Mountain Butterfly Hot Air Balloon Company Offers Thrilling Flights | Local News

MICHELLE MCCONNAHA

“Up, up and away my beautiful, my beautiful ball…”The 5th DimensionGrammy Song of the Year in 1967.

Mountain Butterfly, (the hot air balloon and operation) began in Missoula in 1982 and is now located in Stevensville.

The six-person flight over Stevensville and the northern end of the Bitterroot Valley lasted one hour and 21 minutes. The epic flight had a top speed of 25 miles per hour and reached 6,364 feet above the launch site. The day was overcast and a little foggy but the wind was calm and the flight was magnificent. The passengers were two couples celebrating anniversaries, a birthday girl and the pilot, Michael Rees.

The day started at 6 a.m. from the Super One parking lot in Stevensville. The crew set up the balloon and kept an eye on the store’s American flag, monitoring wind speed and direction. Mornings are the most stable time for weather during a typical day.

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FAA certified pilot Mike Rees had recorded the flight and checked with the National Weather Service.

After the balloon was spread out on tarps across the parking lot, the crew began to fill the large balloon with hot air. Loud flame noises from the propane tanks slowly filled the colorful nylon balloon with a large butterfly, the mountain butterfly.

Passengers boarded the basket and enjoyed a smooth takeoff.

As it rose, the balloon drifted over the parking lot, nearby houses, and tall ponderosa pines. He followed the Bitterroot River south for a while as the ducks swam in the whirlpools around the sandbars. Before Victor, the balloon gained altitude and a gentle westerly wind pushed it closer to the Bitterroot Mountains.

Rees explained that the sky is made up of invisible layers that can go in different directions and be at different temperatures. The only control of a hot air balloon is altitude.

The weather, the wind over the mountains and through the canyons make the flight unpredictable, but thrilling. Rees said he was focused on stealing the whole time. The passengers just relaxed, enjoyed the ride, the view and each other.

The balloons drift with the wind so the riders don’t hear or feel the wind.

After the magnificent sight, the noble thoughts and the surprising discoveries, the balloon began to descend on the east side of US Highway 93 and finally landed near Lone Rock School. The chase team pulled the ropes to move the still modestly hovering ball from the private fields to the green grass of the school.

Passengers enjoy a soft landing then wait for the tarps to deploy and the balloon to deflate a bit before exiting the basket. They were welcomed with a table of breads, orange juice and champagne. As the crew packed the balloon and basket back into the trailer, the guest enjoyed food and entertainment as Rees recounted how ballooning began and his own history with flight.

The toast of the “survivors” was poetic.

“The winds greeted you with sweetness and the sun greeted you with its warmth,” Rees said. “You flew so high and so well that God joined you in the laughter and placed you again, gently in the loving arms of Mother Earth.”

Mountain Butterfly Epic hot air balloon rides are subject to wind and weather conditions and the pilot has final discretion on take-off dates and times.

The company has four balloons — Cricket (four passengers), Mountain Butterfly (six passengers), LadyBug (eight passengers) and Tweedy (ten passengers). Flights can be within the Bitterroot Valley, Missoula area for $250 per person or to other destinations for higher prices.

The company offers many flight choices from the Lumberjack Saloon, Mountain Crossing, 17 miles; Blackfoot (Clearwater, Ovando, Helmville) 20 miles; Flathead/Mission Valleys; Col de Lolo to Bitterroot; Bitterroot Valley in Phillipsburg; Flathead Lake; Phillipsburg to Deerlodge; the Mission Mountain Range; West Fork Bitterroot at the Big Hole; and Glacier Park.

Mountain Butterfly offers exclusive reduced capacity reserved parties, airline flights and gift certificates.

“I would like to rise very high, Lord, Above my city, Above the word, Above time, I would like To Purify my gaze… and borrow your eyes”, – Quoist.

For more information about Mountain Butterfly and to book an adventure tour online www.mountainbutterflyllc.com or contact Michael Rees or Gretchen Speis at 406-777-0520 or mountainbuterfly@cybernet1.com.