High Above the Santa Cruz Mountains
A Different Way of Seeing
Neil Wiley

Our typical monthly adventure is a hike. Not this month. Instead of hiking, I flew. Not in a plane, helicopter, or hot-air balloon. I traveled on the largest airship in the world, longer than a Boeing 747, and the only zeppelin in the United States. To make it even better, this was a special inaugural flight over our own Santa Cruz Mountains. It was a gas.

Everything about this trip was special. On the day of the flight, we met at the Airship Ventures offices, a quaint bachelor-officer quarters at Moffett Field. After a light luncheon and a brief orientation, we were shuttled to an awesomely humongous Moffett hanger where we met Eureka, our airship. It was only a few steps up to the gondola’s passenger compartment, where we belted up, looked out our spacious windows (every seat is a window seat), and prepared for takeoff.

We didn’t taxi; we simply lifted off. Unlike a helicopter or a jet, the take-off was relatively quiet and smooth. In an amazingly nimble maneuver, Eureka turned in the air and headed for the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The twelve passengers were quite comfortable. After only a few minutes, we could walk around the cabin, look out the panoramic windows, take pictures through open-to-the-air ports, visit the onboard restroom (complete with window), or stroll back to the 180-degree rear observation window and “love seat,”but most of all, we simply looked.

At something like 1000 feet above the landscape, we were at a perfect height for scenic viewing and photography. Instead of blasting through space we flew at under forty miles an hour, which gave us time to pick out special places. Even better, the captain could hover the airship to create a perfect airborne platform for still pictures and video.

Seeing the Santa Clara Valley from a different perspective was interesting, but as we followed Highway 17 up the hill from Los Gatos, it was downright thrilling. I could see the trails of El Sereno, Bear Creek Redwoods, Saint Joseph’s Hill, and Sierra Azul, the rowing club boathouse, fire station, and all of Lexington Reservoir. I even peeked at Lupin Lodge, but our captain guided us away. We passed Lexington school, the Redwood Estates swimming pool, the pavilion, and Nonno’s new bocce-ball court. I could almost smell the pizza from the new oven.

As we flew above Highway 17, we better understood the curvy dangers of Big Moody Curve and Valley Surprise. We turned left at the Summit, and I missed the Summit Roadhouse, but I saw Villa del Monte and the rooftop of my own home. As we headed down Laurel Canyon, I saw estates that I didn’t know existed, and square miles of green forest. Over Scotts Valley, we saw the impressive office building once owned by Borland and the Scotts Valley Hilton.

We followed the San Lorenzo River past the infamous fishhook, the infamous County Courthouse, downtown Pacific Avenue, and the most well-known landmark of all—the Beach Boardwalk. We traveled along the beachfront, then turned back to the mountains, where we hovered over Skyland—the home of the airship owners, then made our own winery tour of Silver Mountain, Burrell School, and Regale. The passengers toasted them with their own libations.

Although this was the airship’s first trip to Santa Cruz, it has flown to many California destinations, including Monterey, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It has been the chapel for an on-board wedding, a studio/classroom for a photography workshop, a boardroom for a management briefing, a fun room for a family charter, and a club-car lounge for a high-life party. You can go on one of Airship Ventures’ scheduled trips to or over Monterey, an excursion to see the sunset framed by the Golden Gate, a day-long expedition to Los Angeles, or charter the airship for your own special adventure.

Flying by zeppelin is a safe, comfortable, exciting way to gain a new perspective on our world. If your life has been a little bland lately, consider a different way of seeing. Fly zeppelin. For more information, visit www.airshipventures.com, or call 650-969-8100.