Westcoast  Loop
part  2
 
 
Route of second part of our West Coast LoopAs with all flying adventures, a constant concern is what the weather will really be like over the next part of the route. It had been our intention to take a fairly direct heading passing Boise, Idaho to Kalispell, Montana where we had a rendezvous with an old friend. Boise brought good memories back to us from a previous visit a year ago in 2002 on the way to Alaska so we considered it worth a stop-over. However, a persistent depression with an active weather front was busy extinguishing the numerous wildfires around Boise. Thus, we decided to divert along the coast to Portland and then east across the Cascades to our destination. This meant a route of 860nm instead of the direct 720nm.
 

Trinity Mountains or AlpsJuly 26  Today with Joan at the controls we headed north to Portland, Oregon, a comfortable 460 nm ( 850 km) trip. After departing Napa (KAPC) we flew up the Valley, north passing Redding, general direction toward Eugene, Oregon. The flight was smooth until we came to the Trinity Mountains or Alps where the clouds were low over part of the summit and the wind jerked us around like we were on one of those body slamming amusement rides. Once out, the sky cleared and after passing Eugene we started to descend closing in on our destination of Portland (KPDX). The last time we had seen the city from the air was on the way to Alaska from an altitude of 14'000 ft. After calling Approach, the instructions were to fly directly to city center and then direction tower. Shortly before seeing the faces of the controllers we cranked a hard right onto downwind, slotted between approaching airliners and hoped that the wake turbulence would subside enough to land right side up. Once again parked, unpacked and tied down. The comfortable Executive FBO was just the kind of place one wants to walk into after an early morning flight that somewhat rattled our brains. Of course quality and service has it's price reflecting in the fuel price.

 

Downtown Portland ORAfter checking into a hotel, probably built in the city's founding days we canvassed the City for a few hours and had a coffee. Our impression was that there must be a lot more to Portland than met our eyes. What we had read and heard did not match up. We decided to come back and give it another try. Maybe we were just tired from the testing days in Napa.

Portland International Airport (KPDX)Strangely enough, we were missing the chart into Montana and the FBO was also out of the one we needed. A helpful person called a close by airport and arranged for us to pick up the missing chart (and give us a chance to compare fuel prices). Those airport people in the Portland area were great in everyway and again, just the kind of people you want to deal with on a long journey.

 

Hydro Dam on the Columbia River east of PortlandJuly 27   We were off to Kalispell, Montana (KFCA) with Ueli pushing the throttle and Joan capturing the beautiful scenery. A flight of 400 nm ( 740 km) across relatively barren land lay ahead. Portland Departure requested us to stay low and north of the Columbia River up to the gorge  cutting across the Cascades. We did not mind as this way we could see the beauty of the area close up while in the background many snow capped volcanic mountains beckoned us to climb. It was spectacular and we thought again about Portland. Due to our short stay we must have missed the essence of the City. We would definitely to go back and spend a bit more time here.

 

Parade of Volcanos on the Cascades ith Mt.Rainier in the center.Flying east in direction of Spokane, an interesting observation was the significance of Columbia River as a lifeline flowing south from Canada through the relatively dry land east of the Cascades, giving opportunities to many agricultural centers and power generating facilities. This is the route where Lewis and Clark had discovered the land in fall of 1805 on the way to  the pacific.   

The areas between the green valleys are used as sparse grazing grounds  the vast wonderland of prairie. Occasionally military training facilities and ammunition depots are trying to hide from curious eyes.

 

Coeur D'Alene IdahoCruising at 11,000ft over Coeur díAlene we were tempted to stop and check out the breathtaking areas between green hills and deep blue lakes. The sight of floatplanes on the calm lake stirred memories of our love to fly floatplanes. A mental note was made to come back to this remote corner of the USA. However, a little challenge lay ahead. A new TFR (Flight Restriction Area) due to forest fires along our flight route had to be avoided and an IFR approach into Kalispell could become necessary because of heavy smoke. The strong wind higher up created the well known jet stream boundary turbulence which cautioned us on descent toward the mountain peaks to respect their ever present unpleasant bumps. Without further surprises we landed in VFR at Kalispell  directed by a very busy controller slotting us in among a beehive of water bombers, etc. The wind had cleared the smoke that fills the valley during the night to offer a sunny reception.

 

Firefighters watching fire helplessly in the remote areas of the Glacier NP, NE of Kalispell

Fire coming over the crest The fires in Glacier National Forest were horrendous. It was THE topic everywhere as it affected the tourist depending economy. In the mornings, the valleys were blanketed with smoke. Only a brief respite in the afternoons allowed one to see the beautiful but hazy mountains of this glorious park. The day after our arrival the winds changed in late morning, making visibility better.

We explored the area by car, but because of the overwhelming fires, no one could venture into the Park. It was heartbreaking to witness the magnitude of devastation. We felt so grateful to be spared of what so many were experiencing. Ueli videoed and Joan took pictures to document the disaster. The firefighters were exhausted and in many areas there was simply nothing anyone could do to contain the fires at that given time.

 

Joan checking the "Cessna T-37 Tweet" in flying condition, having two Lear Jet engines ( private collection)We took advantageStonehenge of Montana of the window and flew out to a private airstrip visiting old friends. We were treated to lunch and caught up on the last 15 years of our life. Then, as the climax we were shown and could check out a wonderful collection of historical airplanes, all in flying condition. Next to the runway stood an exact replica of Stonehenge (where other airports have an ordinary VOR transmitter).  Extraordinary was the only word to describe that experience. Slurry bombers waiting to be filled up

On the flight back to Kalispell the devastating fires caused heavy air traffic from the helicopters and water bombers buzzing around like at a bee hive. It was time to get out of the way,  tie the plane down leave the airspace for the fatigued fighters.

 

 

Prairie between Great Falls and Billings

Montana is one of the most beautiful States as seen by our eyes and has a wealth of things to explore and experience. It is a place to have a wonderful quality of life and much quiet time. Over the years we have returned time and time again. Sometimes we think the thought of those heavenly huckleberry milkshakes have a play in our decision to return.

 

July 30 We crossed over the Rockies with it's smoke filled valeys and headed in the direction SE to Billings, Montana 300 nm ( 550 km) away. The wind was strong on our tail but calmed down once over the plains. The terrain is dry and at first glance looks barren and desolate. However, when studying it a bit closer, there is much more than first meets the eye. The old river beds, rock formations and coloring makes one think how it must have looked ages ago.

 

Approach to Billings (KBIL) 28RApproaching the airfield of Billings International (KBIL) was uneventful until turning base to final for runway 28 over the city still at 2000 ft above ground but then to see that you are only 1000 ft over the runway. The airport sets on a plateau overlooking the City to the south. There is one corner of the pattern that feels like itís missing until well established on final. Who knows, maybe we flew it wrong! It was OK for the Tower controller but it just felt strange.

Downtown Billings Montana In Billings, the people are friendly and helpful. We were there to check out avionics equipment to update the panel in N85S. The possibilities are endless, interesting and expensive. We decided to go to the local Barnes & Noble, check out several books and have a Starbucks coffee to hash over all the information we received. We promptly fell asleep in those big overstuffed chairs and came to at some point. It was time to go home.

 

 

Back home in Boulder Colorado

July 31  On the last leg of our journey, 420 nm (780 km), back to Boulder there were the usual afternoon CBís forecasted and they can be rather nasty along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. A frontal system had established itself in the mountains forcing us to keep east. Over Cheyenne we bucked the usual winds, coming out of the direction of Laramie, which never seem to cease. We wasted no time getting home and the controller gave us a direct vector to Boulder. We looked forward to sleeping in our own bed again after this grand tour of the western United States it was splendid! It was a 2710 nm (5020 km) round trip.

 

 
 
 

 

Visit our other trips
Santa Fe Boulder - Santa Fe - Boulder
Aspen Daytrip to Aspen
Westcoast Loop part 1 Boulder - Prescott - Palm Springs - San Diego - Napa
Pittsburgh Boulder - San Joseph - Indianapolis - Pittsburgh - Des Moines - Boulder
Cleveland Boulder - Salina - St. Louis - Cleveland - Cincinnati - Kansas City - Boulder
Four Day Swing Boulder - Dutch John - Wendover - Ely - Marble Canyon - Montrose - Boulder

 

 

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