Flight: Clouds & Mountain Peaks

While it may seem like I am beating a dead horse, the whole morning clouds and fog thing has proven to be well beyond my expectations. Much like the winter we spent at the coast, the ocean and the beach is technically the same thing, though every day one looks at it, it is doing something different than before. We had a good soaking rain on Sunday, and this was the morning residual moisture afterward. With the convergence of four mountain ranges (Snake River Range, Salt River Range, Caribou Range, Wyoming Range) and three major rivers (Salt, Greys, Snake), we’re kind of in an epicenter of weather activity, and the same sky and peaks do some pretty wild things hour after hour.

Now that moving and tax season is settling down, I’ll venture outside my comfort zone a bit and get adventurous in the coming weeks, going much farther distances (kind of ironic that I consider all these clouds and peaks as not adventurous).

Note the images at the bottom of the sequence. I went up again this evening, and all of the moisture was gone, resulting in a typical Rockies day.


Caribou Range, ID – Recent Favorite spot to hide in the woods and work on books
Flight 1

Caribou Range, ID (Left), Snake River Range, WY (Distance)
Flight 2

Salt River, Star Valley, WY
Flight 3

Alpine WY, with Snake River Range
Flight 4

Snake River Range with Grand Teton on Horizon
Flight 5

Salt River Range
Flight 6 Flight 7

Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole
Flight 8

Snake River Range
Flight 9

NE side of Ferry Peak (I stare at the SW side all day from the ground)
Flight 10

Ferry Peak
Flight 11

Palisade Reservoir, Star Valley (same day during the dry evening)
Flight 12

Mountain SE of Alpine Town Center
Flight 13

Slopes of Bradley Mountain (Front), Slopes of Ferry Peak (Rear Left)
Flight 14

Flights: Morning Clouds & Fog

My flying routine has always been one of later in the day. Mornings are a time to get work done, and afternoons/evenings are the time to play. This is probably the result of a youth that could be seamlessly interchanged with a Nazi work camp (the difference likely not noticeable to outsiders), Germanic self-abnegation mercifully taught to the generation who would be useless schmucks without it. I simply couldn’t enjoy flying if I had a list of things to do. I also don’t like humidity, so I’d rather play when it is drier later in the day.

The irony is, the family compound had an airport on it, the product of my grandfather’s efforts. It is not as though it would have been difficult even then to take a quick morning flight (save for the onsite work overlords who could hear the mistimed sound of an airplane engine, taking all the fun away). For the past 5 years, I have had to drive to the airport, and that is about as fun as swimming with a raincoat on. There is not a chance of doing anything “quick” with the time required before and after.

Yesterday morning, I looked out the window as I woke and saw a sizable fog bank over Palisade Reservoir. Eyeing it up, it wasn’t moving, and it wasn’t over the airport. I hatched a brilliant scheme to go up and photo it quickly, and it turned out to be quite beautiful. It was a good thing I got it, as it nearly evaporated as I was up there. Total time from leaving the house to returning to the house: 34 minutes.

Last night it snowed down to about 6,250’ elevation, quite close to the valley, and the sun was partially out this morning with an abundance of low clouds swirling around doing interesting things. The brilliant scheme resurfaced, and I was in the air again, except this time up to 9,600’ altitude, to get above the lower layer of clouds. Needless to say, it is very, very cold up there without gloves (poor planning) and with the door open snapping pictures. Total time: 47 minutes.

Of course, the speed of taking a quick flight does increase the fun factor. It also makes for some interesting photography, opening up possibilities that simply do not exist when the airport is 40 miles away, as morning weather patterns tend to burn off with a surprising speed.

Palisade Reservoir

Fog 1

Star Valley – looking south
Fog 2

Caribou Range, ID
Fog 4

Ferry Peak, WY – Alpine Airpark at base
Fog 5

Palisade Reservoir – Looking NW into Idaho
Fog 3

Palisade Reservoir, Ferry Peak

Fog 6

Slopes of Ferry Peak with Aspens at Bottom
Clouds & Snow 1

Ferry Peak, Northern Slope into Snake River
Clouds & Snow 2

Snake River Range
Clouds & Snow 3
Clouds & Snow 4
Clouds & Snow 5

Snake River, with Alpine, WY in the Distance
Clouds & Snow 6

SE side of Bradley Mountain, Greys River at Base
Clouds & Snow 7

Snake River
Clouds & Snow 8

Bradley Mountain sub-peaks, with Star Valley in Background
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Ferry Peak
Clouds & Snow 11

Alpine Airpark, WY
Clouds & Snow 12

Flight: Star Valley, WY

The Star Valley of Wyoming runs north to south and is almost 40 miles long. Technically, we here in Alpine are at the northern terminus, and also coincidentally at the eastern terminus of the Swan Valley, which runs in an arc from the Snake River Plain in Idaho up between the Caribou Range to the south and Snake River Range to the north.

When I flew in from Colorado, we crossed the Wyoming and Salt River Ranges (terrain was 10,000 to 11,000’) and zoomed right along the Greys River and into town, missing the entire valley. After a quick 45-minute flight down the valley and back last week, I was able to get quite a few pictures. Star Valley flying is the closest thing to cruising around upstate NY during the summer with gentle air, flying 1000’ above the ground, with nothing to worry about except enjoying it. The photos tell more of the story than I can.

Salt River – Northern Star Valley looking south
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Star Valley Ranch, WY
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Middle Star Valley, Looking South Toward Afton, WY
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Salt River, Southern Star Valley, Afton WY at distant left
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Middle Star Valley, Looking Northeast
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Star Valley – Thayne, WY, Looking North
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Just South of Alpine, WY, Looking Northeast, Airport in the distance across the water
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Alpine, WY Town Center, Airport in Center Left – Looking NW down Swan Valley into Idaho
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Flight: NC to Wyoming: Colorado to Wyoming

After 2,426 miles of driving (including towing a trailer), we finally made it to Alpine. Requiring four full days, it was more than we bargained for as far as fatigue was concerned. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that our rugged self-reliance (a.k.a. cheapness) is unique, as most of the people we know that have moved across the country hired movers, shipped their cars and animals, and hopped a commercial flight, enduring the burden of sleeping on the floor for a day or so, all the while someone else paid for it.

It’s kind of funny when people hear about our lifestyle. The most common statement is “it must be nice to move around a lot.” Puzzled by their views, it occurred to me that most hear what we have accomplished and assume that someone did it for us. That would be incorrect. Part of making all of these things possible is not paying retail. The other simple fact is that we don’t really like moving around; it has been a function of necessity in certain respects, and more importantly a far-too-long quest to find out where we’d rather be. Dull suburban lifestyle was like a noose around my neck. Extremely rural places are basically a cross between cow manure, meth labs, and trailers (I grew up in said rural area, so I can criticize). Vacation destinations seemed to be a solution, and they are very frustrating and expensive places to live. The best solution, as far as I am concerned, is to find a quiet corner that suits one’s individuality, stake your claim, and never leave. My view all along is that if I am going to work hard to pay for a lifestyle, it damn well better be where I want. There is no sense working for something that is loathsome.

The other funny comments are basically lists of self-imposed restrictions that people place upon themselves and why they want to do what I am doing and can’t. “My family lives here.” “I couldn’t find a job.” “I don’t know anyone.” “We’d have to sell the house.” I learned in my early twenties that the best thing to do is leave problematic family behind, marinating in their point of origin. Jobs? It needs to work for you if you’re going to work for it. Make friends – its easiest when you’re doing what you want. And sell the house – it’s not the American Dream to be indebted to a depreciating portion of a subdivision. I did in 2012. Shed what is not working, and keep what is. It’s a simple formula, except it takes time and determination, and most people would rather eat pizza and watch football while bemoaning their increasing waist size.

Now, on to more exciting things. The flight home! Every day that goes by, I am paying hangar rent in Colorado, and I am not flying. Also every day that goes by, five to ten airplanes go zooming by my window while I work, tempting me with forbidden fruit. I couldn’t take it anymore, a sunny day came up and I was getting the airplane!

Enter in the cheapness equation, and I was sick and tired of spending money and staying in hotels. Thus, I got a rental car on Sunday, left at 4:15AM Monday morning, and drove to Boulder, CO, arriving at 12:30PM. Airborne at 1:30PM, the intention was Alpine, WY by 8PM, official sunset. It would be tight.

I had a passenger with me, a rarity for me. That hosed up my travel assumptions, as getting over Rollins Pass (11,671) in Colorado was a chore with the extra weight. The airplane was battling slight downdrafts, and thermals seemed to be absent. With the aerodynamics and lift of a refrigerator, it took 45 minutes to get enough altitude to get over. Once on the other side, we crawled our way to Steamboat Springs, CO, and made an extra fuel stop. I wanted to get to Rock Springs, WY, except that was not happening after having burnt almost half the tank. There were no other options, except running out of gas, so I committed to two stops, using 45 minutes of my 90-minute buffer.

Central Wyoming was a chore. Desert winds were in full force, bouncing us with a fury as we passed sand dunes that I did not know existed. A storm was coming in the next day, with forecast winds being extremely high, and already the Wind River Range had sizable lenticularis clouds. With the change in fuel stops, we no longer could enter the Star Valley through the lower sections; we’d enter over high terrain to cut distance.

As we flew, I kept smelling what seemed to be some really bad morning breath, wafting in from the back. The thoughts that came to mind were caustic and nasty, and I wanted to say something. The problem is, when I get extremely pissed off about smells and noises, I will decide to be very delicate when I ask about it, and it will come out like an angry Russian commander barking orders. So, I bit my lip and contained a vicious vitriol in my mind. “Drink some water for pete’s sake!” “Moron, he drinks multiple espressos, then an energy drink, and no water, and now this breath!” “Wash!” “Is that body odor? What the hell? Why do I take people, or for that matter, interact with them?” “Really, do you really have to breathe on me?”

We landed in Big Piney, 45 minutes short of Alpine to get fuel. I notice something funny on the side of the airplane. Looking closer, I ask “Is that vomit on my airplane?” “Yes.” “Um, why didn’t you say something?” “Uhhh… and interrupt your photography? I think not.” “How did you pull it off?” “I waited until you opened the door to take a picture, took off the headset, and got it done. I lost my sunglasses doing it.” Thinking a minute, I realized the set of rules I issued before taking the flight: “No puking. No whining. No complaining you have to go to the bathroom. No whining about being cold. No complaining about wind on your face. No boredom. No requests to stop early or divert. No panicking or drama. You’re tagging along for a flight that is pre-determined, and will happen exactly as prescribed despite your presence.” So, he gets to go again for best effort in complying, though I did make him wash the vomit off so as not to alter the chemical nature of my paint. I have a 25 year no vomiting record. I can’t blame myself for having food poisoning as a kid, though I do hold reverse peristalsis liability for eating a five pound bag of M&Ms when I was five. That was no good…

Climbing from Big Piney over the Wyoming Range was slow, and passing overhead, I realized these mountains are super rugged, and the eastern slope gets tons more snow than the western, even though eastern valleys are desert, and western are green. Go figure. Neither of us were worried about an engine out, as terrain was suitable to land, and we both are preparedness junkies with individual sets of matches, a tent, sleeping gear, massive survival kit, food, and water.

Coming over the range, I saw clearly why we moved here. The two pictures at the end speak for themselves.

Boulder, CO (Airport in bottom left)
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Boulder, CO – From the NW

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Eldora Ski Area with Continental Divide in Background
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Rollins Pass, CO (11,671 at lowest point) – Western Continental Divide (water drains to the Gulf of Mexico left, Pacific right) – Winter Park Ski Area in background
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Colorado River – Hot Sulphur Springs, CO
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Rabbit Ears Pass (East side)
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Rabbit Ears Pass (West side)
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Steamboat Springs, CO (bottom of ski area in lower right) – looking NW
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Northwest of Steamboat Springs, CO
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Little Snake River – CO

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Southern Wyoming
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My juvenile side is very happy with this image
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Butte with Wind River Range in Background – Central WY
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Sand Dunes with Wind River Range in Background
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Wyoming Range
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Northern end of Wyoming Range giving way to Grand Tetons
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Star Valley, WY – Idaho border runs along hills to the right
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Alpine, WY! – Home is in the flat area to the left of the bridge. Idaho border is near the eastern shore of the lake.
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