Friday, November 28, 2008

Big Creek Lodge Fire

I am very sad to say that I heard the main lodge of the Big Creek Lodge at the Big Creek Airstrip (U60) burned down on October 23, 2008. I found out recently and found details in an article from KTVB on-line. The main lodge burned to the ground, and only the duplex, shed, and shop are still standing.

Big Creek Lodge Fire

Image from KTVB article: Courtesy Walt Smith.

Big Creek Lodge after fireImage from KTVB article: Courtesy Walt Smith.

Below is the way I remember the lodge when I went there earlier this year and mentioned in my blog post about Big Creek and my blog about my camping weekend in Idaho.

Big Creek Lodge main lodge

Image from KTVB article: Courtesy Debbie Gibbons-DeRouen.

It was a wonderful old rustic lodge. The article mentions it was constructed in 1932.

Just inside the door was their main reception area; kitchen area behind that; and then to the right was the place for great large made to order breakfasts. Great if you were staying there in the lodge or if you were camping and wanted a break from cooking your own. It was great to wake up from camping and wander over for a fresh cup of coffee and talking with other people there. At night, the lodge hosted a wonderful campfire that we all gathered around. The lodge caretaker's were wonderful hosts.

I talked briefly with the owner, and they mentioned that they were still deciding what to do. It will of course never be the same, but it was a wonderful place for a lodge, and I hope it is rebuilt.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Aviation Charts with Radar and Cloud Cover

Recently, I found a method for displaying weather information with sectional aeronautical charts in a nice manner with Google Earth. You can also use for looking at this information individually, but not simultaneously; I will describe that at the bottom.
Getting Google Earth
First you need to load the Google Earth application on your computer. This is a great application with lots of uses.

Radar Information
Next load the Radar information with this link for NexRad Information for Google Earth.

Cloud Information

Then add the cloud cover with these links for West Cloud Satellite information for Google Earth, and Eastern Cloud Satellite information for Google Earth.

Sectional Information

Then you can add the aeronautical sectional information if you want with this link Google Earth Sectional Chart information. Zoomed out, the image is not great, but when you zoom in to see the details, it looks pretty good. Wait a bit for the higher resolution to load.

Controlling Layers

You can turn on and off the different layers on the left side of Google Earth. You can also change the brightness of the different layers using the slider at the bottom left. With everything turned on, the aviation charts seem to override everything. So I either temporarily turn them off at times or turn back the brightness on the aviation charts when I want to see everything.

Adding Route Information

When you want to put some possible route paths into Google Earth, an easy way is using Define your route with "-" in between different airports or VORs. Then click on the Google Earth symbol next to where it says "Current Flightplan". Then this will load into Google Earth. You can load multiple flightplans into Google Earth at the same time and select them on/off on the left side.

Other possible methods with Aviation Charts, Radar, and Cloud Cover will also show radar images and cloud cover, but not at the same time as the sectionals. Look for the buttons in the upper right. "visible" and "infrared" for cloud cover. "Radar" for radar images.


I hope this helps some of you. If you find other links for Google Earth or combinations of weather/charts, please let me know. I wonder if there is a link out there with a WAC charts and Google Earth, but I have not found it yet. That might be nice for zoomed out regions.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

VFR Paths over the Rockies

You need to be careful flying through the Colorado Rocky Mountains in a small non-turbocharged plane, but it can still be done safely. There are many paths over the Rockies. What path to use depends on each particular situation: clouds, winds, weather, and intended direction. Also what you are comfortable with and your experience. In general, I do not pick straight lines, but instead follow the main valleys and minimize my time flying over the highest mountains. Through my trips west, I have used quite a few paths. Each one is quite beautiful.

Here are the main paths I have taken crossing the divide going from the furthest north to the furthest south. All these routes are not exact, but approximate. The flight path tool I could find could not show the route more exactly.

One interesting item to note is that the section from Grand Junction along the Colorado River to Vail and to Kremmling is very well covered by radar almost to the ground. This makes flight following possible and a good idea. All the other routes (through Gunnison and Alamosa) are not covered well by radar at lower altitudes.

North route into Southern Wyoming and west
Usually only needed if heading somewhere further north. This is the lowest terrain on the North side of the Colorado Rockies.

Over Colorado/Wyoming border, to Kremmling, and along the Colorado River
A nice low spot exists near the CO/WY border. Below is the route, but I would not go all the way to Laramie. This is the closest I could indicate on this flight planning tool.

I hear going over Cameron Pass or the FROGS intersection can be good. I have not had the situation yet where I used it for long trips, but I have gone over it for fun though.

Over Rocky Mountain National Park and along the Colorado River
Going over Rocky Mountain National Park is often less bumpy than over Corona pass.

Over Rollins Pass (Corona Pass) and along Colorado River

Southern Middle Route through Salida then Gunnison
A nice middle route if the norther routes will not work. There are 2 ways to get to Salida:
klmo-larks-kank- through Wilkerson Pass and Salida
klmo-pub-kank- through Pueblo then Salida
Then through Marshall pass (better than Monarch pass since Monarch is a sequence of ridges with downdrafts instead of just one)
- CO11-hbu-kmtj

Southern route through Alamosa and Durango
Another route further south if the main mountain section is bad for weather. There are three ways to get to Alamosa:
klmo-larks-kank-als- through Wilkerson Pass and Salida then Alamosa
klmo-pub-kank-als- through Pueblo then Salida then Alamosa
klmo-pub-gosip-als- through La Veta Pass then Alamosa (La Veta Pass can have some pretty big turbulence for being a low pass)
Then through Durango
- brazo-dro

Very Southern route near Albuquerque
On the way back to Longmont in the past, I have had to wait in Albuquerque for a snow to clear in the Denver area. Then I proceeded the rest of the way when the snow cleared. This is the lowest terrain route on the southern side of the Colorado Rockies.
Another route for the north/south portion that has had less turbulence for me is on the windward side of the Sangre De Cristo mounains.

Combined Picture of Routes

Using the above flyagogo links, then clicking on the little Google earth button on the left side of the web page for each link, I built a Google Earth image with all the routes. (Save the file and load it into Google Earth). If you want you can add the sectionals by clicking on this link to Google Earth Sectional Chart information. If you are zoomed out, I think the sectionals do not look good. But zoomed in, the sectional information is nice. I found these addons for NexRad Information for Google Earth, West Cloud Satellite information for Google Earth, and Eastern Cloud Satellite information for Google Earth.

Some Quick General Thoughts

Take a mountain flying course. Many instructors in Denver area are available for this type of instruction.

Landing in the moutains is different; here are some of the factors:

  • Density altitude is a major factor.
  • Your ground speed will be higher since you are flying the same indicated approach airspeed at a higher altitude.
  • Short field methods are important even on longer strips.
  • Your horizon and determining what is straight and level is sometimes confusing since the sky horizon is much higher than the real horizon.
  • Your approach and pattern is often restricted by high moutains.
  • Many other items that you would cover in a mountain lesson.

Colorado Department of Transportation has a nice book and on-line information for all the different Colorado airports.

Approach ridges at 45 degrees to reduce the amount needed to turn around if needed. Watch out for downdrafts and turbulence. Don't fly over the ridges if the winds aloft are expected to be above 30 knots at 12,000 MSL. Always have an out if something goes wrong. And IFR over the rocky moutains is a bad idea in small planes; don't try.

There are many AWOS stations near passes. Use this information where you can. It can give you an idea of how the winds are doing in different places.

Here are some books to read available at Marv Golden. Sparky Imeson has a good website with lots of mountain flying information.

Once again take instruction if at all possible.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Cessna 182 and Avionics Panel

Here are some of the avionics and other items I have in my plane and some small reviews of each of the avionics. Somebody asked me about some details of my plane, so I thought this post would be a good thing to add. If you have anything you would like me to write on, please let me know, and I will do my best to do a post on it.

You see pictures of the outside of the plane on the front page of the blog, but here is a picture of the inside of the avionics panel.
N9699G C182P Panel

My plane is a 1974 Cessna 182P. I have had it for almost 4 years now. It has the standard 230hp Continental O470R. There are other details that can be found about the C182 in general on Wikipedia.

Here are some options I have with small reviews of each:

  • Horton Stol: good for getting the plane into back country strips.
  • Garmin 430W : Incredible for situation awareness and IFR approaches. Includes terrain awareness with the WAAS option.
  • Michell MX-170B with glideslope: A decent older backup NavCom. At least it is digital and has standby frequencies. The VOR indicator has needed occasional fixing, but the main unit has been ok.
  • Bendix King Transponder: KT-76C: Nice to have digital access and a VFR button.
  • Shadin Miniflow-L: Very nice. Very accurate in predicting how much fuel you have used on a trip. Linked together with the 430W, it accurately predicts your reserve fuel left at your destination. Makes it obvious when you haven't leaned.
  • Stormscope WX-900: Detects lightning strikes. Very nice in IFR and on a stormy day. This is an early model that does not track when the plane moves and does not display on the Garmin 430; these features would be nice if I did not already have this one.
  • Stec 55 with altitude preselect, electric trim, and control wheel steering. Nice, but I value the heading track mode the most. Next I value the altitude hold, but this is not too necessary in a 182 since it trims to altitude so nicely. The other options are nice, but not must have. Although if I didn't have them, I would probably be jealous. I only have the Stec 55 and not the 55X, so I do not have the GPSS (GPS steering)
  • EI UBG-16 Engine analyzer with Mux-8a: Very nice to see the engine is doing well when you are in IFR or over the mountains. Good for leaning. Has noticed a plug that was starting to foul before the engine made any sounds of it.
  • PS Engineering audio panel: PMA7000M-S: PS Engineering has nice units in general. I really like this specific model for two things. It can split the radios so pilot can use one frequency and the copilot can use another frequency; very handy for talking with ATC and having my wife check ATIS. The other thing is crew/passenger/pilot switch; with kids in the back it is crutial to shut them out and let them have their own conversation. This model is not around any more, hopefully they have these features on a newer version.
  • Precision Vertical Card Compass: This is a nice alternative to a compass. I have heard some people have problems with them, but mine has worked well. Be careful to not put magnets near by or adjust with anything but a brass screwdriver. It tracks in the same direction as the Directional Gyro instead of the opposite direction which a compass does.
  • Precise Flight Standby Vacuum: not too useful at high altitudes, but still nice to know I have. It uses the vacuum in the air intake system so it is important to have a difference between outside air pressure and manifold pressure. So at 10,000' MSL which has about 20" outside pressure, you would have to use something like 15" MP to have it work. At lower altitudes it is not a problem. It also has a big warning light for vacuum which is nice.
  • Glare Shield /internal dimmable flood lighting: Nice, but I think I like the NuLites better.
  • Indicator lights with NuLite Instrument Lighting System: This is very nice. Makes a similar look as the new Cessnas.
  • F&M Enterprises Oil Adapter: I highly recommend for anybody that still has an oil screen. Filters make the difference on some engines between 1500TBO and 2000TBO. It does not officially do this for my engine, but I know it helps. Inspecting the filter is nice.
  • New interior and new paint: Nice and makes the plane look much newer than a 34 year old plane. Passengers who have not been in small planes before appreciate this.
  • Carb Temp guage: I have noticed mild carburator icing on a clear day. C182 carburators are very susceptible due to their location on the engine. So I like this. It also makes the engine a little happier with temps at 50F.
  • CD/AM/FM player: I don't use this much since I am often doing flight fallowing or IFR and talking with ATC. The PMA7000M-S audio panel will fade the music in and out when ATC talks, but this is annoying to me.

Things I dream about:

Other items I have and small reviews:
They say it is best to buy a plane with all the options you want. If you put an autopilot in afterwards, I think it can cost 2x or more to put in yourself versus buying with the plane originally. It cost me a little bit more to buy originally, but I think I found one well fitted for my desires. I did not have much to buy after getting it.

If you have any questions about these, send me an E-mail or leave a comment.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Learning to Fly

Most airports have a cheap introductory flight lesson available. This intro flight is often as cheap as $49 for 1/2 hour of ground instruction and 1/2 hour of time in the air which you take the controls. It is sometimes a little more these days since fuel and other expenses have gone up in price. It varies from flight school to flight school. It is even sometimes available for helicopters; I had an intro flight for a helicopter that was $99.

Some people do not realize how many small airports are around the country and that you can get pilot lessons at most of them. Use this AOPA tool to find the nearest flight school. The other thing that I think most people do not realize is that most pilots are super friendly and enthusiastic to help somebody else enjoy flying.

It is amazing the number of people that I talk to at the airport that are there dreaming about flying and have no idea how easy it is to get a taste of flying. Maybe a person can't afford to do the entire private pilot certificate, but most people can afford the intro flight. Then maybe someday the intro flight will turn into a realization of a dream.

If you are a pilot, spread the word that these intro flights exist.

AOPA and other resources

If you are starting to be a little interested, AOPA has some new resources for potential pilots. They have some older flight training web pages as well.

In the past, there was a good article about learning to fly at Plane and Pilot Magazine.

They both have recommendations on how to find a flight school and instructor.

On-line Ground Schools and Written Test Practice

If you get serious, one of the things you will want to look into is ground school and taking the written test. Now that the internet is more and more prominent, there is more and more resources out there; much of it free. You can find a general list of online resources at Pilots Almanac. One of the ones I have seen mentioned a couple times is this free on-line ground course which looks pretty good at a glance.


Another place that I think could be very interesting to an aspiring pilot is the area of blogs. There are many blogs out there of pilots at different stages includes records of people when they first started to learn. There are a number of places to look for blogs. Thirty Thousand Feet Aviation directory has a good list of aviation blogs. The Blogging Pilots Aggregator has another good list of aviation blogs.


Hopefully, if you are not a pilot yet, this has sparked some interest. Go down to your local airport and ask around or just hang out. It is lots of fun. If you have any questions, please send me an E-mail.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cessna 182 Operating Expenses

There are more costs for operating an airplane than the fuel it burns and the original purchase price. When I was thinking of owning, I saw some breakouts that helped. I thought I would share how my expense have been going for the 4 years I have owned the plane. If you are considering renting vs owning you might also want to look at my past blog entries on renting and owning.

Repair Costs at Annual and Other Times

Many repair costs appear at annual inspection and at other times. See my other post about my latest annual inspection. I fly about 120 hours a year and this probably influences how much repair typically happens. My plane is a 1974 C182P. Age might make some difference, but I have heard of new planes with similar expenses.

Here is a list of different repairs and improvements I have done:

1/11/05 prop control: $204
Known needed to be fixed at purchase of plane.
1/17/05 labor prop control, cylinder head probe: $406
5/13/05 Filter adapter: $437
6/7/05 annual + nose strut+ cowl flap hinges + carb heat+filter adapter install: $2701
8/15/05 cylinder fix: $1158
11/18/05: vor indicator fix: $65
2/13/06: EI UBG-16 engine analyzer: $1465
3/29/06: new muffler, exhaust: $3363
3/29/06: EI install $900
7/5/06: annual + tires +brakes+aileron rod+ mixture cable: $2445
vernier mixture cable improvement portion was: $271
12/14/06: pitot-static, vor indicator fix: $422
5/11/07: attitude indicator $1097
6/19/07: GNS430 Waas upgrade $2001
8/14/07: annual + cylinder + engine mounts + baffling + fairing fix = $4224
cylinder portion was about $928
11/16/07: short in instrument lighting (found in EI install): $401
9/5/08: annual + cylinder + carb box + spin bulkhead + mags = $3800
cylinder portion was about $900

In order to come up with a yearly budget, I will consider that some of these items are from the first years of owning (such as the exhaust fixing and prop control). I will also not include the cylinder fixing in the normal plan, but it should be considered as possible. The annual inspection is around $1200/ year as well.

This totals to about $3272/year including the inspection. For simplicity, we will say $1200 is for the inspection and $2000/year is for general maintenance.

Also keep in mind a budget for upgrades. I ended up spending $5038 total for 4 years upgrades plus fixing a short in the EI install. These were relatively small upgrades. Interior, Paint, and many avionics upgrades are much much more.

Keeping costs in control is very important. If you are not careful, I could see maintenance costs doubling. I recommend taking Mike Busch's Savvy Aviator Seminar and joining the Cessna Pilots Association or a club for your type of plane and ask lots of questions. The more you are involved with understanding the maintenance, the better.

Overhaul Costs

Planning for a potential engine overhaul is something you should do and it is a major expense. As Mike Busch indicates in his Savvy Aviator Seminar, I would recommend using TBO as a guideline, but not a requirement.

But how much does an engine overhaul cost? I am still trying to figure this out. One spot to look is Aviation Consumer. They have an article onverhauling shops. There are a number of things that I think are left out from the costs listed there such as overhauling the prop and governor and the removal and reinstallation of the engine. But it is a starting place.

So for purposes of this analysis, I will use engine overhaul of $24,000 engine + $2400 R&R. Prop overhaul of $2500 prop + $2000 governor. Both of these to be budgeted for 1500 hours.

Yearly Fixed Costs

  • Annual Inspection: $1200
  • Repairs during annual and other times: $2000 (sometimes a cylinder fix for $900)
  • Hangar: $290 * 12 months (some hangars are much more expensive)
  • Insurance: $1277
  • Loan or the cost of money in the plane?
  • Improvements in Avionics, Interior, and Paint?
  • Total = $7777
  • If you fly 120 hours a year and do not add for a loan, $64.80 / hour

Hourly Costs

  • ~13 Gph at maybe $5.50 = $71.50/hour
  • Oil change every 40 hours = $75 oil+filter + $22 oil analysis + do labor myself = $2.43/hour
  • Engine overhaul budget every 1500 hours: $24,000 engine + $2400 R&R = $17.60/hour
  • Prop overhaul budget every 1500 hours: $2500 prop + $2000 governor = $3/hour
  • Total = $94.53 / hour

Combined Fixed + Hourly Costs

  • For 120 hours / year is: $159.33 / hour.
  • For 50 hours / year is: $250.07 / hour

Compared to Renting

At our field, there is a Cessna 182 for rent for $155 / hour. It is not as nice as ours and is not hangared which can be nice on cold days. Having the plane available when you want is worth something that is hard to count. The $159.33 / hour cost also does not account for a loan or the money you have paid for the plane. If you are not flying 120 hours per year, the rental looks better and better.


Hopefully this helps for anybody thinking about owning. If you have a different experience, please feel free to share.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Cessna 182 Annual Inspection

Well, I just got through another aircraft annual on my airplane. This is one of the big yearly items that ends up with unplanned costs. Once again, it cost more than I planned and around $3800, and I did some things to reduce cost. I am starting to think that annuals in my plane will cost around that as long as I am flying it around 120 hours a year. In fairness, the annual inspection was closer to $1200, but fixing and other periodic maintenance added up to maybe $2600.

Expected Items This Year

This year, I expected to do the standard annual plus do the 500 hour service on my magnetos. I also had decided to change my spark plugs with some cheap plugs from Air Power Inc instead of clean and regap; although in the end, I saved the new plugs for later. I also wanted to fix the battery jump connect which I had recently found to have a problem; this was a simple fix.

500 Hour Magneto Service

This year it was time to look at doing the 500 hour magneto service. I had heard some large numbers from one mechanic for repairing the magnetos. The local mechanic doing my annual said he could repair the magnetos, and it sounded a little cheaper. But I decided to send my magnetos off to Andy Richards in Auburn, CA at Power Aviation Services. He is relatively new at Power Aviation Services, but he has been doing magnetos for a long time with a great reputation at Sierra Magneto and other places. I have heard good things from people in Cessna Pilots Association of him. The price was right, he worked on them right away, and explained what needed to be repaired with some possible options. He was very friendly and very professional. I would highly recommend Andy when you need your magnetos done. The average magneto repair is $200 a piece, but was a little more for me. I think this was one place that saved me money.

Unexpected Items This Year

I had few unexpected items. I had a cylinder with an exhaust valve leak to fix, a crack in the spinner bulkhead, a carburator heat valve fix, a crack in the baffling, a crack in the cowling near the propeller. These all added up especially the bad exhaust valve and cracked spinner bulkhead.

Bad Exhaust Valve and Cylinder Repair Again

One big surprise this year was a bad exhaust valve on cylinder #1; this was especially surprising since I fixed it last year. I thought initially that the cylinder shop would cover part of the repair since it was the second time they repaired it. The cylinder shop now says it will not cover it. They believe it had to do with the way I ran the engine although they do not have a clear problem with how I ran it; just minor thoughts. I ran it pretty standard with 75 Rich of Peak, 67% horse power or lower during cruise, and maintaining CHTs below 390 with the use of a EI UBG-16 engine monitor. I am still trying to figure this out. Most people have indicated the problem was probably the previous repair. Another cylinder shop mentioned that it could be a localized heat problem even if the CHT prove for that cylinder never got above 390 degrees. The 2nd cylinder shop mentioned to look carefully at the baffling. The initial looks at baffling look ok by my A&P. The main thing I want is to not have this occur again.

Cracked Spinner Bulkhead

The spinner bulkhead was found to be cracked near the bolts. This is the back part that the spinner bolts onto. It was just a small hairline crack at this point and not obvious. But it could become large and become a real problem. This was looking to be potentially a very expensive repair; maybe $2000 of parts.

The current part had been superceded twice (0752637-1 superceded by 0752637-17 superceded by 0752637-27) and the new part needs extra additional parts (2 of 0550341-1). I found this out by finding the initial part number in a Cessna Parts manual. Some free Cessna Parts Manual can be found here. I found the new part prices and the superceded information with the Premier Aircraft On-line Catalog. Through my double checks, I found it a little cheaper than the FBO, but similar.

The initial checks by the FBO did not find the used parts, so I started looking. There is a long salvage yard list on the Cessna Pilots Association list. I emailed everybody on the list, and I did find one 0752637-17 at Preferred Airparts who have an on-line used inventory search, but it needs extra parts. Later, I did find another part for $200 from Faeth Aircraft, but it was too late.

In the end, the best option was to repair the spinner bulkhead. Cessna Pilots Association informed me of a place that was authorized by the FAA to repair them. K&K Precision Welding was able to repair the bulkhead for around $400 which included a yellow tag. This repair method saved me about $1400.

Other Repairs the Past 4 Years

I have heard that the first few annuals after buying a plane can be expensive. I think I bought a reasonably well taken care of plane, so I was not sure if the I was going to be hit by this. The initial inspections and maintenance were higher than I expected, but they have not come down too much. Usually around $3000.

Here is a list of some of the items I have fixed in the past 4 years: exhaust repair, other carburator heat repairs, aileron rod repair, new engine mounts, new brake linings, nose strut resealing, new battery, new tires, new ELT battery, new landing lights, overhauling the attitude indicator, fixing the VOR indicator, new baffling, new alternator due to worn mounts, crankshaft seal, and pitot-static checks. All of these items did not cause any serious concerns for immediate airworthiness, but needed to be fixed.

I have also had some improvements I have done which of course add to the yearly costs as well.


After having 4 annuals inspections and maintenance that have been around $2500-$4000, I think I will start planning on at least $3000. If it ends up less, I will count myself lucky. It is easier to have it work in this direction than the other.

Cessna Pilots Association and taking Mike Busch's Savvy Aviator Seminar definitely helped me keep my costs down. It could have been much worse. I would also recommend both of these items for owners.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Banner Tow Pilots

This summer we were at Myrtle Beach, SC, and I was amazed again by the banner towing pilots. Along the beach, their job looks pretty simple (although probably a hot one). Back at the North Myrtle Beach (Grand Strand KCRE) airport, their job looks a little more interesting. I believe the business we were watching was Barnstormer's Aerial Advertising.

Coming in with a banner or picking up a new one, the job does not look to bad. Similar to landing.

Then they drop the banner.

The next part is what looks interesting. They go full power and a steep climb near stall. The FAA recommends a climb at 1.2x the stall speed until about 250' AGL. There are a number of reasons for this maneuver. They also remark that most of the accidents are involving stalls during banner pickups which does not seem to surprising after watching it.

The plane they used was a simple cub. It was interesting they pulled the cowling off. I guess for extra cooling while going slow.

The FAA has a informational manual for banner tow operations. It is interesting reading especially if you have seen the procedure up close.

I looked on youtube and found a couple of videos which show towing operations pretty well:


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

West Yellowstone Airport Camping

As part of our Idaho and Yellowstone airplane camping trip, we stayed at West Yellowstone, MT(KWYS). I have been talking about it in my past blogs about a future Yellowstone flying trip and general airplane camping thoughts. This was the first time I had been there, but I have heard many people describe it as a great place to visit with a nice campground.

The Campground

We flew in at sunset and the FBO had closed, so we had to wander around to find the campground area. Luckily, it was fairly well marked and my Flight Guide had its location correct. It is located at the northeast end of the main ramp area a little away from the commuter and FBO traffic. When you find the area and sign in the picture below, you know you have found it.

The campground area is very nice, and it is free after you have paid for the overnight parking. It is only available to pilots, so it has a lot more availability than other Yellowstone campgrounds. I hear it can be busy over the weekends, but we had the place to ourselves. The nearest sites are just inside the trees, and there are more sites going back. There are fire pits, lots of firewood, a funky (but working) hot shower, an acceptable pit toilet, picnic tables, lots of flat space for tents, and drinking water. For a nice toilet, you can always go over to the terminal a little walk away. There are even a number of bicycles including a smaller girls bicycle available for use by pilots. Another nice item is the trailer to cart your stuff between your plane and your campsite.


The Yellowstone Aviation FBO is currently at the south end of the main ramp area in the terminal, although it is relocating to a cabin in the middle of the ramp area soon. Be careful walking to the terminal on the ramp since it has commuter airlines and NTSB controlled access. Better to go through the fence and go through the normal passenger entry. I have seen this at other airports, so I knew to be a little careful in the ramp area.

Getting a rental car... Both Avis and Budget there. With an AOPA discount, the Budget rental ended up being just over $50/day after taxes.

The FBO people were super friendly. They watched over my son while I got the rental car and offered him free food and toys they happen to have around. Maybe they were being nice to a father/son outing, but I think they were just genuinely nice too. Their fuel price was high, but they tried to make up for it in service.

There is a decent restaurant on the field as well. This is certainly convenient if you get lazy about cooking for yourself at your campsite. There are plenty in town as well which is not far away.


There is so much to see of Yellowstone National Park. The main roads in Yellowstone form a figure 8 of sorts. We had seen Old Faithful in the past which is part of the lower loop, so we decided to try the upper loop of the park. It had the Paint Pots, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and more wildlife potential. In the end, we did not see much wildlife, but we were mostly driving around during the main daylight hours of the day. The upper loop did take most of the day, and we did not stop at everything.

There is a new visitor center in the Canyon area of Yellowstone. It is a pretty nice visitor center, so I would recommend giving it look if you are near there.

My son still really wanted to see Old Faithful again, so we will definitely have to go back. Of course he told me this after we were half way around the loop. We saw the Old Faithful area from the air, so that made him happy for this trip.

The Town of West Yellowstone

We did not get a chance to look around West Yellowstone too much, but it seemed like a nice town. There are two links I found for the future: a general link on West Yellowstone and a good link from the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce.

One thing we did visit that was recommended was the The Grizzly & Wolf Center. It is kind of a mini zoo for Grizzlies and Wolves and also a place to make people more informed about camping around grizzlies and wolves. It is brand new, expanding still, and quite nice.

There is a kid feeding time for the grizzlies which is kind of neat. No... not feeding kids to grizzlies. It happens once in the morning and once in the afternoon. They close the grizzlies out of the main closure and in a very organized way bring kids in to hide berries under rocks all over. Then the kids leave and the bears are allowed back in. It was pretty cool.

Flying Back

The trip along the Tetons on the way there or back is quite impressive. We also did fly over Old Faithful which was fun. I have seen some impressive aerial pictures of other places in the park that hopefully next time we will see from the air.

Teton National ParkSummary

West Yellowstone airport is a great place for visiting Yellowstone and good camping. It has a nice long, paved runway so any pilot can make it into this one. We were here by ourselves this time, but I hope to get other families to join us next time.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Big Creek Airstrip and Camping

Big Creek Airstrip looking northAs part of our Idaho and Yellowstone airplane camping trip, we stayed at Big Creek, ID (U60). I have been talking about it in my past blog about general airplane camping thoughts, and I wrote about it in my past blog entry when I took the McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminar. This was the first time I had both landed and stayed there. It was a very nice location.

There is a lodge as well as camping so we would have a choice for dinner and sleeping. Our plan this time was to camp. We also met up with another family during our stay here and had a great time.

The Approach

Big Creek is a more challenging strip to get into, but not as hard as some. I would recommend looking at the Fly Idaho Book for details. From the south, I flew past Stanley, Sulfur Creek, Landmark, and Johnson Creek airstrips. After passing the ridge before Big Creek, I started desending and quickly saw the airstrip. I circled the airstrip in a typical pattern and at the typical altitude, announcing on 122.9 what I was doing. I did a standard left hand pattern entry and landing to the south which is upstream. The altitude is 5743' and the landing is made uphill; takeoff is downhill. I recommend taking instruction before landing here. I would not have wanted to do this without it.

It is not recommended to land or takeoff the opposite directions. We saw somebody land the wrong way, and he took the entire runway; the airport manager said he had seen it done 3 times and this was the first without an accident. Also, if the wind is blowing the wrong way for takeoff, wait until later. We saw somebody takeoff uphill and into the wind; he made it, but the airport manager strongly warned against it. You may get off the ground and up to treeline and then end up losing the wind and sinking into the trees.

When we were there, the wind was calm in the morning and then picked up around 10:30am from the South. 12:00pm is typical. It did not die down until around 7pm. On our departure day, we ended up waiting until 7pm to get the proper winds. Sunset was around 8:45pm, so we still had time to make it to our next destination.

With proper instruction, this airstrip is not bad and is a lot of fun.

Big Creek Airstrip looking south


Parking is at the South end of the strip on the east side. There are a couple things to be careful of. The tie downs stick up out of the ground, so you might not want to taxi over them, but in front of them. The parking is also slightly downhill. So after engine shutdown, somebody either has to hold the brakes while somebody gets a rock or use the parking brake. Then slowly back the plane down to the tie downs and put a rock under a wheel.

The Campsite

The campsite is right behind the airplane parking. There are fire pits, picnic tables, lots of flat space for tents, drinking water, and a decent pit toilet. Lots of nicely spaced trees for hammocks. There is a fun small creek to play in for the kids. Very pretty location. Since the road access is a long dirt road through Yellow Pine, this location is pretty quiet except for the occasional plane. I think the nearest big town is McCall which Google estimates as 4.5 hour drive. McCall is less than 30 minutes by plane.

Big Creek Campsite
The Lodge

There is a nice lodge here at Big Creek. There they have lodging, a restaurant, horseshoes, and a campfire in the evening.

They have a nice restaurant. The restaurant does not have a standard menu, but cooks a good standard breakfast, lunch, dinner for the people there. We made it to breakfast twice and it was very good and very filling. For dinners, they check with who will be eating and try to make something everybody will enjoy.

The lodge was very nice to us even though we were just camping, but we did eat a couple meals there to be somewhat a part of the lodge. The hospitality is impressive and I would recommend checking it out for at least meals if not staying there.

There was an evening campfire that was a highlight of our trip. The lodge started it up around 7:30pm and we all enjoyed. We brought some marshmellows and somebody had a guitar. It was very nice.

Things Nearby

We only saw a few things while we were there, but I think the area has a lot to offer. Although just hanging out around the airstrip was very nice.

We wondered about going down to see Big Creek itself. It is a bit of a walk, so we asked the lodge if they could help us out with a ride at least in one direction. They found a convenient time and gave us a ride in a truck down to the trail going to the Big Creek and the half moon outhouse. From the trail it was a pretty easy walk down to the river. Maybe 1/2 mile? Then we probably had 1.5 miles back to the campground. It was a nice time.

Big Creek

The family I met up with had mountain bikes and the lodge has mountain bikes for rent for $10/day. This is a fun thing to do since the dirt roads do not have much car activity and there are old mines to look at and it is just a general pretty area.

There is a horse barn for the USFS there as well. Nobody was at it the first day, so we stayed away. But the second day, some people were there and we asked if we could come visit. It was a convenient time for them, so they gave us a nice tour. A great time for a 6 year old.

Horses near Big Creek


It is definitely a place I want to go back to. If my wife comes along, we will likely stay in the lodge. If it is just another father/son trip, we will probably do the camping again. Both are very nice.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Smiley Creek Airstrip and Camping

Smiley Creek looking south
As part of our Idaho and Yellowstone airplane camping trip, we stayed at Smiley Creek. This was our first time staying at Smiley Creek, ID (U87). It was a nice location. It is one of the first grass airstrips in Idaho on our way from Colorado, so that made it a nice first destination. There is also a lodge as well as camping so we would have a choice for dinner and sleeping if we were tired after a day of flying. We opted for eating dinner there and staying in the teepees at the lodge. We explored for the day, stayed the night, and headed out to Big Creek the next day.

The Approach

Smiley Creek is one of the easier strips to get into. I would recommend looking at the Fly Idaho Book for details. From the south, you fly up from Sun Valley along the Sawtooth mountains and then fly over a pass just before reaching the area. As long as you land upstream going south and take off downstream going north things are not too bad. As always, it is good to circle the airstrip to make sure everything is clear on the runway and the windsock is pointing the right direction for landing. Make a standard left hand pattern, set up for a short field, soft field landing and things should go pretty well. The runway is at 7160' elevation, so make sure to take that into account during landing and especially during takeoffs. Density altitude makes a big difference on hot days here.

Smiley Creek looking eastThe Airstrip

Above are two pictures of the airstrip, and there is also a web cam for the Smiley Creek Airstrip. There is a view north that the webcam defaults to, and you can also click to see a view #2 which is looking south. It is a nice strip with sprinklers and nice looking grass.

I got a chance to talk with the airstrip caretaker for a while. A very nice man and I would recommend talking with him if you get a chance. He is a pilot, so he can talk with you about the strip and many of the others in the area.

The Campground

The campground is right next to airstrip and is quite nice.

Smiley Creek CampgroundIn the above picture, you see the brand new bathroom and shower building. It is very nice and extremely clean. I was surprised at how nice this was. The camping is just past the sign in the trees. There are not too many trees next to the airstrip except in the camping area.

There are also a number of shelters for campers as well. In the same area are picnic tables, fire pits, drinking water, and plenty of spaces for tents.

Smiley Creek Campground shelter

My son loved the creek that was right in the campground to play in. You can see the planes in the background, so you can see it is all close together.

Smiley Creek campground creek
The Lodge

Smiley Creek has a nice lodge a very short walk from the airport; maybe 100 yards at most.

Smiley Creek lodge

There they have a general store and nice restaurant with a standard menu. For lodging, there is a choice of lodge rooms, cabins, or teepees. I figured my son would like the teepees so we tried one of those. It was a hit.

Smiley Creek teepeeSmiley Creek teepee inside Inside the teepees is a little rustic, but quite nice for a teepee. The beds are on wooden platforms to raise it off the ground. There are lamps, tables, and heated blankets for the bed. It rained pretty hard in the morning, and the insides of the teepee got a tiny bit wet, but not bad.

No shower or bathroom inside the teepee, but there is one nearby.

Around the Lodge

Around the lodge there was a few fun things to look at.

There was an incredible number of hummingbirds around a feeder. I heard at one point, the humbirds were fighting to get a feeding spot and there were probably 6 feed spots. They had the feeder in a great spot for viewing either inside or outside. This kept my sons attention for a long time.

Next door, there were quite a few sheep which was something else to watch. In the evening, there was a beautiful sunset.

If you have time, I have heard there is a lot within a short car drive as well from there. There is a courtesy car at the airport, but I did not get a chance to use it.

There is a decent amount of traffic coming by on the 2 lane paved road in front of the lodge. I guess they are on their way to the town of Stanley and fishing, camping, and rafting. So the lodge has a bit of traffic. It was a nice amount while we there and lended itself to a little people watching.


Smiley Creek is a great stop over for some rest or a great meal. It has a very nice lodge and campground.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Idaho and Yellowstone Airplane Camping

Big Creek Idaho airstrip
This past long weekend, we made it out on our airplane camping trip to Idaho and Yellowstone. I have been talking about it in my past blogs about a future Yellowstone flying trip and general airplane camping thoughts. It was a great success and incredible what we experienced in a five days.

  • Beautiful scenary
  • Beautiful airstrips
  • Great camping (similar to car/tent camping without the trailers around.)
  • Some out of the way restaurants for some fun dining.
  • Easy access to Yellowstone which is hard by car
  • A bit of money on gas, but the rest of the trip was very cheap.

Our overall route: klmo-lar-kafo-ksun-u87-k2u7-k0u0-k3u2-ku60-kwys-dnw-lar-klmo

Getting there

The weather was IFR in Denver area, but was VFR in Idaho, so we filed and took off. Look at my weather planning blog entry for how I go about my planning. The departure was fairly routine and there was some slight turns made in Wyoming to avoid some thunderstorms. Our fuel stop was in Afton, Wyoming (KAFO). There was a thunderstorm on the normal approach path, so I decided to cancel IFR and proceed VFR around the storm and to the airport. This worked out pretty well. This was the first trip in IFR with XM Weather using my new Anywhere Travel Companion, and I really appreciated it. I also have a stormscope and the combination is nice.

Desired VFR route: klmo-lar-kafo
IFR Route: klmo-yammi-lar-v4-grips-kafo

Afton was a nice place to stop with cheap self-serve fuel prices and a brand new Afton FBO building. The people there were very nice and offered their courtesy car for the short distance to the burger barn near the field or any of the other restaurants. We had our own lunch, so we passed this time, but it is nice to know it is there and easy for next time.

From Afton to our first destination (Smiley Creek, U87) was VFR and pretty easy. Around Sun Valley, ID it gets very pretty.

Idaho Sawtooth Range

VFR route: kafo-ksun-u87

Our Destinations

The places we visited this trip were Smiley Creek, ID (U87), Big Creek, ID (U60), and West Yellowstone (KWYS). There is a bit to say about each one, so I think I will leave it for separate blog entries. All three were great places to visit!

To Big Creek: u87-k2u7-k0u0-k3u2-ku60
To West Yellowstone: ku60-kwys

Big Creek Campground

Camping at each place was great. This picture is of the Big Creek campsite.

Getting back

The weather was nice coming back and flying back along Teton National Park and the Wind River Range is beautiful. There were clear skies, a tail wind, but a few bumps. 3.5 hours back from Yellowstone and my son slept most of the way.

Teton National Park

Route: kwys-dnw-lar-klmo


This will be a trip to remember for a long time. Hopefully it will be the start of more trips like this. As I recount our trip, there were a number of things that were highlights for me and my 6 year old son.

  • Flying out IFR to an area with mostly clear skies and then landing on grass
  • Teepees in Smiley Creek
  • Hummingbirds in Smiley Creek
  • My son hanging out with a new friend
  • Enjoying campfires in Big Creek and Yellowstone
  • Horses in Big Creek the paint pots in Yellowstone
  • Seeing old faithful from the air
  • The grizzly center in West Yellowstone


If you get a chance and you have interest in camping, mix up the airplane and camping. It is a great experience!

I will do separate blog entries on Smiley Creek, Big Creek, and West Yellowstone next.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Biplane Ride at Myrtle Beach

For something different, we decided to pay for a short biplane ride at the beach. At Myrtle Beach, SC, you always see flying overhead banner towing planes and a biplane giving people rides. This year we decided to give it a try. It is a bit expensive, but it was fun.

Classic Air Ventures at the Ramp66 FBO at Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach is where you pick up the ride. It was easy to set up over the phone and we made the reservation for the next day.

It was only a 20 minute ride, but it was a fun one flying over the beach high rise condos, then a little north where there are deserted waterways, marshes, and beaches. Very pretty area from the air that you never see from the ground. I wish I had taken some pictures; next time... When there is a nice stretch on a deserted beach he takes you down low below tree top level. Also in the air, he did some mild hammerheads which was fun.

The plane we were in was a Waco Biplane. It was great fun with the open cockpit, wind, and the rustic plane feeling. The RPMs of the plane were quite low which I guess is due to the radial engine. I think he said somewhere around 1800 RPMs. It had a neat sound to it. They modified the front compartment and fit two of us in there. In order to do this, they remove the front stick so no flying it myself; bummer. We had headsets, but no microphones; this worked out fine, but was a little different since I was so used to having a microphone.

Next time, I will have to get a ride where I can take the controls. But it probably won't be in quite as picturesque a place.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Airplane Camping

I still dream of some airplane camping; this is part of the reason I chose to buy a Cessna 182 and currently don't have the wheel pants on. Flying to a location and hopefully camping right there on the field. Hopefully, a nicely wooded area next to the air strip which is probably a backcountry airstrip. There are a few paved strips that seem to have some good camping next to them.

I will try to capture a few ones higher on my list to go check out. Please comment and tell me if you have some favorites or really enjoy these. I have not camped at any of these yet and have just landed at the Idaho ones. Beware that a number of these are more difficult backcountry strips and need training by an instructor such as the ones at McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminars. I have taken the basic course and written about my experience, and it was a good one.
Web sites

I ran into this web site which has some interesting airplane camping info and list of airplane camping places. SW Aviator has a number of interesting articles on some of the strips and airplane camping in general. I found an interesting article on airplane camping on

Guide Books

There are crutial backcountry guide books available for Idaho, Utah, and Montana at QEI Publishing. These and The Flyer's Recreation Guide and The Western US Pilot's Guide are available at the Pilot Getaways Web Store.


Idaho has many backcountry strips. The strips were put in place many years ago since there are many ranches tucked into the mountains without any easy access other than planes. Then some wilderness areas were established, but the air strips remain and are needed/used.

3u2 Johnson Creek. Very well known and a beautiful strip. It has sprinklers to keep the grass strip nice along with nice camping facilites including showers. You can see it live with the Johnson Creek web cam or with a time lapse here. Fishing is nearby.

U60 Big Creek. This one is nice since it has both camping and a lodge. So if you get tired of camping you can go over to the lodge for food or sleep. There is horse riding available; fishing is down the hill. Here is some information about the lodge at Big Creek.

U87 Smiley Creek. A little bit easier strip although high altitude. There is the Smiley Creek Lodge nearby with food and lodging. There is camping on the field too. Here is the web cam for Smiley Creek.

Many, many others exist. Those two are the ones I wonder about taking my family to first.


Kwys West Yellowstone. I have talked about this one before in my blog about Yellowstone and Teton. It is a paved strip with nice camping on the field.

Many backcountry strips exist in Montana. Here are a few.

53u Ferndale : Near Glacier National Park

8u2 Schafer, MT I saw this mentioned in the SW Flying Guide book being a good one for camping.

8u4 spotted bear, MT

3U7 Benchmark, MT


3s7 Nehalem Beach State Park, OR. This looks like a good one for the future. Right near the beach and part of a state park. Other camping exists on the field for car campers and the plane campers are separate. There is some good information on the Nehalem state park on the Oregon State Park web site. The map on that web site gives a good idea of the facilities and area around the airport.


The one I have looked into already is Big Bend Camping. I did one post earlier in my blog on Big Bend. Texas is a big state, so I wonder if there are some other good ones.


Camping is available on these fields according to the Western US Pilots Guide:
0Q5 Shelter Cove. Miscellaneous information on Shelter cove.
S51 Klamath Glen. Information around Klamath Glen Camping Resort from


Utah Backcountry pilots association is key for checking out this area.
Mineral Canyon UT75. Southwest Aviator article on Mineral Canyon.
Mexican Mountain. Southwest Aviator article on Mexican Mountain.


kors Orcas Island. Not camping on airport, but camping on the island

A Possible Airplane Camping Trip

Here is a possible week long trip idea. Idaho, California, Oregon Beach, San Juan Islands, then back through Idaho and Yellowstone:

Maybe someday...


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Aircraft Batteries

Well, this past weekend I had some fun with cancelling a flight. Luckily, I have not had too many times of this. I had everybody in the plane including my son and his friend and the plane would not start. Whir, whir, stop. Whir, whir, stop. The propeller turned very slowly, but the engine would not catch. Then I grabbed the guy from the FBO and tried to jump the plane and got the identical whir, whir, stop.

First look

I suspected the battery, but why did the jump not work? So I went searching connections. Tugging on connections under the cowling and looking at the terminals on the battery in the back of the plane. This did not seem to help quickly. And was a little bit of a challenge with two 6-year olds running around. Luckily, the other dad helped out great with that. After a little investigation, I called it off for the afternoon and decided to check things more later. Luckily, we had only planned a short little hop in the plane for a BBQ and fire station visit.

Further investigation

Later in the day, I worked on the terminals and connections more and the plane did not react any differently. I made sure when working around the battery to disconnect the negative wire first then the positive before checking any other connections; this is indicated in the Cessna 182P Service Manual that I purchased on-line. If you bump the airframe with the wrench when taking off the negative wire it is then ok. If you bump the airframe with the wrench next on the positive wire, there should not be a connection since the negative wire is already disconnected. I still am careful to not touch the airframe just in case. Then I did cleaning with wire brush and then baking soda solution as well.

I did also notice a loose connection to the jump connector; maybe that explained the jump problem? There is an extra solenoid and diodes between the jump connection and where the battery hooks in. This is for protection of reverse hookups during jumping. So maybe there are other possibilities to check there with the A&P. Maybe I have two problems: battery problem and jump connection problem?

After looking further in my airplane logs, I noticed that the battery had been in use for 4 years and the previous battery had last 5 years. So... I started thinking more about a new battery.

Checking on a new battery

I took the battery out and had the FBO check it. One cell ended up looking bad with a hydrometer test, and they put the battery on a charger just in case. So time to start looking into new batteries.

I found a reprint of a recent Aviation Consumer battery article. It can also be found on the Aviation Consumer web site if you have a subscription. This is an excellent magazine for the plane owner. The article mentions a bit about both Gill and Concorde batteries and of both the flooded and sealed types. It mentions that sealed gill batteries had some problems, but should be ok now. Otherwise Concorde seemed to be a little better than Gill, but Gill was still ok. The article also talked about a number of other intersting things. Sealed batteries need to be new from the factory or kept good by charging periodically. The charger for the sealed battery is a special kind. The flooded battery should be charged before putting into use. It seems the sealed battery is not as important for this (maybe due to periodic recharging?), but still a good idea.

I also found some possible places to get batteries on-line: Aircraft Spruce batteries, Chief Aircraft Gill and Concorde batteries, and Air Power has some good deals on batteries.

In the End

On Monday, I checked in with the A&P and he indicated that battery was bad (one cell was bad) and they did have a Gill G-35 battery. So he got one ready for me. I really needed to either have my plane working that morning for an aerial photo mission, or I had to rent. So the Gill G-35 looked like the way to go. The previous battery in my plane was a Gill and lasted 5 years, so it must be ok.

It is interesting that the batteries are stored at the FBO without any liquid. Then the acid is added at the time the battery is put into service, and then it is charged. In my case, it was charged for maybe 1/2 hour with the filling caps off, then they waited for bubbling to stop, topped off the acid, and it was ready to go. There price was a little more than the on-line prices, but not too far off. $206 after base battery cost, acid, and tax. And not having to rent made the price even more worth while.

The time to put the battery back in the plane. First clean the battery box with baking soda and water solution, clean the terminals, coat the connections with petroleum jelly, and I was good to go. It fired right up like it used to, and I was off on my photo mission.

Another day and experience in owning my own airplane. I am sure it will be easier to recognize and diagnose next time.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Future Flying Trip: Big Bend, Texas

Big Bend, Texas is an area I have been thinking about going to sometime. It is pretty far south which would be great for a winter time trip, and it looks like it would be good for camping and other outdoor activities.

Credit: NPS/Eric Leonard

General Information

Big Bend National Park is the western area of Texas right on the board of the Rio Grande where it makes a big bend.

It ends up being in a very remote area of the country and great for camping.

There is a web site for the towns there and the Big Bend National Park web site. Going this time of year doesn't make sense, but maybe next fall or winter. We were relatively close when we went to Carlsbad, NM earlier this year. I ran into an old friend who got telling me about his fun times at Big Bend last Christmas.

I figure this is a chance to write some of this down and come back to it in the fall. As I suspected, he did mention that it is pretty hot from May through October.

Terlingua Ranch

You can fly into a The Terlingua Ranch dirt strip (1E2) and rent a cabin at Terlingua Ranch overlooking the airstrip. There is a small café (with country music every night), pool, short hikes, pretty scenery, not much else. Good mountain biking. They comment on their web site that there are no rental cars.

Study Butte

There is also a private strip about 2 miles west of Study Butte. I am not sure which one it is (81TX or 3TE8); I will have to ask my friend more since it looks like there are two private ones on the maps. There you can rent cars and jeeps there. He says expensive, but the location is great and worth the drive into the park or down to the Rio Grande river. You can rent a canoe in Study Butte also, and float the Rio Grande with 1,000+ foot canyon walls; paddle up, turnaround and float back watching the scenery (when it is low water). It looks like there are options for lodging and other activities in the town of Study Butte if you want.

Credit: NPS/Eric Leonard

I think the above picture I found on the National Park website might be the canyon my friend mentioned or at least one similar. This one is described as Santa Elena canyon.


Another spot to mention that I wondered was Lajitas and their private strip 89TE. He mentions that it is big money with Lear jets and overpriced. Maybe worth a one night splurge, but not something you probably want to do all the time.


There are also several car rentals out of Alpine about 1.5 hours north of Study Butte. A really pretty town with a nice FBO, and "cheap" fuel. Car dealers all have cars.


My friend was saying that some parts near the Mexico board feel a little iffy, but the Big Bend Park area feels ok. I don't know from experience yet.

Sounds like a good place to go to in the future.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Future Flying Trip: Yellowstone/Teton NP

I have been to Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park a few times and once by flying ourselves.

Last Trip

Flying in took a lot less time which was fantastic. 8+ hour drive turns into about a 3 hour flight (klmo-klar-kbpi-kjac). This turns what would probably be a week long vacation into a doable weekend trip.

One of the more impressive parts was flying along the Tetons on the approach to Jackson Hole Airport(KJAC). There was a small landing fee (very small), typical overnight fees, and rental car that was a little expensive. But not too bad for the location, and they were nice to us even though we were in a small C182.

Jackson Airport approach

Then along the road are continuous beautiful views.

Teton Roadside View
Last time we went (last Teton trip photos) , we went to Jackson Lake Lodge which was nice. The rooms were not cheap, but location is great and the lodge was really neat for the meals. The views were great, but we were a ways from the lake.

I think it is time to go back maybe trying some new stuff.

Colter Bay Cabins and Camping

Last time we were there, I briefly saw a location around the corner from Jackson Lake Lodge called Colter Bay. It is right on the lake and has a mixture of cabins, luxury tent camping, and normal tent/RV camping. It has a marina, rental boats, a restaurant, and what looks like maybe a more fun place for kids. The information that is shown on-line looks promising.

There is a nice brochure of activities that is for the Colter Bay and other Teton National Park areas.

There is on-line reservations for some of the lodging in Teton National Park including Colter Bay. I checked this, and I was a bit disappointed. Most of the stuff in Colter Bay is reserved at least for some of the dates I was thinking about. I wonder if there are ways to get cabins at the last minute, but that could be hard to plan for. There is first come, first serve on the tent camping, but what do you do if you lose out?

Maybe West Yellowstone Camping

So maybe a good alternative that I have heard of is West Yellowstone Airport KWYS (and camping). It is a decent sized airport, and it actually has camping at one end of the field. Availability is only to pilots and often has availability when no where else has space in the parks. The FBO website has information about camping on their hotel page. They have lots of space for tents and people share the picnic tables, fire pits, pit toilet, and hot showers. Lots of reports from people on the Cessna Pilots Association indicate it is very good camping. Also a special page in the AirNav web page specifically for the campground indicates great reviews as well!

There are a few websites with more information for the area. There is the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce page and West Yellowstone Internet Site. If you want hotels, there are proably there as well, but probably fill up quick.

Maybe driving down to Colter Bay could be a possibility if things work out during a trip into Yellowstone. I would be part of the way down there if driving through the park, and maybe I could snag a cancellation at Colter Bay in the morning.

West Yellowstone Kid Stuff

There is some kid information listed on the chamber of commerce page that looks interesting. It looks like there are some museums and ranger information in West Yellowstone that could be fun. It sounds like there is good fishing around too. And there is the Yellowstone entrance only a few miles away.

West Yellowstone Car Rentals

There are a couple of places to look for Car Rental information and possible discounts.

Info from Chamber of Commerce
Info from the FBO
Info from Airnav

There appear to be three rental places: Avis, Budget, and Big Sky Car Rental.

Flying over Yellowstone

You need to stay 2000' AGL over Yellowstone, but this is still low enough to see some very cool stuff. At least I have seen a few pictures here and there of the geysers and mudpots from the air that look very cool. A different perspective that you could not get from the ground.


This looks like a winner one way or another this year.

Some other small side notes:

Hopefully, this will be part of a fun summer. I will write a Pirep afterwards...


Friday, June 13, 2008

Local Flying Trip: Cabela's

The Cabela's store in Sidney, NE located near KSNY is a well known trip around the Denver area for a nice $100 hamburger and fun store to go to. Last weekend, I had a chance to make a trip back there. It seems I make it there about once a year, and it is a nice trip from KLMO to KSNY.
It is nice in a number of ways:
  • It takes about an hour one way.
  • It counts as a cross country trip.
  • There is a VOR on the field.
  • There is Metar and TAF for the field.
  • There is food and a fun store at the end with free, easy shuttle.
  • People at the FBO and Cabela's are super nice.
  • It is heading away from the mountains which can make for less turbulence.

The Store

The store is an outdoors store emphasizing fishing, hunting, camping, and boating. Lots of good stuff at good prices for the outdoor person. Their prices are much more reasonable than a lot of stores with lots of specials at times. They also have a good on-line and catalog to order from, but seeing things in person is always nice. This store is a newly renovated flagship store for them.

There is a nice display of stuffed animals put in a museum setting almost. You can see pictures on their store web site. Very impressive and fun for the kids. Polar bear, grizzly bear, moose, elephants, and others you don't normally see.

There is a large fish tank with many different kinds of fish that you might be able to catch, but larger than I ever would catch. Almost like the aquarium as far as my son is concerned. Not quite that big of course, but still nice.

There is a little spot for food that serves up hamburgers, buffalo burgers, and sandwiches. Definitely nice to have in the store so you don't have to waste time searching for food. If you want something different, there are places across the street including a steak house owned by Cabela's. I haven't tried them yet though.

When flying in, if you ask for "the Cabela's shuttle" on the unicom frequency, they will have it waiting for you by the time you land. Very nice and free!

Our Trip

The reason for our trip was a father/son trip: me, my son and my son's kindergarten friend and dad. The previous day, we were at the Rocky Mountain Metro Airport Open House, and we have been wanting to find a good flying trip to go together on. He mentioned he was thinking about driving to Cabela's the next day, and I quickly convinced him that flying was much more fun. It worked out nice. The other dad is thinking about getting a pilot's certificate and our kids certainly had fun. My son lately has been less than excited about flying, but having a friend along made a huge difference.

We tried a little dramamine for the kids which was good. It was a bit bumpy due to winds. The kids didn't have any problems and actually enjoyed the bumps. Giggling and laughing the entire way. Both directions they asked if we were there just there about the time that we were there. Perfect!


A nice first father/son trip. A success for everybody. Hopefully there will be another father/son trip soon, maybe West Yellowstone or Tetons soon?