During these strange pandemic times, many people are packing up the car or the RV and heading out to see this great nation of ours. In that spirit, we packed up our 1967 Piper Twin Comanche (N8475Y) and headed out West (Sept. 2020).
You can view Pilot Bob’s short video here, and scroll down to read more about our great western adventure.
Pilot Bob is a meticulous planner and he found a big good-weather window — we enjoyed excellent weather the entire two-week trip.
We started out from our home airport (Manassas KHEF) in Virginia, crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains, and soon experienced very different terrain — looking like an enormous quilt. We made two refueling stops along the way, in Indiana and Iowa. Avgas, by the way, was quite inexpensive here, compared to what we pay at home.
That first day, we reached our first destination of Custer, SD … and iconic Mount Rushmore. Custer is a charming historic town. We not only got to see the Mt. Rushmore monument by air, but we also saw it up-close-and-personal.
From Custer, we flew southwest to the Rocky Mountains. We flew by many ski resorts where we have skied, including Telluride, Breckenridge, Copper, Winter Park, Vail. In the Rockies, we landed at Leadville/Lake County, CO (KLXV) — the highest airport in North America, at 9,934′! We are told that military pilots come to Leadville for high-altitude training. Landing at Leadville was on Bob’s bucket list, and we were excited to arrive there. Because we flew as high as 13,372′, we carried small cans of supplemental oxygen and took regular breaths from them. For the most part — even at altitude — it was a smooth flight with little turbulence. At higher altitudes, many trees have already changed their colors.
Onward! We overflew Bryce, UT and Escalante, AZ, which were both, alas, closed for renovations. Still, the aerial views are amazing. We landed at Page, AZ, a gorgeous area with much natural beauty. In the Page area, we visited the Instagram-ready Horseshoe Bend — just stunning. We walked across Navajo Bridge (built 1929) over the Colorado River and viewed Marble Canyon — this is where the Grand Canyon begins. Departing from Page Airport, we enjoyed spectacular views of Lake Powell and dramatic Temple Butte, just off the runway.
Flying down the Colorado River, following the canyon, was thrilling. We had a wonderful aerial view watching the canyon open up and get more and more dramatic until it finally explodes into the exhilarating Grand Canyon. (Strict flight rules over Grand Canyon, as you can imagine.) Photos cannot do justice to Grand Canyon; at 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep, it is simply more enormous than human eyes can process. Grand Canyon Airport is located very close to the canyon; we did experience some strong gusty crosswinds on landing, but nothing that Pilot Bob and 75Y couldn’t handle! We stayed in the park, at the historic El Tovar Hotel, perched high on the South Rim. A personal triumph for me was hiking the Rim Trail — 8.2 miles at about 7,000′ altitude. Gorgeous, dramatic views at every turn!
Our final western stop was beautiful Sedona, AZ. Approaching the airport, the scenery is quite dramatic — and the airport is located atop a large mesa! We stayed at Sky Ranch Lodge, located on the mesa and very close to the airport with gorgeous, dramatic views of Sedona and surrounding Red Rocks. We took a fun “Broken Arrow” Pink Jeep tour — named for the movie filmed there — among and atop breathtaking rock formations.
Another highlight of our Sedona stay was visiting Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well. (Neither has anything to do with Montezuma!) Native Sinagua farmers built the 5-level, 20-room “castle” around 1100 and it is in remarkably good condition. The “well” is fed by underground springs and is a lush surprise in the desert, with remnants of more residences here, both at the rim and at lake level.
Flying homeward, we had a delightful surprise — we saw an enormous circular depression in the midst of the Arizona desert. ForeFlight (aviation navigational aid) identified it as “meteor crater.” A quick look on Wikipedia confirmed it — the “best preserved meteorite crater on Earth,” about 3/4 mile across and 560′ deep. No wonder it’s so easily visible from the air.
Continuing east, we stopped for fuel and a night’s rest in Pocahontas, TX, in the panhandle. The next day, we flew eastward, stopping in northeast Arkansas for refueling, and arrived back at our home airport later that day.
Throughout our trip, we found good pandemic safety practices just about everywhere. Restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. for the most part kept very good protocols and we felt comfortable. The actual flying parts, including refueling, are naturally socially-distanced. And no TSA lines! We felt fortunate to be able to hop into 75Y for a fun adventure and she performed beautifully. All totaled, we landed in 8 states and overflew 17; flew 26.5 hours over 4,520 miles (3,937 nautical miles). We saw some incredibly diverse — and spectacular — terrain, landscapes, and formations. America the Beautiful!