TEAM WILD MAMA

National Parks Tour - Fall 2019

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Trip Photos

Since the May tour to Canada was a bust - or a break I should say - I have been excited to have another adventure for this year. With lots of things to do 99s related, I figured that I would combine everything into one trip and make an adventure out of it. Dick got me started on the National Parks Passport book. I have been to many parks but did not get the book stamped. Now I am on the quest to do a "bump and run" on the places I have been to get the book stamped and to actually visit the places that I have not been. Well, I will re-visit some places just because I liked them so much. So here we go!
 
September 15th - Mammoth Caves National Park: With all of my chores done in Tenessee ..... well, I should back up. I flew up to Spencer TN to the cabins to have some contractor work done and to attend the AOPA Fly-in at Tullahoma. Work progressed nicely and the Tullahoma experience was lots of fun. Got to visit with 99s, ARC friends and meet new friends ..... and do a local scavenger hunt that I nailed! That was for a drawing for a camping set for the plane but even with the maximum number of entry tickets, ISheriffTour/918photo.jpg was not the lucky winner. Oh well.
 
With all of my chores done in TN, I wanted to go for a scenic drive. The fall colors were peeking through the hill sides and I just knew there was more to be seen. I consulted my National Park map and saw that Mammoth Caves was only a 2-1/2 hours drive. Doable. I left early in the morning - no surprise there - and meandered my way through the mountains. I was surprised that the rolling hills followed me all the way to the caves. Although I had been there before and did the tour of the cave, the scenery to get there was not at all familiar. I arrived at the caves and entered the visitor center to locate the stamp. Park #1 under my belt.
 
September 16th - Great Smoky Mountain National Park: This is one of my favorites and I did not mind driving around the park a wee bit after stopping at the visitor center to stamp the book. The park still bears the scars of the devastating fire of several years ago. Much of the area has recovered but I am sure it will never really be the same to the locals who lost so much. I also had to make a stop at the Alpine Roller Coaster. Cousin Carrie said it was a blast so I gave it a shot. I just discovered the time lapse on the iphone ( yes, I am a little slow on these things) so I thought it would make a good video. Well, the slow uphill part was great on the time lapse but the downhill - the fun part - look like a total tumble and was done in a few seconds. Not what I had in mind but it was worth the effort. The sunset time lapse the day before was much more SheriffTour/919photo.jpgstunning. Park #2 in the books
 
September 19th - Gateway Arches National Park: I am honored to be inducted into the Forrest of Friendship in Atchison, KS this weekend so my leg today was from Spencer to Atchison. Since I am meandering to collect AOPA airports for the passport, it was my luck to meander right past the St Louis Arch. Now I few right past the Arch a few years ago on the Mississippi River trip home from Oshkosh after my elecrical melt-down but I did not stop to see it. Today was the day to stop.  I do not know why but there is something about the Arch that make me giddy. I was smiling ear to ear when I landed after a near miss. The tower was calling traffic to a 172 and he was not responding. I saw him at my 3 o'clock getting bigger and bigger but slightly lower. I was ready to take evasive action but he finally noticed me full sized in his wind screen and got on the radio to chastise the tower for not pointing me out. The tower told him that HE failed to respond to repeated traffic warnings. The 172 realized it was his fault. I got directed to 12L and he landed 12R. He better file a NASA on that one.SheriffTour/920photo.jpg
 
Anyway, the folks at Jet Aviation was the best. The fixed me up with a courtest car and I was on my way in no time to see the Arch. The downtown area was torn up so I parked quite a distance away and had to walk. It was not obvious where the giant National Park sign was - I never did find that - but I managed to find the visitor center and get the stamp in the book. I did not have time for the top of the arch tour BUT, I flew past it so I know the view. Park # 3 - oh, yeah!!
 
I continued on to atchison in an uneventful trip although I had to deviate from the east to the west side of Kansas City for a large cluster of storms. Thanks goodness my Sirrius XM piced up the storms because I was too low for the ADS-B to give me a good picture. The storms were big enough for the eyeballs to see but the severity was not apparent. With a few extra miles and an extra airport or 2, I landed at Amelia Earhart Airport in Atchison for the celebration weekend. Life is indeed grand!

September 19-22 - Forest of Friendship: Along with 24 others, I was honored to be inducted into the International forest of Friendship in Atchison, KS. Among the other inductees were Myra and Ellen. It was special to be inducted along with two of my best friends. The weekend whizzed by. Among the highlights were a visit to the only surviving Lockheed 10, Murial, the same plane that Amelia Earhart used on her final flight. Quite a beautiful aircraft. We visited Weston, a nearby quaint town, steeped in history. We tried leaving town just as the homecoming parade started, but found ourselves blocked by the oncoming parade. Ellen expertly navigated her way out of that mess and got us back safely. We visited the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and wandered about Atchison. The ceremony was Saturday. Both the forecast and reality were for intermittent rain so we had the ceremony at Elizabeths along with the luncheon. We toured the Forest and located our stones independently. The evening event was a swing hangar dance. Both the band and the youthful dancers were amazing.SheriffTour/921photo.jpg
 
September 22 - Badlands National Park: With the threat of storms, I had moved my plane from Amelia Earhart Airport to neighboring St. Joseph Airport where I could get hangar space. Oddly enough, that also put Wild Mama in the thick of the weather on departure time. Myra joined me for this leg of this otherwise solo adventure. We quickly determined that a late departure followed by a late attempt at the LaVeta pass (10,200’) with 20+ kt. winds was NOT our idea of a good time. So we shifted hears and planned a northwest departure to Rapid City.
 
SheriffTour/922photo.jpgStorms were training in from the southwest to northeast with a slow easterly drift. This effectively blocked our NW departure route. We finally found an opening leaving to the SW, going around behind the frontal boundary of storms then making our way to the NW as planned. We departed IFR and remained in a sterile cockpit environment for the next 20 minutes or so. It was raining and solid clouds. Our ground speed was 88 kts. I kept checking to see what was causing the slowdown only to determine it was headwinds and severe downdraft. Myra finally spotted a hint of blue sky that soon opened ahead of us. Bits of the land below unveiled themselves and all conversation resumed again. We landed in Grand Isles, NE for a fuel stop, lunch break and rerouting.
 
The next leg to Rapid City was full of beautiful scenery and headwinds but we were thankful it was otherwise clear until we approach Rapid City. We overflew Badlands National Park. It was Myra’s first time seeing this craggy but stunningly beautiful landscape. As we made our final approach to Rapid City one last little pop up storm reared its wet little head and gave us a welcome shower.
 
We landed uneventfully and were quickly on our way to the Badlands. We only have a few days in the area and there is so much to see that we did not dare waste a minute. We meandered through the Park and stopped at the Visitor Center for National Park #4 of the this trip. We had just gotten started and the trip was reminding us of Iceland - a 2 hour drive would take at least 4 hours with stops for photos and just soaking in the scenery. The colors, rock formations, prairie dogs (did I mention how much I like prairie dogs), vast vistas and beautiful grasslands captured our hearts. All too soon we found ourself nearing sunset and we needed to exit the park. The GPS was NOT a help so we followed the paper park map given to us as we traversed along a gravel road. We passed a young couple, seemingly lost, who started following us. We made a wrong turn at the behest of the GPS and quickly decided to ho back and follow the paper map. The young couple hesitated for a bit but took the wrong turn, NOT turning back like we did. We made the correct decision and were soon on our way to the hotel. We wondered if the couple made it out OK.
 
September 23 - Wind Cave National Park: Today was both a bonanza and a bust. We covered more territory than one could possibly imagine but some of the exhibit we wanted to see were closed.
 
Our first stop was at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The rock was open but the Museum was closed. We did, however, listen to a 20 minute presentation about the sculptor who envisioned and created this national treasure. After wandering around a bit we headed out down Needles Highway, so named for the spires that permeate the landscape as the road winds its way to Custer State Park, passing through narrow tunnels and hairpin turns.SheriffTour/924photo.jpg
 
Custer is a huge park encompassing much of the area of the Black Hills. Sylvan Lake, herds of bison, prong horned antelope, prairie dogs and burros roam freely through the park and showed themselves to the passing tourists. The burros, a friendly lot looking for handout and a head scratch, wandered the streets, accosting passing motorists. One decided his head scratch would be on our car mirror!
 
Wind Cave - National Park #5 of the trip - is magnificent ... except Myra never got to see it. The elevator into the cave was inoperative and all tours canceled. Fortunately for me, Ellen and I toured the cabe on our last visit. Myra will have to come back another time. We watched the video highlighting the unique box weave, pop corn and feathery features found in the cave and learned the history and geology. We viewed the “blow hole” that was the original discovery point for the cave but bid farewell to the cave without seeing her treasures.
 
On the way back north on Iron Mountain Road, we made a final stop at the Custer Visitor for a 100th anniversary stamp in our passport books and a video about Custer Park.
 
September 24th - Deadwood: This was an "extra day" for us to go explore the surrounding area. We headed north to Sturgis then Spearfish (the only place I ever throttled bak in an air race) and down the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway into Deadwood. Deadwood is an old western town still lost in the wild, wild west. It has a nice main street, quaint shops and a host of local attractions. It was THE biggest crowd we have seen yet in our National Park travels, probably because of the casinos.
 
After Deadwood we headedback to the South Dakota Air Museum and over to Wall Drugs but the jackalope was not there. I was kind of disappointed but we managed to do a little shopping to cure the blue (as if we needed cheering up). 
 
September 25th: Crazy Horse: Our last day in town so we darted off to see Crazy Horse Memorial to see how much progress has been made. While I note it was some, it seems to be a slow go They expect another 50 years or more for completion. I probably will not ever see it done.  Then we found the steam train from Keystone to Hill City so we hopped on the little red caboose for the 3 hour round trip journey through the Black Hills - what an exciting and very beautiful trip.SheriffTour/925photo.jpg
 
September 26th - Denver: Today we were happy to arrive. The original plan was an air tour of Mount rushmore and Crazy Horse. The winds on take off were only 7 kts. I had my dounts and they were well founded. As we were within eye range, but nowhere near close to camera range, the winds picked up to 45 kts - way too dangerous for the intended flight, so we turned and headed south.
 
It was a long slow trip. We had nice scenery but the 40-50 kt headwinds kept our ground spped to barely 100 kts at times. By the time we arrived at Loveland, we were ready to be on the ground - not because the flight was bad but because it was just. so. slow...
 
September 27th: #6 Rocky Mountain National Park: This was a bonus park as I did not think we would have time to see it but we SheriffTour/926photo.jpgsqueezed it in. It is quite a distance to the park as the road winds along highway 34 and a meandering river up t the park. This was a "Bump and run" for me. Myra had never seen the park, however. We had planned on making a large loop but discovered that Myra did not bring a formal outfit for the "black tie" affair for tomorrow night. We cut our park short to make a run to the mall to hunt for the perfect outfit. Done! Now we are ready for the big event tomorrow night.
 
September 28th - National Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony: As john King said: "This is the big one", and he should know because he and Martha King were inducted into the Hall of Fame together. The 99s were fortunate enough to have a table sponsored for us and Myra and I were even more fortunate SheriffTour/928photo.jpgto be invited to the table. It was a gala to remember. Anyone and everyone who was someone in the aviation industry was there - astronauts, bround-breakers, record setters, technology masters, and of course just us pilots too. It was really too much to take in but for me this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I came because of John and Martha. I was the recipient of the King/NAFI scholarship and have gotten to know the Kings from that time. It was an honor to be here for them. Additionally, 99s President, Jan McKenzie was accepting the award for Katherine Stinson since she was a life member of the 99s.
 
The evening was amazing. Just listening to the accomplishments of all of the speakers, presenters and, of course, the enshrinees. In addition to Stinson and the Kings, there were 2 astronauts and Pappy Boyington. Probably Greg, Pappy's son, gave the most moving tribute to his dad. The presenter was the current commanfder of the Black Sheep Squadron. There is Pappy memorabilia and, of course, his book at the sheep pen. The book is required reading. Many of the squadron members attended the ceremony and Greg, at the end, removed Pappy's medal from around his neck and presented it to the commander for it to live in the sheep pen where it belongs.  All and all it was a truly humbling experience to be among the greats in our aviation community.
 
September 30th - on the move again: Yesterday morning I dropped Myra off at the Denver International Airport for her commercial flight home. I am solo fromSheriffTour/927photo.jpg here on out on this epic journey. I had been watching the weather and had changed leg 6 at least 3-4 times realizing that the forecast winds and icing level will not allow me to safely get into Provo where I initially intended. I made arrangements to see these parks from a base loction of Farmington, NM. With great difficulty I was able to get a car. I know I will be camping and I have my Van Bortel Aircraft camping stove and nifty multi-tool griller to take with me for cooking. I spent the day packing and getting supplies for my time in the wilderness. I hope to have several hotel days but I am quite prepared to camp too.
 
I arrived at the airport early and the winds were already up to 14 kts from the north. I know that me tail wind would be short lived, however. Because of the forecast winds being 50 kts, I had to take the long way around the mountains for safety. It added another 50 nm to the trip but worth it not to be splattered along the hillside. Unfortunately, the forecast 50 was an actual 50 kt headwind on the majortiy of the trip. It was so bad that my planned 3-1/2 hour trip would be in excess of 5 hours and the range of Wild Mama so a mid range fuel stop was in order. I selected Las Vegas, NM as it was THE LAST airport before making the turn to the west and northwest to get around the mountains and into Faarmington.
 
After 2-3/4 hours I arrived in Las Vagas, rocking and rolling the whole trip. My low ground speed was 88 kts in level flight. It was sad. Arrival into Las Vegas was a windy event and I hoped for a quick turn around but that was not going my way either. Someone caught the hose in the roller wheel and jammed it so the hose could not be extended for me to get fuel. It took 3 linemen to untangle the mess and get me to fueling. By then 30 more minutes had passed and I called the FBO to make sure my car was still there for me. I ordered an SUV and it was a special order. I did not want to lose it.
 
The last leg was rough but at least I had a quartering tailwind to boost my spirits and my speed. The scenery was breathtaking with odd rock formations in an array SheriffTour/930photo.jpgof browns, golds, greys and oranges. There were finger formations, cliffs, canyons and just vast sheer beauty. I did my best to take it all in again. I had been this way before but it is so rare the opportunity that I want to savor every eyeful.
 
I finally arrived at Farmington and landed on runway 25 with the winds 150 10G18. Another exciting landing but somehow the more challenging one seems to be the best. I think I have to pay attention to flying the plane instead of being distracted by all sorts of other things. Tonight I rest and get an early start in the morning.  

October 1st - three-fer: With Wild Mama safely parked for a few days it is time to hit the ground. There are so many parks in this area and flying to get closer means that the last mile - getting TO the park - becomes the impossible mile. It is just better to drive. The weather is also a bit unusual: the “historic snow storm” that came into the northern Rockies already altered my trip. Yesterday I flew an additional 50 nm around the mountains because of the high winds - NOT good mountain flying conditions but I added the miles to provide a safe distance from the granite rocks. It was still a long, bumpy flight. Now there is a tropical storm coming up through SE NM, basically over-running part of the area where I flew yesterday. Fortunately, I am out of the rainy weather. This week the weather forecast is for “record cold”. *sigh* I have extra clothes.
 
This is meant to be a solo journey from here on out. I have flown all over the US, sometimes solo, sometimes with friends, but I have certainly not taken a journey of this magnitude solo. It was time to stretch the wings a bit more. Making my way through the mountains was always the biggest challenge but with the unusual weather, it was more so. Perhaps I will not fly as much as I hoped, and I am missing the Jackson Hole and Yellowstone area that is now snowed in but this kind of flying teaches patience and you have to be flexible. Onward!
I have an SUV packed for camping and hotelling and having fun. I have survival gear and SPOT. I have lots of food and water and a sense of adventure. What more do I need?
I departed before sunrise this morning in the darkness of night. I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot to see in Farmington but I also knew that I would be coming back through here later during the daytime. Off in the distance I Saul Shiprock. I made a small deviation to catch a quick glimpse of Shiprock from the distance. As I turn to head north towards Mesa Verde again the sun was creeping over The horizon in the desert floor in front of me first in to color. It was a magnificent sight.
 
Shortly after entering Utah heading north to Canyonlands National Park, I came across one of my favorites, windmills. The windmills were perched in front of a small mountain range. The whole mountain side was on fire with fall colors cradling greens around a center of vivid golden aspens.SheriffTour/101photo2.jpg
 
Park # 7 - Mesa Verde National Park: The main attraction for this park is the tour up to the dwelling area. Since I was on a time schedule and seeing as I already took the tour, this was a fast bump and go.
 
Park # 8 - Arches National Park: Arches is stunning. This whole region in stunning. As I drive down the highway I have to resist the temptation to stop at every corner. The rocks are vivid oranges behind seas of sage brush. The lines form shapes one more fascinating and appealing than the next. My head was on a swivel.
 
SheriffTour/101photo3.jpgArches was crowded. I cannot recall such a back up to get into a park. That cut my visit a bit short but I was able to tour around some of the arches formations. I was heading for the windows formation but it was closed, so I turned around at balancing rock and headed back out catching some video along the way.
 
Park # 9 - Canyonlands National Park: The beauty of this part is beyond words. The array of colors that weave through the canyon and change with the ever moving sunlight is something I could stare at forever. There are 3 distinct sections to the park. I went into Islands in the Sky Visitor Center on the north side of the park closest to Arches. I have been in this part before with Ellen but time did not allow me to check out Needles, especially since there way aSheriffTour/101photo1.jpg long traffic delay and two way traffic down to one lane. Ellen and I flew over this park several years ago. It would be a nice do-over but the winds were still howling today and I had to hang on to my hat each time I approached an overlook.
 
Tomorrow is another early departure for the 3 hour ride to Capitol Reef. This is a new park for me so I will linger for the night at the resort.


October 2nd: Park # 10 - Capitol Reef National Park: I fell asleep eaely last night and slept straight through the night until 1:00 am. Then I was too excited about seeing the new parks to go back to sleep so I gave up and got up to complete some work and to study up on the park for today. The trip was right at 3 hours so I needed to leave by 5 am to make the Visitor Center at opening time of 8 am. I left earlier in the dark and drove in total darkness except for the area illuminated by the headlights. I knew the scenery was awesome because I saw it yesterday. But there I was: just me, country radio and the black of night.
 
 Near 7 am the sunrise was creeping into my rear view mirror. I could see the sillouette of the mountains in front of the glowing sky. As the rocks came into view I really got excited: the colors, the shapes, the vastness of the area. Even though Capitol Reef is in the same general area, the history and geography seem quite different.
 
SheriffTour/102photo2.jpgI stopped at the petroglyph boardwalk and saw some of the ancient writings on the rock walls. I stopped for some photos, but again, there was so much to photograph that selecting one specific image to capture was rediculous. I arrived at the Visitor Center promptly at 8 am, got my book stamped and watched the informational video. The scenic drive was on my list so I also purchsed the interpretative guide for the drive and set off. There are only 2 paved roads in the Park. Capitol Reef is long and skinny with the Waterpocket Fold running down the middle for about 90 miles. You can access only a small portion of the park by car; otherwise it is hiking, ATV or horse.
 
The area was settled by the Mormons n the late 1800s. It was a protected fertile area, perfect for about 10 families to carve out a living. They planted fruit trees and the area took the name of Fruitville. Part of the buildings from the settlement were still present including the school house, tool shed and a few other buildings. The other thing making the area perfect was the water supply - Fruitville being at the confluence of 2 rivers. But that was also an issue because the area was subject to flash flooding. Eventually tourists arrived and the settlers left. The area was protected and became a National Park in 1971.
 
The scenic drive was just that: scenic. There were more varied rock formation, layered in a rainbow of colors due to the passage of time and the floods, volcanic eruptions and other wether phenomenom  over the last 25 million years. There were magnesium streaks, upheaves, ripples and distinct layers and domes. It was by far the most beautify and diverse Park in the area. I loitered long enough that I needed to make a beeline for the hotel. Since I am limiting my hiking to allow my foot time to heal, I opted to take a horseback ride thought the park.SheriffTour/102photo1.jpg
 
I asked for the oldest deadest horse that had no hope of breaking into anything but a steady walk no matter what. They obliged and I saddled up on Rio for my trip. Rio was a dream horse and perfetly fit the bill. We walked through trails up to the face of the domes and large rock structures, meandering through cypress and other pines, local bushes and cacti. The ground sparkeled with quartz crystals and gypsum. Lava rocks were scattered about the ocean floor. This are wasa, at one point, ocean. Salt deposits littled the floor and evidence of the ocean waves lappig against the rocks was evident. We made it back without incident other than a sore butt - apparently I have a 1-1/2 hour butt and was on a 2 hour ride. Well worth the effort!
 

   

October 3: Park # 11 - Great Basin National Park: I left Capitol Reef under the cover of darkness and worked my way across Utah and into Nevada. As it was a dark night all I could see was the roadside grasses and very little else because of the blackness of night. All of the stars were out again on another moonless night.SheriffTour/103photo1.jpg
 
I had a few challenges this evening in dodging all of the wildlife: four deer, seven rabbits, two chipmunks and one skunk darted into my path and I needed to slam on the brakes for the deer to avoid hitting them.
 
I emerge from the shadow of darkness to see the silhouette of the mountains around me. For some reason, it always seemed like I was driving up I 95 in a heavily wooded area through Florida. You just could not tell what you were going to see. Highway 50 is called the loneliest road and I certainly understand why. There are no services, no towns, no signs of life other than the wildlife that is darting out there trying to kill themselves.
 
SheriffTour/103photo2.jpgI arrived at great basin national park right at sunrise. My mistake in Miscalculating that Nevada was on Pacific time actually work to my advantage because I had enough time to take the wheeler peak scenic drive all the way to the top before my tour started. The narrow Mountain Road clung to the side of the hill and I wound my way up through the scrub Pines and aspens which were in various stages of presenting their fall colors. There were wild turkey running all over the road and many times I had to stop and wait for them to cross.
 
Wheeler Peak is over 12,000’. By the time I passed 9000’ feet there was snow on the ground and some ice on the road. It was 27 degrees. I made the trek up and back just in time for my tour of Lehman Caves.
 
The cave is beautiful and well preserved. We saw the traditional,stalactites and stalagmites along with cave bacon and relatively rare shields. There were also draperies and inscriptions from the late 1800s when the first visitors first explored the caves.SheriffTour/103photo3.jpg
 
Since I hit the highlights of the park it was time to move on. I had a 7 hour drive to Montrose, CO for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Park tomorrow. I was glad to do the drive today since I was backtracking over the path in. I had seen nothing but the stars since it was dark. You do not “stumble” onto the Great Basin. If you go there it is because you intend to be there. It was, indeed a great basin that I passed on the way to the park. Once I left the basin area the rock formations started changing againback to the treeless mountains of Utah. I guess I was not paying that much attention to the fact that I was back in the Capitol Reef region when all of the sudden this amazing salt wash appeared on the right as I looked out the window. Holy Moses was it beautiful. Another cornucopia of color. I had to pull over at the overlook to see the expansive wide canyon. From there the view and the colors got better. I had never flown or drove this section of I-70 before but it was awesome enough that I called Ellen to tell her that we have to make this trip in the plane en route to Alaska next year. It was just too pretty. Another variety of rock formation, gulches, ghost rocks and domes.
 
Much to my surprise I arrived at Montrose 7 hours later quite energized after the beautiful scenic drive.  
 
October 4th - National Park # 12 - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Another early morning departure was in order so I could arrive before sunrise and witness the sunrise over the Canyon. As I was ascending the mountain to the top of the south rim, I saw fall colors in their full glory. At some altitudes, I SheriffTour/104photo1.jpgdetermined, they were at peak while higher altitudes. To say the colors were beautiful simply does not do it justice.
 
The park was virtually empty so it was easy for me to make my way through the scenic rim road and hit all of the overlooks without delay. The first glimpse of the canyon was breath-taking. Shear black cliff walls jetted skyward from the river floor below. The light was not full in the canyon yet so the crevasses were extra dark adding to the sinister look. It made my knees cold when I looked over the edge.
 
The sun actually did not work in my favor on some of the walls. I can see where it would be advantageous to spend the entire day to see the many faces of the canyon illuminated by the sun. I finished the drive and made the stop,at the visitor center for book stamping and watching the video about the first canyon mapping and exploration.
 
Highway 50 must be one of the most scenic roads ever known to man-kind. I have been following it for hundreds of miles as it left Great Basic, joined I70 now passes through Montrose and toward Alamosa. I kept my Foreflight out so I had a real map and just the “turn right now” of the GPS without more detail. We were going over high terrain and I had actually looked at flying this section of airspace before but wondered about the passes at 10,000’ plus. It was good to lay eyes on them.
 
Again, describing the fall colors, vibrant shades of the mountains and the wildly varied scenery as “beautiful” or “spectacular” is a real injustice. It is something that is nothing short of awe inspiring - too good to stop and try to capture in a still image. It is best left as a movie memory imprinted on my brain.SheriffTour/104photo2.jpg
 
National Park # 13 - Great Sand Dunes National Park: I finally left highway 50 to head south and selected a series of back roads just to make life more interesting. I passed huge expansive ranches filled with cattle, crops, lots of alfalfa mostly, and not too many houses. This was a wide valley on the back side of the front range. A storm was brewing and part had already seen its way to the valley floor while other clouds were lurking at the mountain tops just waiting for the opportunity to unleash a torrent on the dry ground below.
 
I kept my gaze at the distant sky and scenery when a large sand colored mound appeared way off in the distance. Could that possibly be the Sand Dunes? Certainly not this far out. But it was. As I approached the park, I could see these massive dunes towering 750’ up from the valley floor. The Dune is 30 miles long and quite impressive.
 

Unfortunately by now the wind was blowing 30 kts and the rains were headed my way. I ducked into the visitor center to see the film about the park and get my passport stamped. There is not much to do there for a drive - lots of hiking and playing in the sand, neither of which were things that I wanted to do (I am not a big fan of sandy beaches either, truth be told). I decided to call,it a day and head to the hotel in Alamosa that happened to be next to Walmart. I re-stocked my supplies and decided an afternoon of rest would be good. Tomorrow is another long driving day but I am hoping for some fun stuff along the way. We will see.
 
October 5th: National Park # 14 - Petrified Forest National Park: Well, my plan of seeing the Albuquerque balloon mass launch was a bit of a bust. The whole way down from just north of Santa Fe through Albuquerque was fog. Some wasy laying on the road which was NOT good for driving in the dark but the remainder was hovering just above ground level. Fortunately, I arrive at the launch site around 8:30 am to see hoards of balloons just waiting and a meager few in the air. Darn!!
 
SheriffTour/105photo1.jpgSo on to the real activity for the day - Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. As I was approaching, I was thinking that this was a repeat visit for me but then I stoped to think when I was last here. That would have been the summer of my 9th birthday. Seeing as I am 58 going on 59, my math tells me that was nearly 50 years ago. Yikes! has time ever passed quickly. I could vividly recall strolling through a pathway surrounded by the falled petrified trees and how big some of the trees were. I will have to go back and see if I have any old photos. I am sure that they are in storage somewhere.

I made the stop at the visitor center to get the book stamped and watch the film. I was astounded that they have have photos from theSheriffTour/105photo2.jpg early 1900s and today showing that the major exhibits are EXACTLY the same. Given the damage that old timers did before realizing what a treasure these park lands are, I found that quite remarkable that even 100+ years ago, the value of this land was recognized.

The park is mostly a drive through with stops along with way to see the vistas. My favorite was a little visited Chinde Point. It was a bit of a drive down and for some reason, it was more often than not skipped judging by all the cars driving by and there being only one other car there. I was taken aback by the expansive view of the painted desert. It was the only place where the whole view, as far as the eye could see, was unobstructed. There was a fellow sitting on a rock just gazing out, obviously in deep thought. I approached the edge a bit away from his as I did not want to disturb his solitude. It was easy to just stare out over the desert and drink in all of the colors. The desert was appropriately named. After a bit, the man spoke and I apologized for disturbing is peace. He is going to see his elderly, and I gathered ailing father. I also assumed by the conversation that he had lots to say and precious little time to do it. He did not know what to say and just started talking. He seemed to be genuinely tortured about his upcoming visit. We chatted a bit and I moved on. I hope he resolved his issues with his dad before it is too late.

I continued on to see all of the pull out stops and found the path with the petrified logs that I had remembered. It was the Crystal Forest. While I cannot say it was "just as I remembered" it certainly was easy for me to recognize when I got there. I took the stroll through memory lane and headed out of the park for an overnight in Holbrook along Route 66. This is the second such town I have stay in/passed through; the other being Needles, CA. Both have that historic but long forgotten look with lots of relics from the past and not much of a thriving economy. There are many references to Historic Route 66 but no real history or anything to lure one in to learn more.  

 October 6th: National Park # 15 - Grand Canyon National Park: This is the last park of this run based ut of Farmington. This was a bonus. I have been running ahead of schedule so I had time to add it. I left at 4 am as usual and made it to Flagstaff without issue. Then I discovered that I-40 was closed due to an issue with the overpass. I called a truck stop at the location of the closure and asked if it were truly closed. He said it was a 2-3 hours delay but that I could get by on a dirt road if I had a 4WD. Ummm, maybe not. I detoured which added another 30 minutes to the trip but better than 2 hours. On the way, I got to experience no less than 5 sunrises. As I was heading north, the sun was rising over the mountains. But there were multiple peaks and valleys and each time I hit a valley, there was another sunrise that disappeared behind each peak. Way too fun.
 
This is my 5th trip to the Canyon so I was just opting for the scenic drive and visitor center to get the book stamped. I got there a little before the center opened and decided to walk around to the South Rim. It was filled with the same smoke that I came though on the wa over from Holbrook. The view was still beautiful but hazy. Once the center opened I got the stamp and moved on. The other pull outs for the view points had a much better view with less smoke.SheriffTour/106photo1.jpg
 
 
I made it through the park and headed on the way back to Farmington. It has been a week and I made it through 9 National Parks, saw unimaginably beautiful road side scenery and have thouroughly enjoyed the journey so far. On this part of the journey I drove over 37 hours and more than 2500 miles in 7 days.
 
 
But this is just the beginning! Tomorrow I depart for Phoenix. I hope to get a little camping and some other fun suff in before moving on. Stay tuned .... 
 
October 7th: Park # 16 - Saguaro National Park:  After an uneventful but very beautiful early morning flight to Phoenix, I grabbed my car and hit the ground running. It was only 37 degrees when I made my sunrise departure and the temperature in Phoenix was already in the low 80's. I started removing layers.
 
I made a bee line to the Saguaro National Park and made the Visitor Center my first stop. I got a great orientation from the rangers but also watched the video. Both recommended going to the Desert Museum and Botanical Center first to learn about the local flora and fauna. I obliged. The fisst stop at the Museum was a demonstration of the local venomous anmals - specifically the helomonster and the rattle snake. I got a chuckle as the ranger handling the snake kept a significantly greater distance from the snake than did the helomonster ranger. Afterward, I made the trek around the facility to see the cacti, aloe, butterflies, hummingbirds and other animals and plants - plants mostly being cactus.
 
I headed back to the main park for the interpretative walk and drive before heading south to the Tuscon National Forest. All and all, the "forest" looked amazingly like the Park - lots of cactus. I saw more varieties and number of cactus today than I had seen in my entire 58 year before. With the temperature hitting 100 degrees, I was pretty well done the hiking and took a scenic drive through the area. Tucson splits the Park in half. I only visited the west half.
 
Tomorrow is another adventure. I booked some glider time and I am hoping the weather cooperates that I can actually get to fly. Since getting y rating I have made only one flight - all others being rained out or some other mechanical or issue preventing my flying. I am looking forard to the break from the parks and heading back to the sky with the birds. 
 
October 8-9: Soaring: Since getting my glider rating I was only able to make on flight in FL. Either the weather, tow plan or schedule did not cooperate. So I decided to tke some time off of the National Park tour to make a few flights. I landed myself in Estrella Sailport with AZ Soaring, recommended by Laura Radigan. 

Day 1 I had an awesome instructor and human being, Dak. He is 21 and, long story short, credits aviation with helping him overcome a disability. He already is trying to give back to the community by working with kids teaching them about overcoming disabilities. But aside from that I learned lots about soaring. I was happy I did not forget how to to the tow or land. What I really wanted to know was how to find thermals; and this region ws so vastly different from flat Florida that I knew there would be lots of gems. Dak did not disappoint me. Flight one was good but short. Flight 2 was my new personal best at 1:48! We hit a big booming thermal three times that took us as high as 6600' - also my peronal bedt so far.

Day 2 was not as dramatic but a great learning day with instructor Bruce - an old-timer at the game. He said that it was difficult to teach people to find something that they could not see but I would eventually have that ah-ha moment and it would come together. I got a few more gems from Bruce as we soared to 6300' on a 48m minute flight. With the thermals dying and me having an invitation to the Phoenix Chapter 99s meeting it was time to call it a day.

The Phoenix was a dynamic chapter full of younger members - quite a few time building and student pilots. They were very welcoming and they have lots of projects that they are working on. It was fun to see how the flavor of a chapter is so different in a different area.
 
 
 

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