Check lists aren’t just for flying and diversions aren’t just for airports…
Camping is fun. It can provide a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and just relax for a little bit. There are a few airports that have campgrounds on them so we thought we would give it a try. On the list of potential destinations is Kern Valley (L05) by Lake Isabella, Columbia (O22) north-west of Yosemite, and Oceano (L52) right near Pismo Beach, south of San Luis Obispo. In the summer the highs at Kern Valley and Columbia are over 100° while the highs at Oceano are about 75°, the decision was made.
Thursday July 27th, 2017
My youngest son was away at Scout Camp for the week which turned my wife and I into temporary empty-nesters and a chance to get away. Thursday morning I got the grass cut and then we packed up and headed to the airport. There was not point in getting on our way too early because we would have to wait for the marine layer to clear so we could land at Oceano. With sleeping bags, a tent, air mattress, etc… in the plane we were ready to go. After fueling the plane we took off on runway 25 into the wind and headed north-west over Chino Hills State Park.
I tried calling up SoCal Approach for flight following but he was buried and denied the VFR request. (I think that’s only the second time I have had that happen, but he was very busy with all the traffic.) It was no big deal, about the time we came out from under the Los Angeles Bravo Airspace we were in a different sector and SoCal Approach there gave us a squawk code and we were in the system.
We flew over the Rose Bowl and west roughly along the 101 freeway while getting handed off. Shortly after passing the Van Nuys I was watching a plane on my tablet and picked him up headed towards us. SoCal called us out to him and he to us. It is hard to pick out small planes in the sky, even when you know where to look. However I could see this one from a long way away, he was a 737. We were vectored to a heading of 180° for a couple of minutes, not that we were going to pass that close to him but as a precaution against wake turbulence.
I was keeping an eye on the weather at Santa Maria (KSMX) just south-east of Oceano to see when it would be VFR. (Oceano doesn’t have weather reporting yet although they are having it installed). I had planned our arrival time for when it was forecast to be VFR but with KSMX still showing IFR I pulled back on the throttle a little. It was beautiful flying along the coast past Ventura and Santa Barbara. The mountain just north-west of Santa Barbara was bare from the recent fire and an ashen-gray color outlined in red where the tankers had dropped the fire retardant.
Once past the TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) for the fire we turned north and headed up the valley. KSMX at this point was clear skies and I was hopeful that we would be able to get into Oceano. We began a descent and it wasn’t long before we could see the clouds ahead from the marine layer looming off shore. Still about 20 miles out I “thought” that it looked like they were just off-shore and figured that if we got closer and couldn’t get in we would just turn around and go have lunch at the Santa Maria Airport.
We flew north until we were on the extended centerline with the runway and then turned to a heading of 290° to be lined up with runway 29. At about 10 miles out I could see the runway and that we would be able to get in, but if we were to have to go around it would have put us into the marine layer. While it didn’t make a go-around “impossible” it did make me think of the stories my dad tells of landing C-130’s at Sparrevohn Air Force Station in Alaska. The runway there has a 5% uphill slope and you land uphill into a deadend valley where a go-around is impossible.
The runway at Oceano is 2,325′ x 50′ which while not the narrowest runway I have landed on (that would be Harris Ranch 3O8 at 30′ wide) it is the shortest. Coming in was a beautiful sight with the clouds hanging along the coastline and the sun reflecting off the dunes onto the clouds above. I had my speeds nailed down and touched down almost on the numbers. I was still a little too fast to take the first exit onto the ramp but easily made the second turn at 1,600′.
It would have been over a five hour drive to get there from home, but even pulling back on the power to slow down it was just at an hour and a half to fly there in the Mooney.
I mentioned earlier that checklists aren’t just for flying. We taxied to a parking spot, I shut down the plane, my wife looked at me and said “Did you remember the beach tent?” (Instead of the beach umbrella we were going to take a little pop-up beach shelter for shade). My response was, “No… I forgot it” followed by the realization that “Dang, I forgot my rain jacket too.” I was going to bring it for a lightweight windbreaker when it cooled down in the evening. She asked, “Did you grab the beach towels?” I responded “I remember seeing them on the bed but I didn’t grab them…” I looked at her and said “I should have made a checklist for packing…”
Quick PIREP (Pilot Report) on the campground:
- It’s right by the transient Parking
- Only for use if you fly in (probably will always be able to find a place and it cuts down on the noisy neighbors you get at a lot of public campgrounds)
- Walking distance from Old Juan’s Cantina and the Rock & Roll Diner
- Bikes for your use
- Close to the beach and tons of rentals of ATV’s if you want to ride the dunes
- Restrooms right by the pilot lounge
- Fire pits
- $12/night transient parking and $15/night camping fee. (Neither one waived even if you buy fuel)
- If you like hanging out at the campsite, there isn’t much to look at besides old hangars…
- Daily irrigation from 12-2pm… If you want to stay more than one night you have to break camp or risk the sprinklers soaking your tent. In fairness, if you were to watch the sprinklers for two hours you could probably find a place to pitch your tent where the sprinklers don’t hit, but I didn’t want to watch for that long.
- Dogs on the other side of the fence bark all night long… (You can’t see them through the bushes and trees, but you can hear them)
- Oh, and bring bug spray, the mosquitos are huge!
After setting up the tent we decided to walk over to Old Juan’s Cantina for some lunch. We had heard that their Fish n’ Chips were amazing so we ordered that along with a Carne Asada Burrito. The Fish was amazing, the Chips (fries) and Burrito were average.
While eating lunch we decided there would be a diversion from our camping plans. If we had to break camp we might as well go somewhere else tomorrow, and the Santa Ynez (KIZA) airport was nearby along with Solvang, CA where my wife has wanted to go for a very long time. So, I pulled out my phone and booked a room at the Solvang Inn and Cottages for Friday night.
After lunch there was time for a nap and a bike ride down to the beach. Later in the evening we walked over to the Rock & Roll Diner. The atmosphere was great and the food was great too. Tri-tip for dinner and a cinnamon roll with ice cream for desert!
I think I slept well, except for the incessant barking of the neighbor’s dog. However eventually my mind tuned it out and I slept. (I’m fairly certain my wife slept well also.)
We will go again, but will be better prepared next time.
Friday July 28th, 2017
In the morning it was completely socked in with no chance of leaving, which I knew would be the case. Having brought the big 8 man tent for the two of us we set up the beach chairs inside and enjoyed a breakfast from the food my wife had packed in the cooler.
A little before 10am I could start to see patches of blue sky so we packed up camp and loaded up the plane. There is about a 3-4 hour window when the clouds are pushed off enough that you can land on 29 or take off on 11. By the time we were ready to go there was blue sky to the east even though there were still patchy clouds overhead and westward towards the beach it was completely socked in. That left us taking off with about a 5-7 knot quartering tailwind on the 2,325′ runway, but that is the typical departure from Oceano. We were off the ground by just past the halfway point on the runway and had no problem climbing fast enough to easily clear the palm trees and the small hill to the east.
We stayed down at 3,000′ for the short flight which really gives you a feel for how fast you were going. Cruising along at 160 mph doesn’t feel very fast at 7,500-9,500′, but at just a couple thousand feet up it is a lot of fun. Thirty minutes after taking off we were coming in to land at Santa Ynez.
As we were coming in over the Solvang we had seen what looked like a new forest fire coming up. The smoke had barely started rising for a valley to the south. As I was tying down the plane I heard a turbine spooling up and looked over to see a fire crew loading up into a helicopter which quickly departed to the south-west to knock it down. They must have been able to make quick work of it because when we left the next day there was no trace of smoke.
We were going to catch an Uber ride into town but there was another couple that had landed just before us who were taking a courtesy car into town to pick up their rental car and they offered to drop us off. She had lived in the area years ago and it was like having your own private tour guide on the way through town.
The Solvang Inn and Cottages sits on the west end of “down town” within easy walking distance of everything. It is also right across the street from the #1 restaurant on Tripadvisor in Solvang, Paula’s Pancake House. We were hungry, it was lunchtime, and while I like eating breakfast in the morning, I enjoy breakfast at lunchtime and breakfast for dinner just as much! The “World Famous Danish Pancakes” there were excellent! I had the combo with eggs and sausage (the Danish Sausage was not so excellent) and my wife had hers with fresh strawberries and whip cream. The real maple syrup was delicious.
The rest of the day involved wandering around town, a short spell in the pool, and more wandering around town. If you get the chance to go by the Solvang Trolley Ice Cream Parlor and they happen to have their “Chocolate Covered Strawberry Ice Cream”… get some! There was a local band playing classic rock in the park in the evening so we stopped to listen for a little bit before heading over to the Solvang Brewing Company, the #2 restaurant in town on Tripadvisor. The Sliders there were delicious and there was a steady stream of plates going by to other tables and it all looked good.
After sleeping last night in the tent in Oceano and listening to the dulcet tones of a dog that apparently doesn’t know its supposed to go to sleep when it’s dark, I slept like a rock tonight.
Saturday July 29th, 2017
There are a lot of advantages to not drinking alcohol. One of those is that you typically wake up earlier than the crowd that was drunk the night before. This meant that we walked across the street into Paula’s Pancake House for breakfast and were seated right away. I’ve never been one to change up a good meal so I had the same thing for breakfast that I had for lunch yesterday. My wife had the Danish Pancakes again but with cinnamon apples instead of the strawberries.
After breakfast we walked down the street to the Jule Hus to get a Christmas Ornament (we like to get ornaments from places we’ve been) and the obligatory fridge magnet.
Even though it was low overcast in the morning by a little after 9am it had almost cleared up and by the time we were checking out at 10am it was blue skies. As we waited for our Uber ride back to the airport we looked across the street at about 30 people waiting to be seated at Paula’s Pancake House and we were glad we had been there before everyone else got up.
Back at the airport I pre-flighted the plane and then went over to the fuel island to get some gas. We could have made it back on what we had, but if you buy fuel they wave the overnight parking fee. After a run-up we took runway 26 and we were climbing to the south-west towards the mountains along the coast. Shortly after take off I picked up flight following from Santa Barbara Approach and once above the elevation of the mountains began a turn to the south and then east. We cut the corner across the Santa Barbara Channel, cruising above the marine layer at 7,500′ with the mountains to the north and catching glimpses of the coastline through the clouds that were slowly breaking up.
A short hour and ten minutes after taking off from Santa Ynez we were touching down in Corona. I am still amazed at how close everything becomes when you can fly there…