Day 7 - Welcome to Paradise

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Day 7

…..a disembodied voice shouted cheerfully over the radio. More on that in a moment!

Another glorious predawn airport wake up in Belen, New Mexico. We are getting great at waking up in the dark, packing up fast, and taking off just as the sun rises to catch the best light. The entire trip has been gorgeous but the flying we encountered today was nothing short of miraculous. En route to Gallup for a fuel stop, I circled overhead one of North America’s oldest continuously occupied communities, Acoma Pueblo, while Filip photographed it against the rising sun. It felt ancient and wild and we were amazed that people were living down there in such an untamed place. We pressed on—the terrain beneath us was eruptive, changing rapidly, and we were both ecstatic by the time we flew over Monument Valley. We threw open the windows for maximum visibility and enjoyment, to shoot the immense formations. It is some of my favorite kind of flying, circling tightly over the Earth, windows open, air screaming, engine pounding, attempting to capture it all.

After Gallup, we headed to a remote strip in Utah called Calblack. I called up on the radio announcing our position, and a voice called back from the ground, “welcome to paradise!” He was not wrong.

The field was quite remote, it stood out in striking black against the yellow scruffy desert ground of Utah. In the distance, Lake Powell and the Colorado River gleamed blue and sparkling in the sun.

We fueled and decided to hang out and relax for a bit, unloaded our camping chairs and had coffee and avocados on the field under the wing. So wonderful, this trip has been filled with moments of extreme flying, planning, and nonstop moving countered with divine moments of peace and deep, humbling appreciation.

We then departed for Pace Arizona, and this is where it gets really fun. To navigate, we decided to follow the Colorado River and Powell Lake, two beautiful churning bodies of water surrounded by some of the most insane landscape I’ve ever seen in my life, let alone from the air. Flying down the canyons following the water was some of the most awe striking and pure fun flying I’ve ever done, and I was actively laughing the entire flight. I felt like we’d flown to a new planet, it was incredible, stimulating, almost incomprehensible, and truly, unbelievably delightful.

At Pace we fueled, and completely thrilled, decided to go up for another hour of shooting in the canyons.

We then returned to plan our next day of early morning flying and sleep, dreams filled with the spectacular wonders we’d witnessed. To the West!

Flight Path

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Some scrap, some temporary

Day 6 - Goodbye Texas, hello New Mexico

Thursday, May 15, 2020

Day 6

We awoke in Lamesa TX before dawn, and prepped the plane for an early morning departure. The flight to Roswell at sunrise was smooth as silk, the fields and desert below us bathed in a soft, glowing blue. When we arrived, I circled the field overhead and Filip started shooting photos—Roswell is currently home to hundreds of parked airplanes, and the visual effect of all of them together is spectacular. We shot for awhile, and then came in to land. On the ground, we found their mechanic who agreed to change the oil for us, and we ventured out to explore Roswell for a bit. The town is filled with alien paraphernalia, it’s wild. 

Upon returning to the airport, we had a lengthy flight planning session. The flying is getting really exciting now, as we venture into the mountains. We had a call with pilot Greg Brown, who gave us some invaluable knowledge of flying this area and awesome route tips. We finished up with a solid plan for the next three days. 

After wrapping that up, we loaded up and pressed on to our home for the night, Belen, New Mexico. Incredibly, our route from Roswell passed over the Corona VOR. Ridiculous. 

Some really kind people on the field at Belen, we talked to a pilot who was about to take up a couple for a flight, and just before they departed, the guy proposed! Super cute, great to witness it. 

We spent about an hour before sunset reloading the aircraft and disposing any unneeded gear—the less weight we have in the plane in this area of the world the better.

All in all a solid day, with more exciting flying on the horizon. 

Flight Path

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Day 3 - Crossing into Texas

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Day 3

If I had to define Day 3 with any kind of summary it would be just insane weather planning. We dodged storms from the moment we awoke and broke camp (was it raining you ask? Of course it was!) till we finally touched down, exhausted, in Texas. Another way would simply be never ending deviations. We changed our routing all day long to respond to updating storm conditions, starting with the night before when we realized we could actually get out in the morning if we rose early enough. So we did just that, waking at 5 am in the darkness and rain to hastily pack up and be in the air just before sunrise at 5:50, in order to break free of the incoming storm front by dipping beneath it to the south. We took off from Reelfoot into a grey glowing sky, with surprisingly fine visibility and rising cloud ceilings and booked it south, the storm incoming to our right. As soon as we had it cleared, we turned due west direct to KSUZ for fuel before hitting Hot Springs or KHOT, where we had originally planned to wait out the weather. We were about to call it a day when we took another look at the charts and realized that if we wanted to press on, we could make into KLNC Lancaster, a little airport to the south of Dallas, with some careful storm circumnavigation. It would also save us from being stuck on the ground for weather for a substantial amount of time, so we decided it was the right call, hastily fueled, and headed out for the great state of Texas.

Flight Path

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Fields near Lancaster, OH

Day 2 - Ohio through Indiana and Kentucky to Tennessee

Tuesday, May 11, 2020

Day 2

The night of sleeping in the cockpit of the Skyhawk was a first for us both. I wouldn’t call it glamorous (or warm, roomy, or comfortable) but it surely was something to check off the list. Slightly disappointing to miss actually camping on the field–there were great campsites adjacent to the runway on the nearby lake–but avoiding the freezing temps, gusting winds, and steady rains made it the right call and quite a story for the first night out.
The field slowly went VFR as we stretched and drank some welcomed hot black coffee, so we hopped in and headed onwards to the SW, landing at I23, Fayette County in OH. We charged gear at the FBO, and did some flight planning, then grabbed the old airport van to make a supply run at a local market for some water and sustenance. It is strange to venture into the world in new places–this trip is allowing us to stay mostly socially isolated, but when we do need to venture into populated areas, the changes rendered by the COVID-19 pandemic are made even more glaringly obvious as newcomers. We’re being aware, careful, and conscious of it all.
After our quick supply run, we headed back, fueled, and departed for KBFR in Indiana, a 2 hour leg. This was a great stop, one of those perfectly preserved aviation havens, with an awesome collection of old photos, sectionals, and flight training on VHS tapes. Ken, FBO manager, told us the field, Grissom, was named for one of three astronauts who had come from the area. We got to chatting with him and he made some phone calls and got the name of an airport in Tennessee with camping on the field, Reelfoot Lake. Perfect distance away, and we could make it before nightfall if we hustled, so we fueled up fast and booked it out of there. Not too much time for photos today, as we were prioritizing speed over shooting, but we made great time to grab our evening fuel at KUCY, and on the short hop to Reelfoot circled over a swampy lake, grabbing shots. Never have I wanted floats on the Skyhawk more, it would have been the perfect place for a splash and go.
The approach to Reelfoot was gorgeous, you come in right over the water when landing runway 01. We were the ONLY aircraft on the entire field, and the only people camping except one lone RV on the opposite end. We shut down and unloaded gear to the campsite, pitched the tent, lit a fire, and chilled for a bit. Service was shoddy, and the next day had some wild weather coming through. We went back and forth on our ability to get out in the morning, and had basically decided it wouldn’t be possible, until the forecasts all updated, and we saw a small window of time we could make it out before the storms hit and we were socked in. So we set our alarms for 5am and called it a night. Day 2, wrapped!

Flight Path

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