Long shadows cradled snow-frosted trees below, as we banked southward toward Scottsdale. Rarely do we find ourselves steering away from home near sunset — night flight in the mountains is serious business.
Our friends John and Marie Discerni have hosted an annual gala at their Scottsdale home for over 15 years. Our lives rarely cross, so this gathering offers a once-a-year opportunity to catch up with them and other old comrades. No wonder we feel cheated when we miss it.
Attending was simple when we lived near Scottsdale. But moving 150 twisty-mountain-road miles away to Flagstaff changed everything, and for more reasons than distance. For although winters in desert Scottsdale are generally benign, enough snow falls in our Northern Arizona mountains to sustain a lively ski resort. More than once we’ve missed the Discernis’ parties due to wintry conditions. Fortunately today was clear, but we faced too many obligations to stay overnight.
I hardly think twice about flying after dark in good weather over flat land, but here in the mountains night cross-countries demand good reasons and great care. In fact, when inviting novice passengers on such flights, I always add the qualifier: “we’ll return after dark, which is beautiful but slightly riskier than daytime flying.” If they hesitate, I don’t take them; it’s a matter of being honest. But tonight would be exceptionally safe for sampling the joys of darkness aloft.
Continue reading Greg’s March Flying Carpet column, “On Moonbeams,” here. (Please allow a moment for the article to load.) This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine, 3/12 issue.
Photo: Last rays of sunset tint Arizona’s Oak Creek Canyon beneath the snow-covered Coconino Plateau.
©2012 Gregory N.Brown