John & Anne Wiley

2016/10/30

Remarkably Ordinary

I was thinking today about how flying can become remarkably ordinary. For most people, flying means being hundreds or thousands of miles away in a fraction of the time to drive. For those who get over any irrational fear, this remarkable experience tends to quickly become ordinary. Not for us. Why? Well, there’s the constantly changing stream of vast and fascinating diversity of stellar views that people will drive for hours to see from a “Vista Point.”

0765 Alpine Lake

0765 Alpine Lake

Then there’s the travel aspect. We saw this alpine lake South of Grants Pass on the same day we landed about 600 miles away in Santa Barbara. That’s about 11 hours by car just for the driving without all the detours, visits and exponentially more striking and numerous scenic wonders we so enjoyed. Also on that day we visited with three Uncles in two states and three counties, took off just before noon, arrived before dark, and saw countless more scenes of remarkable beauty like this.

0788 Earth, Water, Life

0788 Earth, Water, Life

After the third Uncle visit we headed directly home along the parched and smoky Sacramento Valley. The interactions of terrain, agriculture and nature offer endless fascination. This view is so different from yet evocative of, the quietly immersive joys of standing in such places.

3348 Quiet Meander

3348 Quiet Meander

Also on this stretch are innumerable human fascinations, like Mc Clellan AFB where the story of airfield changes over decades is so visible from above.

3312 Mc Clellan AFB

3312 Mc Clellan AFB

For those who share this interest I’ve circled in green at upper left the place where dedicated volunteers and sponsors maintain the lively Aerospace Museum of CA. A smaller blue circle below that is where more aircraft are parked close together in front of a hanger. The purple circle shows areas off a taxiway where aircraft used to be parked during the military era of the now mostly public airfield, like the ones where B-17 bombers once parked at the Santa Maria Airport. The yellow arrows point out old pavement that was probably asphalt runways before newer concrete ones were built.

So much beauty, adventure, travel and other remarkable experiences are available to those who enjoy aviation. Yet for so many people it can seem scary or ordinary. We feel so incredibly fortunate that for us it is somehow both relaxing and exciting!

2016/10/29

Say Uncle

Child bullies used to issue that demand when they had a victim pinned, but sometimes the pain was easier to endure than the shame of the tearful word, “Uncle!” Smoke seemed to have us down on this flight, but every time we thought of that word it seemed better. Like this pic of Grants Pass along the Rogue River as we took off after a fun night stopover with a dear Uncle.

3063 Grants Pass

3063 Grants Pass

But looking along our route South the smoke was thick as ever.

3061 Smoke Signal

3061 Smoke Signal

No, that’s not cloud on the horizon. There was a big fire off to the right, and as we climbed higher to scope out options we talked about trying the coast but decided to fly parallel to I-5 and stay high if needed. We stayed above it as Shasta bravely peeked out at us.

3077 Smoke Shrouded Shasta

3077 Smoke Shrouded Shasta

It had finally thinned some by the time we got this look down at Lake Shasta, now with much more water than our last passage.

3160 Lake Shasta Fuller

3160 Lake Shasta Fuller

We have more pix from this flight, but they’re so smoky as to be annoying for me. But we were spared a relatively boring flight home high above smoke by two of the many things we love about flying a small plane: flexible stops, and getting low. Yes, we decided to visit another Uncle and it yielded one of my fav pix from this day’s flying.

3209 Animal Island

3209 Animal Island

I love the colors and textures of it, and how sometimes it transmorgrifies into tufted fur along the spine of a giant half-submerged animal. It’s in Clear Lake, but as you can see the water was somewhat less than clear that day.

3215 Clear Lake Wake

3215 Clear Lake Wake

That dark vertical line next to another small islet in the lake, is the wake of a small boat that recently departed the dock. Minutes later on our descent we arrived at the iconic little airport, and perused the small aircraft “boneyard” as we wait for our Uncle to arrive for a brief visit.

3243 Aircraft Boneyard

3243 Aircraft Boneyard

After a refreshing lunch break chatting with him about old times and what’s new, we took off again for the short hop over to have a few minutes with our third Uncle of the day – in Marysville. More smoke of course, though thinner, but as we descended toward that airport this farm caught my fancy.

3304 Ancient Shapes

3304 Ancient Shapes

Small farms can evoke ancient times when our species settled down from hunter-gatherer to agriculture. Did a boy walk from Clear Lake to the Yuba River to visit an Uncle back then?

2016/10/01

Another Rainier Day

The weather after crossing the Rockies to KGPI was rainier but still fine for flying, so we took a short detour a little to the Northwest.

2491 Green to Blue

2491 Green to Blue

The idea was that we might enjoy new scenery along the valley up to Eureka and then back down through Kootenai National Forest along Lake Koocanusa where the Kootenay River meets the Libby Dam. But blue smoke was still dulling the green so near Stryker we turned toward Libby. We still saw interesting shapes straight down where the smoke doesn’t show as much, like this artistic feature.

2534 Green Scream

2534 Green Scream

I couldn’t recall whether William Clark had left his legendary expedition with Lewis to explore the Clark Fork and may have stood on those rocks below the Noxon Rapids Dam.

2570 Noxon Rapids Dam

2570 Noxon Rapids Dam

We stretched our brief flight across the North tip of Idaho by heading to Sandpoint for fuel, and the river mouth on Lake Pend Oreille was beautiful.

2579 Lake Pend Oreille

2579 Lake Pend Oreille

We passed North of Spokane, and on the way to our turn into the I-90 mountain pass at Ellensburg we saw what looked like a plume of smoke from a new fire. After passing it near Wellpinit we could see that it was wind-blown ash from a large recent fire that had crossed the Spokane River at Cayuse Cove.

2628 Green, Ash, River

2628 Green, Ash, River

More smoky but interesting miles later we passed the welcoming sentinel of Mt. Rainier, for more fun with family and friends in the Seattle area.

2692 Mt. Rainier

2692 Mt. Rainier

2016/09/30

Catching Whitefish

We did more than wonder about Whitefish. We decided to launch out of Cut Bank into the 40mph headwind toward the stormy looking Rockies for a closer look. As we got closer the wind lessened and it was clear we had three excellent choices: turn and ride the wind back to Cut Bank; weave through the wide valleys along a highway and turn back if we didn’t like how it looked at some point; or, climb over most of the clouds. After some dialog we chose curtain #3, because climbing gave us the most options. We could still descend through any of the countless holes in the clouds or turn back, but we could better see and avoid any of the few tall clouds with potential for rain below. Quickly the wind all but stopped and in mere minutes we neared the valley where KGPI awaits. With a clear path and few clouds ahead we descended between the scattered clouds into the more smoky and humidity-hazed air over Hungry Horse Reservoir.

2427 Hungry Horse

2427 Hungry Horse

By this time we were hungry too. Not just for a gourmet dinner and colorful nightlife, but also for the welcoming cool and green we were nestling down into.

2434 Green

2434 Green

Even with logged, burned and dead patches of forest, this was a refreshing change from the prairie. Ahead we could see Flathead Lake and several towns just beyond the last peaks below us.

2436 Flathead Lake

2436 Flathead Lake

One last alpine lake (Strawberry I think) slipped close beneath our wings in the still air, evoking memories of the arduous hikes and rustic camping of youth.

2453 Strawberry Lake

2453 Strawberry Lake

Now all that remained was to follow the river toward KGPI and enjoy the sunset scenery.

2471 Flathead River Eve

2471 Flathead River Eve

That night we wandered the streets of Whitefish and caught a great dinner, completing an especially glorious day that began with family and ended with a toast to precious memories.

Tupelo Grille Toast

Tupelo Grille Toast

2016/09/29

Cut Bank Temptation

After great times with family in Okotoks we took off from High River and were soon winging over interesting prairie features like this dry salt pond.

2308 Prairie Salt Lick

2308 Prairie Salt Lick

We were headed SSE to avoid the hassle we’d once had clearing U.S. Customs at KGPI Kalispell near Glacier Park, MT. That’s a nice town and great airport, and maybe the CBP guy we encountered there has mellowed or been promoted. The mountain weather is notorious so rather than dodge thunderstorms in the air (and upon landing at CBP), we stayed East of the Rockies. Crossing the prairie by car or from an airliner can be tedious, but from our vantage point or just Being there on the ground it’s lovely.

2321 Prairie Vista

2321 Prairie Vista

I guess this is what people would see if there were a nearby hill to climb. Gentle undulations of ground level, and winding creeks interrupting the agricultural geometry, make it fascinating from a quarter mile up.

2326 GeoShapes

2326 GeoShapes

One of our fav old movies is 12 O’Clock High that relives memories of an abandoned WWII bomber base, so we imagined the transition of this spot from airfield to farm.

2355 RCAF Station Pearce

2355 RCAF Station Pearce

It was a training base, as I learned on the wiki, where I added a larger version of this pic you can click on to see the texture of frost-crushed concrete and the footprints of long-gone roads and buildings. Farther along was this farm with weathering barn, partly in shadow from some broken clouds like we saw off to the East earlier. Somehow the foreboding cloud shadow seems to portend the end of small farms.

2376 Farm on Shadow's Edge

2376 Farm on Shadow’s Edge

After this too-brief prairie tour we’d crossed the border and checked out the Cut Bank International Airport from high overhead, where we got this view of the town.

2408 Cut Bank, MT

2408 Cut Bank, MT

The name clearly comes from that deep cut the river has made, leaving tall banks cut on both sides. The highway (and rail line at far left) cross it on bridges, and the town is close enough to the airport that we considered walking after the quick and easy clearance by a very friendly and helpful CBP agent. We also considered taking advantage of the free room and shower apparently on offer in the terminal building.

2418 KCTB International Airport Terminal

2418 KCTB International Airport Terminal

Unlike the RCAF airport above that housed training in small to medium-sized WWII aircraft, this one heard the rumble of B-17 heavy bombers. After the war it hosted Western Airlines DC-3 flights, and is now a great place to clear CBP with less chance of adverse weather delaying the arrival from Canada. But like this post, the day was growing long and we wondered how night life in this friendly prairie town would compare with the lively Kalispell / Whitefish so near across the Rockies.

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