A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Flight Over the Rockies to Moab

June 10, 2019
Emilie Phillips updated July 11, 2019

This is the third day of our flying trip to Utah. Check out the other posts

The flight

Monday morning we plotted a course straight to Moab — 417 nautical miles. Once we adjusted it to go over passes, the route was 450 miles. We should get to Moab that afternoon. Our first pass was Mosca Pass at 9,740 feet, and the second pass North Pass at 10,149 feet

When we re-packed the airplane in the morning, we weighed everything with the pack scale. We still had 75 pounds more baggage than Tyson guessed we should. All we had was

  • backpacking gear
  • food for a week
  • tools to fix the plane, just in case
  • oil, tiedowns, tablets, chargers, and maps for the airplane

Where was all the weight?

Initially flying west from Scott City Kansas, the ground was flat. A mix of farm fields, stock pens, and grazing land. Then streams started to cut gullies and sand bluffs.

“Aha!” I thought, “this must be the start of three dimensional terrain that grows into the Rockies.” But I was wrong.

The first shaddow of mountains ahead

Instead, the Rockies first appeared as a band of haze across the horizon. The blue haze solidified into mountains, and the white dabs at the top into snow. The flat plains ran straight to their base. No rolling foothills to introduce the mountains.

Two black hawk helicopters

We started tracking our landing and takeoff performance. For lunch we landed at Spanish Peaks. The airport elevation is 6,000 feet. With the heat, the density altitude was 7,800′. We landed and took off in about 700′ with a 4-14kt headwind. The Blackhawk helicopters that stopped in took off shorter.

At Spanish Peaks, we spotted the 2019 Colorado Airport Directory. It contained descriptions of the passes and ASOS weather frequencies for some. No weather for Mosca or North Pass. The mountain flying book I was reading had all sorts of advice about crossing passes: expect down drafts, watch the terrain on the other side to make sure you are climbing above the pass, venturi effects and uneven warming may cause strong winds, get local knowledge beforehand.

We approached Mosca Pass cautiously.

Great Sand Dune National Park

Nothing much happened other than me taking thousands of pictures of the surrounding snowy peaks. We did notice the engine oil getting hot. On the other side we saw the giant sand pile at Great Sand Dunes National Park and wondered how it got there. Then I got bored and took a nap. While I was asleep, Tyson flew up over North Pass. The engine oil overheated again. It got up to 240F before he headed down again. When I woke up, the air was bumpy, Isaac was incoherently cranky, and Tyson was worrying over the oil. We thought lower altitude might help all these problems. I helped Tyson find a detour down into a lower valley. Once there, things improved and both relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful stone formations.

Utah north of Arches

We had one more “oops” before we were safely down. We discovered X’s closing the gravel runway at Moab. There was nothing to do but land on the paved runway. Had we checked the NOTAMs, we would have known the small runway was closed.

4.5 hours flying. KTQK – 4V1 – KCNY

The next day we flew into the back country strips.

All Photos

GPS Track

Apologies for the poor quality track. We forgot to log with open street maps. I had to pull out logs from Droid EFB afterwards.

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