COVID-bound. Serious cabin fever. 17 degrees (F) at home. With a few sunny days in the forecast, we flew down to warmer weather in Charleston, S.C. As neither of us had ever visited there, it had long been on our list.
When we departed our home airport of Manassas, VA (KHEF) in March 2021, it was just 17 degrees! As we flew south, the air temperature at altitude started off about 14 degrees, and slooooooowly climbed. We cheered when the temp hit 22! (No worries, N8475Y has a heater.)
Like everyone else, we found Charleston charming. We loved the historic buildings and learning more of the city’s history. We stayed at the Andrew Pinckney Inn, right in the heart of the historic area, within walking distance or many wonderful places. I ate my weight in delicious shrimp & grits and fried oysters.
We visited historic Boone Hall Planation and Gardens, where we learned a lot about plantation life; they did a good job of explaining the important role of enslaved people. It’s one of the oldest continuously working plantations in the country. We learned about Gullah culture — I learned that “Kumbaya” came from the Gullah culture!
We had a delightful visit. We felt COVID-safe; everywhere we went had good COVID precautions in place. And although the city was lively, it did not feel crowded at all. The aerial view of Charleston is beautiful, which you can see in Bob’s short video. Watch the video to take a quick trip to Charleston with us!
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.
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!
When it’s hot in the city … time to go to the shore! We hopped aboard N8475Y — only about a 40-min. flight — and flew over to the lovely Eastern Shore of Maryland. Though we’ve been over there many times, it was our first real visit to St. Michaels. Though getting around during these COVID-19 times is odd at best, we had a very enjoyable visit. Our hotel employed excellent safety practices, as did all of the places we visited; we felt very safe. (See Bob’s short video, above.)
We also enjoyed visiting Tilghman Island — we had last been there sometime in the late 1980s. I particularly liked our lunch spot, just below the Knapps-Narrows Drawbridge that connects Tilghman to the mainland and St. Michaels. Loved seeing not only the pleasure boats, but also the many working watermen boats.
This area is famous for blue crab, so of course we had to sample as much as possible! I don’t think it gets much fresher than this … how could it?! We enjoyed seeing so many historic homes and buildings throughout the area, including Easton. We are so fortunate to live so close to the Chesapeake Bay.
July 19, 2020 — Whew! Much of the U.S. is in a mad heat wave, including Arlington, VA, where we live — temps in the mid-to-high-90’s … and often with brutal humidity. Last week, Bob flew N8475Y, our Piper Twin Comanche, to Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, about a 40-min. flight from our home airport of Manassas, VA (KHEF).
On the way, we saw an interesting wind farm on a mountain ridge in West Virginia.
Temperatures there were fantastic — 60’s and 70’s! The lake is in the mountains; the Garrett County Airport (2G4) is at about 3,000′ altitude. On final approach, we flew right by the Wisp Ski Resort.
Our lodge was right on the lake, on a quiet “finger”; we enjoyed watching all the activity on the water. Years ago, Diana was at Deep Creek Lake with friends and learned to water-ski here.
It was easy to get around and we enjoyed walking the trails in the Swallow Falls State Park — home to three lovely waterfalls.
Of course, these are strange COVID-19 times. Overall, we were very impressed with the policies, practices and behaviors of the hotel, the restaurants, and people we came across. We felt quite safe.
A great quick getaway from the heat! View Bob’s short video here … and see the the still shots below. (Click any photo to view a slideshow. Don’t you feel cooler just looking at these photos?!)
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