Reno part 4 – Reno Air Races

Reno part 4 – Reno Air Races

I packed up my Russian River camp site once again, and hauled everything back to the aircraft. I took off and pointed the Arrow’s nose east, towards Yolo County Airport. Along the way there were a number of interesting things to see; the first was what seemed to be a large natural gas installation, with multiple wells along the hill tops all being fed back to a central processing facility. The second, which I had deliberately set out to visit, was Lake Berryessa. I’d seen pictures of it online and it looked terribly impressive, particularly the overflow structure known as the “Glory Hole”.

I headed straight to Yolo county from the lake. Juvy and I had chosen this as the place to meet, primarily because it was called “YOLO” and that made us laugh. Juvy and her friend were waiting for me at the FBO as I landed. As well as their FBO setup, they had a large maintenance hangar devoted primarily to Cirrus aircraft. We jumped into the rental car (apparently the Jaguar had not been trusted to travel this far) and headed into Davis for lunch.

Davis is home to UC Davis, one of the most well known public universities in the US, and was very obviously a student town. We ate lunch at a trendy crepe and yogurt bar, sitting out on the sidewalk in the autumn sunshine. Visiting towns like this always makes me nostalgic for the University lifestyle. Maybe one day there’ll be an opportunity to live somewhere like this again!

Heading east to Reno

After a bit of walking around, Juvy’s friend dropped us back of at the airport, and we said our goodbyes to him. Juvy loaded her bags back in to the aircraft, and it was time to be off. We left Yolo County Airport and headed up into and across the Sierra Nevada mountains, towards Reno. We’d decided to fly in to the main Reno International airport, to make a change from the Tahoe airport that I had flown into with James in previous years. Signature flight support were as expensive as ever, charging extra fees to gouge people for the privilege of coming to the Reno Air Races, but we sucked it up. Little airplane like ours were banished to parking far from the FBO, on a closed runway, and we were given a golf cart ride to the main FBO building to collect our rental car and get on our way.

Our first stop from the airport was the famous legal brothel, the Mustang Ranch. Before you think badly of me, this was Juvy’s idea, because she wanted to visit and learn a bit about the life style! We wandered in to the rather stereotypical bar area where it was very quiet indeed; a couple of ladies were hanging around and seemed happy to chat to Juvy and answer her questions while I nursed a glass of white wine. After a while, a gentleman came in and wanted to see a “line up” of all the girls currently working; we were offered the chance to sit in and watch (only the line up!!) and gladly accepted. I hung out in the bar while Juvy was given a behind the scenes tour.

We had dinner at an Indian restaurant in Reno. That evening we made our way up Interstate 80 back into the Sierra Mountains and found a camp site, up high at “Emigrant Gap”. This late in the season, most sites were already closed down for winter, and it was a very cold evening up at altitude. Luckily we had the gear for it!


The next day dawned clear and sunny once again. Juvy decided that she wanted a shower, but with the facilities closed down her options were limited. She ended up sending me off to a safe distance to watch the deer that were wandering around, while she stripped off and bathed herself from a freestanding water tap. I’m not entirely sure how she survived without freezing to death. With her morning ablutions completed we packed the campsite up and headed towards Reno Stead airport, home of the Reno air races! We managed to park not too far from the field, and walked the remaining half a mile or so to the gates.

The Reno Air Races are the premium event of the air racing calendar. Started in 1964, the event features multi-lap, multi-aircraft races between extremely high performance aircraft in 6 different classes. The real highlight is the Unlimited class, dominated by highly modified World War Two fighter aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang. The all-time record speed is over 500 mph average around the curse. Between the races there are various other air displays featuring aerobatic and military aircraft. To accompany all the flying events, there’s an excellent ground show with countless stalls and display aircraft.

We spent the day wandering around enjoying the exhibits and marveling at the power of the racing aircraft. My favourite was the P51 Mustang fitted with a Griffon engine and dual counter-rotating propellers. We spent a while chatting with the people manning the Mission Aviation Fellowship stand about their work, and the flight around Africa the previous year. Some of their colleagues had helped out with work on the diesel C182 in Nairobi, as they operate quite a few of the type themselves.

The racing and air shows drew to a close, and we started to make our way towards the exit. A show worker in a golf cart caught sight of Juvy’s sling, and kindly offered us a lift to where we were going, so we rode the length of the airport on the back of his vehicle and headed back to the car.

That evening we wandered around Reno, checking out a couple of the casinos but not gambling, before heading back to our chosen camp site at Emigrant Gap for another cold but peaceful night!


We drove back down I-80 to Reno International the next morning, and returned the car with Signature before getting a lift back out to the Arrow. Today we’d be starting the journey back east in earnest, with 3 planned legs totaling a little under 1,000 miles taking us as far as South Dakota. We’d chosen to take a northerly route for the return, for a change of scenery and to visit some states that neither of us had visited before. There were still a horde of aircraft parked up along both sides of the closed runway; we were leaving before the final days of the Air Races, and so more aircraft were still arriving than leaving.

We departed off the southerly runway, and turned left on course. This part of Nevada is dry and mountainous, and today it was fairly hazy over the first part of the route. For as far as the eye could see (which was not that far) in every direction there was nothing but desert and small mountain ranges, interspersed with the occasional dry lake bed. Once in a while we’d come across a sign of human activity, such as a trail, quarry, or area of irrigation as somebody tried to eke some productivity out of the sand and rock.

Our first stop was Wendover, just over 2 hours flight time, and situated right on the border of Nevada and Utah. This town was established in 1908 as a stop on the Western Pacific Railroad, and not long afterwards was included on the route of the Trans-Continental telephone line. Wendover airfield is large and laid out in the traditional triangular pattern of military fields; it was built in 1940 as a major training field for bombers in World War Two including the crew of the famous Enola Gay, the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb. When construction started on the base there were 100 people in Wendover; by 1943, there were almost 20,000 personnel at the base.

The day’s flying across the western USA

We refueled, and checked out some of the historic displays in the FBO building before taking off again and continuing on our way East along Interstate 80. As soon as we took off, we were over the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. These are the largest salt flats west of the Great Salt Lake, and well known for land speed record attempts, the first being set in 1914. Every year there are a number of major speed events held from late August through to October for a variety of vehicles. We didn’t see anything in progress as we flew over, though.

We continued towards Salt Lake City, the main city in Utah state. The route was easy, just following I-80 past SLC and out the other side, to the east; the route of the highway follows relatively low ground and makes it a little easier to keep clearance from the mountains. A little while after passing SLC we took a left turn north, away from the interstate, and made a beeline for Riverton, Wyoming.

As we headed into northern Utah and then Wyoming, the landscape became hillier and greener. By now the haze had diminished and we enjoyed clear air and beautiful views as we headed northeast. We chose Riverton for two reasons; good fuel price, and it was in an “empty spot” on my map of places I had flown to! There was also a crew car available, and places nearby to eat.

We took the crew car from the FBO after fueling up, and went for some very large sandwiches before continuing on our way. This was the final planned flight for the day, over to South Dakota. However, not too far out of Riverton, having settled into the cruise, Juvy turned to me with a pained expression on her face. “Ross”, she said, “we need to land right away”. There had apparently been some issues with her choice of lunchtime sandwich and it was now threatening to made a rapid and unscheduled reappearance. We informed air traffic control that we were changing our planned destination, and he queried our reason. “Bathroom emergency”. No further questions were asked.

We landed in Casper, Wyoming, and Juvy was remarkably quick to exit the aircraft and disappear into the FBO. The fuel price wasn’t bad so I took on a few gallons while waiting for her to reappear, looking much relieved, and it was time to continue on our way. We wanted to be at our next stop before we lost daylight! The skies were vast and clear as we crossed the rest of Wyoming and made our way, for the first time in either of our lives, into South Dakota.

Our stop that night was in the small town of Hot Springs. Hot Springs was founded in the mid 1800s, and rapidly became a popular tourist destination for the hot springs after which it is named. The FBO lent us the crew car and we drove into town. I decided to risk the snoring beast, and we took a twin room at the Red Rock Resort. This old hotel was in the “once fancy, clearly seen better days” category but Juvy was pleased to discover a piano in the lobby and a spa/sauna that she took full advantage of.

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