Monday, 27 February 2017

Vegas Fun


I love climbing at Red Rocks! But gale force winds the first couple days that made us stop and just hang on until the gusts went by were making me question my judgement. Day three was the charm!  While it was still a little cool in the morning, we had a fantastic afternoon of climbing in the warm sunshine.

Looking down the rappel line.
Typical bum shot when the belayer is trying to take photos of the climber.
Springs Preserve

It's hard to believe this place is in the middle of Las Vegas, not far from the strip. It's one of our favourite places to go, either in the morning before we head to out to climb or on a rest day. We always get a membership both to support their initiatives and so that we can get early admission before the general public arrives. We were the only ones there on this morning. So quiet and relaxing. 

Andrew enjoys the photography opportunities

The cactus garden.
The butterfly garden was out of season but I liked this colourful entrance wall.

This is the first time we've been back to Vegas area since taking up paragliding. So Jean Ridge was a new spot for us. The conditions weren't spectacular (a few difficult-to-stay-in thermals but no steady wind required for soaring) but we did get several short flights of 4 - 18 minutes. The ridge is about a mile long so if conditions were "on" it would be awesome!!

It's a 20 minute hike from the bottom of the ridge and, thankfully, the road in was doable in our Prius. There's also a road to the top but a 4x4 is definitely needed for that. Sort of humorous that one of the dirt bikers we encountered was more impressed by the fact we got there in the Prius than he was by the fact we were flying off the ridge.

In addition to the dirt bikers, there are a ton of ATV's and people out shooting guns. We learned that it's one of the few areas near Vegas where there's enough room for people to do long-range (i.e. a mile +) practice. We'd wondered why there were rocks near the road in with paint on them but they were markers for the shooters. One morning we arrived just a couple minutes ahead of a couple shooters and they weren't too impressed that they had to find another location.

We didn't have any success contacting the local paragliding club but luckily this is a site that doesn't require membership, etc. It was definitely fun to be able to come here on our own and not worry about needing a retrieve vehicle. We'll no doubt be back!
View from Jean Ridge mid-launch.
Andrew at the top of Jean Ridge, waiting for a good wind cycle before launching.
Me, just after launch. Screenshot of video taken by Andrew. 
Andrew coming in for landing.
Patrick, a pilot from Utah (left) and Andrew (right).
Me, just after launching. Photo from video taken by Patrick.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Santa Barbara

Even though we knew there was little chance of flying at Santa Barbara due to the torrential rainfall, we really like the area and the people we've met so decided to stop in for the long weekend.

In addition to visiting some of our paragliding friends, we went to some of our favourite places and some new places that will be added to our favourites!

The Santa Barbara Roasting Company is a great local coffee spot and always filled with local, colourful characters. The staff (and presumably owners/managers) appear to be friendly to the homeless -- of which there is a large population here. It's great to see. (The friendliness, not the homelessness.)

But what first caught our attention when we visited here for the first time many years ago, is their logo. What's more funky and cool than a coffee bean in board shorts, sipping a coffee and soaking up the sun while sitting in a beach chair?  :-)

Favourite eating places we made return trips to are The Lark and Mesa Verde.

Those who follow Andrew's or my blog know that we never pass up an opportunity to go to a zoo or aquarium. Santa Barbara has one of the best small zoos and getting a membership not only supports the zoo and the animals but also means that you can get in an hour earlier than the general public. We wandered in peace and quiet and spoke to a couple of the zoo keepers while seeing only one other member. It was great!! I took a bit of video and Andrew of course took lots of photos. (Will put link to his post when done.)

We had never been to the Botanic Garden (surprisingly!) and it is a very nice one! Andrew got some great photos. Only part of the Garden was open due to the rainstorm the day before. One of the staff members stated the stream running through the property had not had that much water in over seven years! The storm brought a lot of debris and wiped out part of a bridge railing.
A battered fence and trying to clear some of the storm debris.
More water than this stream has seen in a long, long time!

Beautiful old tree.
The top of this cactus looks like a person with arms outspread and one leg in the air. 

We searched Google for "things to do on a rainy day in Santa Barbara" and the #1 thing was to tour the courthouse. Really??? But we stopped by and the architecture is fabulous! And the view from the top of the tower was spectacular.

We happened to stop by a soaring site we've flown before called Bates near Carpenteria and, while there were gliders in the air when we arrived, it wasn't really "on." A few of the experienced locals were staying up for a bit and able to come back and top land but most people were essentially taking sled rides to the beach and walking back up or had someone to drive around to the beach parking lot to pick them up. Andrew and I got our wings out but, by the time we did, it was almost too light to even kite, let along get a decent flight. Plus, the rain quickly coming in from the north discouraged us.

Pilots getting some height when we first arrived . . . 
Rain in the distance soon after.
 Can't wait to get back here when the weather is better!

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!