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The Desert Flight

flight through the arid western deserts

Tuesday September 20, 2011: Oakland, CA

Today I find myself planning and preparing for a solo flight 1,581 nautical miles, 13 and half hours through the arid western deserts. Each year the Commander Aircraft Owners organization get together. This year they are meeting in lovely Sonora in Arizona.

The Planned Route

However, I added two other parts to this journey. The first is a flyover the amazing Meteor Crater in Arizona. This is the world's best preserved meteorite impact site. It is not much further east of Sonora near Winslow Arizona. Meteor Crater is the breath-taking result of a collision between a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour and planet Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep. The second part is a flight to Park City in Utah to visit my friend Rick and do a bit of hiking in the magnificent Wasatch Mountains.

Below is the route I am planning. The weather looks good for the entire trip so here's hoping for smooth flying. I"ll keep you posted on my progress.

  • Oakland, CA

  • Glen Fox, Lancaster, CA (lunch)

  • Sedona, AZ

  • Meteor Crater, AZ (flyover)

  • Saint George, UT (lunch)

  • Park City, UT

  • Battle Mountain, NV (lunch)

  • Oakland, CA

Thursday September 22, 2011: Oakland Airport

Matilda at Oakland

A very low thick fog hung over Oakland Airport this morning forcing me to file an instrument departure. However, by the time I had packed and fueled Matilda it had lifted revealing a hazy but blue sky; thus enabling me to depart visually and saving the time of an instrument departure. I was feeling excited about the adventure ahead of me, but at the same time sad about leaving Julia to her studies at home.

Odd things in the desert

The first part of the flight was very smooth and a typical hazy Northern Californian summertime flight. Thousands of green and brown farm-fields, of the Central Valley, stretched on to the hazy Sierra Nevada Mountains in the far distance. A misty blue canopy above me had in it only small churning clouds over the far away highlands. I sat alone suspended in the azure sky at 7,500 feet. At Lemoore Airport I crept up to 11,500 feet to avoid temporary restricted airspace due to wildfires in the area, and to give me clearance from the Techachapi Mountains ahead of me.

Desert view

While over Bakersfield Airport I decided to skip landing at Glen Fox. I had enough fuel to continue to Sedona, I had no biological need, and enough sustenance to keep me flying. The ride got bumpy as I reached the mountains ahead and continued being rough when I made my turn east. The desert now lay before me as far as could be seen. I encountered the occasional bump while floating across the high dry plains, as it was the afternoon, which always fills the desert with turbulence. I did ride a few mild rotors too, as they swirled across the wastelands, but nothing bad. The mountains scattered about the San Bernardino Desert are very attractive.

Sonora hills

Nature finally caught up with me and so an unplanned landing was required at the very remote and very warm Needles Airport in California. I took on some fuel, chatted with a chap there for a bit, discovered I had a wasp's nest stowed away in my tail, and lifted off once again into the big desert sky.

Soon the countryside changed. It rose up higher, began to be covered with tress, and the colors of the earth became reds, dark browns, and orange. Sedona Airport presented itself to me perched on a colorful escarpment and beckoning me to land. I had made it.

Friday September 23, 2011: Meteor Crater

Victor and Carol

I joined up with my good friend Carol and her aircraft partner Victor at breakfast this morning. We enjoyed good conversation, but once again we failed to solve the world's problems, even though I offered my best opinions. Having failed at this I was able I was able to convince them that a drive out to Meteor Crater would be worthwhile. And so we drove through the Senora red mesas to Flagstaff and east on to the crater. It was really worth the drive as we passed through some magnificent desert and soon arrived at the world's most well preserved meteor crater.

Meteor Crater

Some 50,000 years ago a 150 foot diameter metallic meteor plummeted into the high plain desert and created a 2 mile around 700 foot deep crater. Tours of this amazing place are run by a private company and we all went on a one mile walk of the rim. It was moving to see the size of this place and its desolate beauty. Except for one elderly tourist fainting from the heat it was a wonderful tour.

The three Musketeers

We got back to the resort in Senora just in time to join the other Commander owners at cocktails and then dinner. The guest speaker at tomorrow's event is Dick Rutan, who piloted the Voyager aircraft around the world non-stop with co-pilot Jeana Yeager. I had read his book and it was amazing talking with him and his wife that evening.

Saturday September 24, 2011: Commander Owners Group

Rows of Commanders

Carol, Victor, and I spent most of the day at the Sedona Airport with all of the other Commander Aircraft owners attending seminars and hanging out around the aircraft. When the official event was over we drove a short drive to the Vortex. The Vortex is one of many hikes in the area that offer stupendous views of the rugged Sedona valley. It is imagined that the Vortex exposes hikers to unidentified healing powers, but really its vistas are more important and certainly more real.

Views from the Vortex

That evening everyone attend the event dinner where we not only enjoyed reasonable food, but we got to hear Dick Rutan talk about his world record two week non-stop flight around the world. The highlight of the evening was the aircraft awards where honors were presented to winners in many categories. I was dumfounded when they presented Matilda (my aircraft) with the best resorted aircraft in its category!

The lowlight of the evening occurred when some selfish Christian, no doubt egged on by his fellow religious cohorts, gave a public prayer to their imaginary god. Of course no equal time was given to all the believers of all the other imaginary gods and certainly no thought at all was given to the non-believers having to put up with their nonsense. I am constantly astonished at how intolerant and self-centered these Christians are. If they had even the slightest of normal human empathy they would restrict their mumbo-jumbo to their churches and homes. Americans should put tolerance and understanding first, before their supernatural beliefs.

Sunday September 25, 2011: Sedona to Park City

Beautiful Sedona

After biding old and new friends goodbye I flew out of Sedona Airport. The sky was clear and blue in the early morning, which made the startling colors of the Sedona countryside explode with vibrant hues. Matilda climbed slowly, but surely into the cold firmament. The Sedona Airport is high and the terrain surrounding it upsurges quickly, easily out rising Matilda's ability to climb at that altitude. I was force to perform a slow circling loop in front of a tall escarpment that block my path to the vast easterly flat high plain. I was heading this direction to flyover Meteor Crater, which I had visited by car and foot earlier on the trip.

I was soon over the crater and trying my best to fly Matilda while shooting video footage of the massive and impressive basin. It was a difficult task, but I managed not to create a new crater in the desert. Being only a thousand feet over it gave me a holistic vantage point enabling me to take in the full enormity of this wondrous nature landmark.

Volcanic Cinder Cone

From here I turned northwest and began my journey to Park City in Utah. Along the way I flew past the majestic San Francisco Mountains and its volcanic fields. Huge dark brown cinder cones surrounded by deserts of black sand filled my view below, and to the west the craggy mountains towered above me. Not long after that encountered an immense fractal shaped trench stretching off to the horizon appeared; it was Grand Canyon. By comparison tiny Matilda was swallowed up by the enormous landscape. From the air the site is spectacular and takes your breath away. It took Matilda along time to fly through this amazing place even as she traveled at close to 200 mph, it is just so huge.

The mighty Grand Canyon

Eventually I put down at St. George in Utah for a break and a pit stop, but soon I was once again in the sky and continuing my journey north. I encountered weather on this leg of the fight and the ride got bumpy, it even rained for a short time on me and the dry desert below. This part of the flight seemed to take forever as the bleak and stark landscape hardly altered. Eventually I approached the tall peaks of the Wasatch Mountains and began to wiggle my way through one of the lower passes. Suddenly there before me was Heber City Airport; I had made it safe and sound.

Sunday September 25-27, 2011: Park City

Mountain Forests

I spent the next three days with my friend Rick in his new home in Park City. I have been to Park City many times before, but never in the summer. I have only experienced it covered in a white blanket of snow. Rick assured me that it was very beautiful in the summertime and he was not exaggerating. The many deciduous trees were all changing color decorating the already magnificent mountainous countryside and making it even more attractive.

Fall colors

We hiked two amazing hikes that took us through the colorful forests, past still fast flowing rivers, and high on a mountain ridgeline. On our second hike, which was at 8,000 feet, I did not drink enough water and got a bad headache from dehydration. However, it was worth the pain as we hiked a stupendous trail that connects Dear Valley ski resort with Park City.

Rick is not a bad cook and prepared two excellent dinners. It was really good to see Rick and spend time with him again. Hang in there mate, life is too short to waste dwelling on past bad luck.

Wednesday September 28, 2011: Park City - Home

Immense arid desert

Another early morning start to catch the cold air was required this morning as the Heber Airport is at 6,000 feet and the peaks around it are much taller. However, Matilda once again performed flawlessly and whisked me over the mountains and homeward bound. After navigating the high terrain the next order of aviation business was to work my way through the extremely busy Salt Lake City airspace. The controllers were very helpful with this as normal. Matilda soon had the big city on her tail and the immense and arid desert on her nose. I glided over the dry salt lakes and skimmed over and around the occasional mountain ranges to land at Battle Mountain Airport. After quick pit stop Matilda drew me up over the desert for the final leg of the trip and home.

Fierce bushfire

I flew through military desert airspace separated by flight controllers from fast flying and missile carrying jet fighters. Once clear of our tax dollars at work I floated over Lake Tahoe where a fierce bushfire was filling the sky with plumes of gray smoke. Then I descended from 12,500 feet down to the very hot air over Sacramento and touched down at Oakland. There is no place like home.

Desert Flight


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