Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 3: The Story Can Be Told

Gallup (GUP) to Albuquerque (ABQ):
143 statute miles (124 nm)
time enroute: 1:21

Today was the most eventful of the trip to date. The plan was for a short flight over to Albuquerque International, where I would meet Lisa's Southwest flight from Las Vegas at 3:05. Afterward, we would make the 40 nm hop up to Santa Fe, rent a car and drive to 10000 Waves Spa and Resort, for a day of relaxation and massage.

I arrived at the airport around 9:00 and the folks at Gallup Flying Service brought my plane out from the service hangar, where it had spent the night enjoying its new wiring. During my preflight, I was treated to the arrival of an open cockpit Great Lakes biplane. The pilot was on his way from Long Beach, CA to Oshkosh for AirVenture. I departed at 10:02. At 5300 feet and about 80 degrees F, the density altitude was almost 8000 feet. I was ready for a long takeoff roll and I got one. Once I was in the air, I experienced a sedate 500 feet per minute climb. The biplane pilot getting ready to depart behind me seemed to notice, because he asked how the climbout went.

After takeoff, I continued my climb up to 9500 feet. I'm happy to say that the charging system seems to be 100% okay now. The short flight to Albuquerque was quiet and scenic. I snapped a few pictures of Grants, NM, including what I think was the uranium mine I visited back in 1981. Albuquerque itself sits right on the green swatch of the Rio Grande.

Desert and Sky

Uranium Mine

Arrival at Albuquerque was a little exciting. It's a Class C airspace, but it wasn't too busy at the time. I was cleared for Runway 3 and then on two to three mile final they asked me to maintain best possible speed for a Pilatus arriving from the north. I know it is my choice but I did what I could and found myself crossing the threshold at around 95 kts instead of my usual 65-70. Luckily the approach was stable and the runway very, very long, so I just bled off speed until the plane decided it was ready to land. Even at that I made the first turn-off which pointed me right at Seven Bar Aviation. After tieing down the plane without buying any fuel, the staff gave me a lift over to the airline terminal to wait for Southwest 2670.

I had gotten in early enough to beat the afternoon buildup of thundershowers, but after a mediocre lunch in the terminal, I saw watching the sky grow messier by the minute as I waited for Lisa's arrival.

In the end, her flight was racing a thunderstorm to the airport. She got in just before the deluge. It wasn't as great as it sounds because as soon as she landed, they issued a lightning hold on ground operations. That meant that the luggage sat and waited for the storm to go by. By the time we got the luggage and got picked up the Seven Bar driver, it was after 5:00.

A check of Nexrad in the FBO briefing room showed a lot of activity at Santa Fe and north, and the FAA briefer seemed to be choking back disbelief when I asked for a weather update from ABQ to SAF. As we pondered our situation, a Cessna R182 showed up. The pilot had come from Las Vegas, NM via the Santa Fe area and said we would be just fine. Since the weather around Albuquerque was gloomy but manageable we decided to give it a try. This was going to my first time sharing the sky with thunderstorms and I intended to be very, very careful.

Albuquerque (ABQ) to Albuquerque (ABQ):
143 statute miles (47 nm)
time enroute: 1:21

The map more or less tells the story. After a long taxi to Runway 8, we were cleared for takeoff. There was a solid crosswind, supposedly blowing at 10 kts, but I'm pretty sure the anenometer was in a hangar somewhere. From the time we loaded the plane through the entire flight, there was a brisk wind.

Albuquerque airport is at 5355 feet elevation. With the outside temperature around 80, the density altitude was over 9000 feet. This was even higher than in Gallup. However, Runway 8 is over 13,000 feet long, compared to the 2000 I am used to at home. My mighty Continental engine had us in the air within not much more than 1000 feet. Since this was Lisa's first high-altitude flight, I warned her that we would climb slowly and probably have to bank to the right for a bit to stay over the runway. Those warnings were well advised because that's exactly what happened. We got off the ground and climbed leisurely for the minute or so it took us to actually pass the end of the runway. After that, we made a gradual turn to the north and headed for Santa Fe. As we flew, we paid equal attention to the weather ahead and that behind, making sure we didn't get trapped with nowhere to go. We made it about 25 nm to the north and were just rounding the end of the Sandia crest, when we concluded that weather ahead was getting worse not better. With a steady diet of bumps and bounces, it was time to give the round to Mother Nature. We made our U-turn and headed back to the field. They gave us 17 for landing, which was more or less directly into the wind, and we had an easy landing and return to Seven Bar. Around this time, we must have seemed like the weird relatives you can't get rid of. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, they were very helpful with a lift to the Hertz counter where we changed our car pickup from Santa Fe and headed off.

Albuquerque, NM to Santa Fe, NM (by Toyota Corolla):
54 statute miles
time enroute: 1:21

The drive by car was only about an hour, but we stopped for a surprisingly tasty and unique dinner at The Range Cafe in Bernalillo. We got to 10000 Waves spa at 10:30, found the key in the lockbox and retired gratefully to our room, Full Moon.

Despite the diversion back to Albuquerque, the late night arrival, and the fact that we ended up leaving the plane behind for two days, it was exciting and new. I'm still enjoying the unique discoveries of flying the southwest, which is so different from the Bay Area. I had a chance to push my personal limits safely and then back of before I regretted what I was doing. And we did get the chance to drive along the route of the historic 66, even if it was done on an Interstate. On any trip, it's the unplanned challenges and surprised that become the lasting memories.

After flying out of my home state for the first time ever, I now had two new states and a lot of miles under my belt. And much more to come.

In my next post, the spa experience and our visit to Santa Fe.


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