By Cessna Skyhawk
from Ithaca, NY, to Mack Mesa, Colorado

I was fortunate to be able to fly a small airplane from Ithaca, NY, to western Colorado in early October, 2011. When you do the trip by airliner, you're six or seven miles up, the windows are tiny and thick, and you don't see much of anything. In a Cessna at 2500 feet above ground level with the window open the view is unbeatable.

I had originally planned to fly almost due west from Ithaca, with lunch in Ohio and overnight in Illinois on my first day. Then, on to Liberal, Kansas, for my second night. However, that was not to be. 

The weather was nice in Ithaca on the day I left, and so was the weather at my planned overnight stop - but in Ohio and points south it was awful, with low ceilings, rain and wind. Worse, the weather forecast was for the bad weather to spread east and stay for the next four to five days. So, I quickly replanned the trip - I could avoid the bad weather if I headed southwest, keeping the low ceilings and rain to the west.  


My first stop was Johnstown, PA, then on to Charleston, WV, where the ceilings began to drop and the rain started. I tried to avoid the showers by diverting around them, unless I could clearly see the horizon and the other side of a shower before I entered it. 

Finally, after almost six hours of flying, I reached  Green River Lake, Kentucky and the sun broke through the clouds. My first overnight stop became Bowling Green, KY, where the fantastic folks at the FBO not only found me a motel for the night, they negotiated a discount, drove me there, and picked me up the next morning.  

I was in the air early the next morning, and soon afterward passed just south of Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers join. Looking southward, the mighty Mississippi stretches off into the distance. 

A towboat pushes a chain of barges on the Mississippi

Missouri countryside - an old railroad line cuts diagonally through the square fields. 

Sikeston, Missouri was holding their Cotton Carnival Parade as I flew overhead. I took a few photos and later sent them to the Chamber of Commerce - I notice one of them is on their website already!

It isn't often that we get to see a perfect cloverleaf intersection here in the hilly Northeast. The terrain always seems to require some sort of distortion. Out in flat Missouri, it's no challenge...

I like the snaky pattern of the oil-exploration road winding through the low hills here in southwestern Missouri. 

As I flew into Oklahoma the land grew dryer and browner. They've been suffering from a two-year drought, and the effects are obvious from the air. 

A very dry Oklahoma farmstead.

Many lakes have dried up into salt flats. 

The only green is where the irrigator kept the crops watered. 

The trusty Cessna at KLBL - Liberal, Kansas - home of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. I'm not sure how a fictional character can have a home town, but the folks in Liberal say this is it, so who am I to argue?

I arrived just in time to enjoy the Mid-America Air Museum - about a mile's walk at the other end of the huge concrete ramp on this former WWII bomber base. They have an interesting collection of civilian aircraft and warbirds.

Liberal is right on the state border, and very shortly after I took off the next morning I was in the Texas panhandle. The circular irrigated fields here look like they were designed by math teachers to demonstrate pie charts. 

Navigation from Liberal to my first waypoint at Dalhart, Texas, was no challenge. The land was billiard-table flat, with a ruler-straight railroad line running from Liberal to Dalhart. Here, Hooker, Oklahoma, sits alone, surrounded by irrigated fields. 

Beautiful downtown Hooker, complete with grain elevator. 

(Corrected from Guymon - "thanks" to the reader who pointed out the error!)

Near Dalhart, a train turnaround. I've never seen this before, except on model train layouts. Neat. 

Ghost of airports past... 
Dalhart Army Air Force Base's Auxiliary Field No. 1 / West Field was used for bomber flight training during WWII. The runways and ramp were abandoned in the 1950's and the land is reverting to whatever it was before. 

From Dalhart, my route headed northwest toward Las Vegas, New Mexico. The land quickly became more mountainous and rugged.
Radio coverage from Albuquerque Center became patchy in this hilly terrain, and at times I had to turn the squelch off to hear them at all. They were very busy with the balloon festival, so they weren't talking to me much, anyway, but after being in radio and radar contact with one Center or another since I left Ithaca it felt a bit lonely... 

When you live out in the country around here, you're really out in the country. 

I arrived early at Santa Fe, especially with the time zone change, so I was able to spend most of a day just relaxing and touring around the beautiful city. The Santa Fe airport is a very friendly facility, and if you ever want to learn to fly a warbird, this is the place. Above, a T-28 Trojan. 

Leaving Santa Fe on my last day of the trip, a left turn out of the airport took me next to Cochiti Lake reservoir. I had to aim a bit south of West for a while to avoid a ridge, then turned northwest again for the next leg of my route. 

As you fly northwest from Santa Fe, you pass over this cliff, where a high table land falls off to the valley leading up to Farmington, NM 

The land is flattish, but broken by ridges and mesas. I like this desert road - looks like it would be fun to drive in a roller-coaster sort of way. 

Cabezon Mesa, on the west side of the valley. 

The desert land has a surprising amount of color. 

We passed over more mesas as we headed north and west.

There were many rock monoliths sticking up from the desert floor.

This one has an Easter Island Statue feel to it. I'm told that locals call these rock formations "hoodoos". 

I don't know what this is, but it's too round and regular to be an accident of erosion. It sure looks like an impact crater to me, or could it be a long-extinct volcano, maybe? 

An oil road follows the top of the escarpment that overlooks Farmington, New Mexico. I'd been out of radio communication from just west of Santa Fe, so talking to Farmington Tower gave me a brief feeling of being in touch. Once I left their airspace, I was out of range for radio for the rest of the trip. 

The San Juan Generating Station, a mine-mouth plant that was blamed for a lot of the haze obscuring visibility at the Grand Canyon. It looks like they've done a lot to clean it up, judging from the huge bag houses behind each stack and the precipitators between the boilers and the stacks. 
(and "thanks" to Albert Sandoval for the corrected information!)

The huge coal-moving dozers and trucks look like Tonka Toys playing in the sand from up here. 

My original plan had been to fly almost due North to the Four Corners from Farmington, but I saw Ship Rock off in the distance and had to divert to fly by it. 

This is the Four Corners - four states (Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico) meet at an otherwise undistinguished point in the desert, surrounded by ranks of souvenir shops. 

From Four Corners, the route led over Blanding, Utah, and through this saddle in the ridge west of Jackson Peak. I had to climb to my highest point in the trip - 10,200 feet - to get over the pass.  

On the other side of the ridge is Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The colors are a bit subdued under the overcast conditions, but the saturated reds and greens are still striking. 

Two trails meet in a canyon in the Needles District of the National Park.

Sunshine breaks through, here and there, spotlighting parts of the Canyonlands.

At the heart of Canyonlands National Park, the Colorado River and Green River meet. The Colorado enters from the northeast at the bottom of this picture, and the Green flows in from the west, at the right side. The combined river flows southwest - you can see how the two flows remain separate for a while after the rivers join. 

The White Rim is a layer of hard rock running through the northern part of the National  Park, forming a shelf between the higher mesas above and the river below. The White Rim Trail follows the White Rim, down the Colorado and back up the Green River.

 In 1978 my friend Jerry Friedman and I followed the Trail in his International Harvester Scout. At this spot, the rear axle of the Scout broke free from the spring. We followed the trail down switchbacks into a campsite on the river, where Jerry discovered that the bolt which holds the axle to the spring is the same size as the one holding in the passenger seat. Who knew? 

An oxbow bend on the Colorado.

Just before we left Canyonlands, this bright blue butterfly in the red rocks appeared. It's the evaporation ponds at the Texas Gulf Potash mine. Brine is pumped up from thousands of feet below ground and into these ponds. At 5% average humidity, the Canyonlands air quickly evaporates the water. 

The Colorado River leads northeast from Moab, Utah, to Grand Junction, Colorado

The Cessna's new home - Mack Mesa Airport, C07. 

Cessna 46493 at home in Mack Mesa

All photos 2011 Mike Brown