Afternoon Delight rose to 2,000 feet and caught a westerly, which began to push us back toward the ranch. I burned less often and we started descending. With the burner off, all we heard was the occasional creak of the basket's wicker. Until we heard the mooing. We had cleared some power lines and were within 100 feet of the ground when we saw a herd of cows to our left. Balloons spook cattle. We burned back up to 1,000, just in time to see Baby sail toward the cows. As her shadow passed over the field they faced around and froze. Suddenly we were looking at a still frame from a Western movie. We knew what would happen next. At the instant Baby came directly over them, the cows stampeded in that familiar chaos of dust and fear and animal moans.
As Baby rose to avoid the cows, she came beneath us, and we lost sight of her. There was a tense moment when we thought we might collide. Then Baby casually drifted off like an airborne mushroom. I shortened my burns from the usual 15 seconds to five, and we began dropping toward a stubble-filled field. At 100 feet, Frank told us to face forward, flex our knees and put on helmets; the landing would be rough. We hit at a slight angle and bounced along—like a routine grounder to the shortstop—for about 40 feet. Then we came to a perfect vertical stop, and before long Afternoon Delight had folded into the earth.