon rides over the canyon,” he says. “Grand Canyon in the summer, Phoenix in the winter — that’s the real dream.”

View more photos from recent Float balloon tours:

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