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2005 - Owens Valley Tour to Bishop

Date: December 16, 2005

So on our trip to Death Valley last weekend, we peeked up the Owens Valley (that's the valley on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in CA) as we headed east and said to ourselves "selves, we should head up that way sometime, and see what's up there - that's what we should do".  We had been told that it's a nice flight up towards Bishop and Mammoth.  So today (an off work Friday), that's just what we did.  While the weather  in the San Joaquin Valley to the WEST of the Sierras was miserable (1/2 mile visibilities, 600 ft ceilings, albeit with 2500 ft tops, so it would be trivial to punch through with an Instrument Rating), the weather over the mountains, over Tehachapi, and to the northeast were severe clear, not a cloud in the sky, and 100 - 120 mile visibilities.  It's a flying day.  Hell, just about EVERY day is a flying day.

Before taking off, I spend about 10 minutes putting some velcro on a headrest extension I made for Deanie.  Since she's using a wedge shaped cushion behind her back which sits her up straighter, her head is about 5" away from the stock headrest.  This worked very well, and is easily removable for larger folks who don't want the cushion or the forward headrest.

We took off from Tehachapi in a 15 kt. wind from the west, and headed northeast over the 6500 ft. mountains towards Inyokern, at the southern tip of the Owens Valley, just west of China Lake Naval Air Station and the town of Ridgecrest.  The Inyokern airport is hard up against the boundary of the China Lake Restricted area, and if you take off on one of their runways towards the northeast, you pretty much have to turn north when you reach 4 ft. AGL to avoid entering the Restricted Area.  Inyokern (as are many of the airports in the area) is a big gliderport - the soaring on the east side of the Sierras is something to behold, I'm told, with folks regularly getting up into the 20K ft - 30 K ft levels.

When we hit Inyokern, we turned north around the corner of the Sierras and headed North up the Owens Valley.  Geez - we thought the trip to Death Valley was pretty - each flight we take is better than the last.  The Owens Valley is around 20-40 miles wide, with 9K ft to 14K ft. mountains running hundreds of miles continuously up either side.  The valley floor is at about 2400 ft. elevation at Inyokern, and rises to around 4K ft. at Bishop, 106 NM to the north.  We had considered going to Mammoth, which is at 7100 ft., but decided to stop at Bishop for lunch.

We flew up the valley at 8500 ft. - about even with some of the peaks on either side, and below many. It's impressive being 4K ft AGL, and having mountains 6K ft above you on either side.  The mountains in the Sierras to the west had a lot of snow on them, but the mountains on the right (don't know the name of the range - maybe the Panamints?) had none whatsoever, until the really tall ones north of Bishop.  It was an amazing view - 100 miles dead ahead, to snow-capped peaks towering over our altitude, with towns and airports below, and huge mountains 5-15 miles off to either side.

About 40 minutes later, we arrived over Bishop, situated in the middle of the valley with tremendous peaks surrounding it.  We landed and taxied over to the parking area in front of the restaurant, went in, and had some lunch.  Other than the service being a bit slow, the food was good, and the views from the restaurant window towards the runway and the mountains in the background were tremendous. 

Around 3 PM, we climbed back in and took off.  We headed south, back down the valley (one day I'll climb up to 16.5K ft and head west over the Sierras, but it'll have to be a day when the San Joaquin Valley looks a bit less like cream of mushroom soup) towards Inyokern.  We had a 15 Kt. tailwind, and were screaming along at 193 Kts GS until we hit some turbulence around Lone Pine for about 2 minutes. After we were through it, the winds had completely died, and we were back down to 175 Kts GS.  Just before Inyokern, we turned southwest into the sun and headed back to Tehachapi, landing at about 3:45 PM.

Another successful day complete.

Headrest Extension

This moves the co-pilot's headrest further out to match the wedge seatcushion support.

Sierras - Mountain

Not sure exactly which mountain this is, but it's 11K ft or so, viewed from 8500 ft. going north

Sierras - Northwest

Looking Northwest, up the Owens Valley, at the bulk of the Sierra Nevadas

Sierras - North

Looking North up the Owens Valley, with the Sierras to the west

Deanie - Bishop

Deanie is standing near N83MZ on the Bishop Airport Ramp, looking west toward the Sierra Nevadas in the background

Owens Dry Lake

Looking south over Owens Dry Lake Bed (not too dry, actually) just south of Lone Pine


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