2008 Gathering Recap From UltraFlight Magazine

The terrain was a labyrinth of massive buttes and delicate spires towering a thousand feet above the desert floor.

The first “Gathering at Monument Valley” was held last September at Gouldings Lodge and Trading Post near the border of Utah and Arizona, altitude 5500 ft. ASL. It’s a long way to go, the accommodations are limited to R.V’s and tent camping, and, it’s only flyable during the first and last hours of daylight. Not exactly the elements that draw a big crowd but despite that, turnout was excellent. In the group of 30 were several of the sport’s most recognizable pilots including filmmakers, instructors and other assorted characters, hailing from as far away as New York and San Diego.
Gouldings Lodge proved to be an excellent site, with all the necessities, including restaurant, grocery, and a well appointed campground with an indoor swimming pool.
During the non-flyable hours Gouldings provided jeep tours into Monument Park which allowed the pilots an opportunity to explore the park from the ground and to plan their next flight. It is also the trailhead for several fabulous hikes to hidden box canyons and spectacular vistas.Unlike most fly-in’s where you can roll out of bed and climb right into your paramotor, the LZ was three fourths of a mile below the campground. We used Goulding’s 3500 foot airstrip and for the most part it worked out nicely. Some of the pilots left trailers at the airstrip others drove down and were ready to go. The runway apron was sufficient to launch in any direction and the trike pilots really enjoyed the luxury of the long gently sloping runway. This airstrip also services tourist flights to the Monument Park and nearby Lake Powell, conveniently they didn’t begin until 9:30am after most of us had landed and were gone before the evening flights began.Friday evening we discovered that Flying Monument Valley has its own unique set of challenges. The airstrip at Gouldings is sheltered by 900 foot buttes on the south and west side. That evening the wind was light and from the west so the majority launched toward the western butte and then turned east, staying low to avoid any turbulence from the top. It was a picture book flight, as the breeze dropped to zero I flew south and watched as a couple of pilots made low level passes over the southern butte. Later after sharing a “potluck BBQ” we sat around the campfire we were entertained with their experience of going from 20 ft. AGL to 920 ft. AGL in the blink of an eye.

Everyone agreed that while the terrain was rugged there were plenty of places to make an emergency landing, provided you had some altitude. There are jeep trails and tourist roads throughout the park. It’s very likely, that if you were forced down, it would be a short walk to where you could be picked up by one of the tourist rides. However while this is true for the morning flight, anybody finding themselves down in the park at sunset, had better be equipped with a cell phone and gps or else be prepared to spend the night. The most rugged terrain were the areas near the base of the monoliths which were marked by steep slopes covered with scree and deep arroyos. Unfortunately, for many these were also the most attractive places to fly. The consensus was that unless the conditions were perfect, it was best to stay high or at the very least, keep to the weather side of the rocks and bear in mind that the weather side of this monolith is also the lee side of that big rock up wind !
Saturday morning provided the best flying and most of us were at the field by 6:30am. The winds were light on the surface and 8 to10 aloft. Heading northeast, I flew toward Eagle Rock and circled around it to Brigham’s Tomb and Bear and Rabbit Summit. Flying level with the top of the buttes I started to feel the bumps from mile away so I climbed 300 feet to smoother air. I had wanted to get a trophy picture of my shadow against the face of one of the buttes but decided to make do with shots from above rather than risk the turbulence below. The ride home was smooth and fast and checking my tank I wished I’d stayed in the park longer. When I got back I stayed high and enjoyed the view, it reminded me of a dozen of butterflies playing in a rock garden.The most satisfying aspect of the event was watching the veterans return from a flight. Pilots with hundreds of flights would land after a long cross country. I’d watch them gather up their wing and swagger back to the staging area. Only, instead an “Ah Shucks Ma’am” look on their face was more like the look of a beginning pilot after their first flight, grinning from ear to ear, totally amazed at what they had just experienced.

Author: JoeO

Powered Paraglider pilot since 2005

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