When John suggested a trip to Sandia mountain in Albuquerque New Mexico, I jumped at the chance. I was there in 1995 on our nationwide first family outing and fell in love with the mountain. It is the most awesome (to use the word the way it was intended), intimidating site I had ever flown due to the sheer scale of the place. It looms 5000 feet over the city and the launch is at 10,600 feet above sea level. The trip was planned for the week of their (recently revived) annual fly-in, "The Sandia Solstice Soar'n."
John seemed to have all of the details in hand. Myself, John and Shawn would build a crate to ship out our gliders. We'd fly out for the week and then we'd ship them back when we were finished. He made it sound like he'd done it a thousand times.
It turns out none of us knew what we were doing so it was quite a learning experience. If we ever repeat it there are many things we'd do differently (like, perhaps skipping the whole idea of shipping the gliders). Anyway, we built a 12 foot long by 32 inches by 32 inch crate and short packed our gliders. Take a look here to see the three stooges in action. It turns out that the three of us were the three most pessimistic people to ever plan a trip. We were sure the gliders would be totaled before they ever reached Sandia, that the weather would be terrible, etc. One of Shawn's last emails before we left, though 'tongue-in-cheek,' says it best:
I just got a call from John in NM. He said the Albuquerque airport is shut down for the next week due to high winds. I think this might be a problem. Good news, the shipping company said they should be able to locate the other 1/2 of the crate by the weekend.
|Shawn lounging in the lobby of the Wellesley Inn and Suites|
We all arrived at different times (something else I would do differently next time around) and, on thursday, when I finally arrived, Shawn was ready to roll (as you can see).
|Albuquerque from the Crest.|
We wern't going to fly until the next evening but we wanted to take a look anyway so we headed up to the top of the mountain. The mountain has a tram that takes passengers to the Peak. There is another road that goes to the Crest. There are hang gliding launches at both the Crest and the Peak. We decided to go up to the Crest since John and Shawn had previously taken the tram to the Peak prior to my arival in Albuquerque.
|The landing filed from launch.|
Here are a few more shots from the Crest including a zoomed in view of the landing field, a few panoramic views, and some others.
|Panoramic over the back|
|Down the ridge to the south.|
|Another shot looking south|
|Down the ridge to the south|
|Better than shopping at K-Mart|
The next day was the first day we were set up to fly. It was the Friday before the fly-in started and a few locals would be available in the evening to act as "guides" (a requirement to fly this particular site). During the day we went on a hike west of the city in an area where John used to ride motocross.
|a new shirt and a new hat|
While the desert scenery was great, the remnants left by the local population was .... interesting. Shawn seemed to enjoy adding to his wardrobe.
John, though vehemently denying any liberal tendencies, managed to find "art" in the remaining shards of an old disk drive that was dismembered by some local NRA member who had previously left the scene after target
Hey! If the shot up disk drive in the desert was art, and the photograph of the shot up drive in the desert was even better art, how much better then is the photograph of the photographer of the shot up disk drive in the desert?
Here are some shots of the area:
|Loading up for the first flight|
|Meeting in the LZ to car pool up|
|The road over to the launch|
To the right is a view of the road through the antenna's to launch. ...
|The Crest launch|
... and this is a view of launch itself. With hang glider pilots doing what they do best ... waiting.
We all set up and launched as the following sequence can attest to.
|Charlie setting up||Kent on launch||Kent in the air||Shawn on launch|
|Shawn launching||Shawn in the air||Me launching||In the air|
|Over the back (notice the glider in the pic)|
At some point it was my turn and the site was all I remember. Sheer intimidation! Even after launch the magnitude of the scene produces an incredible
|Looking south from above launch|
|Looking down on the Peak|
|Looking down on the Sandia foothills|
Click on the strip below to see a few more shots I took from the air:
|The setup area for the Peak.|
The setup for flying the Peak is one of the best I've seen. We leave the cars at the bottom, throw the gliders onto the tram, and then ride up on the tram. The local club buys one-way tram passes in bulk so they get a break. It's a great setup and I can certainly understand the local's sensitivity to the site. This sequence shows the trip up:
|Colorado pilot on launch|
We got up top, unloaded from the tram, and got set up to fly. The owner of the Tram and the Restaurant, George, came out to talk to us for a while. Being a former hang glider pilot himself he told us he had over 1000 flights from the Peak launch.
Well, the sky rapidly developed and Sean (the pilot
|Shawn pointing out the gust front|
The giant cummie out front started dropping virga and a visible gust front began to sweep across the city. You can't see them in the east. In Albuquerque though, it kicks up enough dust to be visible.
Well, as a result of the weather we packed it in and decided to meet early on Sunday. We left the gliders on top and returned in the morning to much smoother conditions. The wind was right and we all launched in succession.
|Shawn on launch||Shawn on launch||Getting ready||Launching|
|In the air||Me on launch||Getting ready||Launching||John on launch|
It was early and I ended up over the landing field getting ready to set up an approach. Fortunately I ran into a light thermal and decided to stick with it a bit. I took it from about 500 feet over the landing field back up to over 9000 feet MSL (The landing field is at 5600 MSL) where I snapped off the following shots:
|Waiting to get picked up from the secondary LZ at noon|
|John in the middle of Albuquerque|
Later in the day some of the others flew. We decided we wanted another smooth flight to get used to the site before taking on the mid-day thermals. Here is a shot of one of the guys coming in for a landing.
|More stone kicking watching the OD|
|Panoramic of the crest launch with development|
The next day the call was for North West. Instead of flying Sandia we decided to head out to a site called Farley's in the town of Grants.
|Checking out the cactus|
|Coming up to launch in the mandatory 4WD|
|Another launch, same game.|
At that point I was sure I wasn't going to fly and a brief hike revealed the cause of the turbulent conditions. The wind wasn't cycling in on launch because it was coming around to the northwest. It was actually blowing about 35 MPH southwest and wrapping or rotoring into the northwest launch. The pilots were launching into a rather violent rotor.
Tuesday was John's last chance to fly since he was leaving early the next morning. Unfortunately it didn't work out that well because of the overdevelopment. John broke his glider down and we put it in the crate for the return trip. Nothing to do but hunt for mullets, one of Shawn's favorite leisure pastimes of late.
|Shawn never looked so at home|
At this point, since John left early in the morning, Shawn and I immediately downgraded all of our accommodations (John has expensive tastes). We moved from the Wellesley
|Couldn't keep the women away.|
On Wednesday we got in our first XC, though I'm embarrassed to admit the mileage, as I looked back at launch after landing and thought 'Man! I could have almost made that on a glide.' Shawn did much better reaching the field almost everyone else landed in with five to six thousand feet to spare. He and Larry West (one of the locals) could have easily kept going but both opted to land with everyone else (except me, who was about five miles short of the rest).
Thursday held the potential for more overdevelopment. At this point it was obvious that the monsoons had started early, usually
|Familiar pissed off look on launch.|
|Nice sky. Glad I'm not in it.|
|Another setup at the Crest|
Well, we're still wanting to get some good XC in but today looks like another repeat of the previous days.
|Getting something to eat at the Crest House|
|The view from the Crest House balcony|
|Thunderstorms in front|
I landed early and Shawn got pretty high (I think, about 15,600 MSL). The brief conversation between Larry West (a local pilot) and Shawn over the radio tells the story of the afternoon.
Shawn: Hey. Are those dust devils out there past the river?
Larry looks out over the river from the landing field
Larry: Shawn. Get out of the air now!
Shawn cored down from 12 grand or so to beat out the approaching gust front.
|Thunderstorm panoramic from the LZ|
As far as the flying conditions were concerned, Saturday was a carbon copy of Friday. This day I had another low save (under 500 feet over the landing field then back up to 11,500 MSL over the golf course). Again we landed before the thunderstorms hit. Of course, with 70 days straight with no rain, we knew it would pour when we got there. This time I took some pictures from the LZ of the approaching storms.
|LZ Thunderstorm - So much for the drought|
|Down safely in the main LZ|
Saturday evening was the fly-in party and awards at Bill Lemon's house. A few people talked about landing out near his house but no one actually made it there (though a few probably could have).
|Shawn and Cat||again||Dallas||Awards|
|Kent||Me||Bill,Charlie, ...||Shawn and Hal|
|Andrew doing the
|Kent accepting, yet
|Robin playing guitar
with John (left)
|9:30 AM development in NM|
Sunday was a travel day. The picture to the left was from the plane window and shows the development already taking place at 9:30 in the morning as the monsoon weather pattern continued.
|Shawn coming in at philadelphia|
After landing in Philadelphia I waited for Shawn's plane to come in for a ride home. All-in-all it was a great trip. A big "thank you" to the Sandia locals that put the fly-in together.
Well, the trip is becomming a memory now (albeit a good one) though, to close the story mention of the return of the gliders must be made.
|Sail off of the frame|
|What am I doing?|