The Gathering at Monument Valley 2011

Day One Wed. Oct.12

Dawn and I puttered around most of the morning, packing the galley, loading the truck and deciding exactly which clothing was appropriate for the uncertain weather of Monument Valley Utah. We finally got on the road at 11:00AM and before I was out of the neighborhood I noticed that the “check engine” light was flashing at me. Last week I had replaced the clutch and brakes, changed the oil and checked all the necessary fluids and pressures. What could have gone wrong? When I got on the highway I noticed a lack of power, it was feeling like a problem with the coil, the same problem I had last year on the way to the Salton Sea. We searched the Internet for a Ford dealership but there were none in the area so I asked Dawn to look for a service center. We were in luck, the shop wasn’t busy and he got us right in.  I was expecting another $400 repair and was delighted when it turned out to be the bolt securing the #7 coil was loose causing it to miss. One Hundred bucks and an hour later we were back on the road. The first crisis had passed without pain. 
It was a beautiful Fall morning and I was thinking back 45 years when I used to make this drive with my father hunting elk.  We used to stop at the Denver Hotel and “Fire up a Salute” to the hunt.  I remember my Dad lifting that shot glass to his nose taking a sniff and then raising his hand to toast our good fortune.  I’ll never forget the old bar it had a model of the California Zephyr  complete with the airstream skin and “Vista Dome Cars” riding along the top of the bar.  I remember him telling me that he had done the same thing with his father and his father before him, same town, same bar, 4 generations, over a century of time.  Some traditions … like memories, are just to good to let go.   

We made good time and were were approaching Moab by 6 where I made a command decision, which was happily agreed to by my first mate, to spend the night in a nice hotel rather than set up camp in the dark. We checked into the Hampden where Dawn was gracefully recognised for her travel status and comped a deluxe room.  Then we spent the rest of the evening wandering around town where I showed her, The Rim Bicycle Shop.  The Rim is arguably the place where the Mountain Bike Boom started.  Rob and Bill Groff Road that horse like champions and Moab’s economy blossomed  into International Fame.  There are probably 15 bike shops in town now but “Rob em and Bill em” were the first.   I was proud to be working with them back then and delighted to meet Bill’s son who was working the shop. Later we had a light dinner and went to bed early.

Day Two Thursday Oct. 13

We didn’t get out of town as early as planned.  Business got in the way and so Dawn spent the morning working out on some medical sales reps instead of the treadmill she had planned on. I kept myself busy playing with the hotel TV and enjoying their free breakfast spread. We were on our way by noon and at the campsite by 3:00.   We quickly set up camp and went down to the airstrip for the first flight of the trip.

Several pilots had also arrived early and were lounging around waiting for the air to mellow. At 5:00 it was declared good and people started launching. The winds were light and coming from all the wrong places. On the Airport apron the wind was coming directly from the west face of a 900 foot wall of rock. It was hard to figure, I could see that it must have been a north wind that was being deflected but it was disconcerting to launch toward the rock and I didn’t like the fact that the terrain dropped 30 feet into rough country and detention ponds. It was not going to be pretty if someone had problems right after launch and … the go-no-go point was far too close to the start for my taste.

My launch was not without drama. The wing came up fine, I had committed to launch, and was just beginning to feel some lift when the wing collapsed about 30% on the right side. I stayed on the power and it popped out just before I would have had to abort. Two seconds later I was 50 feet over a detention pond and checking my wing to make sure everything was good. Later talked to Robert about the launch and he affirmed that I had done everything right. He couldn’t tell what caused the collapse other than a pocket of bad air caused by the wind deflecting off the wall.

It wasn’t a long flight; I stayed 500 feet above the flats just east and north of the patch. The air was warm and smooth, the monuments were bright orange contrasting hugely with the area around Gouldings that was already darkened by the shadow of Oljeto Mesa towering 900 feet above the airstrip. When I decided to land I flew to the far end of the 3700 foot runway and floated the entire length at 10 feet or less. I told myself I should to do more of this type of flying, 1/3 power and using the brakes to fine tune altitude.

IT WAS NICE! It’s possible I’ve been blaming the Falcon for the bus like performance when the real issue is the wing. Next time I’m at Vance Brand I’m going to have to fly the Eden and see.

That evening we shared hotdogs with Robert Kittila and Andy McGavin.  After dinner I fired up the campfire where we sat and watched a nearly full moon rise over the monuments. Later, Scott Richie his wife Tamera and a couple of other pilots joined us where the discussion was primarily about the care and feeding of two stroke motors. Occasionally we slipped into metaphysics lead by our resident “guru” Andy but no matter how hard we tried to keep it meaningful the talk always came back to paraflying and powerplants.

Day 3 Friday Oct. 14th
It was another warm morning … Dawn and I had no trouble getting out of bed and down to the field in time for the pilot briefing. I had been working on it for several days, Mo had reviewed it and I practiced the delivery while driving from Denver.  Cleverly, I loaded it into the I Phone so I would have a mini teleprompter . If I had remembered to bring my glasses I would have been able to read it …. Opps…Squinting and blinking I stood on the bed of Tom’s pick-up and managed to cover the high points.  Basically “Use your heads … Be Safe and DON’T PISS OF THE NAVAJO.

The wind was light with occasional puffs coming from the cut between Oljeto and Rock Door Mesa. Yesterday I had been amazed at the way the PPCs could disregard the wind direction.  They would just lay out the wing, pop it overhead and taxi to the runway.  I knew my wing required more input to keep it overhead but …”I could do that too … Couldn’t I?”. Seeing them motor over to the runway and roll down that beautiful long strip was very tempting. It would have been easier with the Eden III but I still needed to adjust the brake lines.   So… I compromised, instead of trying to taxi downwind across the apron and turn 90 degrees I set-up at the top of the apron, facing into the wind but 45 degrees off the runway. The wing came up clean and quickly stabilized.   I turned down the runway and made a nice crosswind.launch.  The POWERPLAY is sluggish and turns like a bus but it doesn’t need much speed to fly and it doesn’t dance overhead like the Eden.  Its all good.

I climbed to 7500 ft msl and toured the Navajo Park for the first time in several years. I crossed over on the south side of Mitchell Mesa and passed the Three Sisters then I turned to the right rounding Rain God Mesa. In the center of the flats is a single mound that is a sacred spot for the Navajo.              It was too early for the tour vehicles so I didn’t think I would be spotted but just to be sure I stayed at least 2000 ft up.  Words fail me … its majestic … massive … awesome. I could fly here every day and never see it all. Go low and the detail is everywhere Go high and 1000 foot monoliths become the detail, micro or macro its all amazing. This was my EPIC flight of the trip!  East of the sacred mound is Thunderbird Mesa, I flew between it and Saddle Rock and then over to the lava chimneys called the Totem Poles.  
Totem Poles
When I was past the backside of Spearhead Mesa I crossed the park border and descended to fly close to the Mittens.  I did a couple of laps around the West Mitten, took a few pictures of it and Sentinel Mesa then began the long passage back to Gouldings.

What a flight! It was perfect in every way, warm smooth air, not a soul around me and one of the most spectacular views in the world.  Thank You God.

When I landed things were wrapping up for the morning.  A few guys were doing acro around the airstrip but most were packing their wings and loading up.  Robert, Andy, Dawn and I went up to the lodge and had a celebratory breakfast.   I checked in with Barb who assured me that everything was good for our dinner on Sat. night. EXCEPT…. SURPRISE SURPRISE… We were not going to be allowed to bring beer or wine into the Banquet.  It’s not really a big deal because most of us curb the booze in favor of flying but this is the third year that they have said yes you can then no you can’t.  I’m going to stop asking.

After breakfast we lounged around the campsite and took a nap.  I was delighted to get the same site.  It is at the top of the campground and looks through the cut toward the Big Indian Monument.  It was easy to sit in the sunshine and relax while a light breeze came up the cut and played with the windsock.  A guy could get used to this. An additional bonus was, that this year, the fly in fell during a full moon and so during our campfires we watched the moon rise over the park.. 

After our nap and showers Dawn and I checked in with Bob who said he would be happy to take her on a flight.  At 5:00p we went down to the field and Dawn caught her first flight of the trip with Ken.   He took her around the backside of Oljeto Mesa over the campground and alongside Rock Door Mesa.  As soon as she landed Bob was ready so she hustled over to his machine and was up again.  This was a much longer flight and she got to see the backside of King on his Throne and Saddleback.


Kings on his Throne, Stagecoach,  Bear & Rabbit, Castle Rock



I flew North East to Eagle Mesa and did a lap around Eagle Rock and the Sitting Hen. I was going to go for a trophy shot on Stagecoach Rock but the winds were kicking up some rotor and I couldn’t get low enough to put my shadow on the face. 



Big Indian



Big Indian




 

After swinging around Castle Rock and the Big Indian I climbed to 4000 feet AGL and took in the big picture. There were wings below me that looked like topical fish in a giant aquarium. Colorful little spirits playing in the rocks. I watched them moving in groups of two or three, some were flying nap of the earth and others were at 500 and 1000 feet. One group was playing follow the leader in tight circles and another was climbing to approach the West Mitten.  Excellent flight …. mostly smooth with a few bumps near the rocks.



Big Indian

 

That night we teamed up with the Richies and to cook at their fire.  Both of us brought ribs, there was plenty to go around.  Dawn also prepared one of our Zucchinis and some sweet potatoes for a side.  The campfire was made complete when we made samores with giant marshmallows.

Day 4 Sat. Oct. 15th
The wind was blowing just hard enough for me to pause.  None of the PPCs were flying but several of the foot launch guys were having a great time.  Dawn and I hung around the field and watched the show.  Once again we were launching across the apron but this morning there were a lot of vehicles at the field and Dell and Russ had parked their trailers at the far north end.  The veterans didn’t have a problem with it but some of the newbies were dealing with the short launch area by jumping into their seats a little early.  There were three crashes in less than 5 minutes WAC …WAC… Crunch.  Nobody was hurt but there were some damaged Flat Top cages and props. The wind was still a little strong for my taste at 9:30 so we bagged it and retired to the campsite.


During the afternoon several of us made up a small convoy and drove through the Navajo Tribal Park.  Mo and Tom bounced along in the bed and Dawn road shotgun.  Seeing the monuments from the ground gives a very different perspective. 

Its magnificent from the air but to really appreciate how big they are try it from the ground looking up as well.   It was a great opportunity to take some pictures and play tourist.  The View Hotel is finished and even at $200+ a night its fully booked … . Before leaving the Park we wandered around the visitor center and gift shop where they traditionally have some of the most expensive T-shirts in the world … this year everything was 30 to 50% off.  We would have probably gone into the new hotel but Mo had his dog with him and the management frowns on that.  🙂
PM Flight
This was most excellent! Randy took me up in his weight shift Delta.  It was just too easy.  He lined up at the top of the runway and did a down wind launch.  Wow! For an hour and twenty minutes we flew and covered pretty much the entire area.  First we went to the North and did some ridge soaring on Train Rock.  The delta flys at a little over 60mph and could turn on a dime.  However, it was not tight enough for Randy who complained that he wasn’t able to stay in the thermals.  I was impressed …. the way he would drop a wingtip and seemingly pivot over one point of the desert floor.  Randy apologised for not bringing training bars so that I could try my hand at the controls but he needn’t have.  It was a pleasure not having to fly the plane,  I was free to sit take pictures and enjoy the ride.

The Mittens

After Train Rock we headed over to Eagle Rock and the Sitting Hen and did some close Fly-Byes.  I would have been worried about rotor flying all the way around but it is not the same issue with the Delta.  After exploring the entire group of “North East Monoliths” we entered the park and explored area containing the Mittens, Three Sisters and Elephant Butte.   When we left the park Randy went along the backside of Oljeto Mesa and flew the crack between Oljeto and Rock Door.  It is always fun to see my tent and the windsock from above.  The landing was as easy as the take off … smooth and clean.  Thanks Randy! 

That evening we all met up at the Lodge for a “non-banquet” banquet.  Mo and I were sitting with a relatively new PPC pilot who told us all about his experience of being lifted to 16,000 ft and how he pulled an enormous stall falling over 15,000 feet before he recovered only to be lifted to 16,000 again.  It had to be the greatest fish story of the event.  Mo and I refrained from quizzing the fellow.  I didn’t write up a speech and Paul Anthem wasn’t there too entertain us … so it was just  friends and new friends sharing a meal.  Later we met back at the campfire and continued the festivities.  One thing … As in years past they told me we could bring adult beverages into the lodge and at the last minutes changed their mind.  Barb was embarrassed but it was really … no big deal.

Day 5 Sunday Oct. 16th
This was a fun flight!  The wind was blowing 5 to 8 from the south.  When this happens the wind swirls around Rock Door Mesa and is generally confused air. South West along Oljeto’s face it smooths out and once up, its fine, but the launches can be dicey, with people taking off on all points of the compass all over the apron.  I chose to go to the far end of the runway and launch up wind and up hill.  At the north end it was blowing a little harder.  Bob was having a hard time setting up because the wing getting caught by the wind and filling behind his PPC.  I had thought these guys could handle much harder wind than us but Bob was uncomfortable and decided to pack it in.
The View Hotel and Visitor Center
 
I set up on the far right corner facing the wind,  I would have the full width of the runway to get it overhead, stable and pointing slightly cross wind, (up) the runway.  I bent the wing into an exaggerated chevron hoping to slow down the inflation.  It came up fast!  And… before I had rolled 5 feet so did the front wheel!  It didn’t feel good because as the front wheel came up, the trike started to yaw to the left.  So, I cut power, got the wheel back down and tried gain, same thing… on the third attempt I layed on the power and let the trike come around as it lifted.  It wasn’t clean but it wasn’t like at Bubba’s where I came back down crooked at 25 mph.  I wasn’t moving forward very fast and if I did hit some sink and come back down, I figured that I could handle the trike .  The rest of the flight much like the first one of the trip.  I stayed over the flats and played in the current of air coming from the south.  Then I climbed high enough to get out of any turbulence over Rock Door and took a last look around.  The landing was a good high wind landing, I approached from the North and set down soft and slow on the helicopter pad.



About half of us were availble for this shot



We met up with Andy and Robert for breakfast and spent the rest of the morning packing up and saying our goodbyes.  It was, by all measures, a good Fly-In.  The weather was great with every morning and evening flyable.  There were a few minor incidence but no major carnage.  We had a great campsite with wonderful neighbors to share the food and fire.  The Gathering 2011 is in the BAG.
The Photo album is a work in process …Here is the link….

Author: JoeO

Powered Paraglider pilot since 2005

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