Friday, 17 February 2017

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!

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