USA Coast to Coast – Plains and Mountains

USA Coast to Coast – Plains and Mountains

Travelling by air, even in a comparatively slow single engine aircraft, you cover ground surprisingly quickly. Just a few days after we set off, we were entering the Great Plains, America’s agricultural heartland. We deliberately flew north of a direct route in order to see these plains, and the sheer scale of them was certainly impressive!

After the 5th or 6th hour of flying across them, though, the novelty began to wear off. We diverted from our planned destination in mid-flight on our leg out of Hot Springs, as Hannah had been thumbing through the airport guide and discovered a small airfield, well placed for our route, that advertised on-airport camping.

Across the plains north to Kansas

This suited us perfectly, and indeed, there was a campsite right next to the field, which was named Concordia, Kansas. It was equipped for RVs more than tents, so we elected to set up our tent on the grass behind our aircraft; not technically part of the campsite, but the airport was unattended and no-body complained!

A scenic walk across the 8-lane highway to Walmart enabled us to replenish our food stocks, and we had a great dinner before turning in as it got dark.

Leaving Concordia we headed for the Rockies. A fuel stop in McCook allowed us to add Nebraska to our “states visited” list, and we departed from there under a low overcast of strangely rippled cloud that had rolled in as we arrived. We were soon clear of the cloud and able to climb, which was good because the ground was slowly rising up beneath us.

Canon City, Colorado, was our next destination and the runway elevation was over 5,000ft; higher than many pilots in the UK have ever flown, let alone landed at! The effect of the thinner air was noticeable in a higher groundspeed on landing, but the airports at these elevations tend to have longer runways to allow for this.

The route west across the plains

Sky-divers were operating over the field, and as such it was necessary to keep an even better lookout than usual. We parked up on the apron and found the FBO, where we arranged a rental car. Usually it’s very difficult to rent a car in the USA if you’re younger than 25, but smaller locations such as municipal airport FBOs tended to be a little more lenient. We loaded up our gear and headed for the mountains, and before long we were driving at an altitude even higher than we’d been flying!

There’s quite a lot to do around Canon City, and we spend three nights there. The first night, we camped by a lake up in the mountains. The state park was equipped with a laundry facility and hot showers, so we took advantage of these before leaving. That day we visited some other local state parks, such as the Florissant Fossil Beds. This was the site of an ancient fossilized forest which had been uncovered and opened to the public.

That evening we drove into “Phantom Canyon” for another night in the tent. This canyon used to be the route of a narrow gauge railway servicing the mines, but the railway was long gone and had been replaced by a scenic dirt road. Camping is allowed down the majority of the canyon. It was a slightly unsettled night, with vehicles twice cruising slowly by and pausing near our camp – images of “Deliverance” played in our heads.

Leaving Phantom Canyon, we spent a day at the Royal Gorge State Park. Unsurprisingly this spans the Royal Gorge, with the two sides being connected by the world’s highest suspension bridge. There’s not a great deal on the other side of the bridge; the most significant installation being a petting zoo, which makes one suspect that the bridge was built purely for the sake of having the record.

Having visited the top of the canyon, we returned to town and took a trip on the Royal Gorge railroad. This track used to be a significant freight route through the mountains towards the West Coast but had stopped carrying freight several years before and was now used exclusively by the tourist train.

After our Royal Gorge visits, we explored the scenic “Skyline Drive”, giving fantastic views back over the town.

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