Reuniting with a long-lost friend
“Wow! Nothing’s more breathtaking than flying at dawn,” said Jean as we leveled after takeoff from Flagstaff. “Check out the sunrise striking the peaks! And how every tree casts a shadow 10 times its height!” Steering into open country, we became time travelers treading a primordial landscape. Suddenly I was grateful for rolling out of bed early this morning, rather than sleeping late.
Today’s primary mission was for Jean to train coworkers in Tucson. After rarely traveling there in recent years, this would be our fourth flight to the “Old Pueblo” in a month, albeit to different airports for different purposes.
“I’m sure glad to be flying,” said Jean, gesturing down at Interstate 17. “Driving would have meant leaving home yesterday and staying two nights for today’s meeting. This way we’ll be home for supper.”
Flagstaff to Tucson is a poster-child airplane trip. Regulars claim they can drive the 270 miles in four hours. That might be true at midnight, but rarely at other times. En route, drivers must negotiate traffic-clogged Phoenix, the nation’s 5th largest city, from end to end. And with few alternate routes, horror stories abound of motorists stranded when accidents close the highway. By Flying Carpet, however, it’s a scenic 1-1/2 hour flight.
Such auto traffic might suggest that Arizona overflows with people, but from the air one discovers that development is still mostly limited to urban areas and the few highway corridors linking them. Happily, the majority of the West is still blissfully free of people and development.
Accordingly, it was 35 solitary minutes before we saw our first town, Payson. By the time Phoenix peeked from under its distant veil of smog, 9157-foot Mt. Lemmon already beckoned from Tucson. Like Flagstaff’s Humphreys Peak, Mt. Lemmon towers from a level plain. On a clear day, pilots can navigate much of Arizona using just those two tall peaks as signposts. Bound from Phoenix to Benson? Turn left at Mt. Lemmon. Going to Winslow? Hang a right at Humphreys Peak. But despite occasional pauses to admire passing mountains, lakes, and deserts, our minds were focused on other, more important matters.
“If only I could join you and Mark for lunch, Greg. You will tell him I said ‘hi,’ won’t you?”
Continue reading Greg’s May column, “Time Machine,” here. (Please allow a moment for the file to load.)
Photo: Greg reunites with old friend Mark Fitch at Tucson International Airport. (Jorge Villa photo) See more photos from this flight here.
©2011 Gregory N. Brown
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!