USA 2012

The Western USA in a 182RG

C182 RG

Having flown a great deal across the South Western and South Eastern USA, there were still some areas that I was keen to visit. Top of the list was the Pacific North West; primarily Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. In September 2012, shortly after moving to live in Pennsylvania, I had the time and opportunity to undertake my next flight, together with travelling companions Rowan and Keiko.

Having enjoyed flying a C172RG out of Camarillo the previous year, I decided to try and find the next step up; a C182RG. I had plenty of experience so far in the standard C182, but had never flown the retractable version. Some research online led me eventually to the LA Flight Center based at El Monte airport, Los Angeles. They had a C182RG available for a very reasonable block rate and were happy to rent it out for the two weeks we had planned for our adventure.

Given that I now lived in the USA, Keiko in The Hague, and Rowan in London, we planned separate travel to Los Angeles. Rowan and I would arrive early to take care of the rental check-out in the aircraft and spend some quality brother to brother time, and Keiko would arrive the following day. The day after that, we'd set off.

The Route

Thursday September 6th - the journey to LA

Rowan with painting

I left Pittsburgh early on the 6th, arriving at the airport in plenty of time for the flight. This was just as well, because I was still driving a rental car (it takes forever to get a driving licence when moving to the USA, and they won't let you buy a car without a licence) and had forgotten who I rented it from. After a short cruise around the rental lot asking people if they owned it I was rid of the car, and checking in on my flight to LA.

Rowan with mug of beer

Rowan and I had arranged to meet at the Avis counter in Los Angeles airport and sure enough, when I got there he was sitting waiting for me. We were lucky to receive a Mitsubishi Galant; Keiko, being Japanese, has a philosophical objection to riding in Korean manufactured vehicles so one made in Japan was ideal. The drive to our hotel, "America's Best Value Inn", took around 90 minutes in the rush hour traffic but we were in no hurry so enjoyed the experience of being on the freeways in LA.

I had just obtained my very first smart-phone on moving to the USA (I'm aware that I was about 5 years late to the party on this). Rowan and I were still very taken by the novelty and spent more time investigating its features than actually finding somewhere to eat; nonetheless we eventually settled on "Shakey's pizza restaurant" close to the hotel. This turned out to be a low cost chain mostly aimed at entertaining children, but luckily had a quieter section available for jet lagged Brits. Rowan was pleased to be offered the choice of a mug, or a super-mug, of beer; the choice was obvious, once you accepted that either way the beer would be coming in a mug.

Dinner was just as unhealthy and tasty as we had come to expect from American chain restaurants. It was also very well priced, the restaurant living up to its motto of "Budget tight? Party right!".

Friday September 7th - aircraft checkouts

The three hour time difference led me to wake early. Rowan, despite having just arrived from a time zone a full 8 hours ahead of LA, adapted magnificently and was still asleep at the equivalent of 3pm British time. The prospect of flying over LA soon roused him however and we breakfasted at the International House of Pancakes before heading out to the LA flight center.

A footblas stadium from the air

First order of business was to ensure that the sleeping bag that Keiko had ordered to be delivered to the flight school had arrived; it had. The checkout started off with a review of the aircraft questionnaires that I had filled in in advance, before progressing to the aircraft itself. N2396C, as she was called, was a somewhat tired looking aircraft with faded paint and battered interior, but at a good price and most importantly, entirely mechanically sound.

After pre-flighting, and noting that the door lock was missing (“Yes, it fell out”), we taxied for departure. During run-ups, the slipstream through the open window blew a large section of trim off of the interior. Luckily it hit Rowan so we didn't lose it. We were assured that despite these cosmetic issues, the structure of the aircraft was in great shape.

Rowan and Ross

We took off and first went through steep turns, slow flight, and stalls in the practice area. That was followed by a landing at Brackett, and then the obstacle departure, an ILS, and a Localiser, all under the practice IFR hood to block my view of the outside. The artificial horizon was not functioning perfectly and I made the decision that we'd avoid IFR flight during the trip; it was a sightseeing holiday, after all. We landed at Corona to take the shuttle to Aircraft Spruce for a new door lock, and then returned to El Monte.

Checkout complete, it was time to brave the freeways again and return to Los Angeles airport to collect Keiko who was arriving from Amsterdam. Every few minutes throughout the drive the advertisement for the LA County Fair would play, with an annoyingly catchy jingle informing us that "Food tastes better on a stick". I dropped Rowan at the airport to track down Keiko, whose flight was delayed an hour; eventually we managed to locate her and headed back to the hotel to freshen up.

Ross trying on RayBans

The plan for the afternoon was to visit Walmart, and any other store necessary to stock up for two weeks of flying and camping. Before this, however, lunch. We ate at a burger restaurant, Farmer something or other, who claimed to cook “The greatest burgers in the world” and provide food that would “Not only feed your appetite, but nourish your soul”. Claims like these could not be allowed to go unchallenged. Rowan and Keiko’s burgers seemed good, but my turkey sandwich was disappointing primarily due to the fact that they had decided to deep fry the bread. We used the time to prepare our shopping list for Walmart, written in Japanese and then, to help Rowan and I use the list, English.

Walmart was enormous. Keiko was immediately off in search of good value throw pillows and other such useful flying items. We spent a couple of hours tracking down everything on the list, including a pair of shorts for Rowan, although he spent much of the time browsing T-Shirts with “Three Wolf Moon” style illustrations on them. Finding our list not entirely completed, we proceeded to Target in search of a picnic rug, and then spent a while phoning around sporting goods stores in search of the same.

Dumplings and other Asian delicacies

No-one seemed clear what a picnic rug was (we explained it to them as “Half rug, half tarp” and “a rug with a waterproof bottom, you know, for picnicking”). An employee would answer, put us on hold to go in search for it, and not come back. Another employee would then notice someone on hold, answer, and we’d go through the process again. By the time we got to three or four employees who had been through this procedure we were imagining them all running into each other in the picnic rug section.

Eventually, Google provided the answer. Picnic blankets (not rugs) could be had at Bed Bath and Beyond for a mere $19.99, and we even knew where to find the store! With Keiko falling asleep in the back we headed to claim one. For some reason they were on racks, high out of reach. An employee came across us as we were preparing to obtain one using a set of very long BBQ tongs. He started towards the ladder to get one down for us, and then reconsidered and told us “Actually, carry on, I want to see this”. The tongs were a success and we headed off to Din Tai Fung dumpling restaurant for dinner, and home to bed.

Saturday September 8th - to the mountains

Keiko eating lunch The aircraft fully loaded

We breakfasted in the hotel this time; Rowan was very taken by the rotating waffle maker. After checking out we headed first to Target in search of camping gas, but failed; we took to waiting outside Dicks Sporting Goods instead. We were eventually allowed in, although the manager apologised that the lights were not working. No compatible gas was available so we bought a new stove, but not after I managed to electrocute myself while demonstrating the self-ignite on the old one. Gas and stove acquired, we headed to the mall where we luckily ended up parked right outside the door leading to Sunglass Hut. Keiko, after a long while, managed to select some satisfactory Ray Bans; an essential for a proper flying trip.

We stopped in at the flight school, but the airplane was not ready so we headed off to lunch. We were seated at the airport restaurant, and then unseated again, as the waiter had forgotten there was a waiting list. Eventually we got a table , and enjoyed another enormous lunch before heading back to the FBO and unloading the contents of the car.

Ross, Rowan and Keiko with the aircraft

Rowan and I set off to return the Galant. It took us quite some time to work out how to open the fuel door to fill it up, but as always Google provided the answer. We dropped the car at Avis and then walked to the bus stop for the trip back. The online timetable suggested that the bus would take a while to arrive so we called a taxi. Said taxi arrived 20 seconds after the bus did, and watched us board and head off South; thankfully he did not chase us in anger.

Keiko by the river in Kern Valley

I prepared the flight while Rowan (who had been nominated as load-master for the trip) packed the aircraft, and after acquiring some more charts it was time to leave. We flew VFR direct to Kern Valley at 8500ft, a smooth flight apart from some turbulence over the hills. We cruised at about 150 knots, and the flight took just over an hour total. After the smoothest landing yet we parked up between two Piper Cubs that were in for the day and spent a while exploring the area before returning to collect fire wood and then set up camp. We also planned the next day’s flight to the Grand Canyon; via some other interesting stops along the way…

A large turbine helicopter arrived and spent an hour practicing circuits, ground manoeuvres, engine failures and so on, which we watched with interest. As the light faded we tried to cook dinner. It turned out that our little stove was about at the limit of its abilities when boiling an entire wok full of water. Eventually we managed to produce pasta with sauce, and ate around the camp fire, which was an incredible success thanks to very dry wood and great kindling from Keiko. We toasted giant marshmallows and stoked the fire until it was larger than was perhaps sensible, but with a row of sprinklers downwind we were not in any danger of producing a wildfire. As the fire died down we turned in for our first night of camping, which was rather warm, but extremely comfortable!

Ross and Rowan flight planning Ross and Rowan watching the helicopter Rowan assembling his tent The aircraft with a dramatic sunset behind Rowan and Keiko melting marshmallows on the fire

Sunday September 9th - journey to Grand Canyon

A bacon sandwich on a stick

Keiko and I woke at 6:15am and shortly afterwards made our way outside. Another beautiful clear morning! I took care of filling in the logbook, schedule, and diary while Keiko started on the bacon. Once crispy enough, we presented the first sandwich to Rowan; served on a stick, of course ("Food tastes better on a stick"). He seemed well pleased, and made his way out to join us. We polished off breakfast and packed up the site.

We taxied across to the café to pay our fee, and parked on a slight upslope. It turned out that the aircraft is unstable this way when loaded in the rear; I could lift the nosewheel off the ground just by pushing on the tail with one finger. We adopted a loading/unloading procedure that ensured weight was always kept in the front.

The first flight of the day was 180nm to Chiriaco summit. We were cleared through the restricted area en-route at 12,500. The gentleman that I had met last year, Christopher, was in the tourist information office once again and was pleased to see us. We breakfasted (again) in the renowned Chiriaco Summit café; Keiko chose a sensible French toast while Rowan and I naturally went with the chocolate ice-cream sundae. While eating, Christopher stopped by and presented us with a print-out of Americas best castles.

Leaving the gift shop without being tempted by any poorly painted rattlesnake models, we returned to the aircraft for our next flight. Keiko’s ears had given her trouble on the descent from 12,500 so we flew the next leg at 7,500 to Lake Havasu, and London Bridge. We parked up at Lake Havasu close to a fighter jet with its engine undergoing maintenance; the FBO worker who drove us into the FBO in his golf cart informed us that it had made an emergency landing there a few days before, fully armed, and was being kept under heavy guard until repaired.

The FBO supplied us with a courtesy minivan and we drove into town to visit the bridge. The van left a little to be desired, with the driver’s side wing mirror prone to flapping in the wind above 60, but at least it was free. We crossed London Bridge and then walked back over it to explore the English Village, which was not entirely authentic. The London Arms Pub was sadly closed, so we ate in an American diner next door; that day's learning was that a "Corn Dog" is known in Japan as an "American Dog". After a visit to Walmart on the way back for more stove gas we were ready for the final flight of the day.

Fully fuelled once again we set off North towards PGS VOR. The Grand Canyon came into view long before we reached the VOR, and we had superb views out the left hand side as we flew towards Grand Canyon Airport. The airport has become much more formal since my last visit, with secured areas and so on; we had to park in the middle of nowhere and walk into the FBO to find that the Shuttle Bus had stopped running for the season and we’d have to get a taxi. The taxi driver was at least very friendly, and told us how she had stripped her apartment of all furniture except a sofa bed, and turned all the rest into a shrine to music. This included a full wall dedicated to the Beatles, who made up the main topic of conversation as soon as she had established Rowan and my British roots.

We were dropped off at our campsite, and set up the tents before making our way to registration. Some French men in front of us were disappointed to find that there were no campsites remaining that could handle their giant van. After checking in we made our way to the shops and then showers, before returning to the campsite for sausage sandwiches and brownies for dinner.

Monday September 10th - the Grand Canyon

The night was much cooler than at Kern Valley. The specially purchased super-warm sleeping bags finally started to come into their own! Overnight we could hear wolves howling, not too far away from the campsite. Keiko headed to the store to buy some toiletries; after a half hour I went in search of her, the lady on the till saying “Oh yes, she was in here twice, the second time to buy milk”. When I got back to the campsite, she had re-appeared!

After a breakfast of "Chips Ahoy" cookies and sausages we took the shuttle bus to the visitor centre and toured the shop and centre before hopping back on the Orange route bus out to the East. The views, as ever, were incredible! We walked back the 1.5 miles to the visitor centre and bussed back West, stopping at Bright Angel Restaurant for lunch, before transferring to the red route out along the road towards Hermits Lodge. Some more hiking, from The Abyss towards the West, resulted in some spectacular sights and even a condor, much to Keiko’s delight. On the ride back to the East she was impressed that another canyon, just as big as the first, could now be seen out the other side of the bus…

On the bus ride back the heavens opened, and it was a scrum to change busses back to the campsite. Keiko stayed on board to head to the shops, and Rowan and I disembarked to check on the tents. It was just as well that we did; a small river was starting to make its way underneath mine and Keiko’s tent. Timely intervention by we two civil engineers resulted in a drainage ditch that carried the water safely around the tent and away.

The rain refused to stop, so dinner was cheese and turkey sandwiches in the tent. Keiko's shopping trip had turned into her spending over an hour lost in the campsite on her way back trying to find site 40. We all went to bed early, hoping for better weather the next day.

Tuesday September 11th - scud running

Come morning it was still grey and rainy. We packed up the site and made our way to the airport; once again, the taxi driver had strange world views and was not afraid to share them. We took off and climbed through gaps in the cloud, ending up above a scattered layer crossing the Grand Canyon. On the other side it became clear that we would not be able to get through to Marble Canyon; things were very slightly better to the Northwest so we made our way 50 miles towards Colorado City, Arizona.

At Colorado City, not much was going on. The airport manager welcomed us by turning on the lights, which until then had been off, and provided his Garmin 796 to us to view the weather using the XM satellite connection. We watched for an hour or so, and determined that our best chance was to head West and try to hook around the weather, so off we went. It soon became obvious that we would not be getting to Idaho today. The cloud was solid around St George, Utah, so we landed there and found adjoining rooms in a comfortable motel in town for the night.

For dinner, we headed to the Black Bear Diner, just a few minutes’ walk from our rooms at the Crystal Inn. The portions were, as we had been warned by the shuttle bus driver, enormous. As usual, Rowan and I selected exactly the same meal but we were both defeated by the obscenely large chocolate desert. We got chatting to the people from the table next door on the way out, and it turned out that two of them were Elders in the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). They gave us a lift to their temple visitor centre to show us around.

At the temple we were shown around by a number of Elders and others, including two girls who were there in a “mission” from Germany. We were treated to a recital by the large Jesus Christ statue (despite the badges proclaiming the Elders to be Mormons, and the talk about the Church of the LDS on the way there, Keiko only realised they were Mormons once the Jesus Christ statue started speaking), and then shown around by another of the Elders. We were each presented with a copy of the Book of Mormon in our respective languages, and given a lift back to the hotel by a further set of friendly Mormons.

Wednesday September 12th - famous potatoes

The next day still saw some remnants of low cloud around, but on the whole the sky was clear and sunny. We took off and headed North towards our final destination of Yellowstone, but before we got there, many treats were in store for us. After a couple of hours we decided to stop off in Ogden just north of Salt Lake city, which has a restaurant on the field. We informed the controller of our change of intentions, and he asked if the reason was for an emergency. We informed him that no, the reason was for breakfast.

Rowan made by far the best choice; Keiko and my pancakes were mediocre while Rowan’s omelette and hash browns were frankly magnificent. We took off again and continued North towards the Idaho Potato Museum. On the way we realised that we were flying just miles away from Preston, home of "Napoleon Dynamite". It was of course essential to land here, and so we did, Rowan excitedly taking photographs of everything and proclaiming it to be just like the movie. The runway seemed a bit soft, and smelled of fresh asphalt; indeed, it turned out that we were the first aircraft to use the new runway at Preston since it was laid the previous day. We just about managed to avoid sinking into the tarmac (although I did leave shoe prints on a particularly soft spot), and took off once more.

The Idaho Potato Museum turned out to be within walking distance of Blackfoot airport. So, we walked it, pausing only to take a variety of photographs with a large tank positioned at the entrance to the airport. A mile and a half later, we stood outside one of the highlights of the trip; it was all we had dreamed of. Inside lay the promised potato gift shop, and repository of potato knowledge and wisdom. On display were, among other things, the largest potato crisp in the world (which was not as big as expected), and a lot of photos of pretty girls modelling very large potatoes. Other highlights were the videos about the potato industry, and the wall of hundreds of different potato mashers.

We spent a while browsing in the gift shop, and were disappointed to find that only cartons of hash browns were available, instead of actual potatoes. The lady behind the desk came to our rescue and promised that if we came back after lunch she would have returned to her house and collected us several freshly dug Idaho potatoes. We went to lunch at the local fast food restaurant, the other side of the railway tracks. On the way we saw a large train coming and put a one cent coin down on the tracks to see if it would be flattened. The train stopped. We went to lunch; happily, while we ate, the train started again and we collected our very flat coin on the way to collect our very tasty potatoes.

On the way back to the airport, a lady cycled past and commended us for walking. She handed us a leaflet on survival and outdoorsman-ship. As she cycled away, she left us with a passing comment; if we ever got into trouble, the Church of the LDS would help us out. Yes, the very friendly Mormons had caught up with us once again.

We arrived at Yellowstone in the late afternoon and were shown to the campsite. It was perfect, nestled among the trees with bicycles available to be borrowed, and little carts for our load-master to carry our camping gear to the chosen site. We organised a rental SUV for the next day (after promising that we would not dream of driving it off of paved roads), and settled down around the campfire, built with wood we had found in a large stockpile at the edge of the site. It couldn’t have been easier!

Thursday September 13th - Yellowstone

We cooked toast for breakfast, surprisingly successfully for an open fire, and headed into town to the visitor centre to pay our park entrance fees. We made it through the gate into Yellowstone with almost no queuing and found that the park is surprisingly big; even to cover the main highways would take days, and hundreds of miles of driving. We made do with the main attractions; prismatic lake, Old Faithful, and the like, as well as visiting the famous Yellowstone Lodge.

That afternoon, we followed a forestry trail out of town and South towards Idaho for some mild off-roading to explore the area some more. The road was much better than that traversed by Nissan Versa the previous year, although just as dusty. We passed one pickup truck with a guy in the passenger seat who looked suspiciously like the guy we’d rented the car from at the Budget desk the previous day.

With our driving finished we headed into town to visit the supermarket and, it turned out, the “Shoot a real machine gun” range. Rowan chose a Kriss and an AK-47, and Keiko and I were each persuaded to try a pistol. Keiko turned out to be a surprisingly good shot with .22 pistol! That evening a sumptuous meal of baked potato and campfire-baked salmon was prepared; certainly the best campfire food I have had to date. A local mouse agreed, joining us around the fire and polishing off the remaining baked potato.

Friday September 14th - Bears Bears Bears

Today was the day; time to drive 90 miles to Yellowstone Bear World. We headed South in our Chevy Traverse, out of Montana and back down the valley into Idaho. Signs to Bear World started about 60 miles out; the claims that it was “local” to West Yellowstone rang somewhat hollow. We paid our entrance fee, and entered the park, which turned out to be done in drive-through safari style. The first area showcased deer and bison, before we were directed through the gate into the main attraction; the bear enclosure.

XHTML 1.0 Transitional Validated CSS 2.1 Validated

© Ross Edmondson 2011 - 2015