PRETTY MUCH ANY BACKDROP, be it a forest or a canyon or an ocean or a mixture of all three, helps a hot air balloon in the foreground look mighty distinctive. There is no so-so place in which to admire these high-flyers, of course, be they drifting over an amazing vineyard or a river or a farm-filled valley. But we let's pause here and put an extra star next to "the desert" in terms of fabulous places where balloons may be found. The earthy tones of the landscape, paired with the highly decorative look of the envelopes "floating" gently above, is a scene made for the kitchen calendar, and a hundred coffee table books, too. That's one reason The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is so rightly famous, and the autumn balloon party in Yuma, too. These cities aren't total deserty spots -- Albuquerque's bosque is quite green, and Yuma rocks trees, too -- but no one can deny a desert balloon party is utterly striking. This is one reason the Cathedral City Balloon Festival draws the devotees. The typically great February weather is one plus, of course, but spying a balloon with that big-sky sunset, and some palms, and the craggy San Mateo mountains nearby, can take the breath away. But don't let the mere thought of it take your breath away now: Best start planning for the Feb. 12 through 14 event.
YEP, THAT'S VALENTINE'S WEEKEND, and President's Day Weekend, too. There'll be several packages and deals around the desert resort cities themed to the love holiday, and maybe a few giving nods to Mardi Gras as well (not to mention a presidential package in not-too-far-off Riverside). Combining your long weekend with balloon glows and special breakfast races and balloon rides and a relaxing day spent out at The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa is something that needs to happen sooner than later, if you're a balloon buff and you plan on spending some of the weekend either admiring the scene or taking photographs. It's year two for the event, by the by, which joins other desert-gorgeous locales in welcoming balloonists and their amazing envelopes. Is that a balloon drifting near the mountain ridge, with the sun turning the sky peach and pink? Best grab your camera and click.