After three great days up in Utah with family it was time to head home. We would have to get up early (4:45am local/3:45am Pacific) because I wanted to get in the air and through the desert before the afternoon thunderstorms had time to develop. After a few trips last year sneaking through between building cumulus clouds we were going to play it safe. I also wanted to take a bit of a longer route home.
My dad grew up in Monroe, Utah and my family has many great memories spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Richfield, just north of Monroe, has a great airport so I thought, “Why not take a little aerial tour of Monroe, stop in Richfield for fuel, and then continue on home, making a detour over the Grand Canyon?”
We got to the airport a little before 6am after a stop to pick up ice for my air conditioner. We loaded up the plane, did pre-flight on it, and my son and I climbed in.
The winds were calm so I chose to take off on 16 for a straight out departure to the south. We lifted off into the growing light and I could see my wife standing at the edge of the ramp so we gave her a little wing wag to wave goodbye. We leveled off at 5,800′ until we were past the 6,000′ shelf of Salt Lake’s Bravo airspace and then continued our climb to 8,500′. As we passed over Utah Lake the sun was just beginning to rise above the mountains to the east of Provo. The sun was a deep red color because of the haze and smoke from summer wildfires.
We headed south down the valley getting bounced around a little which I had anticipated. We are usually further to the west flying down the wide valley that Delta and Milford sit in and cruising along at 10,500′. Here on the leeward side of the mountains down at 8’500′, just below the ridge line the bumps were to be expected.
It was fun to fly down the same route that we had driven so many times when I was growing up. Most of those trips were before the interstate was there so it was down highways 28 and 89 through all the little towns. We flew past Nephi were we would sometimes stop on the way home at a little shop that sold milkshakes in just about every flavor you could imagine, I loved the root-beer one.
We flew past Levan and Gunnison. You learn a lot of important lessons as a kid and on one of those trips home I had learned that there is a reason watermelon has the word “water” in its name. Eating a whole bunch watermelon before beginning a 3 hour drive home is not a good idea. I think it was Gunnison where we stopped on that trip for a quick restroom break that I didn’t think I was going to make it to.
Soon we were flying past Salina where there used to be a building that had a statue of a cow on the roof( I don’t know if it’s still there). When we saw that we knew we were getting close to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Today, from 7,500′ as we passed Salina we could see Richfield and Monroe out ahead of us. We flew past Richfield and made a few passes over and around Monroe. There were the SS’s that we would hike up to, the hot springs, and the park just west of the home my dad grew up in that used to be the rodeo that we would go to. I wondered if anyone was thinking “Who is that flying around making noise at 7:30 on a Sunday morning?” The whole flight was an hour long which beats the three hour drive any day.
We made the turn back to Richfield and settled in on the 7,100′ runway and taxied to get fuel. My son walked over to the FBO to see if it was unlocked to use the restroom. An older gentleman pulled up and asked if we needed any help. I asked if he knew what time the FBO opened. He said 8am, but if we needed to use the restroom he would drive us over to his hangar and we were welcome to use the one there.
Small airports are awesome and the people you meet there are great. He said he would be back in a few minutes after we got our fuel to give us a ride to his hangar on the other side of the runway. Sure enough, as I was putting the hose away he was pulling back up. He asked where we were from and I told him Anaheim. He said that when he had retired from the Los Angeles Police Department years ago a friend convinced him to retire in Richfield. Turned out that he had done his flight training about 60 years ago at the Compton Airport. Now he was an 80 year old living in a small town in Utah still doing aerobatics in his RV-7 or spins and rolls in his Cessna 140.
He introduced us to his friend that he shares the hangar with. We used their restroom and chatted a little bit. They offered us something to drink but with a 3 1/2 hour flight ahead we politely declined. Thanking them for their hospitality he drove us back over to our plane and after another thank you we climbed in and got ready for the next leg.
We headed south, climbing to 10,500′ and flying down the valley past Junction, Panguitch, and eventually Kanab before flying the “Tuckup Corridor” over the canyon. With all of the traffic, there are special flight rules over the canyon and certain routes you can take at specific altitudes depending on the direction of flight. If you have a tablet in the cockpit it is actually relatively simple to navigate the area.
On the way south we saw more beautiful country including Zion off our right wing. We flew past Bryce Canyon but with the haze and smoke in the air combined with the morning sun it was hard to see much off the left wing to the east. I have flown over the Grand Canyon on commercial flights between 30-40,000′ but those do not do it justice. At 10,500′, the lowest altitude you can fly it at, the canyon is more than impressive. The plateau below you is roughly 6,000′ and drops down to the Colorado river thousands of feet below that.
The Mooney is a great plane. Four and a half hours to go from Salt Lake to southern California including a tour of the Grand Canyon. It was a beautiful flight.