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!
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, I
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.
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
stunning. 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.
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
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.
Storms 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
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.
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.
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!
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
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 squeezed 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 to 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 from 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 of 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.
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
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.
Arches 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 a 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.
I 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.
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!
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.
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.
I 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.
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 determined, 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.
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!!
So 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 the 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.
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.
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.