Beautiful Country & Yellowstone
2009-Aug-09 You can see why people who live here call it that
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On the move again, we're underway through Montana, enroute to Salt
Lake City where we'll end the week's adventure with a soaring trip. This
is an incredible slice of earth, growing as vertical as anyplace I've
been. Mountain's here are weathered, rounded by past submersions and
millions of years worth of wear, making them well suited to the trees
that blanket much of their surface. Further east we've found it has
gotten more tundra like but is still green with large softish peaks all
around. It's a contrast to the, un-eroded, newer mountains (well, newer
in geologic terms) we left in Seattle.
Getting to Seattle proved difficult. I'm glad the airline is filling
its seats so they can keep my paychecks coming, but we're traveling
non-rev and loads are high. We tried to leave Chicago Friday night but
got bumped off the full flight. Instead of giving up, we caught a flight
to Las Vegas which had better options to Seattle in the morning. That
paid off. Barely. Tim and I got the last two seats aboard! It's always
such a relief to hear the cabin door close in that situation.
The paramotoring here is spectacular. Shoot, the driving is
spectacular! What slides by my window could easily come straight out of
a big-screen western. Our first spot was actually quite level with
farmland in mammoth sections. You could fly for probably several miles
and still be on the same row of wheat. You'd struggle to find a bad spot
to land after an engine failure.
As we head east, going up and down, elevation creeps upwards.
Yesterday we flew from an airport near Butte, Montana and Tim, flying a
Top 80, rightfully avoided doing foot drags in the tempting
recently-harvested hay field. It was grass and I made up for him. But
even me, on my well-running Black Devil machine didn't want to push it.
Wind oozing down from the mountain a few miles away meant that we were
flying in an area of slowly sinking air, further sapping our extra
ability to climb.
Today (Mon, Aug 10) is probably going to be a non-flying day since
we'll be going through Yellowstone. It's the nation's most visited park
and I doubt they coddle well to stray paramotorists. Such a high-profile
place is not where you want to be begging forgiveness. But this is
somewhere I've wanted to check out for many years and, who knows, the
park does have boundaries so, if time allows, and opportunity knocks
hard enough, flight could be in the cards.
Yellowstone was featured in the current issue of National Geographic.
It wasn't an expose on the beauty, nature, geology, or other fabulous
features, but rather it detailed how the area will eventually blow up in
a spectacular climate-changing eruption as happened a million-plus years ago. Oh good. Glad I read that article. Here's to
hoping it can wait a few more days.
Row one: We found an industrial area
with vacant land but it was in the lee of a pretty hefty hill. Winds
were forecast to be light aloft but it was squirrelly on the ground. My
launch was "interesting" but worked after much steering. Tim inflated
beautifully, ran, felt no lift from the wing whatsoever and aborted
before getting any closer to the wires. He decided against flying. I
only flew a half hour or so and indeed it was rough enough that I was
happy to be down. 3) another scene out the window.
Row two & three: After driving through
a bunch more beautiful terrain we found a little airport to fly from.
Row One: We stopped at this piece of
damned Columbia River and climbed up to a hilltop where someone had
welded up a bunch of steel horses, arranged to look like a running herd.
Pretty spectacular artwork and so very appropriate. 1) View from just in
front of where the Enterprise was parked. If Phil Russman was here he
would have soared this site but I chickened out. Too many eyeballs and
too much wind; it was gusting over 20 mph. 2) You know I was gonna do
this. 3) It was nice to just take in the scenery. 4) Coming down we took
a shortcut. There's a reason why you should stay on the trail! In spite
of numerous slides, our high quality footwear kept trouble at bay.
Row Two: It had been windy all day and
we didn't think there would be any flying. But why not stop and look?
Sure enough conditions had mellowed to perfection and set out to enjoy
them. There's a nice LightMan strobe out there in the square miles of
harvested wheat. I realized it had departed my cage after I landed then
took Tim's (still strobing) machine out again trying to find it. No
Aug 10-11, Yellowstone
Warning: non-flying verbiage ahead.
I'm sitting in a parking lot after smelling fumaroles and
cowering behind the camera, shooting Buffalo. Don't mess with those
things--they're huge. And mean looking, too. A pink park pamphlet warned
about how many people get killed at the business end of Buffalo horns. So imagine my fear when some 12 year old was
tip-toeing up to a slumbering behemoth about 100 feet away. I mentioned
the park's warning to her parents who wisely called her back. Yeah,
yeah, I'm sure the chances are low but talk about risk and reward?
That's what zoom lenses and big screens are for.
This place is truly amazing. It's fascinating to consider what
geologic nastiness is welling up beneath our feet right now. It's a
volcano—fuming, spewing, and stinking as a constant reminder that our
presence is so utterly inconsequential. Unlike an angry spouse, when
this one decides to erupt, you'll need more than a doghouse.
Finally, after 47 years of life, I saw Old Faithful—a geyser so
reliable in its spewing that they have a "launch clock" for it. Someday
I hope to have a paramotor worthy of that name. It actually wasn't on
the minute, they gave it a 10 minute window and, in fact, it started up
right at the last minute of that window.
The show is cool but what's really spectacular is knowing how its
being produced. Magma—molten rock—close enough to your sneakers to heat
porous rock. Forget the rock and geyser, we're standing atop an active
volcano! As I write this, Yellowstone is a few hundred miles north;
that's actually some relief. The place is special in many ways beyond
its incredible scenery and wildlife. Someday I hope to go back and
linger for a week.
We capped off Yellowstone with a visit to West Thumb, where Tim stuck
his finger in what turned out to be his own personal little geyser. A
series of steaming water pools dribbled hot runoff down a red-stained
path to the lake. Bubbles came out of a one and we could walk right up
to it. That was eerie. We were wary of the strangely brittle ground
which had eroded layers in a way that it cracked and gave way a quarter
inch or so. Tim approached the water pool tentatively, first putting his
hand close to the water, hot but not boiling. I snapped a picture.
Then the strangest thing happened—it erupted. Not an explosion of steam
but a pretty quick buildup to three feet of foaming broth. He had time
to jump back as I snapped pictures. When it started to ebb, I got him to
pose. That was weird. Right place, right time.
Some of the rocks were like super lightweight glass. I can't even
imagine the processes creating such strangeness.
Aug 12, Southbound
Nothing saps my flying desire more than cold. I don't do cold and
this morning was cold. For a change I was at the helm and passed up the
one launch site that would have worked. Too bad, too, because
fog-shrouded tree tops—just the tops—would have yielded a surreal
experience. Visibility was perfectly legal, mind you, clear and a
million, but with thin layers of fog lounged between 20 and 50 feet.
That stuff looks so cool when tortured into spirals from your wing wake.
The target is now Salt Lake City. If all goes well we'll be perched
at Point of the Mountain's North side for this evening's soaring
session. Onward, southward.
After arriving at SLC and a brief visit with Chris Santacroce, we
wasted no time getting to the Point. Evening almost always brings good
wind to the north side. A sea breeze from the Great Salt Lake generally
reaches down by late afternoon.
Nope, we arrived only to find the wind blowing down the hill. Not
good. Occasional up cycles were probably just rotor effects and would be
most unpleasant to launch from.
Bill Heaner showed up and suggested it would be blowing in on the
other side but not enough. So we waited, hoping the north breeze, now
registering just a few miles north of us, would get here before sunset.
Isn't this why we've got motors? Alas, I didn't come all this way to
motor. And I've never been skunked on the north side. And I don't think
I've ever been down to the LZ; I've always top landed which is quite
easy to do here. So I decided on a sledder.
Visiting Seattle pilot CJ didn't let me go alone and we both launched
for a very quick glide down to the north side LZ. What a hoot. I marvel
at still being able to enjoy such a brief flight. I landed by the gate.
The gate is among a gazilion new things here at the North side. There
is, get this, grass up here! Yes, the green variety adorning so many
suburban yards. Watered, mowed, green, glider-friendly grass carpets
nearly the entire launch area. It's like Torrey Pines with fewer rules
and less water.
Bill picked CJ and I up. What a refreshing evening. Dinner with Bill
was fun, he's quite the character. And flying is only one of his
We left Bill for the south side where we are now. It's so cool to be
out here at night, something I've never done. Anticipation of morning
flight tastes good. Off to bed so, if it's on early, we can catch the
Aug 13, Southside Sweet
1) Bill Heaner kites the Bobcat in 3d.
2) Bill's dog is old but then so is Bill, you'd just never know it the
way those two play around like kids. 3-6) Playing around with the Gin
Bobcat was a hoot. I'm on a new harness, too, the Switch. It's very
lightweight and is its own ruck sack. 7) Hovering over the tell-tale on
Tim's. Flying the Pluto was a challenge because strong winds made it
harder to get past the compression zone. 8) Steve Mayer shows off a
costume headdress. Smokers will love this!
The motorhome was rocking before sunrise. The south side winds had
arrived²—yup, this was gonna be a good day!
Chris had given me a Bobcat 15 speed flying wing to try. It's bigger
than most and with a better glide. Speed flying wings are meant to go
down, allowing a skiier or mountain pilot to fly a slope that's steep
enough to be a good ski slope. I've only flown one other, the Ozone
Bullet, and it fit that bill nicely. My 14 second flight was in only
moderate wind and there was no hope of staying up. The Bobcat is bigger,
a bit mellower than the bullet and, with lots of brake, can have a
reasonably slow descent rate. "Reasonable" for a speed-flying wing that
is. All these things drop like rocks but, as rocks go, this is a
This morning it was blowing a howl. Only hang gliders and a very few
super heavily loaded paragliders were out including some speed flyers
who went for sled rides to the bottom. But with the Bobcat, I was able
to soar. I've got to say, that was among the most fun things I've ever
done with a paraglider. The reason is that you pull a lot of brake which
both slows it down and significantly reduces the descent rate. But when
you let up on that brake you dive. Turns are more like skydiving
canopies and, not surprisingly at its small size (16.5 m² flat),
controls are extremely sensitive.
The cool part of flying this wing was the ability to finely control
height and do so through a large range. It was like flying a motor in
some ways where I would choose a particular plant on the ridge and fly
my feet through it. Let off the brakes, you go down. Pull on them you go
up. Energy management had lots of room.
I didn't think you could motor with it because of the power required
but Chris pointed out videos of pilots doing just that, even in calm
winds. I hope to try it when I come back in a few weeks.
The winds kept up all morning so I flew my brains out. My arms got
sore. Bill Heaner came out and did some tandems, no small feet in such a
strong wind. Tim did some kiting in what were stronger winds than he'd
ever kited in. It was strong enough that he didn't want to fly. Next
time, he said. There was one hang glider buzzing down the ridge line at
about 5 feet. That looked like fun. No paragliers were nearby so it
wasn't an issue.
After a full morning of flying, kiting and kibitzing, we packed up
and headed out via Cloud 9 toys. Steve Mayer is gonna win the game of
having the most toys. His store has more ways to kill yourself than any
other single place I've been. All fun ways, mind you, but effective no
less. And wait til you see him in costume.