Western USA – West Coast

Western USA – West Coast

We took a day off from flying in order to relax and explore the San Juan islands a little. After a lazy morning at the B&B, playing with the animals, we walked in to town for lunch by the harbour. It was an absolutely perfect September day with barely a cloud in the sky, ideal for our afternoon activity of sea kayaking.


We set out in a trip of kayaks, a double one for Keiko and I, and Rowan and our guide in their own vessels. The hope was to see whales, and we paddled up and down the shore for several hours, but without any luck! We did sea seals, which was an excellent consolation prize, and enjoyed hearing about the local area and its history from our guide. The Pig War of 1859 between the US and UK, sparked by the killing of a pig, was a particularly interesting example.

Kayaking complete, we dined in town again before walking back to the B&B for some time with the alpacas and other creatures before bed!


Our first destination the next day was Seattle. We took off from Friday Harbor, enjoying beautiful views of the town as we turned south and flew down the coast to Everett field, home of the Boeing factory and museum. The field was packed with new Boeings, fresh out the factory and being prepared for delivery to their new owners. We parked up outside the museum; it was only after we shut down the engine and disembarked that we noticed the spot we were in was labelled “747 only”!


South around the Seattle area

The museum was well worth a visit, covering a wide variety of aerospace and Boeing history. After a couple of hours we joined a tour of the factory itself. Photographs were not permitted! We entered the factory through one of the extensive network of tunnels that run under the building, carrying utilities and also being used for easy transportation from one part of the main floor to another. Wide-body Boeings were lined up from end to end, being assembled as they moved along the floor and out the doors at a glacial pace!

We were taken back to the main museum, and found someone to let us out the doors onto the ramp and back to the aircraft. After fueling up at the self-serve we departed, heading south for a late lunch at the on-airport restaurant at Pierce County. From here we set out into southern Washington, where we had chosen a small airfield near the coast as our camping destination for the evening. Called Willapa Harbor, it was quiet and unattended, and absolutely swarming with mosquitoes! We set up the tents as quickly as possible and retired inside to safety.


September 18th was a special day. Referred to by my brother as “International Rowan Day”, it was known to the rest of us as his birthday. We had a celebratory breakfast picnic under the wing, the mosquitoes happily having dispersed, before packing up and heading south. The first leg of the flight took us to Mt St Helens, the volcano that famously erupted in 1980 taking the lives of 57 people. The impact of the eruption is still clearly visible, with the side of the mountain blown away, and the remains of trees that were torn down by the pyroclastic flow still floating in mountain lakes.

Heading south through Oregon

Cutting south past Portland, we landed at Salem airport in Oregon to lunch at the on-field restaurant. we fueled up and departed on the second of the day’s two scenic flights, with this one taking us over the famous Crater Lake. Surrounded by Crater Lake National Park, the lake is the deepest in the US (594m, or nearly 2,000ft). The views of the Cascade mountain range were stunning, and we lingered for a while before setting course south again towards a favourite destination on California’s Lost Coast, Shelter Cove.

Conditions at Shelter Cove were ideal, and we came in for a smooth landing on runway 30 before parking up next to the camp site. We set up camp and spent a while wandering around the island, which Rowan and Keiko had not visited before. It was the right time of year to see seals, which were sunning themselves on the rocks near the southern end of the peninsula.

As the day drew on, we walked along the runway to the north end, where we held a dinner at the only open restaurant to celebrate International Rowan Day. Keiko had even bought a musical candle, that played happy birthday when lit. Unfortunately it could not be turned off so we had to take it outside the restaurant and hide it in a bush so it would stop annoying the other patrons. We walked back down the runway, serenaded by the candle, and stashed it in the airplane where happily its battery ran out over night.


The next morning dawned to overcast skies again, typical on the coast in this part of the world. We took off, taking advantage of a hole in the clouds to climb up into clear skies. The instruments in the 182 were old and tired, and I didn’t want to trust them in proper IMC conditions! As we continued south, and the day warmed up, the marine layer burned off and the coast came into full view, including the mysterious Buddhist temple that I’d flown past a couple of times before.


Our route down the coast took us past the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. We had wonderful views of people enjoying themselves along the beaches and Golden Gate Park. Our destination, just south of San Francisco, was the coastal town of Half Moon Bay. We looped around and landed from the south on runway 30, tying down the aircraft on the parking area closest to town.

At Half Moon Bay we exited through the southern gate, which takes you directly to the harbour and restaurants that are situated along it. Lunch at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company was topped off by an excellent (alcohol-free) Pina Colada! After lunch we checked out some local souvenir shops, and Keiko posed for a few photographs with a Sheriff’s car parked nearby. It was only after we’d taken a few that we noticed four or five police officers laughing and waving from inside the restaurant it was parked outside of.

From Half Moon Bay we took flight again, across the southern outskirts of San Francisco. It was a short trip across the central valley to the foothills of the Sierra mountains, and the airport of Columbia. A previous favourite, this airport has a beautiful on-field camping area that you can taxi right up to. It’s also equipped with shower and toilet facilities, everything one needs for fly-in camping! We cooked another sumptuous dinner on the camp stove, watching a mole busily digging out his tunnel system while we ate.


The next morning we took the short trail from the airport to the historic town of Columbia. The main street is restored to look like it would have in the 1800s when it was a mining town (with, perhaps, a little bit of artistic licence). It seemed to be late season, and not too many people were around. Some attractions, such as the gold panning, were shut down so we settled from browsing the “Olde Time Shoppes” and lunching in the saloon. We walked back to the airport to work off some of the lunch, packed up, and launched south.

Our first stop of the day was Harris Ranch, a top notch steak house in the California central valley that has its own airstrip attached! If you fly in and show your pilots licence, they give you a discount. The restaurant is located with a hotel, and the largest service station I’ve ever seen; one pump services the airstrip. As always at Harris Ranch, the food was excellent, and we lingered for a while to browse the gift shop before taking off at dusk and heading towards the coast. The night’s stop would be the old favourite, Oceano.

We landed after dark and set up camp behind the aircraft. As usual with Oceano, we were the only people there. We settled in for a peaceful nights’ sleep, disturbed only by the creaking of the airport rotating beacon.


We awoke to the sound of a radial engine, as the sight-seeing biplane based in Oceano took to the skies with its first passenger of the day. Breakfast was a selection of unhealthy pastries acquired the previous day, consumed as we watched the yellow Boeing Stearman dipping and diving over the airport. After a leisurely walk in to town, we packed up and headed south along the coast to Camarillo, to say hello to friends at Channel Islands Aviation and have lunch in the excellent on-field restaurant. As is common at Camarillo there was a wide selection of interesting aircraft parked up on the ramp to admire.

Final flights to Camarillo and El Monte

After lunch in Camarillo, we turned east across the LA basin, for the final flight back to our starting point. I had planned our route to take us past the famous Hollywood sign, and we slowed down as we cruised past it to ensure some good photographs! Tourist activity completed, we descended into El Monte, and returned the aircraft to its rightful owners!

Rowan and I made the trek once more to Avis to obtain the rental car, which turned out to be remarkably small; so much so that we had to pack a few of our items around the spare tire under the floor of the boot. That evening we settled into a hotel by the airport, ready for flights out the next day, and celebrated a successful trip with a final meal. The following morning it was back to reality…

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One thought on “Western USA – West Coast

  1. Hey Ross hope that you are safe…
    Panoramic views have fun buddy
    Like the Colubia Fire Engine

    See soon

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