"The Gathering at Monument Valley 2009

Fly the Holy Grail Of PPG
October 9-10-11 2009


Pictures of Second Annual

Thanks to:
Faith Wesstrom

Beery Miller
Chad Bastian
Pictures from the first Annual…Thanks to:
Texas Wingnuts
Pikes Peak Poweredparagliding Club
For More Information
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Monument Valley 09 Wrap-UP #363 to #367

This is one pilots blog of the event… In reverse order 🙂


It was a strange morning, the wind was coming over the mesa from the west but it didn’t look or feel bad. The forecast was for light winds in the morning building to 20 plus after noon. I set off several helium balloons that acted different every time.

Final Briefing

One took off to the Southeast and the next went straight up. At the north end of the apron it was a little more consistant with the balloons tracking southeast. Few pilots were serious about launching and everybody seems a little spooked. Finally, John Black launched in his quad and I decided to check it out for myself.
I walked the buggy to the far end of the runway where Sue and her boyfriend were packing up. Her gut was telling her to stay on the ground and wisely chose not to chance it. I on the other hand still thought it was flyable and was determined to give it a go. My first attempt was aborted when the PowerPlay fell back but on the second it came up clean and I launched quickly. It was smooth for the first 200 feet but started to get bumpy and increased as I climbed. I came down 50 feet and flew away from the mesa where I encountered the bumps a bit lower than before. I figured that it was the winds curling off the mesa and it would be a bumpy ride at leadt till I got far enough to the east to get out of the rotor and then It would be a rowdy upwind ride home. Since I had already had 4 good flights and there was no chance of getting back to the park I turned back and made a clean landing with a minimum of power.

Mexican Hat

That was it…the 2nd Annual Gathering at Monument Valley was over. John and I wasted no time packing up our gear and policing the area. I said my good-byes and headed for home.

Old Town

Due to the severe storm up north I went home via Pagosa Springs and Salida. It’s been a long time and I forgot how beautiful this area is. Next summer I’m going to make it a point to visit Paul Dillon.

Flights #363 to #367

Monument Valley 09 Saturday

Mo made it in late last night and gave the briefing…thanks Mo…

Conditions were wonderful, light breezes made for easy take-offs. I launched from halfway down the runway to avoid yesterday’s mistake…and I switched to the PowerPlay Sting. What a difference! The climb was much better; I locked the throttle at 80%, hooked up the foot steering and headed over to the park. The rig was climbing at 130 ft/min and with a strong tailwind …moving fast. I figured that if I had a hard time penetrating on the way home, I would go low and if that wasn’t enough, I could land out and hitch a ride back.

Jeff and the Boys (Ivan Mo Uri Mark)

Photo by Faith Wesstrom
There were wings all over the place, some were heading into the valley and others were coming from the North after visiting the seven sisters and possibly rounding Brigham’s Tomb. After clearing Gouldings, I flew south along the highway and crossed over Wetherill Mesa into the Valley of the Gods, three miles south of the visitors center. It was spectacular. I was surrounded by a labyrinth of massive buttes and delicate spires towering a thousand feet above the desert floor. After doing a couple of big slow circles I turned North past the Camel and Elephant Buttes until I reached the West Mitten where I turned back towards Gouldings. At 2500AGL the best speed was 5 mph at 2000AGL it was up to 10mph and at 500ft I was clipping along at 18mph.

Photo by Faith Wesstrom

When I got back to the field there was a plane circling the LZ waiting for everybody to clear the runway. I positioned myself at 500 ft just north of the airstrip so that I would be well inside of the flight pattern and out of the way. There was a truck sitting right in the middle and I was hoping that he knew there was a plane waiting to land. It took entirely too long, with the foot steering engaged and the throttle set to cruise I circled for at least 15 minutes. Eventually the runway was cleared and I landed with a long low and slow run up the runway. This was the best flight so far.

Photo by Faith Wesstrom

After Lunch a bunch of us piled into the pick-up and went for a tour of Navajo Tribal Park. We had a great time stopping at the various outlooks and pointing out places where we had been and planned to go and taking the obligatory,“We were there”, pictures. All of us agreed that the monuments looked allot bigger from the ground but scarier from the air. I was astounded when Jeff told me that he was anxious flying close to these massive and unchanging structures because I felt the same way. We both knew that they couldn’t “suck you in” but at the same time it took force of will to fly right up to the wall of something so huge and unsympathetic.

Csaba Lemak

Seeing the monuments from the ground was a real eye opener. For one thing, I realized that if I were ever forced to make an emergency landing, I had better be able to glide to a road, because it would be almost impossible find smooth patch amidst all the skree. Not to mention the difficulty in pushing the Rig to a place where I could be picked up.

Faith and Ola Wesstrom

That evening we met at Gouldings for the Big Dinner.

Into the truck and down the hill we went. Ola looked very comfortable sitting in the buggy and Faith was riding shotgun as the token lady but I worried that I was going to lose either Ivan or Uri off the back, fortunately I remembered the speed bumps and we made it without incident. At dinner I had the ribs which I wish I’d tried sooner because it was by far the best dish on the menu. Sitting with Johnny Fetz, Chad and Greg Bishop, we talked about next year and things we wanted to do. I really hadn’t thought about “non-organizing” it again but listening to the gang …it sounds like allot of people are talking about coming back and doing it again.
After the meal I got up and said a very few words, thanking everybody and inviting them to come back next year. Someday I’m going to surprise them and prepare a real speech but for now the minimalist thing was working for me. One thing for sure it was much more satisfying that the last time when I had a pilot down and no one knew his condition.
After dinner we hung for about an hour and told hanger stories. It was a hoot to see Jeff sitting with John Black and Mo. The atmosphere was celebratory, just about everyone got one “EPIC” flight and no one was injured.
Eventually it broke up into lots of little parties. I made the rounds and visited a couple of them; the campfire discussion was in full swing with Russ, Faith, Ola, Ivan, Johnny, Uri, Chad and a few others. Tonight’s topic was wing design, what’s new, what’s being developed… and… Government interference in the Ultraflight World, the good bad and ugly. Russ had an abundance of firewood so the fire was high and accommodated the large group nicely.

Down at the Bachelor’s Quarters there was a rowdy game of Texas hold-em. Csaba and John Black were going at it hard and heavy while the guys who had donated to the cause looked on with great big smiles. The happiest guy was Jim King who had seen god earlier in the day when he got pinned to the earth by a running paramotor. Story is, that Jerry had fixed him a couple of Margaritas before dinner and he was feeling no pain. At Bob’s RV the “Acro Film Festival” was winding down. I was almost bowled over by Ivan when he staggered out of the RV… heading to bed…too tuckered for any more carousing.

Monument Valley 09 Friday

Friday Johnny Fetz & his “Junk Buggy”

The “Epic Flight”

The first take-off was difficult. I set-up at the North East part of the runway by the hanger. It was an uphill take off and my climb was just barely enough to overcome the the grade of the runway. I cleared the fence at the end of the runway by two feet and turned North where I skimmed the surface for 100 yards before starting to climb. The go…no go point came after lift-off when I was climbing ok, then I hit some sink and and my climb went to hell. Aborting would have been “absolutely bad”, I was committed and had to fly it out, even if I was just going to fly to the crash site. I felt sure that I that I would clear the fence but the terrain West was not a good place to touch down and I was “puckered” to the buggy for awhile. At 1200 ft. the air calmed down and I set off for the Monuments. When I arrived at “lookout point” I turned to Sentinel Mesa and made a slow turn to take some pictures. Absolutely beautiful! I could look into the Valley of the Gods to the South, across to Brigham’s Tomb to the North and back to Gouldings in the West. Later when I was back over the field I resisted landing and loitered over the field for a long time watching the activity below.
That morning and through the afternoon the whole gang showed, Jeff Goin had the top RV spot and Carlos Segnini with his crew were down the hill just south of us. Luc and the Russians were on top and Ola and Faith were in a cabin on the edge. We spent the afternoon hanging around the campsite talking PPG. It was all about Jeff’s upcoming video on Mastering PPG and John Fetz new kevlar prop, where we had flown and where we would like to go. I sat there by my tent, taking it all in and watched my wind indicator as it danced to all four points of the compass. The sky was filled with big puffy clouds that were tinged red on the bottom, reflecting the color of the earth below. It was a great relaxing afternoon.
The evening flights were bumpy but good. I launched during a calm moment between the puffs and only flew for a short time staying close to the LZ. Anyway, it was much more entertaining at the airstrip. Chad was demonstrating the his new ultralite wing, it weighs 5 pounds and kites like nothing I’ve ever seen. Chad was playing it up big, strolling around and occasionally reaching out to tug on a riser making like he wasn’t paying any attention to the wing at all. The hook-in is designed low and the risers are very different, like braided kevlar lines rather than conventional webbing with mallions. I would have loved to fly it but it’s far too small for my rig.

Toward the end we had some excitement, one trike was flipped launching in a puff and another fellow got dumped when he was whacked coming in on final with power off landing. The last part of the video was Beery getting dumped by a rotor at the same place I had a hard time climbing out.


Video by Fait Wesstrom

Other pilots showed considerable skill and patience waiting for the right moment to set down. I was really impressed by Perry Molter who made several passes before he committed and landed on the runway with an amazingly clean and swift flare. There was other carnage that I didn’t see, but heard about later. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt for which I’m thankful. Much like last year, the LZ was a free for all, but everybody seemed to be a bit more aware of the conditions and respected the site.

That evening Johnny and I shared dinner, his shredded pork and my Italian sausage, it was “wolf camping” at its best. Several of us sat around the campfire talking propeller design. Csaba Lemak of Electric PPG fame joined us and talked about some new products he is working on including a high quality composite prop that could be produced for a fraction of current manufacturing costs. Ivan kept things light trading jabs with Stann Honey and Mark Latham. Mark seems to be a much happier and healthier guy than the last time I saw him. I enjoyed his story of flying a glider up to 24,000ft riding the mountain wave.

Monument Valley 09 Thursday


Despite the drama of damaging the rig I got a good nights sleep and was at the field by 6:45. Ivan came to the rescue, with three other pilots, he put his auto body skills to work and was able to straighten the frame beautifully. It’s round and stiff and unless you know where to look… invisible. THANKS IVAN!


The morning was a blow-out, gusty and switching winds. We stood around and some of us kited. A couple of guys even went up for very…very short flights but it wasn’t good air and since there were going to be lots of opportunities over the next few days I didn’t sweat it. About 10:00am I met with Jerry and a few other guys for breakfast at Gouldings. Other than flying, the topic of the day was the foul weather that our families were experiencing only 8 hours away. Denver had just broken a 100 year low temp record. Black ice had put the city in gridlock …but at the gathering… we were enjoying 72 degrees and beautiful skies.


The afternoon was spent with housekeeping, showers and a nap. At 4:30 we headed down to the field and waited for the winds to come down. It was coming from the Northwest and I set-up downhill, across the runway expecting to lift off at the helicopter pads. I missed it, but Ivan was setting up to the left with the same plan and we started our launch together. I saw him …he saw me…we aborted together and it was just dumb luck that kept his wing out of my prop. We apologised to each other and started over. Of course Beery got the whole thing on video


The Eden III felt good but the climb was miserable. Once I was aloft I planned to stay up awhile and enjoy myself. It felt good to be back at Monument Valley, it’s taken on the feel of “home field” I had flown here in similar conditions several times. The wind was moderate from the west which meant it was going to be twitchy at the south end of the runway, possibly rotor more likely sink. It flows through the cut from the campground and has to be churned up when it comes out of the channel. It’s best to go down the runway at least 100 yards below the hanger. I cruised the open country between the LZ and the highway, enjoyed a few mild wingovers and took in the scenery. Other pilots were laying out their wings and I knew it was going to be a good weekend. The air was a little too rowdy to be getting close to the rock faces but it was fine for playing at 350 ft out in the open. When the air went from level 2, to level 4 bumpy, I turned back to the airstrip and practiced low level approaches from the far north end of the runway. It’s a little more tricky with the thumper because the motor is slow to power up. I touched the runway several times before finding the right combination of power and brakes and finally managed to float several hundred yards before setting down to taxi the wing back to the truck. It was a trick, to keep the speed high enough to control the wing, but not so loaded that a puff of wind would lift me. It is easy to get complacent and let the wing wander because the buggy is so stable, but when the wing is off center and a puff hits… you get light on one side in a hurry!

That night a bunch of us had dinner at Gouldings restaurant. The salad / soup Bar was a big hit and when they ran out of minestrone they replaced it with chili …big mistake… Ivan and Uri probably had 5 bowls apiece. Later, Ivan, Uri, Chad and I watched Sycro-Acro Freeflight videos with Bob Peloquin’s in his RV.

Monument Valley 09 Wed


I left Denver at 10am and arrived at Monument Valley just at dark. I could have been there sooner except that I stopped to catch up with Steve Katers in Glenwood Springs. Ten years of making this drive representing the bike industry has made it hard to just power drive straight on through, there are just too many friends to catch up with! The mountains are spectacular, Indian summer is happening all over ! It’s dry and warm and colorful! Luc and my Russian friend “Crazy” Ivan, were already set-up at the upper tent site. Luc had fixed some pasta for himself and his father and graciously shared it with me. My favorite place overlooking the “Big Indian”was open… so I backed the truck between two Greek Olive trees to unload. When I was backing in, Luc shouted “Joe is the first pilot in the trees”. I didn’t understand at the time and thought he was making a joke, but later… when I was covering the buggy for the night, I discovered that I had caught the cage on a branch and bent it pretty badly. The buggy wasn’t flyable. I was heartbroken and spent the night thinking I was grounded for the duration of the Fly-In.