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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 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

Death Valley to Mt. Whitney

March, 2018

In my last post I detailed one of my most challenging flights ever, to Phoenix.  Fortunately the return trip was much milder.  There were still clouds around, but now they were truly benign and easy to stay out of – which I gladly did.

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The day started with a predawn walk in the desert outside of Phoenix.

When I flew into Deer Valley a few days prior it was eerily quiet because of the low clouds and wind.  Now it was back to a bustling training airfield and I had to wait in line with about 10 small planes to take off.

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Check out the traffic (the cyan targets)! I didn’t take this photo until I was clear of the traffic pattern but for a while I was in the middle of all that. I didn’t like it much.

It was a more relaxing flight and I even took a detour over Death Valley and straight over to the Mt. Whitney area, then up Highway 395 climbing (again) to around 16,500 feet to get over the clouds.  But this time it was only for a few minutes and I knew my destination was completely in the clear.

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Three solar arrays – the black area are panels while the two shiny areas are arrays of mirrors. Somewhere southwest of Vegas.

I flew by solar arrays of mirrors and one of them was shining on me but luckily I didn’t melt – it was just very bright.  The mirrors are focused on a ball full of salt (I believe) at the top of the tower.  The molten salt retains the heat and acts like a battery in order to use the power at peak power times, not necessarily peak sun times.

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Somewhere in Death Valley

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Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

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Where Mt. Whitney normally is. Alabama Hills is in the foreground, where many westerns were filmed.

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Mt. Dana on the left and in the center is the Dana Plateau. If you are a rock climber you can see the famous climb, “Third Pillar of Mt. Dana” below the plateau.  Tuolumne Meadows is in the background.

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Drop down and try to go under the clouds? Yeah, not a good idea.


A Brutal Flight to Phoenix

February, 2018

I often fret and worry about an upcoming flight and 9 times out of 10 there turns out to be nothing to worry about. This time I had long ago scheduled a meeting in the Phoenix area and as the date approached the weather called for 10-20% chance of precipitation both in Placerville and Phoenix. Not bad enough to cancel, but with 100% chance on the day before this meant dealing with the tail end of a winter storm. I did fret a bit, and it turned out to be the 1 in 10 times the trip deserved the attention.

I watched the snow fall the evening before the flight, and got up well before dawn in order to have plenty of time to clear the snow off the car, preflight, fuel up and to launch not long after sun up.

Getting Into the Air

My first challenge that I was worried about was getting out of Placerville. Clouds often backup against the mountains and don’t clear up right away, which in the past has led to artful takeoffs in Class G airspace flying down under the clouds to the Sacramento Valley, where you can then turn on course. Luckily on this morning the clouds where about 1,500 feet off the deck so I was relieved that launching wouldn’t be a problem. I relaxed a bit – anticipating a nice flight from here on out.

Phoenix flight

The Sierra Nevada Mountains

The next challenge was getting over the Sierras. It was still snowing in the high country around Lake Tahoe, and my plan was to fly south along the range and sneak under the clouds when able (not desirable because of high winds), or fly over when able, or fly all the way down to Palm Desert and head over there. There was more cloudiness than I anticipated. Flying under wasn’t an option. Or at least a smart one. I climbed and climbed while heading south and finally got enough altitude at around 17,000 feet (now on oxygen) to get over. I really wasn’t paying attention to where I was, but when I looked down I saw a clearing in the clouds with Half Dome below me. I should have circled for better photos but I was focused on clearing the mountains and the clouds so I took a quick photo and continued on.

Phoenix flight-2

I leveled off at 17,500, which is a convenient altitude since going above means wearing an oxygen mask instead of a nasal cannula, and also requires being on an instrument flight plan. I prefer not to fly on a flight plan when lots of clouds are around as you often are required to fly where ATC wants you to fly, which may mean icing.

Phoenix flight-6 (Large)


The Wind and the Cold

Wind is weather too! Words to live by. I did check the winds the night before and was worried as it showed the jet stream low and fast, right over my flight path. It meant I should fly high to stay above mountain turbulence, but it also meant a possible windy and challenging landing. I had to tell myself to prepare to divert should a stiff crosswind landing be required.

Phoenix flight-3 (Large)

I did set a ground-speed record of 240 knots, which meant a tail wind of around 75 knots. It was extremely cold too at -25 degrees F, also an inflight record for me. I wore ski gloves for that section of the flight, although they came off often to work the knobs and iPad. My feet were frozen. The heater just can’t keep up and since I run lean-of-peak the engine runs cooler, but the heater therefore does too.

The good news was that at that temperature it is too cold for icing conditions, but I was above any clouds anyway.

Scud Running?

As I neared west of Las Vegas, and now at 15,500 feet, I approached a cloud bank with the tops somewhat higher than I was. I decided to go under it. I dove and got under at about 11,000 feet, but what I saw wasn’t encouraging. Mt. Charleston was in the clouds which was to be expected, but many other peaks were too, and there were wispy clouds all the way to the ground. Scud run in this stuff for another hour? No way, so I did a 180, then several climbing 360s as I eventually leveled back off at 17,500 again, clear of the clouds.

I was now surprised to find out that instead of the forecast scattered cloud conditions, my destination airport was only marginal VFR (with mountains around). Now what to do? I had some time to plan so I studied the charts before calling Las Angeles Center on the radio and asking for an instrument flight plan into Deer Valley / Phoenix, where the on-ground temperature was 60 degrees. There wasn’t any rain showing up anywhere so the clouds seemed ubiquitous but broken up with apparently little moisture. Starting in the clear, I thought an approach to Deer Valley would work out without much icing.


A few moments after ATC told me to descend, I dropped into the tops of the clouds below me and instantly the windscreen went opaque with ice. OK, so much for the benign clouds without much moisture theory. My plane doesn’t have wing or propeller deicing – only the standard pitot tube heater which keeps some of the instruments like the airspeed indicator from failing. I read that the tops of clouds tend to hold more moisture than the lower clouds. In my limited experience, they don’t tend to – they absolutely do. In this case I was in and out of clouds but in looking out at my left wing thankfully I never got more than thin white coating. My defroster made a small hole and I waited to descend into warmer air. The ground temperature was 60 degrees so for heaven’s sake it had to clear up at some point, but that turned out to be around 9-10,000 feet (which makes sense given a standard lapse rate).

Severe Turbulence

As I entered the clouds I noted build ups looming above me straight ahead about 50 miles out. I was turned to the right almost immediately, so I wasn’t too concerned. No rain showed on my Avidyne 540. However around 9,000 feet when I was starting to relax with the temperature above freezing, all hell broke loose. My camera bag sitting on the passenger seat shot up and some lenses came out and fell on the floor. The plane banked severely, and I was terrified. Of course I’ve hit severe turbulence a number of times in my flying career, but never in IMC (clouds). I stared (fixated you could say) at the attitude indicator because my wings were banking wildly from side to side and I had to continually recover.  In hindsight it wasn’t too difficult but at the time I was waiting for perhaps something to tilt the wings beyond 90 degrees, in which case it would have definitely become more difficult to recover.  As pilots we have read accident reports where witnesses “observed the aircraft falling out of the bottom of the clouds”.  Damn, no one wants to be that pilot.

Luckily, it only lasted about 15 minutes. Oh wait, I meant 15 seconds, but it felt like 15 minutes. Then it settled down into merely heavy to moderate turbulence. I did note there was now yellow/green rain on the display but nowhere near me. I still don’t know if that was convective turbulence or mechanical turbulence from heavy winds over terrain. Either way, it sure scared the crap out of me.

Cross-wind Landing

I broke out at 4,500 feet, about 2,000 feet above the ground. So I didn’t have to do a full instrument approach which was fine by me. I’d been into Deer Valley before and had been surprised with the volume of traffic, though I now know of the airport’s claim that it is the busiest general aviation airport in the country (a title which I thought went to Merrill Field in Alaska). The traffic comes from the many flight training schools based there for the “350 flying days a year”

This day was apparently one of the 15 non-flying days a year. Except for me and one other airplane the radio was quiet and I was cleared to land while still about 5 miles out. The wind was 220 degrees, 22 knots with gusts up to 30 knots. I was landing on runway 25 (250 degrees) so the wind was pretty well lined up with the runway, thank goodness. I still had a healthy crab on final and I kept some extra speed for possible wind shear. I did a decent wing-down, one-wheel landing and slowly taxied in while the wind buffeted the plane.

It was definitely nice to be on the ground!

As I write this I have to go back to Phoenix the day after tomorrow. The weather calls for another winter storm with 70% chance of precipitation. I just made reservations on American Airlines.

Phoenix flight-5 (Large)

Empire Nevada: A Modern Ghost Town

February, 2018

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.


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.


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.



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.







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.


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.


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


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)


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

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.


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

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.

Hoodoo clouds

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.

Hoodoo sunrise

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.


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.

Zebra oneZebra threeZebra two

Red waves



Fantastic shelter built by volunteers and the Recreational Aviation Foundation



View from the shelter and fire pit



Red Rocks / Las Vegas

October, 2017

RR Landscape2

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.

red rocks aerial

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…


First creek

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.

Ney frogland

Me on Frogland. Really fun climb!


Charlie top frogland

Charlie at the top of Frogland



Ron stem box

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


Charlie Calico

Charlie on a Calico Hills climb



Ron ney plane

Ron and Ney – heading back home