USA Coast to Coast – Southern Desert

USA Coast to Coast – Southern Desert

The journey east begins

The Salton Sea lies just northeast of Borrego, and was on our route the next morning. This inland sea lies around 200 feet below global sea level.

Our next stop was Lake Havasu City, a planned city on a lake shore in Arizona. The town excavated a channel from the lake, around a peninsular, to create an island; across which they placed London Bridge, purchased from the UK and shipped, brick by brick, to the USA.

We toured the “English Village”, which was a rather twee and embarrassing affair, and spent some time watching the preparations for a large jet-ski competition taking place the following week!

The attractions of Lake Havasu City were soon exhausted, so after one night we flew onward towards St John’s Industrial, where on-field camping was offered together with cheap fuel.

Unfortunately, while setting up our tent, one of the poles snapped. We determined to pack up and fly on to somewhere with accommodation, but the airport manager saw our difficulties and put us up for the night in a 50ft RV which he had parked out the back; he even left us the keys to his truck.

After enjoying a very comfortable night, we took off the next day to fly to Albuquerque Double Eagle II and meet my father who was joining us for a week of flying. En-route, we stopped off at Grants-Milan Municipal Airport, to practice some takeoffs and landings at high density altitudes.

On arrival in Albuquerque, we borrowed the airport crew car, and found a hotel before going to meet our new passenger from his flight.

We had planned to meet my father at Santa Fe, but internal flights there were not available when he landed in Atlanta. We were therefore carrying slightly more fuel than I had intended, and at risk of being overweight, so we mailed home a 30kg parcel of camping equipment, books, and other unneeded equipment.

We returned to the aircraft at Double Eagle II early the following morning and loaded up; with another passenger and bags, there was rather less space inside. The takeoff run seemed to last forever, particularly given the high altitude and warm air, but we eventually climbed away and enjoyed the views of the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Festival which was starting that day.

We set course to the southwest, and obtained flight following from a very friendly military controller who had been stationed in England; he was keen to hear where we were from and swap stories of places we all knew.

We approached Cavern City Airport, and were on final approach when the radio operator decided to inform us that the runway had just been closed. A hasty go-around re-positioned us for another runway; given that there were 5 runways, we were spoiled for choice. We rented an SUV and headed for the Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns are an enormous underground cave system, only discovered in the 1890s. It contains the 7th largest underground cavern in the world. The second largest room in the caverns was only discovered in 1966, long after the caves had been opened to the public as a national park! The caves are open to visitors, and you can walk from the surface down to the lowest caverns where, in true American style, they have installed a restaurant, gift shop, and elevators back to the surface! Guided tours are available of some of the lowest, and most dramatic, caves and are well worth taking.

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