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  • Left to right-
    myself, Shawn, Dustin, JB.
    This year's "Three Stooges U.S. Hang Gliding Tour" visited Jackson Hole by way of Dinosaur Colorado. The tram at the Jackson Hole ski area is being closed down after this summer season and the fate of a replacement is still undecided. As a result we wanted to get a flight in before we would loose the opportunity forever.

    Former tours include Moe, Larry, and Curly in Sandia in 2004, and in 2005 Moe, Larry, and Shemp out in Yosemite. This year Moe (Shawn), Shemp (JB) and Curly (myself - apparently) made it to Wyoming. This tour co-starred Dustin Putt as our trusty driver.

    Wednesday, July 26th

    JB's Jeep loaded up.

    JB, having the entire summer off, drove out (in a Jeep with 350,000 miles) and took our equipment. Logistically this was much improved over the last trip where we built a crate to ship the gliders. We flew into Salt Lake City on August 26th where JB met us.

    Masha, our host the first night.

    When we got to the airport Shawn and I went to pick up the rental car. In response to my asking what I needed to do to add Shawn as a driver, the Avis representative asked what his relationship was to me. Instantly and without missing a beat Shawn replied, in a matter of fact tone, "life partners," as my eyes bugged out. Needless to say we ended up getting Shawn added to the approved drivers list - without charge.

    We spent the evening at a friend's place who recently moved into the area (A big "Thank You" to Masha and Mike for dealing with us). I had hoped we would fly in the Salt Lake City area the next day. Unfortunately, the group decision was to head off to Dinosaur CO, since we had all flown "Point of the Mountain," the local Salt Lake site (which is now overwhelmingly overrun by "jelly fish" (or.
    Dinosaur Colorado
    B&B Restaurant
    across the street
    Dustin at the Hi-Vi Room 6
    180 degree view from outside of our room.
    "para-panties," "laundry," ... all Hang Glider slang for "Paragliders" - see below for Paraglider slang for Hang Gliders :-) ).

    Thursday, July 27th

    Dustin and Shawn on launch.

    So, first thing in the morning we headed off to Dinosaur Colorado, the site of the 1996 Hang Gliding Nationals, for some desert air. After 6 hours into our 4 hour trip (ask Shawn) we arrived at the Hi-Vu Inn in the thriving metropolis of Dinosaur. The bustling main street showcased the B&B Restaurant (with a "for sale" sign in the window), a Loaf'N Jug gas station, a cafe/bar, the Hi-Vu, an Ice scream shop ... and virtually nothing else.

    The view from launch.

    Mike, the owner and proprietor of the Hi-Vu, was also the Hang Gliding contact for Dinosaur. He hasn't flown the site in years but he's the only "local" and knows the site better than anyone. He was also credited with opening the site and getting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to help improve the road to launch. Unfortunately the site is not flown much anymore. When we got there we talked to Mike and then scoped out the landing fields and the launch. It was late and the conditions weren't right so we decided to wait until morning for a flight.

    JB Launching Dinosaur

    That evening we went to the cafe for dinner and a beer. Choosing the beer was easy, all you needed to do was to look through the glass front door of the fridge to and select which of the four brands they had available. Everything from Bud all the way to Bud lite. If you were in the mood for something with a bit more of a bite, there was a small three foot long shelf high on one wall (which I guess made it "top shelf") with assorted bottles of hard liquor and a sign taped to it that read "Employee's only. No Self Service." This level of class is hard to find almost anywhere else.

    Friday, July 28th

    JB Launching, Shawn watching
    After top landing
    Shawn getting ready to launch
    Movie - Shawn launching Dinosaur

    The next day, after JB and I argued politics in the B&B over breakfast, we went up for our flights. JB launched first and possibly a little too early for a short extended sled ride to the "snakepit;" the closer, but smaller of the two landing fields. After we radioed down and made sure he was OK, I took off. By then it was soarable and I hit a nice thermal not too far off launch and took it up.

    As soon as I got up, I began wondering if I would be able to top land. The site faces toward the south and is basically a raised plateau. The area on top is large and flat and easily top landable in the right conditions. The wind seemed right for a top landing so I gave it a try. This practically caused Shawn a heart attack. The radio conversation with JB in the landing field went something like:

    over the back from 12,000

    Shawn launched and I launched again as Dustin went to retrieve JB. I really regreted not bringing O2 along. Being only a day from sea level, I had to keep looking to leave lift at 12,000 (Shawn topped out at 13,700) feet. I didn't have Oxygen or a radio so I hung around the mountain but I did get a few pictures from the air (the best one is to the left).

    My Launch Sequence
    The Snakepit landing field

    I'm used to flying in really light conditions and I'm never thrilled when the conditions toss my glider around like an angry infant with a broken toy - which is typical of high desert flying. Today however, while stronger than I usually fly in at home, the conditions were fairly mild for the desert. I didn't go weightless (or negative) even once and the thermals were fairly smooth - if you could stay
    Movie of JB launching Dinosaur
    centered in them (which is a problem when you have to constantly leave them at 12,000). During one cycle of leaving lift and finding it lower than 1000' over launch. I decided to land on top rather than take the chance of having to land out in the 104 degree heat in the landing field. Shawn soon followed with a top landing.

    JB came back up and we talked him into launching (captured on the video on the right). Since he didn't get up and didn't look like he hit anything very workable, rather than fly again, Shawn and I decided to pack up on top and head down to pick him up.

    Saturday, July 29th

    The launch at Dinosaur, 180 degree view

    Saturday was even hotter than Friday - 106 degrees (or so the weather forecast was saying). Even way above launch and in shorts it was hot. Shawn launched first, JB second, and I went last. Unfortunately it was another sled ride for JB. From launch to the "snakepit" once again. Alegedly the problem was a lack of Meatloaf. Supposedly (anyone that's flown with JB can attest) that playing a large quantity of Meatloaf's "Bat out of Hell" on the way to launch is a requirement. Today, buckling under the pressure of Shawn's whining, JB cut his portion to a minimum, resulting in poor flights and even broken aluminum.

    Left to right - Shemp, Moe, Curly

    The forecast for Saturday called for "better" flying conditions, which made me more nervous about being kicked around. Western pilots refer to "getting your desert wings;" I prefer not worrying about being flipped upside down. Today, however, my concern was misplaced.
    JB's glider in the Snakepit LZ
    It was even smoother and the lift didn't go as high. I'm not sure what I topped out at but it was well below the previous day and I certainly didn't need the supplemental oxygen I brought with me this time. That's always the way it works. I seem to get my best altitude gains when I'm only wearing shorts and a tee shirt.

    I flew out over the landing fields and the lift was plentiful. I hung out way away from the mountain over the valley for as long as I wanted. I should have brought my camera; I would have the opportunity to get some great pictures of the mountain from way out front.

    Hanging out over the desert, I watched Dustin arrive at the landing field to pick up JB. Shawn went out and landed in the Corral (a better landing field than the Snakepit). Though I really didn't want to land yet, I didn't think it would be a good idea to leave them down in the 106-degree desert waiting for me. I cored sink to get down and had a decent landing following a not so decent approach.

    Wrapping up our stay in the Dinosaur area, we all went for a swim in the Snake River and after dinner we went out for some "adult entertainment" in Vernal Utah in going to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean (well, it's "adult entertainment" for Utah).

    Swimming in the snake river. Vernal Utah

    Sunday, July 30th

    Campground in Jackson

    Sunday was a travel day as we headed to Jackson Wyoming. At one point on the trip the road climbed to 8200 feet above sea level at which point I asked JB if he was happy he finally made it above launch at Dinosaur (OUCH! - Even Shawn was in agony).

    Shawn, and JB
    at the Mangey Moose

    We arrived at the "Teton Gables Motel" where Shawn and I both had room reservations. In looking over my room, however, I began to have serious reservations about my reservations - paying $90 a day for a room with trash on the floor, a broken door lock, garbage under the bed covers along with a dead maggot didn't seem worth it.

    I therefore immediately upgraded my accomodations and joined Dustin and JB at the campground. It was cleaner with a better location.

    Once we were all settled in (and I bought all of my camping equipment for less than one night in the motel), we went over to the ski area to take a look and have dinner in the Mangey Moose, where we ate out on the porch.

    Monday, July 31st

    Breaking down in the rain
    Bart and Tiki

    Our first day in Jackson was supposed to be a day towing with Tiki and Bart, the proprietors of "Cowboy Up Hang Gliding." We got set up when the development started and moved in quickly. Before we flew, JB, watching the weather move in, decided to break down, and shortly afterward Shawn and I followed his lead. It was a good call; before we were done the rain started. Instead of flying we went for lunch in the cafe in Alpine.

    The tug The day's overdevelopment

    Tuesday, August 1st

    Old Faithful

    We had breakfast for the last time at the Teton Steakhouse where I ordered coffee which arrived right before we left. I say "arrived" but it did so, only because I went to get it myself, which had a lot to do with why it was the last time we ate there.

    Moose in the camp

    As a result we were all convinced that any future orders placed with the crew there would require a special request to hold all bodily fluids, and since none of us wanted to order a "phlegm free" breakfast in the future, we never went back to the restaurant.

    The rain that started Monday carried over into Tuesday so we decided to celebrate JB's eighteenth anniversary of his thirty-fifth birthday by going to Yellowstone. That morning, before we got going, a female Moose and her calf meandered through our camp site, which turned out to be the best animal sighting we got all day.

    JB and Shawn Grand Prismatic Spring Buffalo herd

    Wednesday, August 2nd

    Left to right
    Myself, Shawn (hooked in), JB
    The view from launch

    On Wednesday we headed to Idaho to a site called Heise. After about 15 phone calls to Bart and Tiki we finally got the logistics worked out left a car in the landing field, and went up on the steep four wheel drive road to launch.

    I wasn't feeling that great so Shawn went first and JB second. Shawn got a little above but didn't find anything he could stick with. Unfortunately JB didn't do any better.

    I figured I'd take my sled ride and break down at the bottom but as the video below shows, I actually found some lift and got up. It was too short lived but fun.

    Movie - Shawn launching Heise Movie - Me launching Heise
    Setup From JBs glider
    From JBs Glider Breakdown

    Thursday, August 3rd

    Jackson Hole Tram
    Loading the gliders

    The reason we came to Wyoming was to fly the tram. And today was the day. We hooked up with Tom from the Paragliding club who asked if we had brought along our plumbing (paraglider pilot term for 'hang-glider'. Others include hangies and my personal favorite, lawn furniture).

    Thanks to Chris, the lead tram operator, we were allowed the honor of going up with the first tram, which left prior to the earliest general public trip. After greasing the skids with a six of high quality micro-brew, the tram operators carefully loaded our gliders onto the roof of the tram.

    Unloading at the Jackson Hole Ski Area Launch
    Dustin in the Tetons

    Unloading the gliders at 10,000 feet was interesting. It was the first time on the trip that I really noticed the altitude - or it could have been remnants of the previous night, I'm not sure which.

    Paraglider launch
    JB set up

    In any case, we set up while the paraglider pilots made several round trips (it's good to be a PG pilot sometimes - I guess :-) ). We weren't planning on anything more than a sled ride; it was early and the site is "lee side." It can work really well between 11:30 and 12:30, give or take an hour (on either or both ends).

    Me and JB setting up Shawn setting up

    The only issue with launching was the altitude. Sandia was the only place I'd launched that was higher but it was also steeper. In any case it didn't seem that bad so I went first (for the first time on the trip I think). Take a look at the movies below; technically it was probably the best launch I ever executed. Wings level, nose angle held through run, plenty of speed.

    Getting ready to launch Shawn getting ready JB Getting ready

    Movie - Me launching Jackson Movie - Shawn launching Jackson Movie - JB launching Jackson

    Pictures from the air
    From JB's Glider
    From My Glider
    In the LZ

    As the flight and the view are indelibly etched into my mind, I remember thinking I'm glad I managed to get a flight in before it became impossible. It was very nearly one of the best sleds I've ever taken - it certainly blows away skiing down the mountain (which I did about 20 years ago). I was really looking forward to the opportunity to soar above the peak (which I will need to get back there for at some point).

    Since the OD began building in shortly after we got packed up, we opted to celebrate acheiving the goal of the trip by renting bikes and going for a ride. As if there was a need to confirm our decision not to fly again we ended up caught in the thuderstorm accompanied by hail.

    Friday, August 4th

    Bart and Tiki, and JB

    Since a secondary reason for visiting the Jackson area was towing at Cowboy Up Hang Gliding,
    Shawn, conducting business.
    (notice the development)
    we headed out there once again. This day was a little better than the last but once again the OD began moving in early. Each of us got a tow in before the development began to look ominous for we earth bound east coast cowards.

    Today was JB's day to outfly Shawn and I. Though I'm SURE it was just that we launched in bad cycles :-) JB managed to get a nice flight out of it and snap off a bunch of pictures.

    Pictures from JB's flight

    Saturday, August 5th

    The view of Wilson
    from launch

    The last flying day we wanted to fly over the Jackson peak again. This time we didn't want to bother with the logistics of the tram so we decided to fly Phillips ridge in Wilson, the home of Vice Presiden Dick Cheney.

    Setup area

    It was also the place we received our first hang gliding injury requiring medical attention; While walking the landing field I stepped on a piece of rusty metal that went though my shoe and into my foot (requiring a tetanus shot - does that count as a HG injury?).

    Shawn on launch

    Well, we went to launch and I dialed various people trying to figure out how much time I had to get the shot (it had been over 20 years since my last booster). Once I found that I had 72 hours I was all set - I wouldn't miss a flying day (it's good to have your priorities straight).

    JB in the LZ

    Phillips is another lee-side sight. That means that the launch window is narrow and the soaring window (if existent) is even narrower. We don't have many (if any) lee-side sights in the east - it's usually considered suicidal to fly the lee side of a mountain. In the west, where the conditions are often so strong that the micro-meterology actually takes control over the macro, it's possible to fly the "back side" of a mountain - as long as you do it at just the right time.

    Well. Even though we were all hoping to soar and get a few pictures of "Grand Teton" from above, we never managed to get up. Like I said, lee-side sites can be tempermental; even the trio of PG pilots that took several stabs at it didn't get up.

    Movie - JB Launching Phillips Movie - Shawn launching Phillips Movie - Me launching Phillips

    Sunday, August 6th

    On Sunday we got up in the 4:00 hour and headed to the Jackson airport. My last flight in Jackson was my sky-taxi home. We were home in a few hours. JB was home only two or three days later - another few thousand miles on his Jeep.