Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guadalupe - Sierra Diablo Scenic Flight

Saturday, July 21, 2012.

View Sightseeing Flight July 2012 in a larger map

Ben pulled up to my house at 6:15 am and we drove over to Schlemeyer airport in Odessa.  Preflight, check the fuel -- decide to stop in Andrews, TX to top off.  Andrews has self-serve tanks and cheap avgas, usually $1.25 less per gallon than full-serve-only at Odessa.  Off the ground at 7:15, flew the 20 minutes or so to Andrews.  Already our "early start" didn't feel early enough.  The sun was heating up the tarmac at Andrews airport.  Got off the ground with full tanks and pointed due west to Carlsbad.  Again stopped there and topped off tanks.  I wanted to have enough fuel to make Van Horn and return to Carlsbad if necessary.  No one answered the phone at Van Horn (Culberson Co. Airport), so I wasn't sure if I could get fuel there.

Stabilized dune blow-outs, drilling pads and lease roads in west Texas

The Central Basin Platform of the Permian Basin is well-drilled

Ben at the controls

Pecos River near Carlsbad.  Area looks fairly green after recent rains

After a short stop in Carlsbad, we took off and followed the front of the Guadalupe Mountains to the south.  First, past Carlsbad Caverns NP.  We could see the visitor's center and natural entrance off our right side:

Carlsbad NP

Hills outside Carlsbad, NM

Along the front of the Gaudalupe Mts into Guadalupe Mt NP.  We were careful to stay far enough back from the range that we were outside of the park itself.  They request aircraft remain 2000' AGL over the park.  The view of the various canyons cutting back into the range was quite impressive, although the sun was already too high for the best lighting for photos.  

McKittrick Canyon

We kept climbing until we were near 8000' MSL as we passed Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, which I have climbed twice, and flown past once before.

From Guad Peak we cut straight south across the Dell City bolson to the north-facing cliffs of the Sierra Diablo.  Following the front of this range east then south, we found Apache Canyon, which cuts across the northern part of the Sierra Diablo.  Staying above the canyon rims (near 8000' MSL) we following Apache Canyon across the range.  Up the side canyons were some lovely green sheltered areas with drops that must be waterfalls during rain.  We did a wide descending turn and came back into the canyon, this time below the canyon walls.  This is the way to travel through a canyon -- downhill, not up (you could get trapped by rising terrain).  I kept the power setting high and we swooped down-canyon at an airspeed of 100 mph.  Out of the canyon, we turned south along the east face of the Sierra Diablo.  We spotted a quarry associated with an intrusive stock, and eventually, near Van Horn, we saw red Ordivician and Cambrian rocks underlying the Wolfcamp-equivalent Hueco Limestone.   Quite pretty and unexpected.

Ord and Cambrian red rocks

We did some turns around the various talc mines in this area.  Ben did his MS field research here for his geology MS from University of Texas.  We did some low turns over some of the active and inactive talc mines.  Ben took advantage of the open-out windows in the Cessna 150 to hang his camera out and get some nice photos.  

The talc mines are associated with thrusted preCambrian rocks, and they tell a complex structural story.  Ben is writing a paper for publication describing some of the findings from his MS research.

Talc mine west of Van Horn, TX

After our talc photoshoot, we leveled off and pointed east, following I-10 toward the low mountains around Van Horn, TX.  Just on the other side of the "pass" here is Van Horn and Culberson Co. airport.  No other traffic around, we put down and took a break to eat and drink.  At the airport we talked with a guy from New York who builds homebuilt planes and helicopters.  He showed off his newest creation; a single-seat helicopter he was building.

Van Horn is kind of a neat spot.  The airport and FBO has an old-timey, run-down feel.  A few pine trees struggle in the heat.  Wildflowers line the runways and grass and weeds grow up through the taxiways.  The elevation of near 4000' makes it a little cooler than Midland-Odessa (3000'), and gives a bit of a view down onto surrounding country in west Texas.

On the ground at KVHN

The day was warming up and I could see cumulus clouds forming in the distance to the east.  We topped off on fuel and took to the air.  Gradually I managed to climb to 7000' MSL and clear the top of the Apache Mountains.  I looked around to the north for the Daniels' ranch, which we visited earlier this year for the Rock House Ranch Reunion.  I didn't spot the ranch, and I didn't want to give up precious altitude to look for it, so we pressed on towards Pecos.  The ride got bumpy although no cumulus formation was visible in the area.  The air must've been too dry to form clouds, but the thermals were still operating -- the first time I've experienced this.  About 30 minutes out of the airport, Ben fell asleep (it was around 2 PM).  The iPad (with ForeFlight) stayed on his lap and I was able to lean over and see our location without any trouble.

The thermals brought us up to 7500' and back down to 6000' repeatedly.  I tried to stay at 7500' because we were eastbound (odd thousand + 500') but it was impossible, even at full power, to stay level in the downdrafts areas.  Coming into West Odessa, Ben awoke from his nap.  We were hanging around near 8000' MSL (thanks to the lift of the thermals) so I executed a number of "roller coaster" drops to lose enough altitude to stay below Class C airspace in Odessa.  Left pattern and on the ground at KODO.  6.0 hours in the air!  We've both had enough for the day -- six hours in a Cessna 150 in one day is far too much- although it was nice and cool up at 8000'.  Rosa's cafe beckoned so we stopped on the way back home for food and drink.

Quite an advanture!  I look forward to fall and winter when the thermals die down and the air gets nice and dense.  I've built a list of scenic flight I want to do, mostly around Alpine, TX and in Big Bend.  Next time, make it a weekend and break up the flying in 3-4 hour chunks.


Plants Amaze Me said...

Cool! Was this your longest flight?
Sounds fun, maybe a bit scary, although Ben wasn't scared- falling asleep. We will be there in February for a flight with you.

stratovolcano said...

yes it was my longest flight yet