USA 2009

Exploring the American SouthWest


When crossing the country back in 2007, we'd found the SouthWest to be by far the most interesting and free flying of the trip. The landscape was varied and dramatic, and there were countless little unattended airports that were perfect for camping; indeed, many of them had their own campsites! As with the USA 2007 trip, the first order of business was to find an aircraft. A list of 20 or so FBOs was swiftly reduced to two, both offering C172 RGs (a version of the Cessna 172 with retractable landing gear). Only one of these gave me confidence in their service, through swift and helpful replies to emails, and this was Channel Islands Aviation of Camarillo, California. They were only an hour's drive from Los Angeles too, which was helpful as we were planning to stay there for a couple of nights with our friends Ben and Alejandra from Oceano in 2007.

As far as equipment was concerned, we had all the gear we needed from the USA 2007 trip. Once again we planned to camp as often as possible. A new groundsheet was bought for the tent, the previous one being merely a lightweight tarpaulin, and we bought new "Therma-rest" sleeping pads as well. It's important to stay comfortable! Flights to LAX were booked and rental cars arranged; we could pick up and drop off the cars at either LAX or Camarillo, which was ideal. Before long, we were on our way!

The Route

Clickable map of the USA 2009 Trip


Mountains on the way to Big Bear

We landed in LAX mid-afternoon and made it swiftly out of the aircraft, the only hassle being a "charity mugger" who latches onto us and won't let go. It's not long before we are safely into the bus to the rental car site, and following the GPS directions through Los Angeles. The sun has set by this point and we take the highway through downtown LA, marvelling at the city centre buildings. Finding Ben and Alejandras place is easy and while we settle in, Alejandra cooks up a delicious pasta meal. We turn in for the night early, as always; an entire day of flying is planned for the next day. While Channel Islands Aviation are very helpful, they also have unusually strict requirements for renters compared to other places. While our rental school in 2007 had merely handed us the airplane after a one hour flight check, and said "See you in 5 weeks", CIA required a day and a half of flight checks, and insisted on approving every planned destination beforehand. Their school seemed professional enough that it was worth putting up with this slight hassle, and in the event, it turned out not to be too big a problem; they did initially refuse us permission to visit Mono Lake, which we had happily flown into in 2007, however.

Big Bear Lake

We arrived, and met Assistant Chief Flight Instructor David Koble. There were, if I recall correctly, no less than five written papers to complete! A general checkout, an aicraft specific paper, and three papers for the three specific airfield checkouts that were required: Santa Catalina, Kern Valley, and Big Bear. David also conducted a thorough oral test on US flying procedures which was extremely useful given my rustiness after not flying in the US for the last couple of year. Finally, we made it out to N6543V, the C172 RG that we were to be renting. This is a version of the C172SP that we'd flown in 2007, but is rather older and has retractable undercarriage and a variable pitch propellor; it therefore counts as a "complex" aircraft and requires a special signoff by an instructor. We conducted preflight checks, paying special attention to the undercarriage, and set off for our first stop; Big Bear, a high altitude airport the other side of LA. We flew high, through the Class B airspace over Los Angeles, before heading up into the hills and across the lake to Big Bear.

Across the hills to Lake Isabella

Big Bear sits at 6,750 feet above sea level. Still, this was not the highest airport that we had visited, that honour being held by Mono Lake from our previous journey. We landed on the westerly runway, facing the lake, and taxiied in to the apron to park up and stretch our legs for a while. David showed us around the terminal building, where regrettably they had just stopped serving pancakes, and we grabbed a couple of complimentary apples before returning to the aircraft. The C172 RG has a couple of significant differences from the standard C172. Firstly, there is the obvious matter of the undercarriage, which is retractable and controlled by a large lever on the control panel. All that you have to remember to do is raise the gear after takeoff and, naturally, put it down again before landing. I was finding it tricky to remember that my wheels were no longer fixed solid, but thankfully I was forgetting to raise the fear after takeoff, not forgetting that I needed to put it down before landing! Before long the gear-raising was an automatic part of my after-takeoff checks.


The other significant difference is the presence of a variable-pitch propeller. This works a little like the gears on a car, with the angle of the propeller blades changing to suit the pilots demands. For takeoff, the blades are set in fine pitch which gives good acceleration and climb but low top speed. Once in cruise, the blades can be coarsened to allow higher cruising speeds at more efficient engine speeds. On the way to our next stop, Kernville, we practised some of the procedures linked to these new features; what to do if the gear would pump failed and the gear had to be deployed manually, what to do in the event of an oil leak from the propeller (the blade angles are controlled by pressurized oil), etc. We also practised manoeuvres such as steep turns as we made our way across the desert and into the mountains again.

Approach to Kern Valley

Kernville, or Kern Valley, is situated at one end of a man-made lake, surrounded by mountains. We landed on the lake-facing runway, which required a flight up the valley first and then a sharp turn to bring one back towards the airport lined up for landing. The airport has two parking areas; one at the lake end by the FBO, and another half way along the runway. This second parking area is for the airport campsite, which is purpose built and has a number of fire pits, well irrigated grass and trees, and even a solar-shower. We were planning to stay at Kernville on our second night away, so it was nice to visit and see how pleasant a stop it would be! David warned us to look out for bears; of course, just when we were starting to feel safe...!

Dusk arrival into Camarillo

It was getting late in the afternoon at this stage, so we took off again and turned back South towards Camarillo. En-route David decided that we should play a game which involved me closing my eyes and trying to follow his instructions, banking left, right, etc. This is often done by instructors to demonstrate what can happen if you fly into cloud without instrument training, the idea being that they tell you to fly straight and level again, and to open your eyes when you think you're doing this to find that you are in fact in a spiral dive or similar. The lesson is clear; avoid cloud unless trained, and if you do get into it then fly by the instruments, not by your senses! We landed at Camarillo in the twilight and drove back to Ben and Alejandras, where Ben had returned. We shared an enjoyable meal with them, catching up on the last two years, before heading to bed.


The following morning we loaded all of our gear into the rental car and headed off to Camarillo. The C172 RG was coming up for a required maintenance check, which had been overlooked by the flight school, so they planned to carry it out that morning while I completed the flight checks with another instructor. As the C172 RG was in maintenance, we flew a C182 instead; this was an aircraft that I was keen to get some experience in, and as it had a 235hp engine, I could get my "high performance" sign-off in my logbook as well, required for aircraft with 200+hp. Another written exam was required, of course, before we could go flying. The original plan had been to fly to Santa Catalina Island, 30 or so miles off the coast of LA, but there was a low cloud-base there which prevented us from visiting. Instead, we flew to Santa Paula where we practised a few touch and goes, and then some instrument flying before continuing to the mountain airport of Agua Dulce to land and stretch our legs. From here we returned to Camarillo to collect the C172 RG.

Agua Dulce

On our return we discovered that there was a problem. One of the cyclinders of the C172 RG engine had been found to need replacing, and there was no way that this could be one in the next few days - disaster! Sarah Oberman, the head of the flying school, proposed a solution; would we mind taking the C182, N3513T, instead. Although not retractable, the 182 was larger, more powerful, and even slightly faster, and Sarah was offering it for only a few dollars more than the 172, considerably less than the list price. It did not take much to convince us so, after a trip to the local stores for food and other supplies, we packed up N3513T and set off North. Our first destination; Oceano, the airport where in 2007 we had met Ben and Alejandra, and bravely battled the fierce night-time raccoon.

Headed North

Cockpit C182 at Oceano

The flight to Oceano was short, and passed very quickly in the speedy comfort of the C182. It was a new model aircraft, only a few years old, with a big moving-map GPS and an autopilot. We landed mid-afternoon and picked a prime parking spot next to the campsite; there were no other campers there. After setting up the site we made our way into town for a walk, although recalling the state of the beach last time we visited we stayed well clear; allowing vehicles on the beach does seem to encourage a large amount of crazy driving! We stopped off at the local store for a few supplies, and debated finding a restaurant for dinner, but the discovery of barbecued hotdogs at the stores back counter convinced us that this would be a fine dinner choice instead and we returned to the campsite to eat our picnic meal and turn in, the only campers at the field.

Breakfast at Oceano JRs Stearman at Oceano

We woke early the next day, to a low overcast. Looking down towards the pilots lounge, we spotted movement; two elderly gentlemen were climbing out of the window. We were of course curious, and it turned out that they were in the habit of meeting a group of friends at the lounge for coffee and donuts every Saturday. Today, these gentlemen had been the first to arrive and on closing the door behind them found that it wouldn't open again; hence the escape out the window. We had to charge our laptop and so climbed into the ounge the same way, and before long more old gentlemen had arrived with tools, repaired the door, and joined us inside to brew coffee and share their donuts. JR arrived, the owner and operator of the yellow Boeing Stearman biplane that gives pleasure flights at the field. He, and a few of the others, were Vietnam veterans and happy to swap flying stories from their varied careers.

Coastal cloud Parked up at Kern Valley

We refueled at the self service pumps, watching JR perform aerobatics overhead with a client. A local man and his young son were watching us through the fence and we got chatting, and let them in through the airport gate to come and see the aircraft and let the child sit in the pilot seat. Another aircraft arrived as we were fueling and confirmed our observations that the cloud was breaking up and the weather elsewhere was good, so we took off and headed East to Kernville on Lake Isabella. We flew up the canyon, turned, and landed towards the lake as we had done two days previously, and taxiied to the campsite; this time there were two other aircraft already present, and tents set up. We set ours up too, and with no sign of our neighbours, wandered up the runway to the FBO where we picked up some drinks, and discovered that the courtesy car was already out with the other visitors. We didn't mind; we had nowhere we wanted to go, so we walked back to the campsite. On the way, the courtesy car drove passed packed full of people; they waved and smiled as they passed. It turned out that they were indeed our new neighbours and we would meet them properly later.

Kernville The river at Kernville

Hannah decided to brave the solar shower. We filled the black barrel on the top with water, and went to visit the nearby river for a while while the sun warmed the barrel of water. On our return Hannah enjoyed a brisk shower, although reported that the sun had not noticeably warmed the icy water! I decided to wait and shower the next day, somewhere with warmer water...


We cooked a simple dinner on our camping stove as it got dark, and then retreated into the tent to read. Not long after that, our neighbours returned and got a fire going, so we made our way over to say hello. There were five of them, and they had flown in from the Travis Air Force Base Aero club to camp for the weekend. They turned out to be extremely friendly and entertaining people, Bob in particular being something of a natural clown and entertainer; he spent a while wandering around in the darkness throwing a pair of balled-up white socks into the air to try and prove to us that bats would be unable to resist grabbing them. We didn't see any bats. After some time around the fire, cooking smores and swapping stories, we turned in for the night.

Climbing out over Lake Isabella

The next morning was freezing; it was clear that up here in the hills it would not be at all warm until the sun came over the mountain-tops and lit the valley. We cooked breakfast, bacon sandwiches, and returned to the newly stoked campfire where Bob, Seth and the others were waking up. Bob, the only one who was capable of starting the old Chrysler crew car (named "The Beast") got the engine running for us to drive to the FBO and pay our fees. He had a special checklist worked out that included opening the ashtray, winding down the window, and fastening then unfastening the seatbelt, and enjoyed playing to the crowd as he worked through it. We returned to the campsite to finish packing and took off over the lake, heading North for our flight to San Francisco where we would meet my friend Nina who was studying at Stanford.

Stanford The CalTrain

With the autopilot, the flight up across the hills and valleys was smooth and relaxing. As we approached the San Francisco area a layer of cloud began to form below us, and we descended through a gap to continue under the rapidly forming overcast. We were bound for San Carlos airport, and flew low across the city, and Stanford itself, as we joined the busy circuit and landed. We found a taxi which took us to the nearby CalTrain station, but the next train was not for an hour or so; we decided to explore the street-fair that was going on the other side of the tracks. There was a lot of local art on display, as well as a number of food stalls; including the "Extreme Brownie Company". Naturally we could not resist this temptation, and got chatting to the stallholder as we tasted samples. He was keen to hear about where we were from and asked a lot of questions, before revealing his ulterior motives; would we be his importers in Europe! Needless to say, we were keen to be shipped wholesale quantities of chocolate brownies and took his card, just in case.

Stanford Stanford suburbs

The train arrived, and having polished off the brownies we boarded for the short ride to Stanford. We met Nina on arrival, and took the free shuttle bus to her room to relax and shower before heading out for a tour of the university. We stopped in first to a university club barbecue and enjoyed the food and conversation before continuing to the main university. Nina gave us a tour of the main buildings, taking in the great architecture for a few hours, and dined in a student restaurant before a few hours chat at Ninas, and a taxi to our motel. A big storm was coming in from the North and we wanted to stay ahead of it rather than getting shut down by weather.

Flying over the overcast White Knight II

We took the CalTrain back to the airport the next day, and headed SouthEast, almost exactly retracing our steps of the day before. We flew across the valley above a low carpet of overcast, with the hills poking up through it at either side. Our first destination for the day was Mojave Air and Spaceport; how could one fly past a spaceport and not stop for a look? As we settled onto final approach, the Virgin Galactic launch vehicle (White Knight II) could be seen taxiing across the airport, for engine tests as it turned out; they had hoped to fly, but it was too windy for them. We parked up near the Scaled Composites hangar and had lunch, before taking an airfield tour; just the two of us and a guide, in a minibus. Cameras were not allowed, sadly. We toured the apron area, seeing a number of fast jets parked up being modified by a local contractor, before crossing the airfield to drive around the aircraft graveyard. They had everything fron small piston aircraft to 747s, abandoned in the desert, some of them being cut up for parts or scrap by a salvage company. With the tour over, it was getting close to the end of the day, so we took off for our short flight to the night's camp-ground; Furnace Creek, in Death Valley.

To the Deserts

Death Valley Mountains Damaged Cessna

We were met on arrival at the airstrip in Furnace Creek by a National Park employee. He pointed out another Cessna to us, a 172 parked up at the edge of the apron, and told us about how it had not been tied down properly and was flipped upside down recently by the wind. We tied our 182 down very securely indeed, before loading up with gear and walking the 1/2 mile to the campsite. Even in October, it was hot here! We found an unclaimed camping spot, and ended up actually pitching our tent inside a large bush to be out of the wind. It was very comfortable, although very hot; thankfully it cooled down to be just about bearable by the time it came to sleep. We cooked dinner on our little stove watching the sunset over the mountains, and could even hear what sounded like coyotes in the distance. It was ok, though; they'd never find us in our bush.

Air Ambulance Desert Lake

It was a hot nights sleep, but we were well rested and after a quick tour of the park visitor centre the next morning we returned to the aircraft. As we were loading up, a park employee came over to us and asked us to wait before departing; the air ambulance was coming in to pick up an injured visitor. We watched the helicopter arrive, and an ambulance quickly transferred the patient. As we took off and climbed out, we could still hear the helicopter on frequency as it flew off ahead of us towards the hospital. We were bound for Payson, Arizona, where the airport had a campsite on the field for visiting pilots. How could we resist! There was a strong breeze, and the gusty cross-wind shook us around as we landed, but it was still passable; lucky, considering that 30 or so people were watching us from the cafe that overlooked the airport.

Payson camp site

As we parked up, the airport manager drove over to see us. He was called Dave, and was a very friendly ex-landscape gardener who had changed career. He asked us to move the aircraft over to another part of the apron as the city would be there soon to seal cracks in the tarmac. He showed us around the camp site, which was extremely well equipped with purpose-built tent pads and a building with hot showers and toilets. We went to eat lunch in the aviation themed cafe, but not before Dave had arranged to meet us afterwards and drive us into town to the shops! On our return we met another pilot who had flown in; he was Michael, a German who was training for his Commercial Pilots Licence. He was currently an air steward, but had been offered a flying job by a friend of his in Kenya, and so was hurrying to obtain his qualifications.

Payson barbecue Sunset at Payson

That evening we joined Michael and Dave at Michaels' camp site for a barbecue. Michael told us a lot about his proposed job in Africa, which sounded fantastic, and Dave told us stories of his family, and his old job in gardening. Apparently airport manager was a significant pay cut, but he loved the life style. He spoke as well about summertime fishing trips to Alaska, and was interested to hear from us about why it was that the sun shone all day there in summer! We made our way back to the tent and turned in; the night was uneventful but for discovering a spider in the shower block that was the size of my outstretched hand!

Arizona mesas FBO Cat

The next morning Michael left early, on his way back to the flight school in Colorado that he was training with. Dave presented Hannah and I each with a "Payson Brain"; geodes about 2-3 inches in diameter. Our first destination of the day was Sedona, an airport perched on top of a dramatic mesa in Arizona. We went there mainly for the scenery, which was stunning, but also to buy a VFR chart of the Grand Canyon; you need a special, 1:250,000 chart that is different from the normal sectionals and shows the approved flight corridors over the national park. Unfortunately, Sedona did not have any charts left so after a short break we set off for a short flight north to Flagstaff. This time we were in luck, and we bought the chart as well as new gel earseals for Hannahs headset; apparently the noise attenuation was dramatically improved! We spent a while playing with the FBO cat and set off on our main flight of the day; over the Grand Canyon to Moab, Utah.

Grand Canyon Colorado River

We flew North through the Dragon Corridor, the same route as we'd taken in 2007, but in the opposite direction. Last time the weather had been perfectly clear but on this occasion we were flying over a broken layer of fluffy cloud. Luckily, the cloud was most accomodating and broke up slightly as we passed over the canyon itself, offering dramatic views of the river. We then flew northeast up Lake Powell and along the Colorado river towards Moab. Approaching the airport (known as Canyonlands) we passed over Canyonlands national park, and also a Uranium mine and salt production facility; salty water was spread out in evaporation ponds being dried for collection. On landing we parked up and organised two rental cars; one normal car for our trip, and then a "Modified Jeep Wrangler" that we were to collect the following day; it was time to go offroading! First, however, a fine dining experience at McDonalds and we checked in to our campsite which turned out to be in the town centre and not very pleasant. We wouldn't be staying here again tomorrow, that was for sure.

Jeep Canyonlands

The next morning, we drove to the Jeep rental location. We filled out the paperwork and took possession of our shiny silver "Modified Wrangler". First things first; we made for the supermarket and bought lunch. It turned out to be "National Donut Month", and so we bought a box of 12 along with some more traditional fare and plenty of water, before setting off for the dirt tracks north of town. The rental place had provided us with some maps of suggested routes which we were happy to follow. Our first trail was the Gemini bridges; easy offroading that takes you to two rock arches. From there we headed west to Shafer's Trail which was much more dramatic, with a tremendous route of hairpin bends down an almost shear cliff hundreds of metres high. The trail continued along the Colorado river and past the Uranium mine and salt pans. Finally, we made our way up Long Canyon Trail, which offered some of the most challenging offroading (for beginners like us!), but also some of the most fun. All too soon we had to return the Jeep, hosed of dust, and reclaim our rental car for a drive out to a tiny camp site we'd passed earlier in the Jeep.

Arches Dinner at Mono Lake

The next day we returned the rental car at the airport and took back to the sky. Our destination was Mono Lake, 450nm to the West, but first we stopped at Milford in Western Utah for fuel. It was a saturday; and we were the first aircraft that had come in that week. We were served by an elderly lady who was big on welcomes but short on teeth. As we were fuelling, the second aircraft of the week arrived - a Diamond DA42. We set off again for Mono Lake and landed as the light was fading, parking up next to the only other aircraft there, a Pipistrel microlight; I set up the tent while Hannah cooked dinner, and we turned in for the night.

Northern California

Mono Lake morning History Channel team

The next morning we'd been joined by some other campers; an American RV the size of a coach. It didn't take long before Hannah was inside having tea, so I dragged myself out of bed and went along to join in. It turned out that they were Pipistrel dealers, and here to support the microlight, the pilot of which turned up soon afterwards accompanied by a film crew from the History Channel and several scientific experts; they were here to film an episode of MonsterQuest, looking for Big Foot! Bill the producer was there, with two cameramen. Carolyn and Vance were the Pipistrel dealers, and Rodger the pilot. Fernando, one of the FBI's top man-trackers (and also self-proclaimed founder of the SAS...) was there to track the creature, as was Jaime; a military nurse who had had a Big Foot encounter and now had made it his life's mission to track the creature. Completing the party were John, a pack-goat-trainer, and Jeff, a professor of human locomotion from Iowa University.

Camera fitting Dinner at the deli

The microlight was there to be fitted with an infra-red camera, and look for Big Foot from the air. The crew were happy to find another aircraft there, and we became a part of the crew for a few days, volunteering to fly a cameraman for some air-to-air filming of the microlight, and also obtain some aerial shots of the Sierra Mountains. The first day there was spent filming ground-based footage, and finally the microlight took to the air for some testing of the camera, and some ground-based noise measurements. We didn't get a chance to fly that day, but it was great fun to spend the day with the crew and participants, finding out all about their experience of Big Foot tracking and research. Some participants were more convinced that others...

History Channel camera man Sierra Nevadas

That evening we joined the team for dinner at the local service station; which sounds terrible, but in fact has an award winning diner attached to it. That evening we were given a room at the hotel with the rest of the crew, and breakfasted together the next morning before returning to the airport. Today was our day, and we took off with Scott the cameraman for some filming. The air to air shots were done first, although it was difficult to keep station with the speed difference in the aircraft and the bumpy air. We headed off for the scenic shots over the Sierras, and then returned Scott to the ground and waited for a while as some interviews were done (including our being interviewed by Jaime for his YouTube channel).

Mono Lake Departure Microlight over Sierras

Interviews completed, we took off to head West over the Sierras. Just as we were on the takeoff run, a squall blew in and pushed us off down the hill towards the lake. Despite the 7000ft elevation, the powerful and lightly loaded C182 merely shrugged this off and powered on up, although the watchers on the ground reported some consternation when we took off and promptly shot downwards along the slope, rather than heading up! In my wisdom, I realised that if the wind was causing major downdraughts here, the opposite would be happening on the other side of the lake, and within minutes we had climbed in this lift to 14,500ft. We formed up with Rodger in his Pipistrel, and headed West, but soon had to leave him behind; the ride was simply too uncomfortable wallowing along at slow speed.

The main street in Columbia Sunset at Columbia

The snow-capped Sierras were beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed the crossing, descending after an hour or so to land at Columbia airport. The well equiped camping site has its own parking area alongside the airports secondary, grass runway. We set up our tent and made our way along the trail into town, an easy 15 minute walk. The main attraction of Columbia is that it's a recreation of an old-west mining town, fully working with horse-drawn coach tours and all the old style stores open for business. We ate a traditional old west dinner of hot dogs in a "saloon", which had a dog standing at the bar, before returning to the campsite. The plan was to head to bed but it had started raining, and I became worried about the potential for the aircraft tires to sink into the soft ground, so taxiied it over to the main ramp before we turned in. The first time I'd been in control of an aircraft at night, even if it wasn't much of a trip!


The next day we showered in the excellent campground facilities, and spent a while in the FBO lounge checking emails and weather reports. It too a while for the cloud and rain to clear up and once it did we headed off towards Georgetown, a short flight to the north and local airport of the motor-glider pilot Rodger. He has his own airstrip on his land, but after a few friends of his crashed their aircraft trying to get into it he stopped people visiting. When we saw it, we were not surprised! We skirted cloud all the way up the hill range to Georgetown; I landed on the second attempt, having been far too high on the first! The airfield had a great campsite on the field again, but we called Rodger and took him up on his previous offer to put us up for the night. He soon arrived and drove us back to his place, pausing only to collect a delicious pizza for dinner.


Rodger's house was incredible; he had bought some hilltop land and cleared it himself, then built all the building by himself with the assistance of friends and family. He had done a great job and now lived in a large and beautiful hilltop lodge. We ate dinner together with his wife Loie, and they gave us some great advice about our next day's flying before we turned in in their very comfortable guest room.


When we awoke Rodger was already out elsewhere on his land preparing some of his trails for contractors to come in and lay drainage. Loie treated us to a pancake breakfast before taking us on a tour of the grounds. We saw the lake which Rodger had dug himself, partly to provide fill to level his runway. Despite the filling, it was not exactly the most level of runways, going up one side of a hill, down the other, and up again over the next. It was also approximately 8 feet wide! To one side was a large hangar, originally built to house his homebuilt blimp which turned out never to be constructed. It now housed his motorglider, looking a little small in the cavernous interior, and also a tennis court! A tour of the house concluded, including visiting the rotating turret room on top! For lunch we visited Loie's mother, before continuing to the airport and meeting her son who worked there building camera mounts for helicopters.

After being dropped back at the airport, we headed off towards Willows airfield where the restaurant had come highly recommended! It lived up to expectations and delivered us a great meal before we continued to Ruth, which had a great approach along a valley before landing at the deserted country strip. The field was deserted, and we set up our tent behind the aircraft before taking a walk along the river. There was nothing in the immediate area apart from forest, and an old ranch which was now owned by a church for religious retreats.

Plane and tent Mist

We returned to the airfield in time to see one of the two resident aircraft, a Cessna 182, coming in to land. It was flown by a retired couple who lived nearby, and used the aircraft, amongst other things, for their weekly shopping. They kept one car at Ruth, and another over at the municipal airport in Redding for transport when they were over there. The husband turned out to be the airport manager, and gave us his blessing to camp there for the night, so we set up the tent and cooked dinner before turning in.

The next morning was cool, and looking out the tent we found that the airport was fogged in. After a couple of hours the fog burned off, so after breakfast it wasn't too long before we could be on our way to our next stop, Shelter Cove.

Return to the West Coast

Shelter Cove

The flight to Shelter Cove was smooth, heading West above the hills over scattered cloud. The airport soon appeared over the hills and we descended into the circuit to land; the golf course surrounding the runway was in use, and the players waved to us as we taxied to parking. We parked up in the same spot as on our last visit, 2 years before, and went to explore. The real-estate office, where the pilot's lounge used to be, had closed down, the owners apparently moving to Florida. We lunched in the diner at the camp site, did a little shopping, and then set off for a walk.

Black sand beach

Our destination this time was the black sand beaches to the North of town that we had seen on our way in. We headed up the hill, past the sign letting us know that we were leaving the Tsunami Warning Zone, and paused for a while to watch some deer which were grazing in a garden; at least, for once, they weren't on the runway! The road that led down to the beach came to an abrupt end where it had been washed into the sea, and we gingerly picked our way around the damage on a hillside track that didn't seem far from following the road to its fate. A beach of black sand was most unusual and we rested for a while before returning to the aircraft and pitching the tent before dinner.

Fire danger sign

We woke up early and packed up the tent. I called the weather briefer who reported that our lunchtime destination, Half Moon Bay, was still fogged in, so we set off to slowly make our way down the coast. First stop was Ocean Ridge, purely because it looked like an interesting airfield to land at. It certainly was interesting, perched on top of a ridge and surrounded by forest. We parked up and chatted for a while with a couple of guys who were working on a Maule, and they recommended we proceed a few minutes down the coast to a private airfield by the name of "Sea Ranch", and gave us a permission note in case anyone challenged us! The main attraction was an excellent bakery a few minutes walk from the runway, so this became our breakfast stop.

The Golden Gate Bridge

We chased a couple of wild turkeys away from the runway and set off from breakfast in the direction of lunch. The flight to Half Moon Bay took us down the coast and over the Golden Gate Bridge, giving us a great view over the bridge and then San Francisco airport. Final approach to Half Moon Bay took us past the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, where we'd had dinner last time we came, and where we were planning to return to for dinner this time. We'd been given a tip for this weekend that it was possible to taxi down to an alternative parking area at the south end of the field. From here it was a short walk into the marina, and a good meal.

Cloud over the coast

With the holiday drawing to a close, it was time to get back to Camarillo. We had to return the aircraft the next day, so we decided to stay overnight at Santa Maria, a short flight from Camarillo, and an airport with a good hotel on the field; we could park the aircraft right next to the door! Santa Maria is the airport most usually used as a finishing point for aircraft being ferried across the Pacific, inbound from Hawaii. I will visit it again in future, after a much longer flight than the one from Half Moon Bay! We ate dinner in the restaurant looking out over our parked aircraft and the runway, and enjoyed a television program about rabid foxes before turning in.

Downtown LA

A short flight on the final morning took us back to Camarillo, where we said goodbye to N3513T. However, the flying was not over; we still wanted to get to Santa Catalina, so we set off for lunch there in the C172 RG with David, the Assistant Chief Flight Instructor. On both the flight out and the flight back we routed overhead LAX, although not as low as we had done in 2007; this time we used VFR routes a little higher which required clearance from ATC through the Class B airspace. This was granted without difficulty; hard to imagine the British system being open minded enough to allow similar things over Heathrow! We landed one final time at Camarillo; time to go back to Europe, and back to real life.

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