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Book: Fifty Classic Destinations for Pilots

June, 2016

Cover (Large)My book Fifty Classic Destinations for Pilots.  Epic Adventures, Romance and Outdoor Fun in the Western USA, has received great reviews (thank goodness) and is available at www.fiftyclassics.com and from Amazon. As a West Coast Flying Adventure blog reader you can use coupon code “blog20” to get 20% off on the price of the book.

– Thanks – Ney

Empire Nevada: A Modern Ghost Town

February, 2018
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Flying over Nevada

Empire Nevada was a company-owned town with a large gypsum mine that failed to make it through the 2008-2010 recession. Think wall-boards for all the construction that wasn’t happening.  The last 95 employees were laid off in January 2011, down from a peak of 270 employees that had use of a school, pool, golf course, ball park and two churches.

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Empire in the center of photo near white spot (gypsum). Black Rock desert in the distance.

The town was shuttered and a chain link fence put up to keep out vandals, squatters and tumbleweeds. The post office was closed and the town zip code was cancelled. Interestingly, the Empire store on highway 95 stayed open, partly because of nearby Burning Man (and the year-round Burning Man employees that live nearby).  A few employees were kept on to patrol the town.

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Someone’s been taking good care of the runway!  It was freshly rolled.

Back behind the town is the airport, with one old Navion aircraft on jacks.  The airport was my ticket into the town, as I thought I would walk through the town and if stopped just say I was walking from the airport to the store which I was.  As it turns out I didn’t run into anyone.

 

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Tumbleweeds in a zombie-like mass attack on the town

It is amazing how homes desperately need caring homeowners or they rapidly deteriorate.  Seven years doesn’t seem like a terribly long time, but many of the homes are already beyond repair.

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To be fair, it is really a semi-ghost town.  The town, mine and plant were sold for $10mm in 2016 and it was obvious the plant was running when I was there.   It looked like a pocket of inhabitants live on the south end, but then there are a few random residents throughout (except for the most rundown section).  It looks like the boss said, “You want a home while you are here? Go find one, sweep out the rodent crap, push the tumbleweeds onto the lot next door, and its yours.”

After a nice walk through the town an afternoon wind started to pick up, so I got back in the plane for the one hour flight back home.

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Red Rocks Las Vegas – Again

February, 2018

There is very little snow for skiing this year (2017/18), so Betsy and I headed back to Red Rocks in Nevada to climb with our daughter Belyn and her boyfriend Brian.  We lucked out on the flight because it was blowing like hell in the morning and then calm for a short period while we flew in (to North Las Vegas airport), then the wind completely changed direction and started blowing like hell (i.e. 30 knot gusts) the other way.  I was practically blown over walking out of the restaurant that night and I had to give gratitude to the weather gods that I wasn’t up there trying to land in it. (A long time ago I tried to land in Henderson NV in a 25 knot crosswind and almost took out a runway light before heading over to North Las Vegas where they have more runways to choose from).

Brian didn’t let on, but he and Belyn climbed a pretty hard route next to ours in order to get some photos of Bets and I climbing.  Well – we have never had these kind of photos of us climbing.  Ever.  Thank you Brian.

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Betsy leading up Dark Shadows.  Strong as always.  (Photo by Brian Prince)

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Now my turn on the lead. See the white marks above my head? They are chalk marks, and they are off route and much harder than the crack to my right, where I should be. After trembling for a while and thinking Brian’s going to get an excellent photo of me falling 30 feet, I was able to move right and up.  (Photo by Brian Prince)

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Brian and Belyn. 

High Sierra sunset

The only thing I wanted on the flight back was to get over the Sierra Nevada before it was pitch black. This is the Sierras as we approached it. Yep. Nope. We didn’t make it.

A Few Moments in the Middle of Nevada

January, 2018
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Old Hangar

I landed in Tonopah Nevada in order to make a scheduled conference call.  I’ve had many of these business calls in various locations: hanging on rock wall, hunkered in a tent at Osh Kosh, on a beach while kayaking in Alaska, pulled over on the side of the road on my bike, etc.   I even remember having one here in Tonopah before, sitting in my plane.  No one ever knows where I am because it just doesn’t make sense to say, “hey everyone, before we jump into this serious business conversation, guess where I am right now?”

I just try to make sure I have good cell coverage (I have a satellite phone but I’ve learned it isn’t reliable enough) and to try to get out of the wind.  Sitting in the plane is good. Then I try to live up to the notion that everyone else thinks I’m sitting behind a desk.

When I landed in Tonopah I noticed this old hangar.  Tonopah has a massive expanse of rotting concrete (made me nervous once I decided to taxi over to the old hangar) that was probably put down when the airfield was used for military training for WWII and for a few years after.  In fact the owner of the FBO came racing across the ramp in a pickup to make sure I was OK and that I meant to stray off into an old corner of the airfield.

After my call I spent a few minutes enjoying the solitude, before pre-walking a path back to good asphalt, starting up and then heading home.

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Grand Staircase / Escalante National Monument

December, 2017

It is the beginning of December and the days are short.  I wanted to head out to Escalante on Tuesday but I was working on my landing lights and was going to run out of daylight (which I wanted for landing), so I flew out on Wednesday.   Even then I ran out of daylight because I wanted to wake up with the sun at the Devil’s Garden, an area of hoodoos and arches in the Grand Staircase National Monument and I would have to ride my bike there from Escalante airport to get there.

I landed and then rode the 12 miles or so down the gravel Hole In The Rock road and made it to Devil’s Garden right when the sky went to black and the temperature plummeted below freezing.  I made a quick dinner and jumped into bed, pulled the down sleeping bag hood over my head and settled in with my Kindle.  Perfect…

Until I noticed my hip was fully on the ground.  Hmm.  I blew up my air mattress again (A Big Agnes) and within 20 minutes I was back on the ground.  Such a little leak.  Such big consequences.  It was in the low 20s that night and my quart size water bottles froze.  So

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On the way to a good night’s sleep…

did I.  I had a big down jacket and I tried to curl up and sleep on top of it, but that didn’t work.  Not even close. About 1 or 2 in the morning I decided since I wasn’t sleeping anyway I should just blow up the mattress every 20 minutes.  It was truly miserable and I even almost knocked myself out on a cement picnic table I was laying next to when I got up one time to blow up the mattress.  Geesh.

 

Fortunately when the sun came up it warmed up pretty quickly, and I was able to walk around during the sunrise (with hot coffee!!) and get some decent photos.  It is really a fantastic place and I was disappointed that in just a few days (on Monday), our president would reduce the size of this national monument.

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Hoodoo Sunrise

After the sun was high in the sky and coffee cold, I got on my bike and rode to the Zebra slot canyon trailhead.  I was surprised that on a weekday in December that there were 3 or 4 cars in the parking lot, and the people I saw were equally surprised that there was some nut on a bike with a full backpack.  I ditched the bike and pack behind a tree and made the trek out to both Zebra and Tunnel slot canyons.  I met a Swiss couple on the way and we hiked together, talking a little polite politics on the way.

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The short days again became a concern and I was exhausted after no sleep, hiking and riding a bike with a full backpack.  I was extremely happy to get back to the airport before the sun went down where I immediately made a nice warm fire in the firepit and opened a bottle of wine.  I had actually brought a larger, thicker foam/air sleeping pad for the airport so that night was indeed perfect.

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The Escalante airport has a fantastic camping area, complete with a shelter, water, electricity, a grill/stove and a microwave.  Up the hill a little is a keeper’s house with a room sequestered off that has an “airport lounge” and hot shower.  There is even a courtesy car, so you don’t have to be that nut with a bike and backpack, although I don’t know if you can take the courtesy car down Hole In the Rock Road.  There is also a shuttle service and car rental in town, and they will pick you up at the airport.

Truly an amazing place and a very special place to be able to fly to.

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Red waves

 

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Fantastic shelter built by volunteers and the Recreational Aviation Foundation

 

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View from the shelter and fire pit

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Red Rocks / Las Vegas

October, 2017

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I had skied and climbed with local adventurers Ron Vardanega and Charlie Downs for a few years now, and thought it might be fun to do a “guys” trip to rock climb at the famous Red Rocks area just outside of Vegas.

Charlie was in charge of the hotel and on the phone I thought he said he got a place at the Bunny Ranch.  I said, “Woah Charlie, I didn’t mean THAT kind of guys trip. ”  He repeated the name, Bonnie Springs Ranch, just outside Red Rocks and out of all the neon that is Las Vegas.  It was a fine place although they didn’t serve breakfast until 8:00 am which was frustrating.

We flew into North Las Vegas airport and I flew straight over Red Rocks first so we could all get a good view.

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Looking down at some of Red Rock, literally about 6 minutes from landing

Red Rocks is BIG, with massive walls, deep canyons and a reputation for “adventure climbing” with difficult descents.  So it was appropriate that we had an mini-epic on the first day.  My fault too.  I convinced Ron and Charlie we had time for one more climb, a 5.8 climb up “Panda Pillar” fairly deep in one of the canyons.  It was a scary lead as it hadn’t been climbed a lot and pieces were breaking off the sandstone as I climbed, with one section offering no places for protection. So I was a little slow. Then, when I got to the top of the pillar there were no fixed anchors (like bolts and metal rings) in order to get down easily.  We had to sacrifice webbing and carabiners as we setup rappels on trees and branches, finally getting to the bottom of the climb in the dark.  Then it was a thrash getting out of the canyon as we couldn’t quite stay on the trail in the dark.  Welcome to Red Rocks. We hadn’t been on the ground but for a few hours and we were scratched and bloody.  Sorry guys…

 

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Panda Pillar. Click on the photo to enlarge it, then look for the rope and climber. I’m actually in the wrong crack, I’ll have to move over to the central crack an climb up the pillar to the top.  

 

The next day we did the classic, six pitch climb called Frogland and the following day visited the sport climbing area (one-pitch, all bolts) Calico Hills.

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Me on Frogland. Really fun climb!

 

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Charlie at the top of Frogland

 

 

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Ron about to do the cool tunneling grunt/move on Frogland

 

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Charlie on a Calico Hills climb

 

 

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Ron and Ney – heading back home

 

 

 

Flying North to the Sun – The Eclipse

September, 2017

 

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Photo by Kai Kopitzke

 

After a hiatus on blogging, I’m back.  There are some fans of the blog that were worried about me, and I appreciate that some reached out to make sure I was OK.  Although not flying quite as much, I’m still out there and will be more active writing.  I have a little catching up to do too…

So – the eclipse.

If you have an airplane and the total eclipse of the sun is two hours flight away – what more excuse do you need?  In addition, my cousin and his wife, Fred and Jenny, live in Sunriver Oregon pretty darn close to the “line of totality” and graciously accepted my “invitation” for Betsy and my son to come stay with them.  Um – and the dogs.

 

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Always fun flying north past the volcanos

 

Fred is active on the search and rescue team and he spoke of a traffic and potential search and rescue event that the area had never seen before.  Millions of people were expected to descend on the Bend/Redmond/Madras area in Central Oregon just east of the cascades and some were expected to try to climb Mt. Jefferson and other mountains to view the eclipse and potentially get into trouble.

So the SAR team set up a control center at the Sheriff’s station and were prepared for the worst.  Luckily it never came.  Forest fires had already closed off access to the mountains and the semi-apocalyptic warnings about crowds had apparently scared off some people so the traffic wasn’t too bad.

In fact, we had planned to just fly into Sunriver airport (just south of the line of totality), stay at Fred and Jenny’s and just climb a nearby cinder cone (mini-volcano) to view the 98% eclipse.  Luckily, that morning we happened to do more research and came to find out that 98% doesn’t do it.  Even a sliver of the sun destroys the magic of a total eclipse.  So we jumped into Jenny’s car and headed north to a hill north of Redmond.  (We could have made reservations and flown directly into Madras airport but I thought that may turn into a circus).

 

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We have really smart dogs.  We told them DO NOT look at the sun during the eclipse!

 

The eclipse itself was spectacular – definitely an awe inspiring event. Its something like jumping out of a plane, visiting Burning Man, or standing in the middle of a place like Machu Picchu.  You just can’t adequately explain it – you have to experience it. It was awesome!

 

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Almost there!

 

We headed back to California that afternoon and I was a little nervous about air traffic as I knew there were likely many of us heading back home.  It is one of many times that I really have enjoyed the new ADS-B technology, as there were a couple of guys nearby and it was easy to avoid them.

 

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Three of us heading home.

 

Thanks for friend and talented photographer/artist Kai Kopitzke for the use of his eclipse photos.  Kai had his own adventure backpacking into the Tetons with camera equipment to get these beautiful photos.

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Photo by Kai Kopitzke

 

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Photo by Kai Kopitzke.  Wow.

 

 

My “I’m Alive” Flying to Alaska Adventure

September, 2016
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Brooks Range

There is nothing like a serious health scare to make you think about the things you’ve done in your life and what you would still like to do.  It did remind me that I had, so far in my life, not flown my plane up to Alaska.  Heck, I have flown all around the west coast and even wrote a book about it, but not to Alaska.  If the diagnosis was bad I wouldn’t have all that much time and I’d take off and fly immediately north.

It turns out the health scare was just a scare but my wife Bets said, “you have a window of opportunity this summer – just go do it and get it off your list”.  So I ordered a satellite phone, expedited delivery.  I also scoured eBay and Craigs list for a used folding kayak and found one in Washington. I told the surprised sellers to keep it for me and I’d fly in and pick it up shortly.

I wanted to fly the coastal route up and within a few days a weather window was set to open on the coast of Canada and Alaska.  So in flurry of activity of packing and buying freeze-dried food, I flew away.  North.

Over the next month I’ll post my trip as it unfolded.  First a kayaking trip in Prince William Sound then a flight north to backpack in the Brooks Range above the Arctic Circle.

Next: Flying to Alaska, Day One