When the folks at Wx Brief start talking monsoonal flow its time to tighten the seat belts. This is the season of rebirth in the desert, reborn on the deluge of thunderstorms and flash floods. The western Pacific starts chucking gigantic blobs of moisture onto our sweltering summer shores. The Mexican land mass channels moisture up to the Gulf of California where it then brings a second spring to the desiccation of our south western states. They dance in the streets of Tucson knowing the gauntlet of 120 degree days are over. Flowers bloom, ground dwellers crawl out of their burrows and microscopic life burst into life in water pockets and depressions of sandstone.
Yet what this monsoon means to anyone in the mountainous west are massive cumulonimbus clouds with a mean streak. Our longitudinal mountain ranges funnel the tsunami of weather as far north as Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Stretching from the Sierras to the Rockies a rush- hour commute of violent skies is upon us. The combination of heat and moisture are the nursery of thunderstorms exploding up to 40K. Lighting sears a leaden horizon touching off wild fires that go unabated. If one could sit in a comfy chair under the eaves of a sheltered porch it would be a great light show. For anyone caught out; hiking, climbing, flying, the monsoonal days can be a challenge. I’ve listened to pilots, flying heavy metal, begging ATC to route them around this stuff. It’s not pretty when the passengers in the back of the plane pull out their rosary beads and eject their just-eaten in flight meal.
For those of us with choices, you fly early when the cool air hasn’t started to party, you get your rock climbing accomplished by noon and you have a cool frosty mug of something in hand to watch the fireworks. But when your schedule doesn’t allow the dawn lift off or the fog put a lid on any quick escapes you might as well bring your collection of Motown music favorites. The ride is going to be rough. It’s time to bump and grind with James Brown. The new head sets are great to patch in your music play list.
Our adventure to Oshkosh had to be canceled because of our wonderful, elderly and feeble dog. Mosley is approaching 11 years old and orthopedic collapse. We couldn’t leave him with the pet sitter for 2 weeks. Every day I kept up with all the fun that Julia, Pat, Valerie, Heidi and Kitty were having at AirVenture Oshkosh. There were lots of challenges and lots to do. The plan was to meet up in Idaho on their return trip to keep the fun meter ticking.
Don and I lifted off Sunday the 31st around noon for the 3 hour journey to Smiley Creek, Idaho. By this time the wx gods have stationed their armies of thunderstorms all along the mountain ridges across Nevada, Oregon and Idaho. It would not have done us any good to climb above 10K. That altitude would have been in the thick of things. So we did the bump and grind, swinging wide around the especially dark bases of clouds, blazing through the rain and trying to avoid any lightning. There were no close calls, just lots of altitude/attitude management. Nevada is amazingly green so weird this time of year. Even the Black Rock Desert has stains of standing water.
As the route approaches the North there is an upwelling sense of terrain. Deep canyons cut by the Owyhee, Bruneau and Snake Rivers etch into a rising mass that leads to the Rockies. It’s fun to cut the point A to point B flying and wiggle along with the rivers undulations. Heavy, violent wx was raking the land south of Boise so we skirted to the north and then up and into the Sawtooth Mountains. If you’ve never experienced the majesty of these mountains go now, go soon. They rival any mountains to fly around and gaze upon or climb their lofty spires. The Sawtooth Valley runs north/ south with Smiley Creek airport at the south end and Stanley town and airport at the north end. Smiley has 5000 feet of manicured grass to land on. Adjacent to the tie downs are great camping sites, heated bathrooms and hot showers. The State of Idaho keeps two vans there for pilots to use. Gordon, the caretaker, is there Thursday to Monday to check you into the car or campsites.
Since this was a spur of the moment trip we left the camping gear behind and planned on a hotel down in Stanley. Unknown to us, unknown to my wx briefing 4 hours previously, Stanley’s runway was under construction. Half of the 4300′ dirt strip was getting an asphalt face lift. The ATC at Boise mentioned the closure just before we signed off. About that time we hear one of the air service planes going into Stanley. He explained you can land on the dirt taxi way or the last half of the runway. We decided to go check it out. Don executed one of those beautiful slips to touchdown, avoiding the heavy equipment and crews on the first half of the runway and parking the plane within 300′. Yeah! We’re finally here!
The owner of the Triangle C Motel came to pick us up. Its only a ¼ mile walk down a hill to town, but much appreciated. Stanley’s population is a mere 87 people who cater to a huge world of river rafters, hikers, bikers, hunters and families on idyllic vacations. There are numerous lakes in the vicinity, hundreds of alpine hiking trails, bobsled bike rides, hot springs and famous white water rafting. Only 4 restaurants in town, a fabulous bakery, two espresso sites and rentals of all the toys you could ever use. The espresso stop Peaks and Perks provides shuttle service to trail heads or fishing holes. Its recreation heaven!
The next morning we hopped in the plane and flew back to Smiley Creek to pick up the airport van. Julia and Mark, who were staying in Ketchum, met us at the airport. They had flown into Hailey, on the south side of the Galena Pass for a music festival in Sun Valley. From their description the airport at Hailey is a pain in the butt. Between TSA regulations, $20 landing fee and $7.00/gal gas you have to really want to be there. Hugs all around to see good friends again and hear about their travels. We hiked a beautiful trail up near the pass, attended by endless wildflowers to Titus Lake. The lake is an emerald jewel tucked into magnificent glaciated peaks. It’s a place where heaven touches down.
That evening we dined at the historic Sawtooth Hotel. Live music on the patio with the sunset of the Sawtooth Mountains as a stage was a festive local affair. Footwear for most people is either cowboy boots or rafting shoes. It’s not so much a fashion statement but a necessary wardrobe item. Kids and adults were up and dancing to the mountain music of a fiddle, 2 guitars and a drummer. Lots of smiles and joy to be alive abounded.
Tuesday morning Don took off for a bobsled bike ride while Julia, Mark and I headed into the big peaks again. Your balance gets a good workout criss crossing the creeks that are running high. Two lakes, thin air and incredible views kept us loving it. A light rain and mosquitoes drove the party on.
Wednesday morning Don and I returned the airport car and jumped into our 3 wheel vehicle. The day was CAVU with cool, climbing air. It didn’t take long to pop up and thread our way through the peaks, enjoying the flight a whole bunch more. Today was a day between the monsoon waves. Even the 15kt. headwinds did not bog our spirits down. Mountain Home Muni is just a ½ hour away to pick up fuel. Then it was off and away with our spinner pointed home. It’s times like these that make you love life so much. Great friends, great fun, great flying. Cindy