Category Archives: Reminiscence

The Llano Estacado – 130 Years Later

Llano Estacado 2023 (or there-abouts)

Growing up in Germany in the 60s, every boy worth his salt would read the stories of Karl May The school library had a full set of his travel stories – somewhere around 70 – and I believe, I read them all. Many of my schoolmates must have also been worth their salt, because books were often out and you had to wait and visit the library often, to get the book you hadn’t read yet.

One story (maybe several – I don’t completely remember) played in the Llano Estacado. It was described as a big, flat, and featureless area in America. Water was hard to come by and it was dangerous to reach the few and far between watering holes.

To assist, stakes had been set along the path to guide the traveler, therefore llano estacado – the staked plane. Sandstorms often made the crossing even more dangerous, but even in a storm the two to three-meter high stakes would guide a trek. (Yes, even more than a century ago, Germans used the metric system.)

The stories were adventure stories, so they needed villains. They enter the Llano Estacados as gangsters that pull out a series of stakes and set them in a direction leading into the void instead of to the next watering hole. The poor traveler following those stakes ended up in the middle of the dry desert and died of thirst – only to be robbed by the gangsters without any danger to them – because they knew where the watering hole was and had plenty of water for themselves.

I do not remember how the story’s hero, Old Shatterhand, dealt with the hoodlums but, knowing Karl May, it was most likely that they were punished by the wrath of god.

Even if I don’t remember the outcome of the story, I do remember the Llano Estacado after so many decades. It made a strong impression on that young teenager, who, at that time, never imagined that he once would cross that Llano himself. Today I helped to plan a trip to Llano, Texas, and I decided that it really is time to research that good old Llano Estacado.

And – as you see in the picture above – the stakes are still there, just a bit taller and now with wires connecting their tops – – I can only imagine preventing hooligans from re-staking them to misguide the traveler. – – Oh, yes, and the paths are paved now!

I Think I Finally Found It

(You may listen to the story below, read it – if you can – or emerse yourself completely by listening and reading along…)

In the early 60s (of the last century) my parents bought a little vacation retreat in Spain some 80 kilometers down the coast from Barcelona. My dad really wanted it partially because it was sold as an investment to make money. Looking back, it might have been the leading edge of the wave of today’s timeshares. Mom thought it was a scam and had written off the FIVE-THOUSAND Marks (!) – a huge investment for my parents at that time when the monthly mortgage for their house was one hundred and twenty-seven marks.

But it turned out to be real, and my parents got themselves a ‘bungalow’ 1700 km away from home. That was quite a trip at a time when only Germany had its Autobahn, but there were no other freeways in France and Spain on the way to ‘Torredembarra’ to speak of.

I spend quality time there on several occasions – I considered it my second home. Took my first big love there right after we met and took her there shortly before she dumped me. 

Then I took my next big love, occasionally she was a bit jealous because she was not the first one there with me, but it all turned out OK because the last ever trip to Spain, before we left Europe altogether for a new adventure in the new world, was with her as my wife. It was a surprise visit to my parents who now spend several months at a time in a better climate than the one in the middle of Germany.

My wife and I had gotten caught up in a cult in the good old US of A. My entanglement only lasted about a year, but it cost me my marriage and the poor wife is still in there as far as I know. Escaping the cult, with my tail between my legs, I went home to my parents – at least I wanted to, but when I was just breaking all the bridges with the cult behind me I received a letter (yes, that was a thing) from my parents, that they were about to get on the way to Spain. 

So, no going back to my parents! The alternative was to go to the parents-in-law, who still loved me and whom I still loved, and who were probably were not quite aware of the circumstances that had developed in California.

Just getting out of a cult, finances were rather tight, but to my credit, I have to say that I never was one of those cult members who immediately gave everything to the guru. I still had my Ford LTD station wagon, safely (or so I thought) parked in the public parking of the cult, and I had maintained my own bank account with some green-bucks. Still, I got the cheapest flight to Europe. $225 on People Express to Amsterdam. All went well getting into Shiphol, but I had not considered that there would be a problem to rent a car to cross the border from Holland to Germany. The only viable solution I found was to take a Lufthansa flight from Shiphol to Hannover, about 330 km for nearly the same price as the flight from LA to Amsterdam. 

In Hannover, I could rent a car and so I finally arrived at my in-laws, disillusioned by the cult, with many broken dreams, without my wife, and a really bad case of athletes foot from the cult’s community showers.

During the three weeks it took me to bring back my feet to good health, I built myself up emotionally, started to make plans for the future, and got ready to finally visit my parents.

In Bielefeld, I got on the train to Spain – on the Train to Spain – hmm, that rhymes!

Flying was not really an option, as at that time – the later part of the 80s – cheap city-to-city flights had not been invented, and Lufthansa to Barcelona would have strained my resources too much. So, it was two days of rocking and shaking trains, only sometimes with a seat all for myself, but also sometimes curling up on my suitcase in the gangway connection between two cars, in an attempt to get some shut-eye.

After many different trains at many different railway stations, I finally got off at the train station in Torredembarra, Spain. I invested a few Pesetas for a taxi ride to my parents’ bungalow. I only knew how to get there but did not know any address, so I had to tell the driver, left here, then right, then left again, and so on. I really never knew the official address of the house, but it had a number – later photos indicated that it was something like 35 II, and the street something like ‘Clara del Sol’. But my Spanish was good enough for ‘a la izquierda’ and ‘a la derecha’.

It was quite some surprise – they imagined me in California, in fact, had sent a letter there a few weeks ago, and waiting for an answer, and there this guy gets out of a cab in front of their house in a little cul-de-sac.

And that should be my last time in Spain in that little bungalow. Eventually, I made it back to California and rebuild my life, something that might deserve a few other stories.

A few years after these events, my parents sold the little house but some good memories stayed with me. With the advent of Google Maps and street view, I tried a few times to re-trace my way from the train station to our little sanctuary, but there were so many changes that I did not recognize the area anymore and just could not find that little cul-de-sac.

Until – yesterday! A little village a bit off the coast, and as such mostly left alone by tourists in the initial waves of German vacationers, had been our place of choice for shopping for groceries and wine. Pobla de Montornes itself was also unrecognizable for me on Street View, but the road connecting Pobla and Torredembarra was there and not likely changed during the last forty years, so I – virtually – drove this road from Pobla down towards the coast. I knew that I had to take a turn left to get to our little street, but all the streets going left looked unfamiliar, and I had tried in the past to just follow them but always had ended up in completely unfamiliar territory.

Again – until yesterday! I must have dismissed that left turn-off previously, but following it this time, things looked more familiar. And – suddenly – I stood in front of ‘our bungalow’. Sure, a garage had been added, the fence had been upgraded, the street number had changed, and vegetation was totally different, but it was undoubtedly ‘our house’.

The Google car even caught an older couple in the yard, which could have been my parents, but aren’t. Should they have been reborn, they would be much younger, and I don’t think they would go back to the place that made them work really hard initially.

In order to never ever lose that location, I put it on the internet, because nothing ever gets lost on the internet.

Karin and yours truly visiting the parents in Clara – mid 80s
Plantation Owners – early 80s
Then Clara del Sol 35 II – now Carrer de Fortuny 9 – early 80s
Yours Truly – end 70s
Yours truly in 1974 during a 2-month stay
What a difference a few years of working makes – Late 60s
‘The Bungalow’ at the time of purchase – mid 60s

A not quite International Airport

(This is a little story that I wrote in my blog before there were blogs.)

I loved this little air strip of Jerry and Lucy up there in the High Sierra. But I was also afraid of it. It’s one of the places that pushed me to make the decision to learn to fly. Imagining the romantic feeling of flying a bi-plane, wind in your hair, into a strip out there in the wilderness. Here is a strip like that. I call it Jerry’s paradise. Because it is! The last time I was up there, Jerry told me they had been there for thirty-seven years now with no intention to leave.

Nearly every aerodrome looks small when seen from the distance. However, most of them get bigger when you come closer. But Jerry’s airstrip, even when you are close enough to make a decision to land…


…still looks really small.

During primary training, my instructor always complained when I did not land exactly on the centerline. I never really understood it, because on a runway like Burbank’s 8 there was so much space on both sides, so who cares about the couple of feet to the left or right? On Jerry’s airstrip, you just don’t have a couple of feet to the left or right. There only is the centerline.

After touchdown on Jerry’s airstrip, I always tried to get trusty 08L stopped before reaching the middle of the strip because there is a mown area to the right of the actual runway to tie down a couple of visiting planes. Never managed to do so though. Always still had a bit too much speed and had to run all the way to the end of the strip, turn around in Jerry’s yard, and taxi back to the tie-down. One of these days I will manage – I promise!

Takeoff, in contrast, is rather easy for me. This one time my friend Ron, with whom I stayed for the weekend up there in his mountain hotel, dropped me off at 08L’s parking space and took a nice series of shots of my take-off. I thought I share these…


Going through the pre-engine-start checklist




Increase power to start rolling – and it takes quite a bit of power to start rolling on the grass and dirt.


Taxi back towards Jerry’s Yard.


I really had to figure out how to turn in Jerry’s Yard without getting out of the plane to push. It’s a bit too narrow to turn directly, so I use the technique I learned in driving school for turns in narrow streets: All the way to the right, then a sharp left turn toward the curb, followed by backing up with a right turn – –  only 08L does not have reverse! Fortunately, the yard slopes up, so my left turn goes up a slope a bit and gravity helps me to go backward – – then another left turn and the 180-degree turn is done.


Aligned with the runway with Jerry’s yard behind me, Checklist, Ready for Take-Off! No need here to announce my departure on Unicom frequency – first, there is no Unicom frequency, and second, Jerry would have told me had somebody else announced his arrival.


Gaining Speed – 30 Knots


Rushing by Ron at 40 Knots


Reaching Rotation Speed at 60 Knots


Staying in Ground Effect to Gain Some More Speed


Leaving the Earth Below!

Reaching 4500 feet, 500 above the strip, I turn around, fly over the field once more, and rock the wings to say goodbye. Then it’s climbing nearly all the way to Bakersfield to get up to 9500 to get enough altitude between me and the Grapevine. Crossing Gorman VOR, I start letting down slowly until I’m at 5000 over Magic Mountain

Airial Shot of Six Flags
Six Flags
which looks so insignificant from up here. Still, I don’t think anybody would ever get me into Colossus, Ninja, or Viper.

And then, just a little bit later:

“Burbank Approach, Cherokee 8308L, over the Magic Mountain, five thousand, landing Burbank with Information Alpha.”

Kokain – a Blast From the Past

This is how Youtube works…

I was reminded of of the song “Spiel nicht mit den Schmuddelkindern” which I had taught myself to sing and play on the guitar many moons ago back in the old country. I wondered if I would find it on the Youtubes – sure enough, there it was.

But what then caught my eye was Kokain by Hannes Wader, another song that I could play and sing, with all the lyrics memorized. And this was a rendition of a much older Hannes Wader, so, obviously, I had to watch it and got sucked into another few Hannes Wader songs.

But Kokain was the best for me – that’s why I share it here…

Oops – sharing not enabled, so here’s just the link on the Tubes:

And so you can all sing along, here are the lyrics:

Ich kam von Frankfurt nach Berlin
Drei Koffer voll mit Kokain
Cocaine, all around my brain
Hallo Taxi, schnell zum Ku’damm, Ecke Tauentzien
Meine Frau und meine Kinder schrei’n nach Kokain
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Meine Frau heisst Evelyn
Ich weiss nicht, liebt sie mich oder mehr mein Kokain
Cocaine, all around my brain
„Liebster“, sagt sie, „Rate mal, was kitzelt so schön
In der Nase, schmeckt nach Scheisse, wirkt wie Arsen?“
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Mein Sohn ist zwölf und ewig angetörnt
Ich verbiet’ es ihm, damit er endlich laufen lernt
Cocaine, all around my brain
Seit gestern weiss er endlich, wer ich bin
Wenn er mich sieht, dann ruft er: „Pappa, hattu Kokain?“
Cocaine, all around my brain
Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Meine kleine Tochter ist jetzt grad’
Auf ‘nem Trip, den sie letztes Jahr schon eingepfiffen hat
Cocaine, all around my brain
Sie sieht aus, als wär’ sie dreissig
Und sie macht auf zwanzig, dabei ist sie acht
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Meine Tante dealt seit einem Jahr
Seitdem geht sie über Leichen, fährt ‘nen Jaguar
Cocaine, all around my brain
Immer wenn sie kommt, bringt sie ein Stückchen Shit
In der Radkappe für die Kinder mit
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Mein Onkel kam vom Alkohol zum Kokain
Jetzt will er sich das Kokain mit Schnaps entzieh’n
Cocaine, all around my brain
Seit gestern liegt er im Delirium
Ab morgen steigt er wieder auf die Droge um
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Opa hat den Gilb, wartet auf den Tod
Freut sich auf Jimi Hendrix und den lieben Gott
Cocaine, all around my brain
Oma geht es augenblicklich auch nicht gut
Seit ihrem letzten Flash spuckt sie nur noch Blut
Cocaine, all around my brain

Ich merke schon, dass ich jetzt aufhör’n muss
Oh Mama, Mama, Mama, komm mach mir ‘nen Schuss
Mit Morphium und Heroin
Opium und Rosimon
Oder gib mir Lysergsäurediäthylamid
Mescalin und Nepalshit
La, la, la …

My Old TRS-80

TRS-80 top modelOne of my first ‘investments’ I made after college, when I started making a boat-load of money (that’s how it felt, at least) with my new job, was a TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack.

Today I ran into an article on Mashable about that Trash-80 that brought back memories of sitting on that machine for long nights, the ash tray overflowing, discovering all the things you could do with BASIC.

Despite my feeling of being totally rich, my pay check of nearly 2000 Deutsch Marks would not allow me to buy anything but the entry model of this computer. At that time the US Dollar was around 4 Marks which brought the price of that computer to an amazing DM 3000 – one and a half month’s pay. This made me think about what that top model Tandy computer would cost in today’s Dollars – – – turns out to be over 26 thousand Dollars!

And looking at the exchange rate from the other side – I made only $1500 in today’s Dollars and I thought I was rich? Now I wonder if the exchange rate of DM to US$ really reflected the relationship of cost of living. A quick Google search reveals that in 1980 a bread in the US cost about 50 cents, while a bread in Germany cost DM 2.50 – so the exchange rate is at least in the ballpark.

Maybe I should have moved to the US right after college – I might have been able to afford one of those fancy floppy drives from Radio Shack…

In case the TRS-80 catalog on Mashable ever goes away, here’s a copy…

A Hollywood Experience

Rainer SchoeneOne of my early Hollywood-experiences occurred in the late 80s – the place was the Irish pub ‘The Cat & Fiddle‘ on Sunset Blvd.

My buddy and I hung out there pretty regularly, had learned that just a single extra dollar in tips was well worth the investment for much faster and friendlier service and were, that fine summer evening, out in the patio, slurping our Guinness.

The table next to us was occupied by two guys, one of them a very tall, and cool, guy that looked so familiar but I could  not place him. I heard somewhat of a German accent, but that did not help much at that time.

If was a few days later that my buddy dragged me to the gig of a German guy he had met a few days earlier. As yours truly is from that area of the planet as well and ethnic support is a given I was glad to comply.

Even this big Hollywood is a small place and so I was only mildly surprised that this tall guy I had seen at the Cat and Fiddle was there as well. The gig was great and I still have a video document of this band, Bigger than Blue, even though this is not of the gig, which was much wilder and much more hard rock.

Already at that time I perceived the vibes between this tall German guy and the cute, absolutely petite, singer of Bigger Than Blue, Francesca Capasso.

To make a long story short, the tall German guy turned out to be a very well-known German actor, Reiner Schoene (Schöne), whom I had seen in television shows when I was a lot younger. He and Francesca started dating and we (my buddy and I) had a few parties at our house with the whole Bigger than Blue and so Reiner was there, obviously.

Francesca and Reiner did get married and had a little farm in or around Agua Dulce but, despite efforts to do so, we never managed to visit and the contact went away eventually, especially after Reiner moved back to Germany and he and Francesca separated, unfortunately.

So, why would I write all this after more than twenty years? Simple, when going through my old music collection, I found demo tapes of Reiner as well as Francesca and the most amazing piece on that was a song, written and performed by Reiner, telling the beginning of the story…

Real Photos, Real Early

Right after I had discovered – many years ago – that taking photos was not only for American tourists in Hawaiian shirts visiting Germany but could actually be an art form, I ran into a book that introduced me to tabletop photography.

One tray of slides remains from this era, and now I can share those after I managed to digitize them. It was actually time to do so as one of the boxes with those slides must have been exposed to some humidity (or the slides had not been properly developed) as there were spots on them like fungus.

Without further ado, here is my 70s take on tabletop photography:

Open the Album – click on three dots top right and select ‘Slide Show’…

A little story on the “Warp Drive” – this slide was added much later than all the others and is a picture of the device I built which earned me my masters in physics. It’s a drift chamber as used by my alma mater’s experiment at CERN – the place where the internet was really invented, and no, it was not Al Gore, who did that.

One of the more interesting things about the setup in the photo is that little brass cylinder in front of the shiny surface. It is actually a source for radioactive radiation that I used to test and adjust the chamber. Once I wanted to interrupt the beam of radiation for a quick demonstration and put my finger between the probe and the detector – the assistant responsible for me nearly took my head off for doing that.

Google, the new McDonald – Responsible for Many Big Butts

Stumbling over the new Google Maps ‘MapsGL’ feature I was sent around the planet. First I went to the Westminster Abbey in England to check out – no, not Westminster Abbey, but – how 3D buildings look in the new Google maps.

After that I went to Rome, Italy to look at the Colosseum, first from the satellite view and then I admired Google’s switching over to a 45 degree view when zooming in.

OK, that’s what Google wanted me to do, but I am not the person to just follow what somebody tells me to – I want to explore! So, I tried Stonehenge, England. No 3D building or 45 degree views there but I was still amazed that this little spot on our planet gets so much attention from all over the world.

As I had never been to Stonehenge I now wanted to try a spot that I knew from a personal encounter to compare notes. The first that came to mind was the monastery of Montserrat in Spain, close to Barcelona. After just a minute with the help from my friends at Google I was there:

Click to go to the Google Local Page

That sure brought back memories. I had been there twice, once during a long stay in Spain with two buddies, and once later with a date. The interesting bit about the second visit was that then and there I decided to not do vacations any more. That was some thirty years ago and I have pretty much kept that promise to myself. Did not really miss anything, but made up for it by doing things a bit more radical. For example, instead of vacationing in California, I just moved there.

But when visiting there virtually after so many years I also realized how easy that trip had become – just a few mouse clicks and I was half around the world. When I was there the first times, I first had to get my body into Spain, then driving up that winding road, buying a ticket for the aerial tram and getting up to that summit.

Sure was good exercise and I was slim and trim (not that I am fat now!) But now makes me wonder how many big butts Google might be responsible for by just getting people to places virtually.

Google could be the next McDonald!

I was there before Doctor Who

Thanks to the power of the Piratebay I was able to watch the new Doctor Who episode (season six, episode two) only hours after it aired in Great Britain. Part of this two-parter was filmed here in the US of A. After the show, I looked up Glen Canyon Dam because I had a feeling that I knew something about it.

And sure enough, I found out that I had flown over it quite a few years ago on my big adventure flying around the western part of the United States (cut short by some Utahian weather.)

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I had been writing a flying blog before there even were blogs and so I thought this is a good opportunity to revisit that old story and put it into a proper blog.

Here we go…

The Big Adventure

This one flight was supposed to be the biggest I had ever done. I had been up all the Pacific coast from Burbank to Seattle, but this one should go from home sweet home in Burbank around the Grand Canyon up through the Rockies all the way to the Canadian border, back to the Pacific Coast and then the rest of the trip that I already knew – down the coast to come home a hero.

It did not quite work out that way, but it became a big memory nonetheless.

The flight was planned to be together with Griselda, a very good friend who was to come over from Germany for it. I was the designated pilot and she had to be the co-pilot in training.

I intended not to disappoint the trust she just had to put into my flying abilities and so I really got into thorough planning for the flight. It was clear that I needed some more survival kit than the average California flier has with him or her – the credit card, thus I invested in a real survival kit. I also needed chocks and ropes for tie-downs because there were some very desolate airstrips on our agenda. The idea of rolling up in a sleeping bag under the wing of trusty 08L on a grass strip in nowhereland made chills go up and down my spine. That would be an adventure!

Naturally, I learned everything I could get my hands on about mountain flying, but the uncertainty kept hanging around if I would be able to handle whatever would come our way. As with everything in flying you have to experience it firsthand before you know you can handle it. But at least I got all the theoretical education to have the best cards possible. Playing them would show me if I understood the game.

Griselda’s arrival date came and the first day I tried her acceptance for air work. I was happy. She would be a good co-pilot. She enjoyed being up there with the elements just as I did and seemed to have an inborn feel for yoke and rudder.

The next day was the “Beginning of the Great Adventure.”We were up with the sun, which was very unusual, at least for me, and 08L was loaded with so much gear as she has probably never seen before.

Loading 08L

The first leg would lead us east across the Colorado River into Arizona to Sedona, the Red Rock Country.

We get clearance from Burbank for the ‘Golden State’ departure, climb out to the northwest, and are released to our own navigation after leaving three thousand feet. This whole area is very familiar to me and I feel so at home that I do not need any navigation equipment but my eyes for this part of the flight. We fly towards and over the deserted airport of Agua Dulce. Already at over six thousand feet, the few planes left down there are the little toys that I played with as a kid.

To be honest, I am still a kid and I still play with my plane, the toy just became a bit bigger. The only thing I have to be careful with is to look more serious about this flying business. If you are a grown-up, you are not supposed to play. You use the plane to save time, to arrive faster, and to avoid traffic jams. Right! So why then do I fly for a burger to the Elephant Bar in Santa Barbara? I guess if I think hard about it I will find an adult reason. But not now.

As we come, still climbing…

Still Climbing

…over the mountain ridge and into the Mojave Desert we encounter an air mountain. You don’t know what that is? Are you really a pilot? OK, maybe you can’t know that – maybe I just invented that for my passengers. It’s one of these very steep, invisible, slopes upward, where you have to pitch up the nose and try with all available power to make it to the top and not lose all your speed and slide back down again. Certainly, your airspeed will bleed off but fortunately, you will just barely make it to the top, and with great relief, you slide down the other side of the air mountain after a moment of light heart and stomach. On the way down you gain speed again and might have to follow some gorges that require you to bank the plane left and right and left briskly, but eventually, you can level off at about the same altitude you started at before encountering this terrible air mountain. [Editor: this was written for an audience of pilots who know that there are no air-mountains and this is just an excuse to play roller coaster with your passenger.]

Your heart will go fast for all the fun you had, but you look at your passenger with a serious expression, wipe the sweat from your forehead and assure him or her that we made it and that it was not that bad.

So I am a naughty child, but please, I’m not so bad that I do this with a victim, excuse me, a passenger, who might really get scared. With Griselda, I could definitely do it, seemed she enjoyed this game as much as I did.

Now it is time to tune in some navigation equipment. We have all these neat things aboard to play with so we better use them. It’s Hector VOR first, then Goffs. We climb up to eleven and a half thousand feet and leave behind some bumpiness that developed over the desert. From this height, we can already see the Colorado River ahead, and how it cuts through the dead land leaving a band of green life crawling through the brown rugged wilderness.

Yet this stays soon behind, we tune into the next VORTAC, I believe it is EED, and we enter the land of the baby Grand Canyons. They really look like it! Really, if you don’t believe me, go there and take a look yourself!

Griselda has the yoke now most of the time. She sure has the time of her life. I can share her joy. There is nothing better than leaving the ego home, in the garage, together with the car, and just enjoying the happiness of a friend.

Finally, we tune into the Drake VOR, the last point before we have to trust our eyes only to find the destination. I might cheat a bit because I know that Sedona is thirty-four miles from the Drake VOR on the 063 radial, but hey, as a pilot you learn to always have an alternative. I have been to Sedona once before and I try to remember the topology and how all this looked the first time but I can’t really tell, so OK, I will cheat a little. And finally, there it is. I recognize the high mesa, the big valley that looks like a huge sinkhole leaving the surrounding sheer cliffs of red rock that gave the country its name. And from the bottom of this empty pit rises an island that refused to go under with the rest of the country, and on top of it the Sedona airport.

Dial in now the Unicom frequency of 122.8 and see if somebody is home to give us a salute. But instead of the more appropriate “Yippee, we made it all the way from Burbank, California and we are so glad that we are here safely”, I have to bury the child for a little while and announce us as, “Cherokee 08L, five miles west, airport advisories please”. One last check on the maps. The wind is from the southwest, so we use runway 21 with left traffic, well setup in the pattern, nicely coming down, a landing I can be proud of, taxi to the tie-downs, shutdown radios, engine, electric …… Wonderful Silence!

Wonderful Silence

We made the first leg, and for me, this feeling of accomplishment after a long flight never seems to wear off, even after doing it so often already.

We had planned to stay just a day and then continue around the northeast corner of the Grand Canyon and north into Utah, but then it was so beautiful and Red Rock country gave us so much to see and experience that we decided to stay an extra day. This should become only the first delay on this trip with more to come.

The area south of the Grand Canyon is more or less a desert. And my experience in the little desert at my front porch – Mojave desert – had taught me to get up early to beat the violently rising air, once it gets hot in the afternoon. So the plan was to get up with or even before the sun on the day we had to say goodbye to Sedona. But having this built-in morning tiredness, I did not quite manage to do so. Sitting comfortably down for breakfast at the coffee shop overlooking the Sedona airport, we justified our failure to get up early with a firm “One has to get enough sleep to be able to handle all possible difficulties that come our way and it’s also important to have a good meal before going up!”

Armed with that, we finally got up in the air at about eleven, and yes, the air already had started on its way up and down and up. In other words, I was to fight turbulence for all this leg. For me, this is mostly only uncomfortable during the first half hour into a flight. After that the body, who is the one screaming “I don’t want to die” either gives up or learns that the danger is not as eminent as it believed. I still have to work hard to keep the pointy part of the plane forward and the dirty part down after these first thirty to forty minutes but at least nobody is dramatizing that death is unavoidable, sudden, and very painful. I was amazed by Griselda’s attitude towards this kicking around. She seemed to actually enjoy it. And the bad boy that I am, I kept her ignorant about the fact that I probably would not know how to properly react should we get kicked inverted. But it did not happen and after I got used to the permanent jolting I also started to enjoy the trip.

After takeoff, we circled the big red rocks…

Big Red Rocks

… in the Sedona valley that looks like forgotten teeth in the mouth of a Greek grandfather. I mean they look much more impressive than that but the form reminded me (and I try to be a bit poetic here – so bear with me please). Now we are heading north northeast toward the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon. VOR receiver 1 is tuned to Page (PGA, 117.6), and for the first time in my flying career, my finger uses a CG chart to follow the flight path. Sectionals are just too cumbersome for all these long stretches of flight.

Page VOR

It is old wisdom that each coin has two sides: the one is this relentless fight with the winds but the other side is the magnificent visibility. For an hour or more we can see the big chasm that the Colorado River dug over millions of years. And ahead, too far to estimate the immense ridges of the Rocky Mountains. Do we really want to get into the middle of that? But that will be tomorrow. For now, things get interesting as the numbers on the DME grow smaller and smaller and we can see the Colorado where he rests…

The Colorado Where it Rests

…before he has to continue with his task to saw the earth into two. As we fly over the dam we see that man has helped him to extend his nap…

Glen Canyon Dam

… by building this wall where he can lean on before he throws himself into depth. [Editor: This is the dam in the Doctor Who episode 2, season 6 where Rory gets shot – or not.]

From this vista point, we have a breathtaking view into and along the first part of Colorado’s journey toward the Hoover Dam where he will be able to rest again.

Our journey also goes on, we are turning west and head to our next navigation point, St. George. This is a new state for me, I have never been to Utah before. Either the turbulence has diminished somewhat or my acceptance of them grew bigger, but I can enjoy the landscape we cross much more. To our left are side valleys that strive to reach big brother Grand Canyon, and to our right looming rugged mountains that make us look so small sitting behind our propeller with the intention to conquer them. No, not defeat them, just have a little competition.

Our destination for today lies straight north, but this is the first concession we have to make to this one big mountain – we have to go around him, he will not let us climb straight over him. But we do not mind, the trip is the adventure, not the arrival.

Nearly arriving at St. George, we consider interrupting our journey but the tanks are still half full and we are challenged by the big valley that opens to the north and which we decide to follow on our way into the northern states. Without any experience in flying in these big mountains that are everywhere, we really have to trust our navigation equipment. Once we have turned 08L’s nose in the right direction the view again agrees with what we expected to see from looking at the map.

So we follow the valley northbound, tuning in Cedar City VOR and then Milford. 08L, always her nose up a bit, working her way through the rising terrain. We will not be able to make it to Salt Lake City with the remaining fuel, but with a feeling of accomplishment from our first encounter with the Rocky Mountains, we finally tune in to the Delta, Utah VOR, and decide to land there, give 08L to eat and also feed us and finish the flight for today.

Delta, Utah VOR

How could we know that we would get to know Delta, Utah very well?

Finding the airport is no problem at all. It lies in the middle of a huge valley, flat as a board, checkered with fields, but surrounded by high mountains. Just two thousand feet above ground we can see our destination for miles. The field is completely deserted, the owner of the local crop duster business doubles as the local FBO and we call him to come back from town to help us with food for 08L. We hitch a ride with him into town and realize only then how lucky we were that this town actually has a hotel and that this hotel even has rooms for us. With the feeling of pride for getting here – Columbus could not have felt better – we go for Dinner and do not think too much of tomorrow’s flight.

We only know it will go north, past Salt Lake City and well into Idaho.

As I wake up the next morning, ready for more mountain flying, the day on the other side of the curtains looks suspiciously dark. Crawling out of bed and peeking out of the window into a very cloudy sky, it slowly trickles into my still sleepy mind that the weather in the mountains in fact changes very fast – just as I had learned in all my theoretical studies about mountain flying.

OK, so yesterday it was the clearest weather I ever saw, today the clouds hang definitely low, but it should also change back to the real weather quickly! But flight service can not confirm my hopes. It looks as if this weather will stay with us for a while.

I don’t actually consider going IFR. We are in an area where the numbers along the lines of the low altitude IFR charts [Editor: this is the minimum altitude that you have to fly when on these airways] are bigger than the numbers in the handbook after the entry for service ceiling [Editor: the altitude the plane can actually reach before the air gets too thin]. Drilling our way through the gray masses into the blue and into freedom is not an option.

There is a family restaurant just outside the hotel which does not know that it will become our headquarter, and there, over breakfast, Griselda and I discuss our options. There are not that many. But first, we should get a car and check out the area. It’s cloudy, but the weather beneath them is quite decent. And Delta, Utah even has a rental car company. Unfortunately, they are out of cars – tomorrow one is expected back.

Happy people that we are, we enjoy MTV, talk about the good old days, and have all the time in the world to write to our loved-ones left at home. We are still certain that it will be just a day that we can relax and it will do us good.

Isn’t that strange? The times when you trust the weather forecast, you should not have, now I didn’t trust it but I should’ve. The next day looks pretty much the same. At least around noon, we get our car and thus some mobility. The first trip is out to see how trusty 08L is doing. Under the cloud deck, it’s pretty good flying weather, so we go and check out the area from the bird’s view to get an overview. Griselda does a take-off nearly without assistance. She really has a feel for flying.

Finally, the next day promises that we can continue, only the calendar opposes this idea. It does not look as if we can still make it up to the Canadian border. We change plans and decide to go more into the general direction of ‘back’ but stop at my friend Ron’s place in the Sierra around the corner of Mount Whitney. We leave friendly Delta, Utah with still quite a bit of clouds around,

Still quite a bit of clouds

but it’s dissipating and I get to show Griselda how neat it is to get to the same altitude…

Same Altitude

… of the clouds and then just drill a hole into them.

Drill a Hole

Soon we leave the last clouds behind us and point the nose toward Las Vegas. Still around some mountains, but the general direction is the City of Blinking Lights. The trip back seems to be a lot shorter than the way up here. A bit over two and a half hours bring Griselda and her pilot into Las Vegas North Terminal for some food for trusty 08L and the people traveling with her.

Griselda’s Pilot

This is the first airport where I see a self-service gas station for aviation fuel. It’s pretty cheap, under 1.80, [Editor: those were the days…] but we get the idea that, as we go up into the restaurant and have a crew prepare and serve our lunch, so we could also have some crew help our 08L to get fed. I am still wondering how she would have handled the self-service all by herself.

After lunch, we call Ron up in Badger. Yes, he is there and we are welcome, just buzz the house and we pick you up at Jerry’s airstrip. Jerry is a great guy. I met him a couple of years back when I was still in my primary training. A native Badger and retired army pilot, Barney, had been happy to have a pilot, even if it was only a prospective one, whom he could show around and introduce him to the people in the area who had something to do with flying. Jerry was one of them. He was over seventy and lived up there in the woods with his wife Lucy. The one item he was most proud of was the wooden propeller on his ’49 Bonanza, which he still regularly flies out of his 2200-foot private airstrip at 4000 feet elevation.

This was the airstrip Griselda and I would go into. But first, we had to find our way over the Sierra Nevada. These are high mountains! From Vegas, we have trusty 08L’s nose up into the sky all the time. Finally, we reach about 12000 feet and there just isn’t any more altitude to gain. It’s pretty hot and density-altitude is probably a lot higher. We can’t quite make it along the straight route to Porterville. A pretty big guy is in the way. The sectional gives his height away with far over 12000. Respectful as we are, we bid him hello and fly around.

Once we have crossed the Eastern ridge of the Sierra, the highest part, we can start to let down. On the way down we have to dodge some very beautiful clouds that try to rise over the ridges of the Sierra to bring some rain to the desert hidden behind. But experience tells that they will not succeed. On the other hand, this failure brings gorgeous green valleys in the higher up-sloping part of the Sierra on the western side of the ridge.

Eventually, we intersect the one radial beaming out of Porterville North that will bring us right to Jerry’s airstrip. But before we get there, we go down some more and make our low pass over Ron’s place. This reminds me so much of the old barnstormer stories that I can nearly feel the wind blowing into my face in the open cockpit. But only nearly, good young 08L is not really drafty. Climbing back up to 5000 again and see that we find the airstrip now. It’s not that easy. Finally, we make it out, turn base and final and see this unbelievably small airstrip over the nose.

An unbelievably small air strip

Past experience discloses that trusty 08L will fit on it but from up here it sure does not look like it. And true, as we get closer, this little strip of flatness appears more and more as a place where our 08L can come to a well-deserved rest. Soon we are close enough…

Close Enough

… power is cut and airspeed reduced as much as possible. It is not the best landing but we all get down nicely, in other words in one piece, Griselda is thrilled by the adrenaline rush, and soon we tie down our trusty girl for the night. Certainly, we have to take a photo of World Traveler Griselda leaving the plane before Ron comes and picks us up.

World Traveller Griselda

With all this feeling of being on top of everything after the survival of the bigger part of the trip, this World Traveler has to show off how she would have looked as the Ace Pilot in her Sopwith Camel.

Ace Pilot

We have a great day at Ron’s Badger Inn. The weather is as it should have been while we were stranded in Delta, Utah, but what’s the complaint, we enjoy it now.

The next day will bring this world trip to an end. After a good brunch, Ron drives us back to Jerry’s airstrip and we first have a chat with him, Lucy, and some friends of theirs who came up with a beautifully restored Piper Cub, this old nobility of general aviation. I first get dependable 08L from the place where she slept for the night to the beginning of the airstrip which coincides with Jerry’s yard. We turn her around to point down the runway, and I, trying to be the nice guy, waste a bit of this already short strip in order not to sandblast the Cub behind me. We wave goodbye, full throttle and down we go the strip, faster and faster.

Only not quite fast enough when we nearly reach the end of the runway. But that’s not a problem for such an accomplished pilot as I am now. The runway is on top of a pretty high ridge and at the end of the runway, the terrain falls off steeply for several hundred feet. I can use that! With less than sixty knots one jump over the edge and nose down into the chasm! Not really that dramatic, only to gain speed through the dive. Getting the speed up to seventy, seventy-five and start climbing. No problem.

Only the crowd that had us waved goodbye, had a different perspective. They looked down the runway. Trusty 08L reached the end and disappeared. Ron told me later that all of them started to breathe again when we reappeared after our dive, flying over the strip, happy 08L rocks her wings and we follow the Dry Creek down to Woodlake, navigate to Porterville, get some gas there and embark on the last leg, climbing to over ten thousand feet to get over the Grape Vine, then slide down all the way from the Gorman VOR into the home port Burbank.

It feels much more like HOME now, and there is the urge to tell approach and the tower controller about our trip. But no, we have to be grown-ups, the excitement has to be put on the back burner and we announce our arrival with a simple

Burbank Approach, Cherokee 08L, Magic Mountain out of six thousand, landing Burbank with Information Xray.