Written by the author, Yasmina Platt.
Reprint from August 27, 2015, from AOPA's Views From the Region (VFR) blog: https://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=2371
The State of New Mexico wants to encourage pilots to consider their state as a destination for backcountry flying. A New Mexico Airstrip Network (NMAN) Steering Committee, of which AOPA is a member of, has been created to increase public access to state airstrips for recreational enjoyment and to promote tourism and economic development, while preserving the environment. You’ll be hearing more about this in the coming months but, today, I want to write about the 3rd Annual Backcountry Fly-in at the absolutely stunningMystic Bluffs airstrip (NM56) in Ramah. The little town of Ramah is in northwest New Mexico, southeast of Gallup and west of Grants, as shown in the sectional below.
Location of Mystic Bluffs
I attended the event to represent AOPA, meet with pilots, and help support/promote the event. My husband Jared happened to be off so he was able to join me on this trip, not a very common instance. On the way to Ramah, we stopped in Moriarty (0E0) for avgas and to see some of the gliding activity going on. I have to admit we probably saw more gliders together there than in any other place before but, it makes sense, it’s the birth place of the Applebay Sailplanes, it’s home to the U.S Southwest Soaring Museum George Applebay founded, and the soaring conditions are perfect on that part of the world.
Gliders at 0E0
From there, we went to Albuquerque’s Sunport (ABQ). Earlier in the week, I ran into a newspaper article describing a meeting between a 5 year old boy and a Southwest Airlines Captain after the Captain witnessed the little boy waiving at airplanes from the Airport’s Aircraft Viewing Area. Knowing I was going to be in the area on Friday, August 21st, I immediately reached out to the family to see if future pilot Hudson and his mom would be interested in a local flight around town. They did and we wrote a story about it! Soon after… we were on our way to Gallup (GUP). Unfortunately, the Archer I fly is not equipped or capable of flying into Mystic Bluffs, so we left the airplane at GUP and drove the rest of the way. Mystic Bluffs has a 5,100′ strip at an elevation of 6,980′ (not to mention density altitude!).
Close to Gallup
Our original plan was to camp Friday night and leave on Saturday after the event was over but… after enjoying wonderful camaraderie, seeing the beautiful starry sky (first time I’ve seen sooo many stars and the Milky Way with a naked eye), sitting around the campfire, and seeing how beautiful the place was, we decided to stay until Sunday morning.
Saturday’s event started early… Pilots from around New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and even Nebraska started to arrive around 7 am and, of course, some of us were already there! The local ladies from Timberlake Ranch prepared and setup an amazing spread of wonderful homemade goodies, from your more typical breakfast burritos to a very tasty French toast with blueberries, and everything in between. They also made airplane-shaped sugar cookies. And you should know you cannot travel to New Mexico and not trygreen or red chile! I have attended a lot of fly-ins but, no offense, none had food quite like Mystic Bluffs did. Wow!
Cute airplane cookies
We counted about 25 aircraft on the field which is an awesome turnout for a backcountry fly-in but I can’t say I blame the pilots and locals for coming… we had a great mixture of beautiful scenery, a well maintained airstrip, near perfect weather, delicious food, airplane watching, camping, a campfire, lots of hiking options, Native American jewelry, and wonderful, wonderful people.
Full ramp of beautiful birds
This aerial picture is from last year’s fly-in but it’s the best one I have to show how magical the place is.
Courtesy of Mike Marker.
The surrounding mountains as viewed from Cindy’s aircraft.
Courtesy of Cindy Crawford.
No lie, I took over 100 pictures at the event but here is just a sample…
Lanny Tonning, AOPA’s Airport Support Network Volunteer (ASN) for Albuquerque’s Sunport, landing his Socata Rallye
Holland, Ky, and Olivia watching airplanes from the shade of a Maule
Ron Keller, former NMDOT-Aviation Safety & Education Administrator and jack of all trades, taking off to head back to his home airport of Belen
There was a flour bombing competition as well and the winner actually got fairly close to the target. After the fly-in was over, those of us who remained at the field for another night went on a little exploration and hiked up to “The Falls” and over to Ramah Lake.
Native American ruins
Panoramic of Ramah lake
I can’t close this blog without acknowledging and thanking the folks who worked for months to make this fly-in the successful event it was: the authentic (not the movie star) Cindy Crawford is the airstrip owner, Perry (dad) and Jason (son) Null from Gallup as well as Ed Coffee worked tirelessly to get the airstrip, picnic area and parking ready, and the locals contributed with tents, food, etc. The Null’s also brought jewelry for everybody from their Trading Company.
(Left to right) Rol Murrow with the Air Care Alliance and the Recreational Aviation Foundation, Perry Null, Cindy Crawford, Ed Coffee, Jason Null and I.
Hope you consider attending next year! You won’t be disappointed! Fly in, camp, and stay awhile! =)
But, if you just can’t wait until next year to give backcountry flying a try… the Negrito Fly-in (0NM7) is scheduled for September 11-13 this year and you can read about last year’s event here. (Editor’s note from Sept 10th – The Negrito Fly-in has been moved to October 16-18 due to rain the past few days)
Written by the author, Yasmina Platt.
Reprint from June 29, 2016, from AOPA's Views From the Region (VFR) blog: https://blog.aopa.org/aopa/2016/06/29/new-mexico-true-trails-route-66-national-scenic-flyway/
The legendary Route 66 National Scenic Byway, connecting Chicago with Santa Monica, enters New Mexico across a vast, sunlit prairie before meandering through rocky outcrops, quiet streams and adobe villages. Along the route, the high desert landscape is both austere and sublime, its red-hued cliffs dropping off into immense llanos or pine-wooded hills and valleys. Motels and 1950s diners with restored neon signs line portions of the Route 66. This “Scenic Flyway” is a flying version of the famous National Scenic Byway as designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
The National Forest and the National Parks Service have considerable land holdings in New Mexico and along historic Route 66. They include hiking trails, campgrounds, monuments, picnic areas, and scenic roadways.
One unique and historic part of this Scenic Flyway is the 1920’s air corridor across New Mexico that generally followed the Santa Fe Railroad tracks to Gallup, and on into Arizona. By 1929, this route became part of the Midcontinental coast-to-coast airway, developed for passenger service by the fledgling Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) company, with Charles Lindbergh as the head of its technical advisory team.
In an era before radar, pilots depended solely on ground-based landmarks and road maps for guidance. The first airway navigation system was developed in the mid-1920s for airmail service, initially by the Lighthouse Service of the Department of Commerce. On the early mail routes, these sites, with 51-foot beacon towers, were spaced every 10-15 miles for night navigation. For daytime flight, the design included concrete arrows at airway beacon sites. Federal emergency landing fields were also located every 40-50 miles as terrain would allow.
Soon, airline mergers and new radio navigational aids led to realignment of the TAT airway route, with several of its concrete day arrows left behind on lonely hilltops. Dating from 1932, there are two arrows at auxiliary airfields plus eight more at isolated airway beacon sites across New Mexico, from Texas to the Arizona border (a few others are now gone). This route will take you over some of those TAT arrows and you will also have a chance to visit one of those restored beacon sites in person. The Cibola County Historical Society / Western New Mexico Aviation Heritage Museum provided the names and locations (with exact coordinates) of the identified and still existing beacons and arrows in this document and some of them are also included below.
The following figures help give you a visual of the proposed route and stops.
Figure 1. Route Overview
Figure 2. First Half of the Route (East to West) (see reference to locations in Figure 4)
Figure 3. Second Half of the Route (East to West) (see reference to locations in Figure 4)
Figure 4. References to Locations on Previous Sectionals
Or, for easier reference, you can view the route in a screenshot of ForeFlight.
Figure 5. Route on ForeFlight
Keep in mind some of these airports may not offer fuel. Please plan accordingly! You may also want to pack a set of tie downs for your aircraft.
If you decide to do part or the entire route and use social media, we would love for you to use #Route66 as a hashtag.
Fly safe, fly often! Enjoy this Scenic Flyway!
A few symbols have been added throughout the route to make it easy for readers to identify the facilities and activities each airport/area has at a quick glance.
Figure 6. Symbol Legend
Flight Planning Resources
Always remember to use current charts and always check notams prior to departure.
Google Earth may be a great tool for you to become familiar with the location of certain things, especially TAT arrows, before embarking on your flight. However, keep in mind Google Earth images may not always be recent. This is an example of the format you should use in Google to enter coordinates: 35° 03’ 22.28” N, 106° 47’ 39.86” W.
If using ForeFlight for flight planning and as your Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) in the aircraft, this is an example of the format you should use to enter coordinates: N35032228/W106473986 (same coordinates as above but with a pretty different format).
Also remember that ForeFlight has different map features that may be helpful to you as you are looking for landmarks in addition to the typical “U.S. VFR sectional” or “U.S. IFR (low)” we use, such as:
It is always good to review best practices and tips when flying around mountains. Subjects like density altitude, turbulence, or terrain really become a player in this type of flying. Here are some resources on the topics:
If you have never flown around mountains, you may also want to consider taking a “mountain flying” course. The New Mexico Pilots Association (NMPA) offers one every year, normally in September, in Santa Fe.
Most locals fly early in the morning on hot summer days.
Route (east to west) (from Texas to Arizona)
Due to construction over the years, it is unclear if there was ever a Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) arrow at the Tucumcari airfield; however, Clovis was the terminal and transfer between planes and trains. The beacons between Clovis and Albuquerque were relocated to the Amarillo-Tucumcari-ABQ alignment when the plane-train service ended in 1930-31 and the four-course range (radio beam) was established. Except for airfields, no concrete arrows were built that late. Tucumcari, a city airfield, apparently did not have one on the new route, while the two isolated Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) fields did have arrows on the 1932 Los Angeles-Amarillo Airway airfields, numbered as Cuervo LA-A 81B and Anton Chico LA-A 78A. This is similar to the 1929-1930 southern border airway, which has arrows only at landing fields.
The Cuervo CAA Intermediate Airfield (you can still see the runway marker circle) and associated arrow (site LA-A Site 81B) can be found at 35° 06’ 25.32” N, 104° 24’ 29.09” W.
Figure 7. General location of the Cuervo CAA Intermediate Airfield and Arrow
Source: Google Earth
Figure 8. Arrow and Runway Marker Circle at the Cuervo CAA Intermediate Airfield
Source: Google Earth
As an anecdote, nearby Conchas Lake Seaplane Base (E61) is the only seaplane base in the state. There is also a 4,800 ft airstrip near the shore of the man-made reservoir. From the Pilot Getaways magazine, Fall of 2000: “The large lake you see in the middle of New Mexico’s barren desert is not a mirage. Camping, fishing, hiking, and tranquility are the best aspects of Lake Conchas. Enjoying a 15-mile long lake after a short flight is a wonderful treat for pilots in a land-locked state.”
4. Santa Rosa (KSXU)
Land on part of the original Route 66! Santa Rosa’s runway 08 is an old stretch of Route 66. In the mid-90s, a group of volunteers painted a Route 66 logo on the centerline of the runway; however, with post resurfacing and runway work, unfortunately that logo was covered.
The original, pre-1937 alignment of Route 66 ran south of Interstate 40. However, it cannot be followed now because part of the road is on private land and another section is now part of the runway at the Route 66 Municipal Airport. The post-1937 alignment follows US Hwy 54 and the I-40 Business Loop.
The picture below shows the alignment of the runway with the main road though town and the old roadbed beyond the airport to the east.
Figure 9. Santa Rosa Airport and Surroundings
Source: Dick Perry
Santa Rosa’s main attraction is unique: the Blue Hole, an 80-foot-wide, 80-foot-deep artesian well filled with water so crystal-clear that it draws scuba divers from all over the western states to practice their underwater techniques here. The water of the Blue Hole, at around 61°F, is too cold for casual swimming but, in the summer heat, it’s a great place to cool your heels.
The Blue Hole is well signed at the end of Blue Hole Road, a half mile south of old Route 66; for purists, Blue Hole Road is old, old Route 66, since it formed the early (pre-1937) alignment of the Mother Road across Santa Rosa, the rest of which is used as a runway at the city’s airport. East of here, running along the south side of I-40, one of the oldest stretches of Route 66 is only partly paved and best done in a 4WD or on a mountain bike. Here you get an indelible sense of what travel was like in the very early days, when less than half of the route’s 2,400-odd miles were paved.
The arrow at the Anton Chico CAA Intermediate Airfield (site LA-A Site 78A) can be found at 35° 08’ 9.10” N, 105° 05’ 5.15” W.
Figure 10. General location of the arrow at the Anton Chico CAA Intermediate Airfield
Source: Google Earth
Figure 11. Arrow at the Anton Chico CAA Intermediate Airfield
Source: Google Earth
Sub route A – Original Route
A1. Moriarty (0E0)
The Moriarty airport has a CAA beacon tower and station house from the 1932-64’s Otto airfield.
Moriarty boasts some of the finest year round soaring conditions in the United States, including 15 knot thermals to 22,000 ft, mountain wave to 34,000 ft, and orographic lift off the Manzano, Sandia, Ortiz, and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges. Many flights in excess of 300 miles are recorded each year.
Whether you are novice or an expert glider pilot, either one of these groups would be happy to show you around:
Gliding is such a big part of Moriarty that they also have a museum dedicated to soaring – the U.S. Southwest Soaring Museum.
A2. Sandia East (1N1). In the route as a fly over point only; however, feel free to stop in.
To KAEG via Tijeras (VFR checkpoint) OR via the Pumping Station (VFR checkpoint)
Sub route B – Later Route
B1. Las Vegas (KLVS)
The now-retired Southwest Aviator magazine wrote a nice story on Las Vegas, New Mexico back in March/April of 2004 covering its tourist appeal as well as its aviation history. While most of its information still applies, keep in mind it is from 2001 so some of the phone numbers and airport information, for example, may be different now.
The Santa Fe Trail travels from Las Vegas to Santa Fe via San Miguel del Vado, Pecos Ruins and Glorieta Pass.
B2. Romeroville. In the route as a fly over point only.
B3. San Jose. In the route as a fly over point only.
B4. Pecos Pueblo.
The Pecos National Historical Monument has visually stunning ruins and was one of the largest of all pueblos just prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.
B5. Santa Fe (KSAF)
Santa Fe sits at the base of soaring Sangre de Cristo Mountains in central New Mexico. Founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, Santa Fe embodies a rich history and a melding of Native American, Spanish, Hispanic, and European cultures. It is renowned for its pueblo-style architecture, colorful markets, traditional and contemporary art, amazing cuisine, and unparalleled outdoor adventures. Santa Fe is ranked as the #1 Cultural Getaway by Travel+Leisure, Best High Altitude City by National Geographic, and Reader’s Choice Best Shopping Cities in the World by Condé Nast Traveler.
From the Pilot Getaways magazine, Fall of 2001: “Something magical in the light of Santa Fe has attracted a vibrant artistic community to this town on a New Mexico plateau. Here pueblo Indians continue their traditional lifestyle while a modern culture thrives. Exotic and beautiful, it is a place you should explore on foot, wandering the Farmers Market and galleries. Fall is the perfect time to avoid the crowds and enjoy the changing landscape.”
“Santa Fe Municipal Airport (KSAF) – with its charming terminal building, new-Mexican flair café, and exceptional Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) – is the gateway to a world-class, must stop destination along the Route 66 Flyway.” – Cameron Humphres, Santa Fe’s Airport Manager.
With all that it has to offer and 320 sunny days per year, Santa Fe is a magical, exuberant, colorful, world-class destination. Come see for yourself why Santa Fe is known as “The City Different.”
There are many things to see and do in its historic downtown. For more information, visit: http://santafe.org/.
And, while in Santa Fe, you may want to visit the “Oblique Views: Archaeology, Photography, and Time” exhibit at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. It tells the story of the Southwest through the aerial photographs of Charles and Anne Lindbergh and Adriel Heisey.
B6. Switchback Hills at “La Bajada” Hill
La Bajada Hill is considered the dividing point between the Rio Arriba (upper river) and Rio Abajo (lower river). Travelers on the Camino Real could take this route to reach Santa Fe, which became part of Route 66’s pre-1938 alignment. Barely 1.5 miles long through though volcanic rock, the old road on La Bajada Hill included 23 hairpin turns and was famous for overturned wagons and boiling radiators. It was so steep that gravity-fed tanks had to take it in reverse. In 1932, a new road up the escarpment was laid out slightly to the east and later widened into I-25. La Bajada means “the descent.”
Figure 12. Switchback Hills
Source: Elizabeth Hunke
5. Coronado Historic Site (along Rio Grande River)
The Coronado Historic Site is an archaeological dig in the 1930s uncovered the foundations and several Kivas (one restored that visitors can descent into). The views along the Rio Grande and of the Sandia, Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains from the site are spectacular. There is campground available.
6. Albuquerque (KAEG)
Gemit Paulsen said it well in the intro of the “Albuquerque – An Exciting Blend of Cultures” article he wrote for the Southwest Aviation magazine: “Four centuries of history can’t be wrong. Abundant natural beauty, a year-round mild climate, and the subtle blending of the many cultures that comprise its history make Albuquerque, New Mexico an exciting destination well worth exploring.”
Two aviation magazines covered Albuquerque’s “to do’s” and history well:
The Matador Network lists “The Luz Trail” as “one of New Mexico’s Most Spectacular Hikes.” It is an incredibly popular but difficult trail. Found on the west face of the Sandia Mountains, right on the edge of Albuquerque, La Luz Trail climbs eight miles to either the crest of Sandia Peak or over to the Sandia Peak Tramway. It is a rough hike intended for the fit, gaining nearly 4,000 feet on an impressively steep grade, and for most of the year the dry air will literally suck the moisture from your body. Take plenty of water with you. One of the best things about this climb is the experience of crossing multiple climatic zone and ecotones, which means rapid flora and fauna changes as you gain elevation. Oh, and then there’s the view. Not only is the city below impressive, you get to see all the surrounding mountains from up high: Mount Taylor to the west, the Sierra Ladrones in the south, and the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo mountains to the north.
The Double Eagle II Airport (KAEG) has an on-site restaurant, the Bombing Range Café, with wonderful views of the airfield. The old Southwest Aviator magazine did astory on it back in 2004 when it was called The Prop Wash Café.
Want to camp? You may do so at the Enchanted Trails campground close to KAEG.
Albuquerque features more than 400 miles of on-street bicycle facilities and multi-use trails. The Paseo de la Mesa Trail runs right by the Double Eagle II airport. And, of course, you can always create your own route. Here is one that stopped at the Double Eagle II airport a group under the New Mexico Touring Society organized on February 6, 2016.
The Petroglyph National Monument is a nationally protected 17 mile escarpment left from volcano activity hundreds of thousands of years ago. There are over 15,000 petroglyphs created sometime between 1300 and 1600. This is a good place for hiking.
Albuquerque has both a downtown and an Old Town (historic downtown). For more information on things to see and do there, visit: http://www.visitalbuquerque.org/.
Most people associate Albuquerque with balloons and rightfully so as the city has a long standing history with the aeronautical activity:
West of Albuquerque, several arrows remain from the 1929 TAT Midcontinental Airway route; however, these gray TAT concrete arrows can be difficult to spot on the desert floor.
The first arrow site is Beacon TAT 76 (9-Mile-Hill Beacon LA-A 68) at 35° 03’ 22.28” N, 106° 47’ 39.86” W. It is on the mesa just south of I-40. Note, this site is under KABQ’s Class C airspace and just south of KAEG’s Class D airspace.
Figure 13. General Location of TAT Site 76
Source: Google Earth
Figure 14. Arrow at TAT Site 76
Source: Google Earth
The Rio Puerco Valley Beacon is TAT Site 75 and can be found at 35° 01’ 49.75” N, 106° 58’ 34.53” W. It is just north of Interstate 40 and east of a dirt road, soon after flying over the Route 66 Casino Hotel and Travel Center.
Figure 15. General location of TAT Site 75
Source: Google Earth
Figure 16. Arrow at TAT Site 75
Source: Google Earth
7. Las Lunas
TAT Site 74 is on a low mesa rim. The easy-to-see visible feature to help you find it is the junction of I-40 and NM Hwy 6, about a mile west of the arrow. The coordinates are 34° 59’ 05.13” N, 107° 08’ 56.22” W.
Figure 17. General location of TAT Site 74
Source: Google Earth
Figure 18. Arrow at TAT Site 74
Source: Google Earth
8. Laguna Pueblo and Acoma
To respect Native American culture, please avoid low flying over Laguna and Acoma (also known as Sky City).
Laguna Pueblo is the largest Keresan-speaking pueblo. Historians believe the ancestors of the pueblo have occupied the Laguna homelands since at least A.D. 1300. For more information, visit: https://www.newmexico.org/laguna-pueblo/ andhttp://www.lagunapueblo-nsn.gov/.
Acoma, believed to have been established in the 12th century or even earlier, was chosen in part because of its defensive position against raiders. It is regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. Both the mission and pueblo have been designated as a Registered National Historical Landmarks. For more information (including tour information), visit:https://www.newmexico.org/acoma-pueblo/ andhttp://www.acomaskycity.org/home.html.
Enroute to Grants-Millan (KGNT) From Laguna Pueblo
Two miles northwest of Seama, TAT Site 72 (also called Seama Mesa) sits south of Flower Mountain, not far from Interstate 40. The coordinates are 35° 02’ 55.4” N, 107° 32’ 46.1” W.
Figure 19. Location of TAT Site 72
Source: Google Earth
TAT Site 71 (also called Anzac Mesa) is located on a small mesa above the lava flows in the valley of the Rio San Jose, Rte. 66, and the Santa Fe tracks. This arrow was a key turning point to follow the TAT airway and railroad west to Gallup. It is a mile northwest of the abandoned Acomita Intermediate Airfield (1932-52) and its radio range navigational site. The coordinates are 35° 03’ 39.73” N, 107° 43’ 31.53” W.
Figure 20. General Location of TAT Site 71
Source: Google Earth
Figure 21. Arrow at TAT Site 71
Source: Google Earth
9. Grants-Millan (KGNT)
The Western New Mexico Aviation Heritage Museum at the KGNT airport honors those pioneer aviators who crossed the West along the 1929-era Los Angeles-to-Amarillo segment of the Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) route. You can see Beacon LA-A 62, complete with a painted tower and corresponding generator shack, at the museum.
El Malpais National Monument was formed by millions of years of volcanic activity. The lava flows have created a unique, beautiful and eerie landscape. The 115,000 acre monument is also known for its archaeological sites.
The Matador Network lists the “Zuni-Acoma Trail” as “one of New Mexico’s Most Spectacular Hikes.” “For over 1,000 years, the pueblos of Zuni and Acoma were connected by a 75-mile trail traversing some of the roughest territory in the Southwest. Today, eight miles of this ancient trail remain in El Malpais National Monument, and it is still peppered with the rock cairns, and ceramic debris left by the region’s original inhabitants. For experienced hikers, eight relatively flat miles may seem like a walk in the park. But be warned: This is a serious adventure that will take about six hours one way. The Zuni-Acoma Trail crawls over rugged lava flows and frequently disappears — it’s marked in many places by nothing more than simple rock cairns. Located 16 miles south of Interstate 40, the western trailhead begins on NM-53. The eastern trailhead can be found on NM-117. Carry plenty of water, wear solid, reliable boots, and above all…enjoy.”
Enroute to Gallup (KGUP) from Grants-Millan (KGNT)
TAT Site 69 (also called Prewitt) was another key turning point for TAT to follow the Santa Fe Railroad route up toward the Continental Divide and Beacon TAT-68. This may have been a 75-foot tower. The coordinates are 35° 21’ 45.25” N, 108° 02’ 45.70” W.
Figure 22. General location of TAT Site 69
Source: Google Earth
Figure 23. Arrow at TAT Site 69
Source: Google Earth
TAT Site 68 (also called Continental Divide) may be hard to spot due to several adjacent structures, and the vegetation growth around the tower site. The coordinates are 35° 25’ 36.67” N, 108° 18’ 11.60” W.
Figure 24. General location of TAT Site 68
Source: Google Earth
Figure 25. Arrow at TAT Site 68
Source: Google Earth
TAT Site 67 (also called ChurchRock Rd / Ft Wingate) is the last confirmed TAT arrow in western New Mexico, although another is rumored to have been just west of Gallup. At this beacon site, right next to Old Route 66, the generator shed was destroyed when I-40 was constructed. The coordinates are 35° 31’ 45.83” N, 108° 36’ 23.10” W.
Figure 26. General location of TAT Site 67
Source: Google Earth
Figure 27. Arrow at TAT Site 67
Source: Google Earth
10. Gallup (KGUP)
Gallup is known for its trading posts where one can buy and sell Native American jewelry, clothing, pottery, carvings, art, etc.
From the Pilot Getaways magazine, November/December 2010: “Gallup is often called the Indian Capital of the World, and if you love Native American arts, you will absolutely love this place. Indian artists from the Navajo, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, and Santo Domingo Pueblos bring their finest creations to the authentic trading posts here. Step inside one of these trading posts and be blown away by the sheer quantity of turquoise, pottery, and rugs. As Technical Editor Crista V. Worthy explains, the staff will be happy to give you a tour into their vaults where many Indians store their most precious possessions. You can buy with confidence, knowing exactly where and by whom a piece of jewelry was made, and perhaps even learn a bit about the artists themselves. Downtown Gallup bustles with local activity and diversity. Savor authentic Southwestern cuisine at low prices. Visit the historic El Rancho Hotel with its Western and film memorabilia, and then take a few side trips. The countryside is loaded with national monuments, including the fantastic Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Make a visit to the nearby Zuni Pueblo and meet local artists in their studios. December brings the Red Rock Balloon Rally, with upwards of 200 hot air balloons filling the skies, as well as parades, dancing, and other activities. In August, come for the Intertribal Ceremonial, where Indians from tribes all over the U.S. converge to show off their finest clothes, dances, jewelry, and other arts.”
Pilot Getaways’ Spring of 1999 magazine mentions flying into Gallup Municipal Airport (KGUP). “Following the interstate keeps aircraft away from rough terrain. Gallup Municipal Airport (GUP) is stretched out along the south side of Route 66, about a mile south of Interstate 40. For VFR arrivals from either east or west, it is easy to find; simply follow the interstate and look for a runway parallel to your flight path. If you’re having difficulty spotting the airport, look for Highway 666, one of the few major highways branching off towards the north, just east of the airport. Flying in the pattern at GUP is deceiving because the terrain underneath the pattern is higher than the airport elevation of 6,469 feet; you will tend to be high when coming in for landings. Be aware that there may be substantial loss of performance due to the elevation and high temperature.”
KGUP has an on-site restaurant called Badlands Grill. They are known for their steaks.
Side Trip to Ramah
Mystic Bluffs (NM56) is a privately owned, private use airport (except for one weekend a year when everybody is invited to their annual fly-in/camp-out) so remember to ask for permission prior to landing and operate at your own risk. However, even if not landing, it is still a very beautiful area to explore from the air.
A reliable waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made, El Morro (the headland) National Monument was a popular campsite for hundreds of years.
All of New Mexico provides wonderful hiking opportunities; however, water is scarce in certain areas. Depending on the season and year, you can hike to waterfalls and find canoeing opportunities around Ramah.
Refer to another blog under "Southwest (CA, AZ, NM)" titled "3rd Annual Backcountry Fly-in at the Beautiful Mystic Bluffs (NM56) Airstrip in New Mexico" for more information and pictures of NM56.
11. Manuelito. In the route as a fly over point only.
Have Additional Time and Coming From or Going To the East/Northeast?
The AOPA Central Southwest Regional Page covering NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE and IA has a blog on “friendly airports and helipads” with a list of those that have an on-site restaurant, aviation museum, camping, and/or aircraft viewing area, etc that you may consider stopping at on your way to/from the Route 66.
Sources for Additional Information
The New Mexico Department of Tourism has a link with information and a video about the “Route 66 National Scenic Byway” on their website.
The New Mexico Route 66 Association has a wonderful website with all the information you can possibly need regarding Route 66 as it travels through New Mexico.
Not sure how exactly you are going to get around once on the ground at some of these locations? Looking for ways to bring a bike or canoe with you? Take a look atthis blog I recently published for some ideas.
People and Organizations to Thank
Several people and organizations have contributed information to the creation of this Flyway. Their knowledge, time, and efforts for the benefit of all pilots and passengers are highly appreciated:
A Route 66 Air Tour has been organized for February 16-19, 2018. FMI and to register, visit: http://dot.state.nm.us/content/dam/nmdot/Aviation/aviation_newsletter_12_19_17_online.pdf and http://eaa179.org/route-66-tour/
Written by the author, Yasmina Platt.
Reprint from July 29, 2015, from AOPA's Views From the Region (VFR) blog: https://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=2254
My husband Jared and I had been looking forward to our “flying vacation” to the Bahamas at the end of May, 2015. However, when Staniel Cay (highlighted as a must stop by everybody we talked with) was suddenly closed on April 9th, we had to make a decision: A) continue with our plans without the Staniel Cay stop or B) change plans.
As pilots, both Jared and I are used to changing plans or making plans “on the fly” so the decision was easy although disappointing: B) change plans and go to the Bahamas next year when Staniel Cay is open.
So, where to go now? Well, we had been talking about heading west in 2016 so we just flip flopped our plans. And why west? Simple! We both love the mountains, wanted to fly into California’s Catalina Airport, and we had been wanting to visit the Sequoia and King Canyons National Parks but they are quite out of reach from major commercial airports.
And, on May 18th, we embarked on our trip. Woohoo! This is the story of two pilots in love with each other and with flying =) (yeah, ok, that may be too cheesy! haha)
* I titled this blog “true flying vacation” because I see two ways of using aircraft on vacations: 1) You can use them as pure transportation to get you to your final destination (as an example, you can read my blog titled “Flying Vacation to the Florida Keys”) or 2) You can make flying the primary purpose of your vacation. We did the latter on this trip.
Day 1: KIWS (West Houston Airport, TX) – KFST (Fort Stockton-Pecos County Airport, TX) – KLSB (Lordsburg Municipal Airport, NM) – KSDL (Scottsdale Airport, AZ)
The first day was mostly a travel day that started a little later than expected due to weather (remember all the rain and flooding in Texas in May?) and a minor maintenance issue.
The first leg of the day was in and over clouds as well as over flat land but soon after Fort Stockton, the weather started to clear, the elevation started to rise, and the mountains started to appear in the distance, like the Guadalupe Mountains and its Signal Peak – the highest one in Texas. We actually saw the road we once drove on (and the CBP checkpoint we went through) from El Paso to Carlsbad Caverns.
Guadalupe Mountains and Signal Peak
By the time we got to El Paso, we had mountains on both sides of the airplane and I started snapping lots of pictures. This is also when actual flight planning started taking place as we had to consider:
How about these gorgeous mountainous views! Nothing like seeing a 360-degree perspective from the air.
El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ enroute to Scottsdale
We had been to Phoenix on other occasions so we decided to stop in Scottsdale since we had never been. Air traffic control treated us to a nice view of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (KPHX) and downtown Phoenix.
KPHX and downtown Phoenix
Although we enjoyed the SDL airport and its surrounding mountains, neither one of us was very impressed with the city itself. We only found shops and chain restaurants – not anything we are interested in.
Left downwind for 21
Base to final, runway 21
Day 2: KSDL (Scottsdale, AZ) – (KSEZ Sedona Airport, AZ) – KPRC (Ernest A Love Field Airport in Prescott, AZ)
Sedona won the “best aerial views” category. The red rocks are absolutely drop dead gorgeous from the air. We had been to Sedona before but not to Prescott so, for the sake of time spent in Prescott, we did not land or stop at KSEZ but we did fly all around Sedona (as you can see on our radar track), taking it all in and identifying all familiar places from the air.
Sedona and KSEZ on the right
General aviation is such a small world. Would you believe we ran into Josh Olson, Executive Director of Angel Flight West, at the FBO who had flown in from California to meet with a local hospital in Prescott? I love it! We then rented a car but really explored the area by foot and mountain bikes (and I must add… that was the toughest mountain biking we’ve done to date!)
We really enjoying hiking around Prescott’s Watson Lake (on the right of the picture).
Since we’re both alumni of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), we also stopped at the University’s Prescott campus and saw their aircraft on the ramp at KPRC. In fact, several of them were flying while we were there. I also liked seeing AOPA’s Pilot Magazine in the lobby of the University’s Visitor Center.
We didn’t get to do this (because we couldn’t bring the camping gear due to weight) but two friends recommended Payson, AZ (KPAN) for two reasons: 1) the Payson Airport Campground onsite and 2) the onsite Crosswinds Restaurant apparently has one of the “best fly-in pies” in the country. Marked for next time…
Day 3: KPRC (Prescott, AZ) – KAJO (Corona Municipal Airport, CA)
There are things you can only see from the air. This is one of them:
Near Bagdad, AZ
Joshua Tree National Park on our left, attractive desert all around us
Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I think what we saw approaching the Los Angeles area was smog!
My husband Jared has family in Corona so we decided to drop in and visit with them for the night. It also happens that Corona is one of only few non-towered airports in the Los Angeles area. Nothing against towered airports but I appreciate non-towered airports with easier in and out and, normally, cheaper services/parking.
Corona won “best overall airport” for the trip. It has a unique self-serve fuel station with a round owning and a cool area with benches (appropriately known as “The Bench”) to sit on, chat with local pilots and watch traffic coming and going. The airport is also in a nice setting with mountains nearby.
Unique self-serve fuel tanks in Corona
KAJO’s “The Bench”
Day 4: KAJO (Corona, CA) – KAVX (Catalina Airport, CA)
After navigating through Los Angeles’ challenging and busy Class B airspace and flying over Disneyland (on an IFR flight plan during their 60th anniversary), we approached California’s beautiful coastline.
“The Airport in the Sky” won “coolest approach” for the trip. You’re probably not surprised about that if you’ve ever seen any pictures or videos of it, like this one. It was also a solid runner-up for “best overall airport” but we were just too happily surprised with Corona’s friendly feel.
Just like everybody says… runway 22’s gradient goes up during the first 1,800’ of runway and the remaining 1,200’ is flat so, when on short final, you lose sight of the flat 1,200’ of runway. Your approach also seems higher than you really are due to the drop-off prior to the runway and rising runway. No problem though. If you are expecting those things, it is really not a problem at all.
Catalina used to be frequented by seaplanes quite a bit and Avalon still has quite a bit of seaplane art around town. Pretty neat. And I learned that the first water to water flight (and also the longest and fastest overwater flight to that date) was flown by Glen L. Martin from Newport Beach, southwest of Santa Ana, to Santa Catalina Island on May 10th, 1912.
Day 5: Catalina, CA Would you believe we went scuba diving and the gear we rented was from the brand “Pilot?” Could it be more perfect? Very fitting.
“Pilot” scuba gear
We saw lots of beautiful garibaldi fish (as we understand it, the official marine state fish of California), a couple of crabs, a bat ray, several sea tars, and lots of other cool fish (some of which tried “attacking” us for food).
One of the crabs and garibaldi fish
Day 6: KAVX (Catalina, CA) – KBFL (Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, CA) – Sequoia National Park
This day represented, to me, a perfect example of the benefits of flying GA. We spent half a day relaxing in Catalina Island, had a famous buffalo burger (and bought some T-shirts and things) at the airport’s DC-3 Gifts and Grill, then flew less than two hours to Bakersfield (even though our initial plan was to fly to KVIS-Visala since it’s the closest airport to the park entrances but, since it was Memorial Day weekend, they were out of rental cars), and we were still able to spend a few hours in Sequoia’s National Park. That just can’t all be done within a day with any other mode of transportation: not by boat, not by car, not by airline, and not by any combination of those.
Google Maps tells me it “could not calculate directions from Santa Catalina Island to Sequoia National Park” even though it’s normally very good about considering several modes of transportation (car, bus, train, walking, airline, bike…) so here is what I gathered:
Left – Two Harbors in the morning; Right – Sequoia National Park in the afternoon
Day 7: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Jared and I love visiting U.S. National Parks. They are absolutely treasures we need to help preserve.
While I personally enjoyed Kings Canyon more than Sequoia (and only because I have a thing for canyons and we’ve been to Yosemite National Park before which also has sequoia trees), Day 7’s highlight was seeing wild brown bears (including cubs) up close and personal while walking around the Crescent Meadow trail.
Day 8: KBFL (Bakersfield, CA) – KPSP (Palm Springs International Airport, CA)
Does taking off from a displaced threshold count as an “off-rwy takeoff?” Bakersfield’s runway 30R has one 3,400′ long and the Archer was off the ground before reaching the runway threshold.
See the looooong displaced threshold?
The flight from BFL to PSP was very, very pretty, seeing the Mojave Desert on our left, then LA covered with clouds to our right, and Morongo Valley on our descent. I really enjoyed it! It’s hard to say which leg was our top choice but this one was towards the top because of its variety of scenery.
Mojave Desert with Rosamond Lake and Rogers Lake (dried lakes, that is)
Los Angeles on the other side of the San Bernardino Mountains and ski resort
How could anybody not enjoy flying with views like this? Ahhhhh……
High altitude lakes in the Big Morongo Canyon Reserve area (and, yes! I love inside the cockpit pictures like this one because it shows exactly what we show! No zoom used!)
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
By chance, we planned to be in Palm Springs on Memorial Day but, because of that, we got lucky and got a chance to see the Palm Springs Air Museum’s Flower Drop while there. Each Memorial Day, the museum commemorates the important role of those who fought in World War II with a flower drop from the museum’s B-25 aircraft. Thousands of white and red carnations represent those who gave the greatest sacrifice — their lives — for their country. Here is a news story (with a video) from the same event in 2013.
Downwind for Palm Springs’s runway 31R
Day 9: KPSP (Palm Springs, CA) – KTUS (Tucson International Airport, AZ)
Leaving Palm Springs. Interesting seeing that well-defined green golf course community in the desert!
We timed our flight from Palm Springs to Tucson to arrive around sunset. We were very happy we did. The sun’s color and shadows on the mountains around Tucson made our views fantastic even when it meant the sun was in my face on final.
Approaching Tucson from the west
KTUS’ tower (I like the neon sign on the side!)
Day 10: Tucson, AZ
Different websites and forums said to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum bright and early to avoid the heat of the day and to obtain tickets for the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), better known as “aircraft boneyard,” tours so we did! We really enjoyed both the museum and the boneyard tour. My husband would say that the “coolest aviation visit/reference” we saw was TWA’s Constellation at the Pima museum because he is infatuated with Howard Hughes.
Davis-Monthan Air Force has “the largest aircraft boneyard in the world.” The area’s low humidity, rainfall of about 11″ annually, hard alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet allows the aircraft to be naturally preserved for cannibalization or possible reuse. In addition, the geology of the desert allows aircraft to be moved around without having to pave (additional cost and maintenance) the storage areas.
Davis-Monthan is the location of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the sole aircraft boneyard and parts reclamation facility for all excess military and government aircraft. Aircraft from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, NASA and other government agencies are processed at AMARG. Another role of AMARG is to support the program that converts old fighter jets, such as the F-4 Phantom II and F-16, into aerial target drones. AMARG has more than 4,000 aircraft.
We had lunch at San Xavier’s mission, which also happened to be the “most historic” site we saw during the trip. And, in the afternoon, we took lots of water and headed to Sabino Canyon.
Day 11: KTUS (Tucson, AZ) – KTCS (Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport, NM)
We went ATVing through Box Canyon in the morning and the owner of the company was a pilot and an AOPA member. As you can see, we like keeping it in the family =)
On Day 10, we were left wondering where the surplus/retired non-military/non-government airplanes were stored in the area. Well, we found them! Pinal Airpark (KMZJ) is the answer. Several old airliners were parked there.
As we were doing our pre-flight in preparation for departure, a Piper Cherokee Six (below) taxied by with an inmate they were taking to a different jail. It was quite interesting to see two Sheriffs flying. I don’t often see uniformed cops flying GA aircraft. Most usually wear flight suits, not uniforms. It was a good reminder, yet again, of all the important uses GA has.
I filed Redington Pass as the first checkpoint from KTUS with hopes of them keeping it that way so we could fly right over the military boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB. Some people we talked with told us “good luck with that” when we asked them what the best way to fly over the boneyard was but I tell you what… they gave it to us and it was very, very cool to see all 4,000+ military aircraft in perfect formation with each other from the air. It was an impressive sight – even more so than from the ground. BTW – In case you are wondering (like I did)… no, they are not for sale to private individuals! :(
And… we arrived at TorC. While we experienced the highest density altitude at KLSB, KTCS won “highest airport” of all stops at 4,862 feet. In contrast, KAJO won “lowest airport” of all stops at 533 feet.
Do you know the history behind the name “Truth or Consequences?” The town used to be called Hot Springs because, guess what, they have wonderful natural hot springs. Duh! We could not pass on that so, as soon as we dropped our bags at the hotel, we headed to Riverbend Hot Springs – definitely our trip’s “most relaxing” experience.
I know this may sound surprising since Truth or Consequences was the smallest town we visited but we had the “best food” of the trip there at Bella Luca’s Italian restaurant.
Day 12: KTCS (Truth or Consequences, NM) – (Spaceport America) – KPEQ (Pecos Municipal Airport, TX) – KIWS (West Houston, TX)
And here is another small world instance. We borrowed the airport’s courtesy car overnight to get us to/from the airport and agreed to return it early in the morning because another pilot had called asking if she could use it for some business in town. Do you know who that ended up being? The one and only Cathy Myers, President of the NM Pilots Association =) Funny thing is… she wasn’t too surprised to see me… She knows I get around the region but she was glad to meet my husband though. No solo flying on this trip!
Tail of Cathy’s Piper Cherokee with NMPA’s logo ;)
The main reason for visiting TorC was touring Spaceport America and visiting with its staff. Wondering what’s going on at the Spaceport? Here is a news article/video from July 29th.
Bill Gutman with the Spaceport and I in front of the astronaut’s walkway
We know many GA pilots are interested in flying in/out of the Spaceport so I met with their staff to offer some suggestions on how to organize more fly-ins, where to find helpful resources, how we can help, who else can help, etc.
Spaceport America (and we actually saw a replica of SpaceShipOne inside Bakerfield’s terminal)
The Spaceport now has a museum that opened up to the public on June 24th. One of the things they have is a fun G-Shock simulator where one can really experience centrifugal force. I had to try it to make sure it was safe ;)
After the tour, we went back to the aircraft and began our flight back home, starting with a first leg to Pecos, TX with the worst turbulence of the trip. Did you know Pecos is home of the world’s first rodeo? We didn’t see one during this stop though.
Even though we were not given permission to land at the Spaceport, we at least got lucky on departure and R-5111 C & D were inactive. We were able to fly close enough to the Spaceport to see it and take some aerial pics.
And, yes, we were back to crossing Texas. This time, we entertained ourselves by remembering the best parts of our trip by giving ratings to different parts of our trip. You read about the winners (with “best” this or “best” that) throughout the blog. That is purely our rating based on our experience – nothing else.
Good or bad, lucky or not, we missed some really bad weather and floods back home in the Houston area while we were gone but we still saw lots of flooded areas all around.
Throughout the trip, we saw lots of dirt runways perfect for tundra tires and other capable aircraft.
“Best beer” tried? Hangar 24’s IPA from their craft brewery in Redlands, California and, yes, we may be bias. If you don’t like it, you can blame Jared because I don’t drink beer.
And what’s one thing we learned on this trip that we need to plan for the future? Boating around Catalina Island. My husband won’t let me forget.
12 days, 1 GA aircraft, 2 people, 4 states, 12 airports, 8 hotels, 6 cars, 1 ATV, 2 bikes, 2 scuba dives, more mountain flying and density altitude experience, great adventures, a number of hikes and walks, a couple of aviation-related visits, one work-related stop, perfect weather, wonderful laughs, lots of fun, beautiful sights… a lifetime memory!
We’ll never forget this trip and we have decided we need to take a trip like this once a year. I encourage you to consider doing one yourself. It’s a completely different way of traveling: you have complete freedom, you get both aerial and ground views, you can get to hard-to-get-to-areas of the country, you can pack whatever you need, you can change destinations or change your routing along the way, you can challenge yourself with different types of flying experiences, you can do a variety of different things while you are gone, you see different types of airports and aviation museums along the way, you meet wonderful people, and the list goes on.
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- Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California in 12 Days