Friday, October 28, 2011

An Evening spent Flying over the West Texas Desert

This evening we rented a Cessna 172xp from FlightSource at Schlemeyer Airport in Odessa, TX. At the airport I met up with Josh, my instructor, and our two passengers for the evening, Debi and Tonia. We decided to head west and see Monahans Sand Dunes, and then over to Wink Sink (and smaller Sink), then back to Midland to overfly my house and Ben and Tonia's new home.  Debi served as photographer, so 100% of the included pictures are hers.  Refer to the map below for our detailed route.  Google tells me it was 175 miles!  We flew it in 1.5 hours of engine-on time, so probably closer to 1.3 of air time.  Averaging around 135 mph ground speed.  At one point in a descent, we reached an airspeed of 140 knots, about 161 mph (airspeed, but there wasn't much wind, so very close to ground speed).

View Sightseeing October 2011 in a larger map

Preflighting the plane.  I think this is an early 1980s aircraft based on the placement of the landing lights. (Ed-- they stopped making them in 1981).

The walk-around

Looking at damage to the strut covers, which are non-structural

Josh, right.  Me, left.  Engine start procedure.

Just after take off

A little after take off, looking east toward the stadium in northern Odessa

Making a radio transmission as we depart the Schlemeyer area.

Drilling pads!  West Texas oil country.

Stabilized dunes.

We took off from KODO and headed west and southwest, angling toward I-20 which I know leads to the south end of the Monahans dunes.  I was surprised to see large area of stabilized dunes, where there is little sand movement due to vegetation cover.  Now I realize the dunes cover a much, much larger area than I previously thought.  I think these are post-Pleistocene features, created when the Pecos shrank from a major river to a minor one and the area dried up, freeing up a lot of sand to blow east with the prevailing winds.  I just ordered a publication from the Texas BEG about the dunes, we'll see if it answers my questions.  Otherwise I might have to team up with Malcolm and do some dune research.

As we continued west and neared the town of Monahans, TX, we saw some open dune areas.  I was impressed at how linear the dune ridge tops area.  Why is this dune still mobile, while surrounding areas are vegetation-stabilized?

This is one feature I observed in semi-stabilized dunes.  Plants tend to grow on the dune margins, where they are closer to the water table and can take root in the more stable sand.  As the edges of a dune stabilize, the center part blows out, creating a depression in the center of a raised, vegetated area.

Monahans State Park and I-20, looking east

The park came up on us quickly and I tried to slow the plane down as we descended to take a closer look.  I didn't hand the plane off to Josh, so I didn't get to look at the dunes too much as we were about 700' AGL, going pretty slow.  But Debi got some great pictures and Tonia hopefully some great views.  The sun angle was just about perfect, as I was hoping, and I flew west of the dune so Debi could shoot east over them.

Active dune areas near I-20

Main active dune area.  You can see the campground and the main "day use" 
parking area to the right of the campground.

The north end of the dune field, I think out of the state park at this point.

"Bush islands".  We observe these when on the ground.  A bushy plant takes hold and the sand may blow away from around it, except directly under the bush.  They look cool from the air!

A semi-buried oil pipeline crossing the dunes.


After passing north of the dunes I angled off to the west to find the town of Wink.  I knew it was southwest of Kermit, near where I go dune riding.  It's so easy to look at Google maps in your office, but much harder when you're in the air, flying into the setting sun, trying to find a tiny West Texas town.  With Josh's help (via the GPS), I identified Wink and Kermit in the distance.  I flew right ahead where I thought I needed to go and suddenly the main Wink Sink appeared a mile or so ahead of us!

Wink Sink.  Formed around 1980 (?).  Look it up elsewhere -- anyway, it's a recent feature.

Around 200-250' deep from rim to base of the water.  Notice the circles -- what made them?  Something that was here before the Sink formed!  Answer in the comments section...

Debi got some nice shots of Wink Sink

Josh took the plane and I looked at the window as we did some 
steep turns around the larger Sink (there are two).

Neat shot of Tonia and the Wink Sink!

The smaller, older sink.  Note vegetation on the sink rims.

I probably shouldn't be looking the backseat while piloting the plane...

It started to get dark outside and we turned back toward Odessa, went past Odessa to Midland, staying clear of Midland International to the north (our transmitter was flaking, 
or their approach control was ignoring us)

172xp tail

Great sunset with crescent moon, but no appropriate camera equipment to capture it.

In Midland we flew over my house.  We could see our Halloween lights outside.  Then we went along the loop and down Midkiff and did a few circles above the new Davis home in central Midland.  Then off along Andrew's highway to downtown, around downtown to the south, north over Midland again and back to KODO.  Our passengers were not bored (a common problem) and they seemed to have enjoyed themselves.  

Apparently the only real scary moment for the passengers was as we turned to final approach, when the inside wing was blocking my view of our landing runway, and I verbalized "I can't see the runway...".  As a student pilot, I'm used to saying anything to Josh, to keep him informed of what I'm thinking.  A habit I need to break to make passengers more comfortable (less scared).  


Tonia said...

Those were breathtaking views. Thanks for the ride! And yes, the passengers in back can hear you!!

Plants Amaze Me said...

Cool to see pics of you flying the plane!
Wink Sink, are those caused by oil drilling/pumping?
Nice shots, Debi, so talented to get the one with Tonia
AND the sink!
Thanks for sharing. :)
Sent from my hp touchpad