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. Ahhhhhh.

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 luck.

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.

Not today.

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 disciplines.

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 good air.

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 lightweight.

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.


1. One of many, many incredible views out the Enterprise' s windows.

 I didn't get as much work done on the various projects because there was too much to see.

2. Putting the sun down from aloft is always such a sweet cap to any day.

© 2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!