Thursday, May 21, 2020

Day 12


The night in the tent with a half inflated air mattress, soaked clothes from a karmically inspired, semi evil sprinkler system, and a train that passed by every hour on the hour wasn’t exactly restful, so when our alarms went off pre 5 am, there was a moment of pure dread. But we remembered where we were and what we were doing and got up, packed up, and took off into the rising sun.

We had plotted a route through high peaks that took us through winding mountain passes and restricted flying areas and led us directly to the venerable Death Valley, in the northern Mojave Desert. The expansive desolate stretch of land was vast and intimidating and I descended into it with a sense of respect bordering on awe. The ground below us was actually below sea level. It is one of the least inhabitable places on Earth (I had insisted we pack more water for this stretch of the trip, just in case). I had some indescribable fun doing slow descending steep turns into the desert as Filip shot out the open window. Besides flying through Glen Canyon above Lake Powell, this flying took the cake for the most extreme and visually exciting to date. We even saw a crazy drone flying across the valley. We flew the valley northbound and then cut across the Spring Mountains, talking to Nellis approach, bypassing some military training flights, and landed at Northern Las Vegas for some fuel—both for us and the airplane.

We had lunch at the airport restaurant Tailwinds and Sunshine, which was filled with old flyers catching up with friends. Servers wore masks, but beyond that, very normal; the atmosphere was friendly and had a small town airport feeling, someone was celebrating a birthday, and they gave us all a slice of their cake to celebrate.

We finished lunch and some photo work, and went out, fueled up, and headed up for our next leg, a long, desolate, high altitude one with no possible fuel stops and lots of peaks and valleys to weave our way through. This kind of flying is still new to us in the Skyhawk, and it’s been an interesting challenge learning limitations, running performance numbers, and gauging energy based on wind, terrain, altitude, temperature, and weight. For example, getting out of Vegas required us to do a climbing 360 degree turn to gain altitude before pressing on to our routing, we simply weren’t climbing fast enough to get to our cruising altitude before steep terrain rose to meet us.
It was a beautiful leg winding our way North to Wendover, an old air force base with a lot of interesting old airplanes and a little museum. After we fueled there, we were stoked to see four military trainers barreling in—they taxied over and parked right in front of us in a line. Such formidable looking machines, they seemed extremely fun to fly.

We taxied our mighty Skyhawk away from their impressive lineup to runway 26 and I took off to do some of my favorite flying of the trip—low and slow over the Boneville Salt Flats. This place has always fascinated me in photos I’ve seen, the color that the waters take on in the salt lakes are a turquoise blue like that of the Bahamas, and this paired with the white, salty earth—is there anything better? I had some fun staying super low over the pools and flats; circling as Filip took photos from the window. It was a Utopian alien tundra of a place, and getting to fly over it as we pleased was spectacular. We saw people out enjoying the day on the expansive white salt pan, they looked so small and isolated when placed in such an environment, we circled over them, observing them observing us.

After some wonderful flying there, I pressed on to Salt Lake City where we would be spending the night in Bountiful, Utah. To my utter delight, though perhaps I could have guessed from the name, more salt lakes awaited for us there! I can feel an obsession growing. These shining colorful pools of water, gleaming and reflecting the sky, were incredible to fly over and photograph, every turn I made revealed more interesting beauty to see and shoot.

That rush of pure wonder really gave me the lift I needed to get me through the fatigue that had begun after a long day of nearly 9 hours of straight flying and a night with less than adequate sleep—the controllers at Salt Lake were super helpful in directing me through their I80 VFR transition to the field at Bountiful, and I landed softly on runway 35 as the sun set on another day.

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path