The first time I met Doug was when I was hired to photograph a surprise proposal on one of his balloons. Doug is one of the funniest guys I know, he doesn't have a normal conversations as most people do, he starts off with a story, but it ends in a joke (normally, you don't see it coming) … sometimes you REALLY don't see it coming, not always for "virgin-ears" should I say, and rarely is the ol' eye-roll called for, he's funny... After years of conversations, balloon outings, business collaborations, I've found that Doug is the same guy through and through. He doesn't waver. He is kind, considerate, caring and a savvy business owner. He loves his Son more than any father I've ever seen love a child. It's so heartwarming to see and hear, and his grandkids are the love of his life! We talked about a lot of things in this interview and I'll try to include the best parts, the interesting junk and leave out the jokes (well, maybe I'll throw one in for Doug's sake!)
"The FAA got tired of fielding complaints of low-flying balloons and privacy infringements."
One of the first questions I asked Doug was "why don't we see Hot Air Balloons over Vegas like we used to"?
He responded by telling me: With the growing population and the filling in of all of the open areas where we used to take off and land, being developed into housing and shopping complexes. Balloons we landing closer to houses that had been purchased by people that aren't used to seeing balloons and they were calling 911 unnecessarily and Clark County got sick of dispatching resources that weren't needed. The FAA got tired of fielding complaints of low-flying balloons and privacy infringements. I've said for years that our flying days in the city are numbered. Now the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) wants to put us somewhere, but they've got to figure out where to put us, and once they determine where they want to put us, they have to do a Desert Tortoise Survey of the area, and if there is a Desert Tortoise population there, they'd have to haul us all into a class to teach us how to not touch a Desert Tortoise. [our tax dollars at work] We had a meeting about 2 years ago now, down at the BLM office. The BLM people were there, Metro was there, Search and Rescue, the FAA, Clark County Department of Aviation, and we were trying to discuss a good place to go. I suggested the corridor along I-15 between Primm and Jean, which we've been flying on the Jean Lakebed for years without a problem, that would be perfect. And the Department of Aviation, I swear to God Stacy... the Clark County Department of Aviation spoke up and said... "you can't fly there" and I said, "why is that"?... and may the Lord be my witness, he said, because there might be an airport there within 20 years. At that point I said, "so, you want us to avoid something that's not there"? And he said "yes". [I thought, in good ol' Doug-Fashion, that there was going to be a joke... nope, this was fo-rizzle!]
So that is where that stood. Doug continued … if we want to go out and fly on BLM land, just for fun, we can do that, we don't need a permit, but when we do it commercially, now we need a permit so they can collect 3% of our gross. We have to get a permit for a specific area, now that's where we get tied up into the permitting process on the Desert Tortoise stuff.
[So, since all of this debacle, you can still fly with Las Vegas Balloon Rides, they now are operating out of Pahrump … did someone say WINE? See the last paragraph for specifics and all of their contact information is at the end of this story.]
"I got my license in 1984 and have accumulated over 5000 flight hours".
I asked Doug how he got started with his Flying Career: Well, I'm a Native Las Vegan. I started crewing when I was in high school. My high school sweetheart's father, was crewing for one of the very first balloons back in the late 60's. So I started crewing and I got hooked on it and I crewed for 15 years. While I was crewing, I was learning to fly by helping all of the other balloon pilots. I got my license in 1984 and have accumulated over 5000 flight hours. I've flown in about 35 of the United States, I've flown in Mexico and in France twice, and I've had a lot of fun. We've had some celebrities come out and fly with us, we've had Lee Greenwood, Miss Universe, the owner of the Heath Candy Bar company, he flew with me years ago. I've had a lot of fun, made a lot of great friends, they come out for balloon rides with us and we've stayed friends for a while. I've seen a lot of country, I've seen some of the world. I've seen the balloons advance from relatively crude basic stuff to some of the newer tech, really trick things. We've got new fabric advancements where fabric is going longer, which is basically shooting the balloon industry in their own foot. Balloons were wearing out at 300-400 flight hours, we'd have to go out and buy a new balloon, now we have balloons going 1000-1200 hours. Now we have to train pilots that want to buy balloons to keep our industry going. We're also trying to train new, younger pilots. Because the average age of a Balloon Pilot now is well over 50 years. So we're looking for some newer younger blood to get them in and we can teach them how to fly. I've licensed 2 of them last year, we have another one Doug [Doug Jr, his son] and I are teaching them how to fly now. You know, we're trying to keep the sport going, we just need more young people to want to come out and learn how to fly balloons. It's fun. When we go to events, they put you up in a hotel they usually feed you once or twice a day. They'll give you a couple hundred dollars for travel expenses and if there is a competition there, you have a chance to win some prize money. It's great, it's almost like a paid vacation because you go out and fly your balloon for a couple hours in the morning, the rest of the day to explore around, check out what ever city you're in. [I said, it sounds like a lot of fun, and Doug said, "it's like everything else, it's got it's ups and downs"... toldja he'd go there]
So do you still do Skydiving from your Hot Air Balloon? Well, since everything closed down, they also closed the landing sites, but they guys have been coming out to Pahrump and we've been at the dry lakebed, God bless them because they've been paying us to jump and keeping us afloat. We do take skilled and qualified skydivers on a regular basis and our passengers really enjoy watching the adrenaline athletes jump from the balloon. [sorry but they only take their regular group of skilled athletes at this time. Let me tell you … you REALLY need to check out the videos on their website. TOTALLY RAD, downright breathtaking, and I'd say really, really crazy!!! Talk about adrenaline junkies!]
"Come on out to celebrate your anniversary, birthday, proposal, you don't even have to be celebrating anything"!
If someone wanted to book a Hot Air Balloon ride, how would they do that?
Well, they can call us and we can direct them to our website or we can get an email address and we can send them a reservation form. We're partners with Sanders Family Winery which is where we meet our guests in the morning. Jack and Betsy Sanders have been very very good to us. We also have a partnership with Holiday Inn Express out in Pahrump if anybody comes in and wants to do an overnight before or after their balloon ride, we've got a discounted rate for them. There's so many things to see and do in Pahrump or Death Valley, we're also going to start doing Tasting-Room-Hops. Come on out to celebrate your anniversary, birthday, proposal, you don't even have to be celebrating anything! Just come out and experience the thrill of flight, just come on out and have some fun with us! I want to mention a Will Smith quote "The best things in life are on the other side of fear". Our price range is approximately $200 per person. It's about a 3 or 4 hour experience. It includes a 45 to 60 minute flight and afterwards our guests will enjoy champagne, wine tasting, and breakfast back at Saunders Winery.
[Drumroll please...….] Here we go with our "20-questions":
STACY: How long have you lived in the Las Vegas area?
DOUG: 65 years
STACY: Are you Married?
STACY: Do you have any Kids? If so, what are their Ages?
DOUG: Yes, a Son who is 38 years old
STACY: Tell me a little bit about where you grew up? (city, town, neighborhood)
DOUG: I grew up in Las Vegas. I remember we used to sleep in our front yard, we used to keep our doors open and unlocked, I remember when the population was about 40,000 people. I remember the test-site announcing tests and we’d sit in our front yard and watch the sky light up and about 2 minutes later we could feel the earth shake, I remember a lot of the hotels when they were built the first time and then blown up and rebuilt the second time. I remember walking out on the tarmac and getting on the prop-airplane by a rolling stairway, I remember the old airport off of Las Vegas Airport. I remember when Lake Mead was so high that the water was spilling over the spillways and they were as high as they could go. I remember when Rainbow Blvd only went as far as Charleston Blvd, that was the edge of town, I can remember when US95 was a 2-lane road between downtown going west. I remember when we only had 3 High Schools in town.
STACY: Do you have Pets? What? (dog, cat, iguana, pig) names?
DOUG: 2 dogs and 10 chickens
STACY: Do you have any hobbies?
DOUG: Playing with my grandbabies
STACY: Tell me something that people/friends may not know about you?
DOUG: I was born with a cleft palate. I had my first operation when I was 3 days old to remove my tonsils. Then by the time I turned seven, I had 3 different surgeries. I had to go to speech classes.
STACY: Do you have any unusual traits?
DOUG: I know how to make people smile.
STACY: What is your favorite Food? Weirdest food you ever ate? Favorite Vegas Restaurant?
DOUG: Pasta/Beef Tongue/Chicago Joe’s, downtown on 4th St.
STACY: What is your favorite Cocktail?
DOUG: Red Wines and B52’s (real smooth going down, and after about 3 or 4, you’re bombed)
STACY: Who is your favorite Sports Team(s)?
DOUG: Golden Knights
STACY: Do you have a favorite car?
DOUG: I’m building a 1966 Pontiac Catalina convertible
STACY: Tell me a little bit about your life growing up?
DOUG: Both of my parents were musicians, my mom retired, got married and became a housewife. She raised myself and my 2 brothers, my Dad was a First Trumpet player, he played First Trumpet for Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, all the Big Bands, when he came to Las Vegas he went to work in his own band and wound up putting his own Lounge Band together and did local performances here at the Top of the Dunes when that was going, but I remember going down to the Musicians Union listening to the Musicians while I did my homework.
STACY: Who is your mentor?
DOUG: Bill Bussey, he got me into ballooning
STACY: If you had a Super Power, what would it be?
DOUG: to make a positive influence in a negative environment
STACY: Who is your Super Hero?
DOUG: Mighty Mouse, making the best out of bad situations
STACY: What is the best job you ever had?
DOUG: getting high for a living [there he goes again]
STACY: What was the last gift you gave someone?
DOUG: he bought his girlfriend a new top
STACY: If you won a $10 million dollar Wheel of Fortune Jackpot, what would you do with the money?
DOUG: set my family up with investments to supplement their income. I wouldn’t blow it, I’d set aside a small portion of it to piss off. Most of it I’d invest in a way to where it would last a long time.
STACY: If you had to pick the next implosion of a casino, which one would you pick? Why?
DOUG: Circus Circus. Because it has never been updated. I was in there about a year ago and it looked the same as it did 30 years ago.
STACY: What do you wear to bed?
DOUG: depends on who I’m sleeping with
STACY: What is one thing on your Bucket List?
DOUG: I want my next goal to be 3 generations of Campbell’s to fly in the same Balloon event
STACY: Toilet paper over or under?
STACY: Can you make your armpit fart?
DOUG: absolutely [I already knew this answer… he wouldn’t be Doug without this talent LOL]
STACY: Do you speak another language?
DOUG: very limited Spanish… taco bell, nacho, burrito, tequila
STACY: What is the weirdest thing you ever wore?
DOUG: I occasionally wear a Kilt, I’m part Scottish
STACY: If I looked in your refrigerator, what would I find?
DOUG: basically, healthy foods, chicken, fresh vegetables, very little soda
STACY: If you were offered to be on a reality show which one would you choose?
DOUG: I’d like to do the Amazing Race with my son
STACY: How many pairs of shoes do you own?
DOUG: about a dozen
Las Vegas Balloon Rides (LVBR)
Doug Sr or Doug
702-300-4008 (call or text)
@L_V_B_R (or #LasVegasBalloonRides)
Photo | Video:
Stacy Frick - On The Rocks Photography
fb: On The Rocks Photography Vegas
Chicago Joe's Restaurant
820 S 4th St, Las Vegas, NV 89101
Sanders Family Winery - Pahrump
3780 E Kellogg Road, Pahrump, NV 89061
Holiday Inn Suites - Pahrump
861 South Hwy 160, Pahrump, NV 89048