With Friday of last week being a normal Scaled day off and Monday of this week being a holiday, and with the Kanab fly-in planned for Saturday through Monday, I decided to make a really long weekend of it. Deanie and I made arrangements to stay Thursday and Friday night at the Bryce View Lodge, run by Ruby's Inn, just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. KBCE (Bryce Canyon Airport) is just a few miles outside of the National Park and is only a 15-20 minute flight north of Kanab - the plan was to fly up Thursday after work and then fly to Kanab on Saturday, late morning.
So that's what we did. I left work a bit early on Thursday, met Deanie at the airport, and we packed up the plane. After a rough run-up, I reconnected a spark plug wire I had disconnected to make sealing an oil leak easier, and we took off from KTSP headed east-northeast. We climbed out of Tehachapi to 9500 ft., heading towards the Trona Gap just east of China Lake. We picked up flight following and light chop, and then climbed to 11.5K ft. as we passed Trona - Deanie put on the O2. Skies were scattered clouds up high, and being late afternoon (3 PM) in the desert, it was just bumpy enough to be annoying.
After passing south of Death Valley, Joshua Approach dropped us due to poor radar coverage and comms - haven't been able to figure out an altitude at which that doesn't happen, but it's apparently over 11.5K ft. After passing Shoshone (near West BF, CA) we were able to pick up Vegas Approach and get back on flight following. We crossed over into the Vegas valley and then headed northeast over I-15 towards Mesquite and then St. George. At St. George we headed east, vaguely following routes 59 and 389 over Colorado City, AZ and Kanab, UT. At Kanab we turned north and followed route 89 through the valley west of Bryce Canyon National Park, over Alton and Hatch, UT.
With KBCE at 7600 ft., we didn't have far to descend from 11.5K ft., and we turned east when about 7 miles west of the airport and started our descent. Although high (and the highest elevation airport I've landed at, so far), it's long (7400 ft.), so the high ground speed isn't an issue, especially since we had a 19 kt. headwind on landing. 2.2 hours in the air, with some tailwinds and we were there.
Ruby's Inn will send a shuttle to the airport (about 4 miles) to pick you up if you fly in, so we got a ride over after tying the plane down and getting our gear. The terminal at the airport is pretty new and very pretty and well appointed, and the attendant was helpful and pleasant. We got to the lodge and unpacked, and then went over to one of the Ruby's restaurants for dinner. Ruby's is a whole complex of three or four hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and tourist attractions (as well as gas stations and stores) about three miles from the Bryce Canyon National Park visitor center, just outside the park. While normally eschewing touristy type places, this one is reasonably palatable, and the food in the restaurant (the "Cowboy Buffet and Steak Room") was actually pretty good. We picked up some info on the park and talked about what we were going to do on Friday.
After dinner it was getting late, so we went back to the room and watched some ESPN (I have the luxury of having a wife who likes baseball and football at least as much as I do) and hit the sack.
We woke at 7 AM on Friday, got our hiking stuff together and then wandered over to Ruby's sales office, where we picked up a ticket for the Park. BCNP has shuttles (FREE!) that run from Ruby's, into the park, to the visitor center, and then down the main road to all the overlooks. These buses run about every 20 minutes, so it's trivial to get into and around the main part of the park without a car. We took the 8 AM shuttle down to Bryce Point (the end of the shuttle road) and began our hike down into the canyon around 8:30 AM, when it was still reasonably cool and we were in the shade. We hiked 1.1 miles down to the east side of the Peekaboo Loop, which then wound another 1.3 miles through the hoodoos and narrow canyons and across a couple of dry (and not so dry) stream beds. It had just rained 0.5" a few days earlier (monsoon season), so there was some water in the canyon.
At the end of Peekaboo Loop, we walked 0.3 miles to the base of the Navajo Loop and picked up the Queens Garden Trail. The Peekaboo Loop trail was marked "strenuous", and the QGT marked "easy", but from my standpoint (and I'm not in anything resembling great shape), they tend to be pretty conservative on these evaluations. The QGT winds 0.8 miles past fins, hoodoos and open areas with great views of the Tropic valley to the east and the face wall of the canyon and the rim 500 feet above to the west. At the end of the QGT we climbed the 0.9 miles up to Sunrise Point on the rim, at around 11:30 AM. We then followed the rim trail south to Sunset Point, ate a snack and caught a shuttle back to the visitor's center. We watched a movie about the canyon, checked out the displays, and then took the shuttle back to the motel to get lunch and take a nap in the mid-afternoon. At 4 PM we headed back down to Sunset Point to catch a ranger walk/talk at 5 PM about the history of the park, from the geological to the human and flora/fauna. That lasted about 1.5 hours and then we went back to the lodge to get some dinner.
More ESPN in the evening, yahoo the Yankees winning (again) and to bed.
Deanie awoke with a headache and was in no mood to hike, so we cancelled plans for a rim walk in the morning and just relaxed in the room before packing and taking the shuttle back to the airport around 10:30 AM. We packed up the plane and departed to the north with a turnout to the east, north of the park boundary. We climbed to 8500 ft (a whole 1K ft.) and crossed the canyon boundary and over the Tropic valley, then headed southwest, paralleling the amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon. It's hard to take pictures from the air that do it justice - there's just not enough peripheral information. We were flying over the region known as the "Grand Staircase", south of Escalante, where there are numerous long bluffs of different color stone and dropping elevation, from over 10K ft. down to about 5K ft.
I was a bit nervous using the east route to Kanab, even for just the 20 minute flight, since there are pretty much no roads to speak of in the high terrain (6500 - 7500 ft. elevation where we were) with a lot of trees, and not much in the way of flat ground, either. This nervousness, sadly, was foreboding and would be writ as fact late the next day.
At any rate, we avoided the smoke from a very small fire (looked like a couple of large piles of brush), came down over the vermilion cliffs just north of Kanab and landed downhill into the wind on 19. It was about 11:30 AM and there were already 7-9 canards on the ground. We said hello to everyone, wandered around a bit looking at planes, and then went to pick up the rental car. Just as we drove back to the airport we saw Mike and Sally Melvill fly in with their Long-EZ, so since we were sharing the rental car, we pulled up to their tie-down spot and gathered them up. We headed over to the Aikens Lodge to drop off our stuff and freshen up, and then went back to the airport to hang out.
Canards were arriving pretty regularly, but one Glasair III that had flown in with Burrall Sanders' COZY IIIx from Durango, CO had a mishap on landing - apparently he landed with the left wheel flat and ran off the runway. After a flatbed tow truck arrived, the plane was moved to a tiedown spot with the help of 12 chiefs and 3 workers. All three gear were damaged severely to different extents, and the right wingtip was severely damaged, possibly structurally. The owner wasn't sure what he was going to do, since he was from Colorado.
By mid-afternoon, everyone had gravitated back to the Aikens Lodge and were hanging out by the pool, in the shade under the trees, telling stories and drinking various refreshments. Around 6 PM, Char Spencer gathered up some $$$ and ordered pizza, which Gary Spencer picked up. There was more than enough food, including fruit, for everyone. Deanie and Sally, being vegetarians of varying degrees, went down the street and picked up some Thai type tofu curry, which was apparently very good. A bit more yakking and storytelling, and then to bed.
The Kanab "timed event" (NOT a race - it's NOT a race, he insists) was scheduled to be briefed at 7 AM, with takeoffs starting at 7:45 AM, if I remember correctly. This was WAY to early for Mike, Bill Seibold and me so we woke around 8 AM with the plan for to head over to the airport around 9 AM, since that's when the pancake breakfast started, while the little women (Deanie, Sally and Marilyn Seibold, any one of whom can beat me in arm wrestling) stayed in town and went to breakfast or shopping or something that my male brain is not equipped to understand.
I had made arrangements to give Stuart Smith, a modified COZY MKIV builder from the Salt Lake City area a ride around 9:30 AM, so when we got to the airport I preflighted and prepped the plane, and around 9:45 AM I crammed Stuart into the right seat (he's a big guy) and we took off. We climbed to about 2500 ft. AGL and toodled around a bit, with Stuart flying. He immediately fell in love with the plane (this was his first COZY ride) and insisted that he had decided to build the right plane. He especially liked (as do I) the side fuselage windows. Stuart did some canard stalls, with 15 degrees of bank, and again insisted that this was the right plane for him. After about 20 minutes, we landed and I put the plane away for the day.
Late morning, we watched four canards (three LE's and Burrall Sanders' COZY IIIx) take off and head north to Bryce, ostensibly for lunch - as I mentioned earlier, it's only a 15-20 minute flight, and they'll come pick you up and bring you to the lodge/restaurant. People gave rides, some folks left, and a lot of looking at planes and yakking. I got a closeup of Keith Spreuer's new paint job (on his COZY MKIV with a Subaru SVX engine - looks great!) and engine installation (always interesting to look at an auto conversion), and compare performance numbers.
Later in the afternoon, as it got hotter and hotter, we headed back to the motel to hang out. More yakking and storytelling by the pool, and then a report came back that one of the four aircraft (Don Brewster's Long-EZ) that had gone to Bryce had disappeared on the way back. The other three planes had gone back out to look for Don, and apparently eventually saw the plane from the air, looking like an airplane but with the nose missing, having hit a tree during what looked to be an attempt to land on a dirt logging road about 5-7 miles north of Kanab, on top of the bluff. The FAA and rescue folks were called.
This obviously put a damper on the mood, as everyone worried about Don's condition.
Around 6:30 PM we walked over to Spurs Grill/Restaurant (well, some of us walked and some took the shuttle bus) and ate dinner. They actually have both good ribs as well as a good vegetarian/vegan food. After a while the searchers arrived for dinner, and didn't look very optimistic. We kept getting "no news" from the rescue folks, and in this case, "no news" is not "good news". We tried to maintain an upbeat mood and Char reported the results of the "timed event" and handed out certificates, and everyone thanked Char for her hard work in organizing the fly-in.
Towards the end of dinner, we got final word from the rescue folks (helicopter and ambulance) that Don had not survived the crash.
We walked back to Aikens Lodge. Although I did not know Don, having just met him the day before and having only seen a few of his postings on the canard-aviators mailing list, his death got me pretty upset. I recalled Deanie and my flight over the same area just the morning before and my ambivalence over going higher for such a short flight due to the terrain, or staying low because it's just so damn beautiful. I wondered whether, given the proximity to Kanab, whether even just another 1000 ft. of altitude would have been enough to get Don over the bluff and down to the Kanab airport. But "ifs" don't change anything. I thought that 58 years old is too early, and that I hope that the NTSB can figure out what happened.
After dinner, more yakking and storytelling by the pool - I was surprised by what seemed to me to be a lack of appropriate solemnity, but it could very easily have been different ways of people expressing (or restraining) grief. At any rate, I went to bed somewhat early.
We woke around 8 AM and packed up our stuff. After checking out, we took Mike and Sally and Keith Spreuer to the airport around 9 AM. I returned the rental car and packed up the plane and went inside to re-check the weather. It was looking pretty crappy - there were scattered rain showers all over the place between Kanab and Los Angeles, some of them pretty strong near Las Vegas. Doug and Patti Pitzer had already decided not to chance it and had made a reservation for the night, and Gay Hamilton (flying a Twin Navion) was also recommending a no-go. I took both those recommendations seriously and reviewed the prog chargs, radar picture and satellite photos for a while with Mike.
Our evaluation was that the showers were scattered enough, the ceiling high enough (over 12K ft.) and the visibility good enough (20 miles minimum everywhere) that we were good to go. The plan was to head to St. George, then down I-15 over Mesquite to Las Vegas, always having an airport either ahead or behind, so even running into a squall line wouldn't preclude a simple land and wait. Mike/Sally gassed up and took off while Deanie and I were still futzing around, and he reported from the air that things looked fine, at least to the extent that he could view them from 4K ft. AGL near Kanab.
We took off about 20 minutes later and climbed to 10.5K ft. We picked up flight following near Colorado City. The rain showers were scattered enough that we didn't have to do much diversion from a straight course to St. George (just went a bit south), and then we flew through some virga here and there on the way to Vegas. I had planned on following I-15 all the way to Barstow, but as we passed Vegas and Henderson, there was a wall of rain through which we couldn't see ahead of us.
The route to the west looked substantially clearer, with better visibility and sunshine maybe 40 - 60 miles out. Since the line of clouds had looked to end about 30 miles west of Vegas in the satellite view, we changed course and headed west toward Shoshone. After passing through a light virga, the clouds petered out and by the time we got to the southern end of Death Valley (and had picked up FF again from Joshua Approach, after having been dropped prior to Shoshone by LA Center) it was clear and smooth. The whole of the Antelope Valley seemed shrouded in smoke from ground up to 8K ft., however, and we could see what looked like smoke from a fire in the Tehachapi mountains south of town 60 miles ahead.
We then heard Mike ask Joshua Approach for info on the TFR that apparently covered KTSP, keeping him (and us) from getting in. He had flown west of KTSP and tried to call the fire airboss but couldn't get through. I got a frequency from Joshua for the airboss and tried to contact them to get permission to come into KTSP, but no one answered. After heading north and then west of town and thinking about sneaking in, I thought the better of it. I called Mike on my cell phone and he said he had landed at Mojave. We turned back toward Mojave as well and descended to land, but after 15 minutes heard from the tower that they had moved the TFR to uncover KTSP from the northwest and Mike/Sally were departing.
So, back over the ridge to the north of KTSP , over route 58 and our house and into a right downwind for 29 (keeping us north of the airport), following Mike in for an uneventful landing. It turns out that the fire had been caused by a C-210 crash the day before which killed the two occupants of the plane and started the 15,000 acre deflagration. Sunday had not been a good day for small planes...
So the temporary pleasure and fun of visiting Bryce and hanging out with friends in Kanab was tempered by the permanent losses. Thanks again to Char and Gary Spencer for arranging the fly-in and doing all the heavy lifting.
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