It had all the makings of an Epic Fly-In.
There was a great group of pilots (27) including several who are considered elite. There were three experienced filmmakers, who combined, had produced the best of PPG videos available. The campground was complete with all the necessities including restaurant and swimming pool. The weather was decent and the terrain was awesome.
It was a quick drive to Monument Valley, eight hours, no stops except for gas. I was torn because I knew that Marek, Robert and Bryan would be flying Moab on Thursday but I wanted to get to the campground and make sure everything was ready before anyone else showed up. My campsite was beautiful, it was on the top level of the campground looking through the walls of the canyon at “Boy Scout Butte”. I cooked a couple of Brats and went to bed early.
Thursday morning I was at the airstrip by 6:30am. The wind was blowing from the south at 10 -12 mph and gusty. Not a good thing… I hoped this wasn’t a sample of what we were going to see for the next three days. After two hours of para-waiting, I decided to bag it and scout around a little bit. I stopped at the campground office and gave Yvonne a bunch of waivers for any pilots who didn’t bring one signed and ready to go. We discussed the campground layout and tried to work it out so that everybody would be in the same area. Then I went to the Restaurant and met with Barbara to make sure they were ready for the Banquet planned for Saturday night. It was all good.
My next stop was at the Navajo Tribal Park Headquarters, I’d tried several times to contact ,”The Nation”, but they were surprisingly elusive, rarely answering the phone and never returning calls. Some of the pilots wanted to stay at the Dry camp and I thought it might be a good idea to check it out. I paid my $5 to get in and asked who I should talk to about getting permission to launch inside the park.
I was directed to a fellow who informed me that the $5 entry fee wasn’t going to “cut it”. He said that Hot Air Balloons paid several hundred dollars a day and motorized aircraft paid even more. I explained that we were not commercial pilots and didn’t have that kind of money but his response was …”Well that $5 entry fee just isn’t going to cut it”. When I asked him if $10 would be enough he just shook his head and said $5 wasn’t going to be enough. When I asked how much would be …I got the same response…the $5 entry fee wasn’t going to cut it. Since he wouldn’t tell me how much it would “cut it”, I figured that there was no clear policy and I was being fished for whatever we could pay. So… I thanked him for his time, promised to tell the guys and left. Since I’d paid my entry fee for the day I decided to check out the visitor center. In a few years it’s going to be magnificent, “The Nation” is building a large motel with all the facilities but right now its just a very expensive gift shop and snack bar overlooking the valley.
When I got back to Gouldings, pilots were setting up their camps and watching the skies. The wind was still blowing but I was hopeful that it would come down as the sun set. At 5pm we went down to the airstrip and I got in my first flight of the trip. The winds were light and coming from the west. It was a little like the evening flight I’d had in August but not as windy. On that flight I took off, did a 360 and landed. The winds were twitchy with different currents pulling me all over the place. This time I could still feel the air was confused but it was much milder. I circled the field in a half mile circle and did a couple of touch and goes. The air was bumpy but not terrible. The Mapsource profile shows clearly that I was getting bounced around a bit. It was flyable but it wasn’t great, so after 10 minutes or so I decided to land.
The morning of Friday the 26th was great flying as long as you were foot launched. Pierre, I and several other trike guys watched with envy as a good group of guys took off to the Monument Park. We spent he afternoon swapping hanger stories taking showers and hanging around the pool. About 4:30pm the winds started to come down and everybody left for the airstrip. The flying was great. I flew for 45 minutes or so and climbed to 1485 ft AGL. The winds were very light and I landed on almost on the same track as the one I launched from. It was really beautiful with the sun going down and wings all over the place. I went around the back side of the south butte behind Gouldings and saw a solitary glider cruising just above the surface. This was the kind of weather I had been hoping for. This was the afternoon that John F. went up on his homemade trike and had trouble with the power loops. I understand that he was firmly into a turn when one of the loops was pulled outboard…. he kept the turn until he was into the wind and landed without incident.
That evening I had dinner with John F. and Jon Z. who brought along his whole family. Later I hooked up with Andy MCavin, Chris Page and the “Fly Into the Wind” crowd. Ky and Lon Dzung were the heros of the night with the lemon turkey roasts that Lon cooked for us. Lon had a hard time the whole trip with his motor…seems like he couldn’t get enough power. He messed with the carb and fussed all weekend but didn’t get it running right until a they were on the way home when a 1 dollar part was discovered to be the problem. Ky is one of the strongest pilots I’ve ever seen. He would have a very long run out only to get a foot or two into the air and then would touch down and run some more. I thought I was tenacious when I had trouble foot launching but Ky never gave up. His wife Lon is a dear. Probably 4 foot 5 inches and there was nothing she wouldn’t do to provide for the comfort of her husband and his friends. Every time I turned around she was pulling me to the cook fire to have some more to eat. I don’t think she sat down the entire weekend…either filming or cooking or making the campsite better.
I am amazed and honored that such a great group of pilots agree that this place is “THE HOLY GRAIL”. Chris and his crew took a great bunch of photographs which can be seen on their Website.
He is currently filming for Into the Wind 2 and I look forward to seeing the footage from this trip in the movie.