As you sail over the Tucson Mountains, coasting along on the slow moving drainage winds, about the only thing you hear is the gentle “whoosh” of the flames as the pilot unleashes the propane to warm the canopy’s contents. Over the course of the next hour you climb to more than 1,000 feet in the air, the perfect vantage point to take in the picturesque desert below. Amongst the cacti and brush you espy a herd of javelina, red-tailed hawks, deer, coyotes and bobcats. It is the Sonoran Desert in ways that you have never seen it before. Mike and Becky Fleury have been providing sightseers with this unique way to
see the desert for more than 25 years through their company Fleur de Tucson Balloon Tours. “Our goal is to provide the best and most safe ride possible,” says Mike Fleury, who is proud to point out that the company has a 100 percent accident-free record. From October through April, the two — Mike in the basket as commandant and Becky in the chase truck — take guests out for tours of the desert, starting at sunrise at the foothills of the Tucson Mountains and touching down an hour later about 10 to 15 miles away in Marana. “We cater to families,” says Fleury. “We can take passengers from 3 years old up to 95.” Each flight is ended with a ceremonial toast and with champagne, a tradition that dates back to 1783, the first days of ballooning. French aeronauts of the time would offer champagne to calm and appease the peasants who were startled and often scared by the "firebreathing monster" that was descending from the sky.
Along with the champagne, the Fleurys serve Becky's freshly made muffins, bagels and other breakfast items. The business grew out of Mike's love for ballooning, which started nearly 30 years ago after accompanying a friend for a ride one day. "I went out and crewed with a friend of mine, and that was that. I had to become a pilot," he recalls. From there he went on to earn his flight certification and has developed into one of the better pilots in the business. In 1999, Mike won the key grab competition -- a precision flying exercise where pilots steer their balloons toward tall poles and try to grab an item attached to its top at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest gathering of balloonists int he world. Over the years, Fleur de Tucson has provided more than just fun times for sightseers. Several years ago, the Fleury's played host to Jeff Corwin from Animal Planet, as he filmed an episode about Sonoran Desert species. "We got excellent shots of him talking and pretending he was flying," says Mike. "It was great." Mike also points out that there have been lots of engagements in his basket where "they get down on one knee and everything." Although, it seems that he gets just as much enjoyment from the successful engagements as he does the one time the guy chickened out. "I was giving him all the cues and he just didn't go through with it," he says with a chuckle. No matter what the reason, seeing the desert from 1,000 feet above will be an experience that won't be forgotten.
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Fleur de Tucson