The first leg of our journey takes us past Bill Williams
mountain at Williams, AZ, on the I-40. It is from here that the
Grand Canyon railway runs steam trains the 65 miles North to
Grand Canyon Village - the only way to arrive at the Canyon in
style! I speak from experience, because I have had the privilege
of riding the trip on the locomotive.
Our course today takes us clear of the very busy airspace at Grand Canyon airport and the Canyon itself. Any idea of flying within the Canyon was ruled out years ago with the introduction of a highly complex special rules area that prohibits flight below 2,000' of the rim and even prohibits tour operators from going below the rim.
Perhaps there is good reason to be glad of this - My first flight in the Canyon many years ago was right hand seat in a BN-2 Islander and I will never forget the commander pointing out to me the wreckage of a pre-war airliner spread over the foot of one of the Mesas far below in a side Canyon. Apparently, it had taken rescuers days to reach the site.
On a NE heading, we pass the Eastern end of the Grand Canyon
en route to Page. The terrain here goes up to 7000' and ends
abruptly with an escarpment running across my track that drops
down 2000' to the little Colorado river.
The Little Colorado drains thousands of square miles in NW New Mexico, and yet often here at Cameron it is little more than a pebbly stream. Despite this, the the little Colorado has cut a spectacular gorge and, just outside the Grand Canyon special rules area, I go down for a closer look.
In just a few miles, the river cuts down through the 5000' plateau to join the Colorado river proper in the Grand Canyon at Cape Solitude.
Far below, the river makes fantastic horse-shoe curves as it desperately loses altitude. Meanwhile, I take care to remain within gliding distance of the rim!
Regretfully, I climb away from the Little Colorado and set course for Page, still far to the NNE.
The city of Page, Arizona, is the location of the vast Glen
Canyon dam and the downstream extremity of Lake
Powell . This was one of the few places that the early
explorers were able to reach, or escape from, the river.
Before the dam, Glen Canyon was almost as spectacular as the Grand Canyon itself. Now, it is a vast lake with a labyrinthine shoreline that offers few emergency landing places for a single engine Cessna.Page is my base for the flight to Monument Valley, just over an hour away. After topping off the tanks, I take off to the East and the vast monolithic bulk of Navaho Mountain , a 10,346' peak that can be seen for a hundred miles or more.This is very isolated country and as I approach the Monument Valley area, I find it is quite difficult to identify with precision. I have been here many times on the ground, travelling the highway down from Cortez to Flagstaff, and had always imagined the towers of the valley to be a unique formation. I fact, there are many similar formations close to the route.
As I get closer, I begin to see the horizon punctuated by the towers themselves and finally confirm my position when I recognise the visitor's centre. I have arrived!
I begin a slow descent into the area. On this November day, the high ground is covered in snow while the lower desert beyond has the appearance of being as hot and dry as ever.
From my terrestrial visits to this place, I had always
imagined that the valley was just that - a valley. Now I realise
that in fact, it is edge of yet another escarpment, with the low
land running away as far as the eye can see toward Colorado and
descend to the level of the highest mesas (about 1000' above the
desert floor) and carefully cruise around the area, mindful that
the native Americans who live here might resent my intrusion.
(When I first came here with my family, we found the Indians
fairly cool toward us, probably because they were unsure of our
strange accents. As we drove out of the valley, our rental car
started to make an ominous clattering sound. Full of foreboding,
I pulled into a gas station, looking for help. The proprietor was
the living image of Geronimo, but this didn't prevent him
explaining in the kind and helpful way of every western American
that all this stupid Englishman needed was power steering fluid!)As I descend, I begin to
feel turbulence coming off the high ground to the West. I decide
not to descend below the highest mesas. The trip to Monument Valley in a C-152
is a little like a Lunar excursion. The flight from Page used
about 1hr of fuel and the return leg direct to Prescott was
estimated at 90 mins, allowing for a headwind that might be
stronger than forcast. There are few alternate airports with fuel
and so the loiter time at the valley is limited by considerations
of getting home. I
make a wide sweep to the left, taking about 10 mins to circle the
area.After a few
short, but precious minutes, I turn away to the SW and start the
long climb to clear the first 8000' ridge en route.The flight back to
Prescott is a long one - I was right to be conservative about the
headwind. At Prescott, the winter sun is settling behind Granite
mountain and the approach to runway 21 is right into the glare.
Next time I stop en route, I'll clean the windscreen!
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