We went to Jackson Hole for powder, and boy, we got it! We skied 3″ of fresh powder, on top of 468″ for the season. (The snow levels reminded us of our previous ski trip to Mammoth.) The historic town of Jackson is lively and full of character — for example, the downtown sidewalks are made of wood, just like the olden days. We very much enjoyed our stay at the historic Wort Hotel, originally built in 1941. And, when in Jackson, ya gotta sit on the saddle/bar stools at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
Just a few miles north of town is the National Elk Refuge, winter home to one of the largest elk herds on earth. We took a horse-drawn sleigh ride to view the elk — a winter safari! I learned that elk shed their antlers every year, thus explaining the many beautiful antler installations around town.
We also enjoyed a visit to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, located just across the road from the National Elk Refuge. A beautiful collection and well worth the visit. One large mural cleverly incorporates wildlife in the style of 40+ classic paintings — see if you can identify them all!
Here’s Bob short video of our adventure, with a few of our favorite still shots below (click any picture to view a slideshow). Oh, and the moose? We spotted the youngster just off the ski run.
If our last trip (Cuba) was our most spontaneous trip evah (5 days!), this adventure was the opposite — more than two years in the planning. There are a few places in the world where humans can swim with humpback whales, and we traveled to one of them — the Silver Bank, 80 miles in the Atlantic Ocean north of Dominican Republic. Humpbacks travel from the north Atlantic down to the Silver Bank to spend the winter (January-April) to mate, and rear calves. View Bob’s video of this adventure, and scroll down for more of the story:
Only three boats are permitted to visit the Silver Bank with guests. This, combined with the short season, means that <800 people can visit the Silver Bank per year — about the same number that attempt to climb Everest every year. Hence the long wait. The trip was terrific — even beyond our expectations … and well worth the wait.
Humpbacks are called “gentle giants,” and it’s easy to see why. They are graceful and beautiful. We are only allowed in the water when they are at rest — no diving allowed, only passive snorkeling, and no interference with the whales. Our guides are knowledgable, and dedicated to the safety and health of the whales.
The above-water action is fantastic — tail flukes! Pectoral fin slapping! Breaching! Two whales breaching! Multiple whales slapping! Moms with babies! And the underwater experience is a level of awesome beyond that. The pectoral fins of north Atlantic humpbacks are white on both sides, making them easier to see when underwater.
Our most amazing encounter: we were floating above a mom with her calf. The calf, clearly curious and playful, slowly barrel-rolled a few times, then slowly swam straight toward us. His tail actually tapped Bob. The calf is enormous (14′ and 3,000 lbs. at birth), but so tiny when compared to his mom. It was a special moment, and I was delighted when he looked right in my eye. (Watch the special director’s cut video of this special encounter.)
Another amazing moment is when Bob recorded the 2019 song. North Atlantic humpback whales sing the same song every year … and we are told that Bob’s is the first recording of the 2019 song. We also listened to recordings of songs from 2017 and 2018, and they are indeed quite different!
These creatures are precious. We must take care of oceans and the creatures within. We saw and picked up several pieces of floating plastic … reduction of plastics — particularly single-use plastics — is so important for the health of our ecosystem.
We were aboard the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II — a live-aboard dive boat that is normally at Turks & Caicos (natch), and spends the 10 week humpback whale season at the Silver Bank. Captain Amanda (our first lady captain — yay!) and her terrific crew did an excellent job of taking care of us, caring for the whales, and maximizing our whale encounters. Highly recommend! There were 17 people on this trip (the boat can sleep 18), from Sweden, U.K., Australia, and U.S. Although diving is not allowed here, all 17 of us are scuba divers — possibly due to the way the trip is marketed? Diving skills are not needed, though one should be comfortable snorkeling in swells and rough water.
Was I singing “Baby whale doo doo doo doo doo” on this trip? You decide. But seriously, do make your plans far in advance. It is so totally worth it. — Diana
Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty are truly special. In November 2018, we flew our 1967 Piper Twin Comanche (N8475Y) for our second aerial visit. It was a clear day, with great visibility, and two dear friends were with us for this fun adventure. View a short video, and a photo story.
Our first sighting of the city was exciting! I used to live very near the Verrazano Bridge, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and it was fun to have this vantage point. The Verrazano is the “gate” for the Hudson River Excursion. Flying this excursion is tightly regulated, as you can imagine. Pilot Bob had completed a mandatory special training and followed all requirements, including a specific route, airspeed, and altitude. Sightseeing helicopters (of which there are many!) fly the pattern at a lower altitude (500′), which provides vertical separation.
As we neared Manhattan, we spotted Governors Island, a unique tiny island that is part of the borough of Manhattan.
Approaching lower Manhattan; back in the day, I worked here in the financial district. The required route is for aircraft to fly north, alongside the right side of the Hudson River.
At the required altitude (about 1,000′), we are flying below the tops of the skyscrapers! It is a dazzling sight — a multi-billion-dollar view.
Continuing north on the Hudson River, I found this football field to be quite inventive. The whole time, we had to pay attention to heavy aerial traffic and multiple hazards, including what we call a “red dome” — a totally restricted airspace around Trump Tower. This restriction was put in place the day before the Presidential Inauguration and is in place continuously. Avoid! Along the route, we are required to make radio reports as we approach specified points — in this way, all pilots along the route can keep track of each other. Example: “Twin Comanche, Intrepid, 1,000 feet, northbound.” Safety first!
We turned around at the George Washington Bridge, another important landmark. Thank goodness we are not driving in that traffic! The fall trees are beautiful. In this photo, we are looking across the Hudson at New Jersey.
After turning around, we now head south along the Hudson — on the right side, as required. Now we are looking across the river at Manhattan. The Empire State Building is clearly visible in the center of the photo. Beautiful sky!
Approaching the Statue of Liberty, we are allowed to circle her counterclockwise, just below 1,000′ altitude. We all keep our eyes peeled for other aircraft, especially the many sightseeing helicopters that are buzzing about. Lady Liberty is a beautiful reminder of this nation’s welcoming spirit; in the aircraft, one of us is an immigrant, one of us is the child of immigrant parents, and ALL OF US in this country — with the exception of Native Americans — are descended from immigrants. All of us contribute to America’s success and strengths.
Pilot Bob circled Lady Liberty twice, and we were all able to enjoy the special experience.
After the excursion, we exited the special route at the Verrazano Bridge, and headed toward nearby Linden Airport, in Union County. This area has a lot of industrial features, including big fuel tanks, and we had some trouble finding the runway visually. We could clearly see it on ForeFlight, and on the avionics, but it was nestled down amongst large structures. All eight eyes are looking!
Happily, we spotted the airport, landed, and had lunch nearby.
After lunch, we climbed back into 75Y and flew back to our home base at Manassas, Virginia (KHEF). It was a beautiful day for a very special aerial sightseeing trip — a good time was had by all!
We made our first pilgrimage to Newport! We are sailors and had always head about Newport’s sailing heritage and culture. We had recently returned from a week’s sail around Corfu, Greece, so when a three-day window of nice weather opened up, we went for it! We flew from our home airport of Manassas, VA, up to Newport. On the flight up, we skirted the south shore of Long Island and headed north to Newport — a similar routing to our adventure to Martha’s Vineyard last year.
Newport does have a beautiful harbor, full of sailboats and luxury yachts, as well as a plethora of lovely historic homes, built in the 1700s and 1800s. We were gobsmacked by the Newport Mansions, one more spectacular than the other. The were built during America’s Gilded Age, and inspired the term “conspicuous consumption.” A totally accurate description.
Check out Bob’s short film below, as well as a few of my favorite still shots. — Diana (July 2018)
We recently returned from a terrific ski week in the French Alps — Les Arcs, to be specific. It’s an enormous ski area — in the photo below, can you see the chairlift in the center of the photo? It’s hard to see, but that just gives you a sense of the huge scale. And this is just one small section of Les Arcs.
This was our first trip with the Ski Club of Washington, D.C., and it was a very friendly group of 46. Ski conditions were very good — we even had a bluebird powder day after a day of snowfall.
Our group stayed at the all-inclusive Club Med Arcs Extreme, situated mid-mountain. For my taste/preference, I favor the smaller, family-run inns … vs. a large resort, such as this. I also prefer being situated in a historic town … and this hotel is in a modern resort area. From our hotel, we had an excellent view of nearby Mont Blanc, where we have skied twice before.
Check out Bob’s short video of this ski adventure:
And, of course, it’s France, so the food is amazing. The hot chocolate and croissant was one of my mid-morning treats. And let me tell you, that croissant was the real deal. By the way, ski week = guilt-free eating! One of the specialities of the Savoyard region is raclette, and I enjoyed it very much.
Here are some pics from some of our bluebird days on the mountain. In the larger photo, you can see Mont Blanc has an unusual halo cloud atop it!
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And here’s a panorama photo, in which I tried to capture the vast area. And this is just one little piece of it!
Update Feb. 2018: This story was published in the February 2018 issue of Comanche Flyer magazine, the official magazine of the International Comanche Society. See the PDF of the article.
When the temps drop, we hunker down. EXCEPT when we decided, spur-of-the-moment (mostly), to jump into our Piper Twin Comanche (N8475Y) and escape to Florida. Snowbirds! Full story posted below this short video:
Bob was looking out for a good-weather window of opportunity, and spotted one in early December. So I did have some advance warning, along the lines of, “we might leave with short notice, so get ready.” One night he said, “OK — we’re leaving tomorrow morning.” Scramble, scramble, to quickly pack — but not too much weight.
We left Manassas, VA on a lovely, clear day, and flew down to central Florida, to visit Bob’s sister Julie and her husband Mike. Total flight time was around 4.5 hours — we broke it up with two stops. First fuel stop was in Darlington, SC, where a beautiful kitty was “working” in the terminal; as the manager cheerfully explained to me, “Oh, that’s our TSA agent.”
Next stop was at McKinnon Airport (St. Simons Island, GA), where we took on fuel for N8475Y and ourselves … we enjoyed a delicious meal at Southern Soul Barbeque. Now THAT is real, melt-in-your-mouth southern BBQ.
Bob had chosen the Orlando Apopka Airport, one of the closest to his sister’s home. It turns out to be quite unusual — it’s a privately-owned, 100% “condo” airport. All the hangars are privately owned, and the owners’ association manages the airport. They were friendly and helpful, but the airport has no tie-downs, which I’d never seen before. We were told they can normally offer hangar space, at $35/night, but there was “no room at the inn.” We chocked 75Y and Bob’s sister Julie picked us up for the drive home.
We spent several days visiting with Mike and Julie and enjoying the warm temperatures. Julie went to Embry-Riddle University and also has her private pilot’s license. Brother and sister had not ever flown together before, so a highlight of our visit was a flight to Vero Beach. A pleasant surprise — Vero Beach is the home of the Piper factory, so we realized that we had, in essence, brought 75Y back to her birthplace. Alas, we didn’t have time on this visit for a factory visit. This part of Florida is criss-crossed with lakes, so the flights were most picturesque.
We hopped back into 75Y for an uneventful flight down to Key West. The Key West Airport is very close to the nearby Naval Air Station Key West — so it’s important to pay attention and land at the correct airport! The folks at Signature FBO were friendly and helpful — it’s clearly a popular airport. I sat in the lobby for a few minutes and used the free wifi to visit a few apps (Trip Advisor, Hotel Tonight, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Trivago) to find a reasonable hotel for a few nights. We scored an excellent booking at the Key Lime Inn, a charming collection of small cottages, within walking distance to main historic area. We took a quick Uber ride into town.
A fun surprise — on our first night there, the town held its annual Christmas parade … on the street right in front of our hotel! Parade folks tossed out tons of candy to the kids. We weren’t trying to grab any, but so much fell on us, that we ended up with candy anyway.
This was our first real visit to Key West … years ago, we had stopped here on a cruise ship. (We had enjoyed it, but let’s face it, from a cruise ship you can only see so much in a few hours on shore.)
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We loved the architecture — all the gingerbread homes — the food, the culture, the atmosphere, the laid-back vibe, the friendly locals. There was a lot to see and do, and we poked around to our heart’s content. We got a kick out of all the contented polydactyl cats on the Hemingway property … one kitty was fast asleep on Papa Ernest’s bed.
After a few days, Bob saw that a huge weather front was moving across country, and was headed toward the East Coast. We considered flying partway — perhaps up to Savannah or Charleston — to wait out the storm, but ended up deciding to make a run for it. We left bright and early the next day.
Flying conditions on the way back were pretty good. Flying over the Everglades was interesting — it’s gigantic! It must be so full of wildlife — made me want to traverse it by airboat. For the entire trip, our altitude ranged from 6,500′-7,500′, so we were able to get in plenty of good sightseeing.
We did encounter some clouds, but just flew above them. We made a pit stop at Jacksonville Executive (Craig) Airport (FL). For our second fuel stop, we landed at Moore County, NC, right in the heart of golf country. No stopping for lunch! We were hoping to get to our home airport of Manassas, VA ahead of the front. We made great time — at one point, with a stiff tailwind, our ground speed topped out at 210 knots!
We landed safely at Manassas, just as it was beginning to drizzle. 75Y is back in her hangar, safe and snug. What a wonderful adventure! — Diana
Wow! What a memorable experience. We were fortunate to be able to fly to the path of totality to experience the total eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017.
Bob’s short video of our eclipse adventure:
We planned to fly there in our Piper Twin Comanche, N8475Y. Bob did quite a bit of planning for this trip. As a pilot, he’s a first-rate planner, and he bought eclipse-viewing glasses for all of us quite early — no problem. Weather was a big factor, of course, as we wanted to avoid any areas that had storms in the forecast. As we got closer to the day, it was obvious that all hotel rooms in the path of totality were either totally booked up, or were now priced at $1000-2000 per room, per night. Yowzer!
Another factor was the airports. Bob called many regional airports in the path, and was told that no reservations were possible; it’s first-come-first-served. Eek!
Our dear friends Tom & June were adventurous enough to come along on this, um, flexible journey, as we weren’t 100% sure of anything.
We decided to fly down to a point close to the path of totality, and we selected Hickory, NC. What a great choice! We flew down Sunday, the day before, and were delighted with the warm and friendly atmosphere at the Hickory Regional Airport. “Southern hospitality” is alive and well and on full display at this terrific airport. The restaurant there gets great reviews, but alas, it’s not open on Sundays.
The airport folks loaned us a crew car, and we enjoyed a lovely day in Hickory. We particularly liked the aviation museum on the field at Hickory Airport. It’s free, and we were more than happy to make a donation, as the museum is currently working on getting a hangar for its collection of aircraft from an F-4 to an A-6. Tom had flown A-6s while in the Navy, and it was fun to see one at the museum.
We overnighted in Hickory, at the very reasonably-priced Days Inn, close to the airport. Up early the next morning — to the airplane, and up in the air to cross over to South Carolina, about a 30-minute flight (100 miles) to the path of totality.
We first contacted the airport at Clemson — and were shocked to hear that all the spots are reserved (after having been told that it didn’t accept reservations!). Next target, Pickens — sorry, no room on the ramp. We weren’t panicked yet, but it’s not looking good. Next, we went to “Plan C” — Bob contacted Anderson Regional Airport and got a green light, yay! We landed at Anderson, which was totally ready for an onslaught of traffic. Marshals on the ground pointed the way, and we followed a truck with a huge sign, “Follow Me.” We did.
They parked us in an area that looked like an unused runway — plenty of room, and the planes kept arriving. I asked the marshal when was the last time they had so many aircraft expected, and he said, “Never.” It truly was a historic day, and we were glad to be part of it.
The Hickory Airport that day was hosting an event for a Cirrus pilots’ club — COPA — and we were surrounded by enthusiastic pilots, friends and family. What a great, collegial atmosphere. We set up our camp chairs, brought out a picnic lunch, and sat in the shade in a roomy hangar, as it was plenty hot that day. A pair of scientists with professional-looking telescopes and cameras were set up near us; they were very generous with their equipment and knowledge and shared both with us.
As the moon began to move over the sun, excitement built. We walked out to look up (with our special glasses) at the sun. As the moon covered more and more of the sun, the temperature dropped and the light became somewhat strange. I said, “The light looks like that moment in the horror film when the people first realize something terrible is about to happen.” The scientists looked amused.
As it got really, truly dark, we saw that streetlights had come on, and the airport beacon had come on. Temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees; it was quite comfortable. Alas, a big cloud covered the sun just at the wrong moment … but I WAS able to glimpse the “diamond ring.” You can see it in Bob’s short video of our eclipse adventure. The totality lasted about 2+ minutes — most memorable.
Just as quickly as it had darkened, the skies brightened. A group of skydivers had jumped during totality and were floating back down to land at the airport. Private aircraft began moving out; we enjoyed the “parade” of various types of airplanes — Cirrus (of course), Mooney, Navion, Cessna, Beech, Piper, and several small jets.
We returned to Hickory for another overnight. Bob (looking at our onboard GPS) was amused to see a large number of aircraft headed back up north. We were glad we were in the air and not on the ground, stuck in traffic!
Many thanks to the wonderful folks at both Hickory Airport and Anderson Airport — they were all amazingly warm, friendly, and helpful. We had such a great adventure … we are contemplating destinations for the next total eclipse in 2024.