It's been a few years since we attended an American Yankee Association Convention, so Barbara and I went to this year's gathering at Arlington, Washington. We decided to expand it into a tour of the Pacific Coast, getting close enough to see Alaska before we had to turn for home.
We used a rented Tiger, N45278. The Tiger is a fine airplane, but it has its limits. This made flight planning interesting, but by no means impossible. One of the limits is the amount of ground the plane can cover in one day. We wanted to spend as much time as possible on the West Coast, so our trip had some long flying days at the beginning and end.
Many of the photos are Barbara's. You can identify them by hovering on the thumbnails for a second or so. A little balloon will pop up, like this example.
This story is about our trip, its waypoints and destinations on the ground. There is plenty of material on the internet about flying in general, and about U.S. pilots flying in Canada in particular. I've included some notes anyway. These might be interesting to pilots, but not to most people. To help the general reader skip these notes, they're set off in little boxes like this paragraph.
If only for sightseeing, I prefer to fly VFR – by Visual Flight Rules. But it seems as though we always leave home on instruments for these trips, finding good weather when we've gone some distance to the West. This trip was true to form, but by the time we reached central Pennsylvania things had already shown some improvement. Here's the Juniata River, east of Altoona.
Our first stop was just for fuel and lunch, at the Carroll County airport in Ohio. This place would have been a good overnight stop if we weren't trying for distance. It has it all – fuel at a good price, and a restaurant right on the airport.
Directly across the road, you can take a five-minute stroll to the Bluebird Farm, which includes a Bed & Breakfast.
The storm didn't last long, and we finished the day on the shore of Lake Michigan. When you mention Indiana, most people would not think of lighthouses. There are sixteen in the State, including three on lakes and two on the Ohio River. This is the East Pierhead Light.
Before we started this trip, we planned to stop for fuel on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, and then fly across northern Iowa. When I got a weather briefing that morning, that idea was no longer appealing in any way. We changed our route to refuel in southeastern Iowa, still on the Mississippi but a hundred miles downstream from our first planned stop. Along the way we got a couple of reroutes from a very helpful controller at Chicago Center, and enjoyed a silk-smooth ride.
We usually try to visit new places when we travel, but this weather diversion
brought us back to Burlington, Iowa, the site of a
previous convention trip
in 2008. The Tender Trap, a –
cough – rustic
establishment, is still there, across the street from the airport. The sign
promises "steaks – chicken – catfish – barbecue." We
passed on the catfish, but the beef and the barbecue were pretty good.
Back in the air, we're navigating visually again. We'll be VFR until we get to the Pacific Ocean, where instrument weather nourishes the rain forest. Here's a sideways bump in an Iowa road, looking just like it does on the sectional chart. I wonder why it's there; the highway was obviously laid out with a straightedge. Maybe there was one farmer who refused to break up his homestead. A little farther along, the storm has passed and Fort Dodge is starting to have a good day.
Joe Foss, an American hero, grew up on a farm north of Sioux Falls. The farm had no electricity. Ironically, Foss's father was killed by a power line when Joe was still a teenager. When his brother grew old enough to run the farm, Foss went back to school and convinced the Civil Aviation Authority to set up an aviation course at the University of South Dakota. By 1940, Foss had a pilot license and a business degree, and he joined the Marines. Two years later, he was at war on Guadalcanal. In six weeks in 1942-1943, he shot down 26 enemy aircraft, becoming the first ace to equal Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record, and earning the Medal of Honor. Having contracted malaria, he returned Stateside and went on tour, selling war bonds and inspiring Americans to join the military at a time when the country was still reeling from the Pearl Harbor attack.
After the war, Joe Foss was elected to the South Dakota legislature, later becoming its youngest governor in 1954. He was the first commissioner of the American Football League, starred in a syndicated television series, and was president of the National Rifle Association.
He was a longtime friend and mentor to fellow South Dakotan Tom Brokaw, who gave him a chapter in The Greatest Generation.
The citizens of Sioux Falls named their airport for Joe Foss. You can almost feel his rugged influence in the design of the control tower. The FBO at Sioux Falls, Landmark, looks like it could be a five-star hotel. They certainly gave us five-star service. The sculpture out front features two soaring eagles.
Downtown, there's another eagle. This bank guardian is probably the only piece that's not included in the Sioux Falls Sculpturewalk, which features artists from all over North America. At the time of our visit, there were 55 pieces, mostly in a four-block downtown area. Join us, as we check a few of them out.
While these people were getting a start on the Sioux Falls night scene, we had ribeyes that would rival any meal we've had, any time or place. This meal would stand as the one to beat on this trip, until we got a pleasant surprise a couple of weeks later.
Normally, I try to limit flying legs to 3½ – 4 hours a day, or less. This leaves time to explore whatever place we've chosen to spend the night. The main compromise on this trip was to accept some long flying days, giving us more time on the West Coast. We were travelling for three weeks. Seven days had over five hours' flight time. This doesn't sound like a big difference, but a day like that requires a fuel stop. That effectively dedicates the entire day to flying. We're about to embark on our third day of this. Then, we'll be able to slow down a bit.
Fortunately, we had good weather once we got past the Mississippi River. The scenery was awe-inspiring. I try to fly near airports because they're good landmarks. This one serves Chamberlain, S.D., on the east bank of the Missouri River. We got to change our watches here. In the Dakotas, once you cross the Missouri you're in a different time zone.
Here, we're also headed for South Dakota's Badlands. We followed the White River for a while, until it turned south and we kept flying west. It started becoming a challenge to pick out spots for that forced landing we hope we never need, when a thunderstorm popped up. This was near Wall, the town Ted Hustead put on the map by offering free ice water during the Great Depression. We didn't need water, and we certainly didn't need that kind of electricity. So we took a short detour.
We inspected Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse National Monument from the air before landing for fuel and lunch. Since the beginning in 1948, construction at Crazy Horse has been funded completely by private subscription and donations. This means that things don't happen very fast. The first photo is from our recent flyover (2013). The second is on the ground, from our visit eleven years ago. It's hard to see much change. You can see a tiny bit more detail around the horse's head, and it looks like they've been working toward where its front legs will eventually be.
We took a break at the Custer County airport. This would be a great gateway to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse if there were better ground transportation available. The lady running the office could not have been nicer, and there were convenient shaded picnic tables for our lunch, right next to that building. Like others we would visit soon, this airport is central to firefighting operations. In the short time we were there, a Jet Ranger came and left, on serious business. Our neighbors on the ramp were a Mooney and a two-place Grumman, both planes near to my heart. But we didn't meet the people who arrived in either airplane.
Because of the field elevation (over 5000 feet above sea level), I only took on enough fuel to comfortably reach our destination for the day. Too bad, because the price was very attractive. Our poor climb performance on takeoff reminded me that I had made the right choice.
Airborne once more, it wasn't long before we passed Devil's Tower, rising more than 1200 feet above the northeastern Wyoming terrain around it. The red rocks are scoria, formed when the igneous event that created the tower baked the local clay into natural brick. Geologists don't agree on how Devil's Tower was formed, but at least they agree that it was very hot.
Continuing into Montana, we crossed the Little Bighorn River where Sitting
Bull defeated George Custer in 1876. The river's many twists and turns
brought to mind Allan Mardon's iconic painting of this conflict, Battle of
Our day's destination was Billings. Last night we slept in South Dakota's largest city; tonight it will be Montana's. But first, there's time for just a little bit of touring. We followed a very picturesque road to Pictograph Cave State Park, where we learned that a visitor needs a very good imagination. Binoculars would help, too.
About four miles south of the city and several hundred feet above it, this is probably the only rock where Indians didn't paint a story. There are over a hundred drawings on the cliffs and in an open cave up here, but they are not easy to see.
Somewhere on this cliff is a drawing that looks like the one on the sign, but we didn't find it. The Crow say that the rocks will reveal their secrets when they are ready. Apparently they are more ready at a different time of year. We visited in July, with local temperatures over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.
on to Arco