Last Saturday, a good friend of mine invited me and another former co-worker to fly to Grants ‘for breakfast’ in his Comanche 250. A good day for flying and not nearly as bumpy as I’d expected given the pretty good breeze blowing at ground level. It was a wonderful experience and gave us a unique view of a picturesque region that is mostly devoid of any roads or human presence. Taking off from the tiny Mid-Valley airport in Los Lunas, we quickly gained enough altitude to see a line of volcanoes south of Albuquerque, and then a landscape filled with mesas and volcanic plugs including Cabezon Peak (the big peak on the right of the picture) off in the distance.
(Note that some of these pictures are not that great since the late morning light was a little bright and they were shot through the plane’s plexiglass windows.)
Off to the south, we soon spotted Acoma Pueblo high on an isolated mesa.
If you zoom in on the picture, you can just make out the mission-style church (built 1629-1641) on the mesa just behind that square standalone mesa in the middle of the picture. Acoma has a very long history of being occupied by humans for at least 1200 years, and was visited by the Coronado expedition in 1540. It’s been a few years since I last visited, but should make a return trip as it is a fascinating place to explore.
Continuing west, we skirted the lava flows from Mount Taylor in preparation for landing at the Grants-Milan airport.
At 11,305 feet, Mt. Taylor is more than 600 feet higher than Sandia Peak in Albuquerque and is one of the four sacred mountains marking the Navajo Nation.
This next picture shows our setting up for the landing in Grants.
And here’s our intrepid pilot and the plane on the ground.
One might feel a bit of trepidation on hearing that the plane is almost 50 years old and (as I later found on google) was the same model that Patsy Cline died in a crash, but Capt. Bob gave us a sense that he had things well under control.
Borrowing a car from the airport, breakfast at the WOW Diner was excellent and fortified us for our return trip. This leg of the trip took us a little further south over the extensive lava flows of El Malpais and some fascinating nearly roadless and uninhabited territory. Able to fly over such areas at a lower altitude, at times we were lower than some rather nearby peaks.
From the air, one also gets an excellent view of the fractal patterns of washes and creekbeds, these just west of Los Lunas.
A smooth landing back at the home field in Los Lunas, and not a bad way at all to spend a morning. Definitely have to talk Bob into another ride sometime.
The next morning, Rebecca and I pretty much repeated that journey on the ground, heading to Bluewater Lake State Park just west of Grants, where there had been several recent reports of some interesting birds. We’re pretty sure we saw the immature red-necked grebe and a California gull during our visit, and definitely saw large numbers of eared grebes, a belted kingfisher, and a bald eagle, but all were quite far away and required scope viewing. I did get an interesting picture of the waves generated by a single boat crossing the still waters that morning.
Earlier this week, I was surprised to spot a West Coast Lady last Wednesday while walking in Embudito Canyon. It’s pretty late in the year to still be seeing butterflies, especially one as fresh-looking as this guy.
Yesterday, although cold and breezy, there were a few birds about in the Open Space at the end of Copper, where the Thursday Birder group is headed this week. This pair of Canyon Towhees stayed around long enough for me to get their picture.
And right at the end of my walk as I was headed back to the car, I spotted this Rock Wren quite close to the trail.