Sunday, 19 February 2017

Flying at Marshall

We only had a couple days in the San Bernardino area as potential flying days. We knew some rainy weather was headed this way.

As we drove around this suburb of Los Angeles and battled other cars for lane space on the massive freeways and dodged from one lane to the other trying to make sure we were in the right one for various turnoffs, I wondered why on earth paragliding makes me nervous at times. There's way less white knuckling involved than on these roads!

Anyway, I digress . . .

We'd emailed a couple local pilots/instructors trying to get some info on the flying and got a response from one who advised that conditions should be fine around 2 p.m. and to meet at the landing zone at that time. We were there well ahead of time. A couple other visiting pilots were there and gave us some information on their previous experience here.

Through binoculars we could see the windsock at the main launch. It was blowing in exactly the wrong direction but the forecast was for the wind to turn around. The other two people soon left. We waited a couple more hours, the wind was still completely the wrong direction and no one else was around. We eventually left too . . . only to find out that the wind changed direction (180 degrees -- are you kidding me!?!?!) and several pilots flew and had great flights. Grrrr . . . frustrating to say the least!

One very cool thing though . . . we watched a coyote skirt the edge of the landing zone. Of course, we carefully tried to get closer for some photos but he calmly wandered off until we couldn't see him any more.

The next day, despite conditions not looking overly positive at first, we both had great flights! There was absolutely no wind in the LZ and a student pilot who had come to practice his kiting generously offered to drive us up to the launch site. 

I found the air right off launch to be a bit bumpier than I'm comfortable with but there's lots of altitude here so I headed out further from the terrain and happily cruised around for a while before landing. 

Andrew had his longest flight yet and managed a couple low saves for a great flight
I somehow messed up starting my GoPro and got no video of this flight! 

The rain storm that came in was one of the worst in a very long time and 5 people were killed. We were fortunate to get ahead of it that afternoon/evening by driving to Ventura. The following day, the drive to Santa Barbara was very slow due to continued heavy rain and traffic backed up as a result of a tree fallen down over highway 101. Now crews are busy with cleanup.

Friday, 17 February 2017

White Sands, Mountains, Desert and a Lake

After seeing the White Sands National Monument spread out before us from the distant launch sites, we had to stop there. "It's known for its dramatic landscape of rare white gypsum sand dunes." Andrew did get some dramatic photos!

Despite the fact it was quite a warm and sunny day, I was surprised by how cool the sand was on my bare feet.
My footprint in the sand.

We slowly made our way to the west coast, first stopping at Portal, Arizona, to visit a couple that Andrew had met a few years ago at an environmental conference. They have a beautiful home on the edge of the Chiricahua Mountains. Great views and incredibly peaceful and quiet. The area is also well known for many types of birds and the gentleman we spoke to at the park visitor centre said he'd seen over 100 species of birds so far this season. 

Our next stop was Tucson and a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. We'd been there a few years ago and really enjoyed it. We again spent the better portion of a day there. 
Although this guy wasn't part of the exhibits, he was definitely amusing!

We finally made it to our next flying destination near San Bernardino, California. One morning, while waiting for the potential afternoon flying, we headed up to Lake Gregory and hiked a loop around the lake.

These guys came flying/swimming/running over to us as we approached. Obviously they are well fed by people!
They quickly lost interest once they figured out we didn't have anything for them.

Flying Around El Paso (Part 2)

We got a few more flights in the El Paso area before we left on February 11 and I'm just getting caught up on everything!
From Dry Canyon launch, looking out to White Sands. (Photo by Robin)
La Luz, New Mexico

View from La Luz launch. Landing zone is the bare patch near middle of the photo.
White Sands National Park is the wheel streak near the top left.
Robin, a hang glider pilot and member of the Rio Grande Soaring Association, was extremely generous with his time and made the 1 1/2 hour drive from Las Cruces to drive us up to the La Luz launch and, a couple days later, to the Dry Canyon launch. Both are at the end of very bumpy and rocky roads that require 4-wheel drive and high clearance so we were very thankful for his help!

La Luz is mostly a hang glider site and the launch area was a bit uphill to the edge of the cliff so launching was awkward. The wind was very light and Andrew managed to take off with a forward launch. Due to terrain it was difficult for him to look at his wing before take off so I yelled several times that it looked good and he had a good launch. I managed to get some good video of him (1 min) and love the incredible view of Sierra Blanca in the background. He managed to get a short flight of about 14 minutes.

I tried several times to take off but after long waits for any sort of wind to arrive and either dragging my glider across the ground or not bringing it up straight, my back was killing me (I'd tweaked it the day before) so I finally gave up.

High Tow Along Highway 9

Although there are plenty of mountain sites around El Paso, we decided to try a high tow since Hadley was able to make it readily available. Towing is one of the few ways we'd get to fly much in the prairies of Saskatchewan but, due to lack of experience with it, we've been hesitant to try to get something going.  This may have changed our minds! Being on a truck tow is quite easy and far smoother than the boat tows we've had during maneuvers courses. I'm sure we can find a long, straight stretch of road in Saskatchewan that doesn't have any power lines across it and there's plenty of places to land! 

The place for towing here is along Highway 9 which runs parallel to the New Mexico - Mexico border. Had notifies the Border Patrol before and after each tow session so they know he's in the area and what he's doing. 

I went first before any wind picked up, had a smooth tow and the smoothest flight ever once I released from the tow. I was able to comfortably practice with no hands on the brakes and using weight shift only to make turns. I headed back to our starting point to land in an area that was quite clear of cactus. 

Nothing but cactus, sand and highway!
While I was still on tow, I heard Andrew say something over the radio about a helicopter in the area. I looked around but didn't see anything. A moment later I looked down and saw the helicopter as a speck far below me and to the side of the highway. Unknown to me, Andrew and Had both thought it was quite close and feared that it might cut the tow line! 

It was a bit windier when Andrew went and, for landing, he headed north to the Sod Farm where we'd done the static tows. 
My LZ, mostly cactus free.
As Andrew was going up, I was following along the highway in our car, stopping every so often to look up and watch him. After I'd stopped a few times, two Border Patrol officers pulled up beside me. They were super friendly and absolutely intrigued by what we were doing. They asked a ton of questions and the younger one figured they should learn how to paraglide and do their patrols this way. The older guy wasn't quite so enthusiast!  

The sky, clouds, and views of the desert from up high were amazing. (Video 1.5 min.)

Magdalena Rim, Las Cruces, New Mexico

After the high tow in the morning, it looked good for a late afternoon flight at Magdalena Rim so Andrew, Hadley and I headed that way.

The amount of photos and video I take while in flight is directly proportional to my comfort level. I was very comfortable on this flight and reasonably happy with the quality of photos (I took a LOT of them!!) and video. The setting sun definitely added to the beauty of the flight. And I managed to top land this time which was great! (Video 2 minutes.)

Dry Canyon, Alamogordo, New Mexico

On our final day in the area, Robin again drove us up an even longer and rough 4 x 4 road to get to the Dry Canyon launch. The winds were light so we "parawaited" for a while and enjoyed the view. You can see the strip of white in the distance that is White Sands National Monument.

The landing zone is quite far from the launch and you have to get at least some lift to make it there. Robin reviewed all the other possible landing areas with us, just in case.

I had a good launch but was fighting for every bit of lift I got and was definitely checking out alternate landing areas on the way in! Nearer the end of the flight I followed some smaller bluffs and managed to get some air coming up off those and then, beside the highway, not far from the LZ, there's a group of buildings so I headed over there hoping there was enough heat coming up off them to get one last bump before landing. Sure enough, it worked! I found out later that one of the buildings is a coffee shop called Plateau Espresso. The local pilots call this thermal "Caffeine always gives me a lift." Very appropriate!

I did manage to just barely make it to the official LZ, only to realize at the last second that the sprinklers were going! I dodged my way around them and, once on the ground, just had to quickly flip one wing tip over to keep it from getting more than a few drops of water on it.

Andrew launched after me and got a slightly better flight and I was able to guide him in to an area clear of the sprinklers.
Getting ready to launch. (Photo by Robin)
Me launching. (Photo by Robin)
Andrew in the air off launch. (Photo by Robin)
Andrew getting close to the LZ.
We were way up there!
Due to being concerned about getting to the LZ, I didn't take any video or photos in flight but thanks to photos from Robin and some taken from the LZ, I managed to piece together this little video. (1 min.)

And that was the end of our visit to this area. We will definitely be back some day!

Thanks again to the members of the Rio Grande Soaring Association and to Hadley Robinson of Southwest Airsports. It as great flying with all of you!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Zoo, a Winery and Rock Climbing

A couple days of too high winds to even think about flying. What to do . . .

Not surprisingly, we went to the zoo!
This big handsome guy was lazing in the sun, taking a short break from washing his paws when I took this photo.
Signs of life . . . a swishing tail, the occasional half opening of eyes and the deep rise and fall of his chest.
Amongst several interesting initiatives was "Wild About Health" . . . a partnership between the zoo and the Department of Public Health to promote healthy eating and staying physically active. 
Also not surprisingly, we visited a winery. La Viña is the oldest winery in New Mexico. 
One of the bottles we purchased at the winery but then took to a BYOB Italian restaurant.
Surprisingly, on the second no-fly day we used our sadly neglected rock climbing gear and skills. Neglected since paragliding took over our lives! 

Sneed's Cory is a tiny cliff area with about a dozen routes just below the Agave Hill paragliding launch and a 5 minute walk from the parking lot. 

It was a bit cool in the morning shade . . . Andrew liked my jacket! :-) 

Many of the routes were overhanging and even the ones that were relatively easy had awkward bulges to muscle over. Our fingers didn't last long but we had fun and realized how much we miss climbing! Life requires balance even in outdoor activities. 
There's a good hold here somewhere!
Andrew preparing to rappel off. 

Mid afternoon we headed over to the Sod Farm and thought we might practice higher-wind kiting. I didn't even get my glider out of the bag. I held on to Andrew's harness to keep him from getting dragged or lifted off the ground while he brought the glider up a few times. Good practice and experience but wish the wind speed was more conducive to the mid-range practice and experience! 

Flying Around El Paso (Part 1)

Andrew and I kept heading south in search of warmer weather and paragliding sites. We were still in snow-covered northern Arizona when we emailed Hadley Robinson at Southwest Airsports in El Paso, Texas. His response was very welcoming and encouraging so we headed that way and have been here about a week now.

Nelson's Launch at Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso

Our first meet up with Had was a bit mixed up. Andrew and I thought we were late and, not knowing the launch or having seen the landing zone, headed up to launch (a 20-30 minute hike) without our gliders. After Had arrived up there and we chatted for a bit, and two other pilots arrived, we went back to the car, got our gliders and headed back up again. In the end, I decided not to fly that day. With not having my wing out of the bag since October, a new site and not having a close-up look at the LZ, I was a bit hesitant and decided to play it safe. The site is a new one, only established a couple weeks ago, and line snags were definitely a problem so I helped get people untangled when necessary.
The LZ is the lighter patch of ground just left of centre.

Andrew getting ready to go.
Andrew in the air! 
The Sod Farm, Santa Teresa, New Mexico

The Sod Farm is a great place to do some kiting and is where Had starts off his students with tow flights. We joined him and one of his students for the day. Had's wife Marilyn plays a very active role in the operation as a retrieve driver for the drogue/tow line.

It was a good day to practice skills and Andrew managed to eek out a 28-minute flight with some weak thermals lifting off the heat of the highway.

I used some of the relatively unexciting footage and photos to make a fun little video (1 minute) with an iMovie trailer template.

This is a stationary tow set up. The line goes out to another vehicle parked at the opposite side of the field. Had stays at this end to instruct and operate the tow; Marilyn uses a quad to retrieve the line between each tow.
Thanks to Andrew for the photos of me.
Photos can be deceiving! It looks like I'm right on target to land by the cone but in fact I got lifted up at the last second and landed about 30 feet further along. 
Andrew in flight.
Magdalena Rim, Las Cruces, New Mexico

The next couple days we headed an hour and a half north to Magdalena Rim near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The first day was far too windy for Andrew and I. 

Twelve - 15 mph is recommended for pilots of our skill level. Winds were blowing away at 20+ mph. Had is ever the optimist and just after sunset it slowed enough for him to launch at about 18 mph. It gradually slowed a bit more but Andrew and I decided not to launch in the fading light with the risk of trying to land at an unfamiliar place in low light (or dark) conditions. 

Cows near launch . . . where they're not supposed to be!
A sundog.
Parawaiting -- The strong wind was cold but the setting sun provided beautiful light!
Had took off in the sunset.
The next day Andrew and I went back early to Magdalena Rim with the idea of heading to a nearby climbing area first. But we thought we'd check out the conditions at launch first (Had thought winds would be way too light at that time) but it seemed quite good so we both flew. I had a 40 minute flight, Andrew about 1:40. 

Had and some other pilots (both paraglider and hang glider) arrived after this and launched later in the day in stronger wind. I was really pleased with the video I took from launch with my iPhone 7 plus. Again, thanks to Andrew for contributing photos to this project. (3 minutes)

Nelson's Launch, Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, Texas

Then we were back at Nelson's launch and another long afternoon of more parawaiting with another local pilot, Steve. No flights but a beautiful sunset. 

Last check of the wind speed.
The next day Andrew and I and Steve again headed up to Nelson's launch in the morning and this time we flew! I wanted to launch before the winds picked up too much so had a short but very pleasant flight. Andrew and Steve waited for slightly stronger winds and were able to stay up longer. I used Andrew's big camera with long lens to get some surprisingly good photos despite the distance and how shaky I thought I was while trying to hold the camera steady! 

(Andrew's wing is the one with red at the front; Steve's wing has red at the back.)

Andrew still getting lots of height.
Steve heading to the LZ.
Steve getting ready to land.
Agave Hill, Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, Texas

Later that afternoon we went to Agave Hill, a lower launch area. Steve managed to take off during a lull and got a high and long, but somewhat difficult, flight. Andrew and I waited for things to calm down and got sled rides to two different landing areas.

Again, fairly impressed with the video quality of the iPhone 7 Plus to make this video of Steve flying. (1 minute)
Warning sign at launch . . . almost being overtaken by a cactus!