“’Another great reason to come to Santa Fe!’ read Bruce Papier’s email. ‘It promises to be almost as good as Pebble Beach or Hilton Head. If you’re interested, I’ll get tickets.’
“I’m accustomed to such cryptic communications from my old friend, who’s always trying to lure Jean and me to visit him. Not that it takes much urging to draw us to the old Spanish territorial capital, with its rich blend of Spanish and Native American arts, cuisine, and adobe architecture. Then again, my record hasn’t been exemplary lately. It’s become a standing joke that I always seem to be overflying my buddy’s home without landing there.”
Just got an email from my buddy Mark Harris. “Let’s take the girls to Seligman Saturday morning to see the start of the Route 66 Fun Run!” he wrote.
Hey, that’s one of my favorite auto events! I even wrote a column about it. Read “Festival Flying” here. And it’s happening again this coming weekend, April 30th-May 1st, on the longest existing original stretch of legendary Route 66.
The organized events are Friday night and Saturday morning at Seligman, Arizona; Saturday night and Sunday morning at Kingman. I always attend Saturday morning because you can fly into Seligman’s fine airport (P23), walk a few blocks into town, scope out all the incredible cars, and then dine at Lilo’s or the Roadkill Cafe before flying home. (Kingman requires a ride into town.) Are you within flying range of Northern Arizona? Then check out this weekend’s Route 66 Fun Run!
“Greg, do you and Jean have New Years plans? I’m thinking of bringing my girlfriend to Arizona for a few days.” It was my brother calling from Chicago.
“We’ll be here, Alan, and we’d love to see you. In fact we’ve got a party in the works. Come on out!”
“Great, I’ll make reservations! Oh, and I’m hoping to take Sue for her first visit to the Grand Canyon. How long a drive is that? We also want to lounge at the pool, so that leaves only a day.” I explained that the road trip from Phoenix, where we then lived, required 4-5 hours each way.
“Driving that in one day wouldn’t be much fun, Alan. Would Sue consider flying?” I knew my brother would, because he’s a pilot himself.
“Sure, she’d love that. But could we see much if we flew there? You can’t overfly the Canyon anymore, can you? And how would we get to the Rim?”
“Leave that to me,” I said. “Just get yourselves here, and weather permitting, I promise a day at the Canyon that Sue will never forget.”
Recently, our local “airport slugs” from Flagstaff, Wickenburg, Seligman, and Aguila, Arizona flew across the Grand Canyon to a backcountry airstrip perched on the North Rim, to enjoy good company, a home-made pancake breakfast, and a horseback ride. Talk about incredible!
Readers often ask me for Southwest flying destinations.
Flying New Mexico and Arizona is generally less challenging than the more northerly Rockies. Density altitude is an issue, but our lower terrain offers more route options for circumnavigating weather. We get afternoon turbulence and thunderstorms here, so summertime flying is best done in early mornings and late afternoons. (For more on regional flying weather, see Tom Horne’s terrific book, Flying America’s Weather.)
Durango, Colorado: ride the Durango & Silverton steam train; kayak rapids through town!
Santa Fe, New Mexico: founded by the Spaniards in 1608, with adobe buildings dating from that era. The 2nd oldest city in the country after St. Augustine, Florida. Dining, history, art, Native American culture, outdoor activities, shopping… A town like no other!
Grants, New Mexico: check out Old Acoma Pueblo (pictured above; see my column, “Sky City”), El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments, and the nearby ice caves.
Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo Nation: tour stunning Canyon de Chelly by horse or jeep.
Fly through Monument Valley — incredible from the air. (Consider landing and staying at legendary Gouldings Trading Post, but research it before going there. The private one-way airstrip dead-ends into a mesa.)
Page, Arizona: Hike nearby Antelope Canyon, rent a houseboat, or take a Lake Powell boat tour to Navajo Arch.
Sedona, Arizona: Among the most beautiful landing sites anywhere, Sedona Airport lies on a 400-foot plateau in very rugged terrain. The runway slopes uphill to the northeast so normal procedure under light winds is to land uphill on Runway 3 and take off downhill on Runway 21. It’s a busy airport so given the bi-directional traffic keep your eyes open. There is little horizon reference in the pattern, so fly your pattern altitudes precisely to make your approach work out smoothly. You’ll feel high on final to Runway 3 (and low approaching 21) due to the sloping runway. (There are VASIs to help.) Although challenging when windy, the airport is quite manageable in good weather. See my column, Flight of Two. Among places to stay is Sky Ranch Lodge right there on Airport Mesa.
Overfly Meteor Crater and the Painted Desert.
Aviation history buffs: Winslow Airport (KINW) was laid out by Charles Lindbergh himself, and retains the original territorial-style passenger terminal and TAT airline hangar. (See my column, Lazy Day and associated photos.) Stay at Winslow’s restored La Posada Hotel, one of the original “Harvey Houses” for early railroad travelers.
Fly the Grand Canyon overflight corridors (you will need the Grand Canyon Special Flight Rules Chart); then land at Grand Canyon Airport and hike along the rim. (See my column, Grand Canyon New Year.)
Wickenburg, Arizona, offers an old-West Sonoran Desert experience far removed from the glitter of Scottsdale and Phoenix megalopolis most people visit. Ride horseback among giant Saguaro cacti, tour the Vulture Mine and associated ghost town, and see the marvelous Desert Caballeros Western Museum. Consider staying at Rancho de los Caballeros resort, an authentic but contemporary western “dude ranch.”
Finally, read the adventures and see photos from two pilots who followed my recommendations flying the Southwest, in my column, Flying Carpet Tour.
Other than Sedona and Gouldings, most of the named airports require no special considerations except density altitude. All are at or above 5,000 feet elevation. Durango, Grants, Santa Fe, Grand Canyon, and Flagstaff Airports are at 6-7,000 feet elevation.
Ride along on my birthday flight this month, to visit the 1908 El Garces Hotel “Harvey House” under restoration in Needles, California.
Along the way we took aerial shots of the surrounding Mojave Desert, the adjacent Colorado River dividing Arizona and California, the Topock Gorge, and prehistoric Mystic Maze (also known as Topock Maze), best viewed from aloft.
True, desert Needles isn’t everyone’s idea of paradise, but we had a blast!
I have posted additional photos from my May, 2009 Flying Carpet column, “Flight of Two,” which appears in AOPA Flight Training magazine, about a memorable family journey to Sedona, Arizona, where the airport perches like an aircraft carrier on a mesa overlooking town.
What made this flight special in addition to hiking and flying Sedona’s Red Rock paradise, was the use of two airplanes to transport family and guests. Check out the additional column photos here.
I’ve just posted additional photos from my January, 2009 Flying Carpet column, “Lazy Day,” of the historic hangar and terminal building at Lindbergh Airport, Winslow, Arizona.
The airport was originally sited and laid out by Charles Lindbergh himself following his transAtlantic flight. He later piloted the first eastbound leg of the first transcontinental plane/train route from Los Angeles to Winslow in 1929.