Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CA to CO - Prescott, AZ to Centennial Apt in Denver, CO via Taos, NM

Flight Plan
The last day of our trip, Friday, July 29, our plan was to be at the Prescott airport at 7AM to refuel the plane and go wheels up around 7:30 in order to beat the heat and the likely turbulence and afternoon thunderstorms to Denver area. Jeff decided to do a fuel stop on the way there at Taos, NM. Just to be on the safe side. Whenever Jeff wants to be on the safe side I'm always game! As usual, the best laid plans don't always work out precisely that way, we left later than planned, hit more turbulence than we wanted and saw more storms than I wanted ... but that's why we fly, right? because you never know what will happen up there :)

Before we leave Prescott I have to share a beautiful sunset that we captured from Prescott the night we were there. The colors were amazing as was the cool wind blowing across the valley in this desert town.

Leaving Prescott
Jeff did his preflight of the plane as we waited for the fuel truck to arrive. You can see the dark clouds piled up in the sky. Fortunately those particular clouds were to the west and we were headed east. The skies east had clouds as well, but they were higher and more broken than the western route. With the plane refueled I found I was very close to the actual fuel burn again. I predicted 26.4 left, 19.6 right, actual was 24.85 left and 18.4 right.

One of the things we didn't plan on, but should have anticipated. As PRC is the home of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the moment the tower opened at 7AM, the sky, runways and taxiways were full of Cessna 172s in Embry-Riddle blue. The airport was very busy very quickly and we were just one of many planes in the run up for 21L to depart the airport. Finally we were cleared to line up and wait on 21L and I captured this photo of two Embry Cessna's taking off on the parallel 21 runways in front of us. You'll have to click on the photo to see it.

We took off and thanked the tower for their help. Then we turned east when we reached 6500 feet. As we departed Prescott Valley we enjoyed the view of the green valley, red rocks and water, yes, water in the desert. I was happy that we were able to visit Prescott. I traveled through that valley over 20 years ago and loved being there. It was great being back under these new circumstances.

Sedona to Taos
Our immediate route out of Prescott took us over the Sedona valley. We flew over Cottonwood airport and then over Sedona's valley proper. We saw Sedona's airport which sits on the top of a mesa in the middle of the valley. Easy to spot, probably a little unsettling to land at. As we continued north we saw smoke entering the valley through a canyon from the north. It appeared to be coming from the Flagstaff area.

We continued north under the clouds in glass smooth air. We were happy to have the clouds keeping us and the air cooler than it would have been otherwise. The Arizona desert was green and had ponds everywhere. It looked more like what you would expect from the northern mid-west than the Arizona desert.

Eventually we transitioned into more sparse cloud cover and over more "typical" desert terrain. We passed over Meteor Crater. This huge hole in the ground is just a divot on the charts, but almost impossible to miss in person. We flew a circle around the crater and took video of it. Then we let a $20 bill slip out the window. "Why do that?" you ask. Because Meteor Crater is on private land and owned by a family that charges every person who wants to see the crater. They actually have a pretty nice visitor center there on the crater's edge and some descent educational information available. However, 20 years ago when I was traveling this part of the country, I couldn't afford to see the crater. I detoured to the crater, hoping to see it, but I was a college student headed to California to work for the summer and I didn't have the $20 to spare. This time I did and I was seeing the crater from an angle people rarely get to see. It was worth the $20 fee. Maybe some other broke college kid will pick up that $20 and be able to see the crater in person too.

Our route of flight then took us over Winslow, AZ and of course I wanted to sing "standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona... " but singing voice comes out really bad over a headset! I gave it a try and stopped quickly for both of our sakes. We continued on our route and passed near "Flying Butte" (or so it was named on the chart), so I had to take a picture of that.

When we transitioned into New Mexico the shape of the land changed.. you could see more raw earth where the record of previous upheaval, ancient volcanoes and lava flows, mountains, ravines and planes. The temperature was rising as were the cumulonimbus clouds scattered on either side of our route. With the increase in heat came more turbulence. So we climbed higher to smoother air at 13,500 feet (only 6000-7000 feet AGL), turned on our oxygen and continued the cruise. I was a Navy brat, but spent most of my formative years growing up in New Mexico. It was a real experience seeing the mountains I used to look up at and hike below our wings.

At one point we heard an amusing radio call. An older pilot suddenly announced, "Well, here's something I've never seen before. Icing in New Mexico at 15,000 feet. I've been flying here for 20 years!" We were happy we weren't at 15,000 feet and weren't in the clouds. We continued east until we approached Santa Fe VOR and then turned northeast up the valley between Santa Fe and Los Alamos towards Taos. The cumulonimbus were building over most of the mountain ranges now but the flight path Jeff plotted kept us in the clear.

When we approached Taos we had to descend into the turbulence and had a bit of a roller coaster ride on approach to SKX (Taos airport). This airport was situated between a mountain range and a large ravine so the winds there were far from calm. It was rough enough that I didn't get a shot of our approach into the airport. Nonetheless, Jeff turned a rough and bouncy approach into a very smooth landing. We taxied over to the fuel island and got out of the plane to stretch our legs a bit and fuel the plane. (Predicted 16.8 Left,
11.1 Right. Actual 16.0 Left, 11.1 Right) We visited with the people at the local FBO and checked out some of the planes in the hangar. We didn't want to stay too long because the storms were definitely building over the mountains and we had one more pass to cross before getting over the plains.

We had a bit of trouble restarting the hot engine and, of course, another plane had just come in and was waiting for us to get out of the way to get his own fuel. But start it we did and we headed out. This shot is of the Taos Mountains down the taxiway towards runway 22.

Taos to Centennial
We launched back into the bumpy air and climbed up to the smoothest air we could find, which wasn't all that smooth. We had to basically just fly the plane and deal with the bumps. It wasn't even moderate turbulence according to official definitions, but it wasn't fun. For myself, I am much more comfortable with turbulence when I am at the controls. Also, I wasn't used to the way a Bonanza moves when encountering turbulence. The Bonanza does a little wiggle that Jeff says is called the "Bonanza Boogie". I wasn't a big fan of the boogie, but it wasn't horrible and eventually I got sort of used to the feeling. This was a huge difference from the me of a year ago that was terrified of the slightest bump in the air.

Our next major landmark was La Veta pass. It was the lowest nearby point in the Rocky Mountain range we had to cross. It was later than we wanted it to be and storms were building up over the mountains on either side of us. Jeff carefully watched the storms on the Garmin's weather radar. He pointed out the storms weren't moving, they were building stationary over the mountains for the most part. That made me feel a bit better as we cut a path towards La Veta pass.

As we crossed over the pass I took this picture of the storms off our wing. I was very glad we were where we were and not any closer to the storms. Once we got over the pass and over the plains the air smoothed out again and we were in clear skies over flat land with little wind. We turned back north again and enjoyed the break from the bumps.

We were talking with Denver Center, Pueblo Approach, Springs Approach and finally Denver Approach. It was very good we had flight following as this airspace was also very busy and we had traffic pointed out to us more than once. Love those extra eyes! We finally started our descent into Centennial and canceled flight following to start talking with Centennial Tower. I turned the radio work back to Jeff and just observed his flying. This photo is on final for Centennial. Jeff pulled off another beautiful landing and we taxied clear of the runway. When we contacted ground we asked for progressive taxi to the Denver Jet Center where we were going to park the plane for the week. The ground controller gave us instructions after stumbling over the tail number of the plane and laughing. We laughed with her and headed in.

We were directed to park the plane in front of the Denver Jet Center "terminal". Near where US Custom's inspects planes. We were parked next to large twins, small jets and other nice planes. It was a long but good flight and we were on the ground safe and sound. My dad and step-mom were waving at us from the other side of the gate as we offloaded the plane. The ramp was crowded so we unloaded there and the FBO towed 777Y to parking at the end of the ramp. You can see in the background of this picture the company 777Y was keeping and the storms over the mountains.

Next flight for Jeff, probably Leadville on Friday. Next flight for both of us (plus our pre-teen daughter) Sunday. I'm looking forward to the return trip. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to spend a bit more time at the controls. *grin*

No comments:

Post a Comment