Flight: Spain: Catalonian Central Depression

Castellano abajo.

Finally, after months of angst and anguish, the weather cleared enough that I could take a flight down to the Catalonian Central Depression, an area of farmland that had eluded me since I came to Spain. Perpetually covered in haze, the place is substantially desert-like; yet, somehow managed to be fogged in for two straight months, producing some incredible imagery when I took a flight along the inversion to Montserrat a few months ago.

I learned my lesson from Wyoming: spring in semi-arid regions is the time to go flying. Vegetation has maximum texture, and the earth is on display as the seasons turn. While one season is prettier than another, it is not to say that one is not worth seeing. I have sat in front of my computer, time and time again, wishing I had flown to a certain destination in a different season, waxing poetically that it “must be fantastic when its green.”

This was a test run, to get a clue of what the spring around here would be like. As you can see, La Cerdanya was a wonderful shade of brown, while green did materialize down lower. This flight took place in March. Before one thinks the snow was over in the Pyrenees…..it snowed here until late April.

Finalmente, después que meses de angustia y dolor artística, el clima aclaró suficientemente para que estuvo posible volar sin inversión hasta la Depresión Central de Catalunya. Es lugar casi desierto, excepto fue cubierto en nieblas para meses, un fondo de frustración y raramente, un poco de belleza.

Aprendí en Wyoming, EUA que la primavera es estación muy importante para texturas y colores, porque los campos de agricultura cambian mucho en la progresión de verano. Es imposible decir que una temporada es inútil visitar en vez de otro (con la excepción de nieblas), pero es cierto que hay unos que son mejor que otros.

Este vuelo fue una prueba para averiguar lo que está pasando aquí en Catalunya, en preparación para las temporadas que vengan. Tardando con un montón de fotos, el vuelo pasó en Marzo, cuando La Cerdanya se mostró con falta de color. No te preocupes: recibimos nieve aquí hasta el fin de Abril!
Lower Cerdanya….clad in raiment brown.
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Lower Cerdanya is pretty gnarly with terrain. Most of the time, I am 2,500 feet higher than this. 
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I had intended to clear La Seu’s airspace and wander down the river valley below, except they smugly ignored me. Back up to 6,000 feet we go to overfly terrain…
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Spain: land of texture. There is no end to it.
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Pantà d’Oliana (reservoir below) with a giant piece of rock.
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Serra de Turp i Mora Condal-Valldaran
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Serra de la Valldan
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Getting lower, a bit hazier, and greener!
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Some things can only be explained with alcohol. / Algunas cosas sólo pueden ser explicado a causa del alcohol. 
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Northeast edge of the Catalonian Central Depression.
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Home on the range….Catalunya style. 
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Cervera
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Chaotic order. There is a profound beauty to it.
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Non-chaotic order.
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Why live in farm country, when you can live here?
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This has a distinct Kansas feel. Just add a tornado.
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Near Selvanera.
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I failed to see the potential in these textures at the time. They annoyed me as too cluttered. Some of the flights I have gotten recently are practically spiritual of features like this.
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Wandering back toward home. Slightly higher terrain altitude. Note trees without leaves and field textures losing green.
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Edge of the Pre-Pyrenees. Catalunya has more forests than I gave it credit for.
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Serres de Busa-els Bastets-Lord (hill on the right), Pantà de la Llosa del Cavall (reservoir). Colors are real.
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Serra del Verd (on the right).
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El Pedraforca. 
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South side Cadí-Moixeró.
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Book: Flying Jackson Hole

Español abajo.

Book number 10 has been published, finally: Flying Jackson Hole. The title is self-evident- a compendium of images over and around Jackson Hole, with a special emphasis of looking down from high mountains and perspectives of areas that most are too lazy to hike to on the ground.

“But wait, didn’t I see something on Facebook about this, or your AOPA blog?” Yes, you did. I really am terrible at self-promotion and procrastinate. “AOPA blog? What is this about?” Yes, I have that too, and I am not the greatest about cross-posting. I half wonder if I like having siloed audiences so I can play mind games with myself. At any rate, I do write for a few magazines, and link to my anthology on my website. Click here to see it.

The book publishing process took a full year hiccup as I secured a literary agent in New York and spent an absurd amount of time as my work was paraded in front of some of the largest international publishing houses in the world. Time after time, I saw emails from acquisitions editors brought to the brink of orgasm by my work, followed by an inexplicable rationale for declining publication. After going through the process, I have come to find that the traditional publishing world resembles the fashion industry, operating by trend, fad, hazy group consensus, and just plain chance. Some day, I’ll win the poker match and a fancier book will be born. Until then, CreateSpace seems to have upped the quality of their printing presses, so full steam ahead.

Publication of my Wyoming-based activity will be picking up speed. At some point, I’ll make up my mind about an orderly flow of European titles (there is a concern over language choice, among other things). Needless to say, I am getting extremely backlogged, and the creativity is only taking off. Stay tuned as I get involved with more ambitious ideas.

Voy a decir primeramente que la versión española específicamente no será una traducción de lo que escribí en inglés. No estoy interesado en escribir la misma cosa dos veces, y también, estoy comunicando con dos grupos distintos.

Finalmente, publiqué mi libro número 10, en inglés (disculpe): Flying Jackson Hole (Volando Jackson Hole). El sujeto es un lugar en Wyoming, EUA muy famoso de esquiar y los parques nacionales Grand Teton y Yellowstone. Esta área es imprescindible, precioso, y casi lo más caro en todo el país, una Cerdanya de América, excepto con precio de triple.

He dejado el proceso de publicación por obtener un agente literario en Nueva York, que duró un año de trabajo fuerte comunicando con empresas internacionales, logrando a ellos al borde de orgasmo, solo para finalizar con una falta de contrato para razones que no hacen sentido. Por eso, sigo publicando con CreateSpace una lista larga de libros concentrado en el sector oeste de los Estados Unidos. Un día, decidiría mis planes en cuanto al montón de fotos que tengo aquí en Europa.

 

Flight: Spain: 2 of 2 – Length of the Pyrenees

For the flight back, I wasn’t precisely sure which route I would take. My focus had been the Pre-Pyrenees as the air was clear and the region quite interesting. At minimum, I planned on overflying some of the rough terrain just west of Pico Aneto, the highest point in the Pyrenees, and also where I had previously been. The sections even further west than that looked a bit scary from the maps, and I hadn’t made my mind up. Recall that the Western Pyrenees get slammed with significantly more snow than Central and Eastern parts, and therefore have glaciers and more rugged terrain.

After consulting with local glider pilots at Santa Cilia, I determined it would be a good day to head north right into the heart of the rugged terrain, then head east long some of the crazy stuff. As they noted “this is about as perfect as it gets for weather.” Fair enough. With some trepidation, I climbed north toward high terrain, wondering what I was getting myself into.

The closer I got to the big, bad mountains, the more nervous I got, as I looked at thick pine forests with few emergency landing locations, set against spires of rock covered in snow with indications of avalanches. Then once I got over said harsh avalanching terrain, I hit my Zen-style calmness where I am in a transcendental state of spiritual bliss, and continued over some of the harshest terrain I have yet seen in the Pyrenees, not rendering a shred of care if I had to land in 10 feet of snow in an emergency.

Every moment of it was wonderful, until the last quarter of the flight, where I was freezing cold, tired, and worn out after having taken almost 5,000 photographs. After landing, I couldn’t seem to function speaking Spanish, and went home with a brain that turned to mush. The last time such a thing occurred was in high altitude, wickedly cold Colorado, doing something similar in the Cub.

Some people do sweat lodges; I do the opposite.


For all I know, they stopped construction in 2008 when the economy crashed. Its not like anybody would care….except the Germans.
Pyrenees Binge (1 of 31)

Approaching the Western Pyrenees.
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Western end of the Pyrenees.
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Parque Natural Valles Occidentales
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Between Canfranc and Biescas – cruising altitude only 9,000 feet.
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West of Río Ara
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Avalanches
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Parque Nacional Monte Perdido – for any aviation Nazis, I was, in fact, legally above the restricted flying zone.
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The pinnacle to the middle right with a bit of snow on it was featured on the last blog post. I cruised very close to those smaller hills down below.
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Valle de Pineta. Pretty badass. The French border is at the end of the valley.
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Somewhere in the Pyrenees….
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Somewhere else in the Pyrenees….
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Pico Espadas (3.332m / 10,928 ft)
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Parque Natural Posets-Maladeta
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Pico Aneto – highest point in the Pyrenees – (3.404m / 11,165 ft). It is quite chilly up here. There is also a glacier on the left side of the mountain, hiding under winter snowpack.
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Saharan dust on mountain snowpack.
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Catalunya….
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Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes – Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Aragón anymore….
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Other side of Aigüestortes. Usually power lines are not that compelling, though the perspective is pretty interesting.
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Western end of Cadí-Moixeró, almost home.
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Last bit of the Pyrenees descending toward La Cerdanya.
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Flight: Spain: 1 of 2 – Length of the Pyrenees

Although this was one day of flying, I decided to break up the outbound and returning leg of the flight into two blog posts, as I ended up taking almost 5000 photographs, and there is just too much to show. That is a record for one flight. While I don’t per se keep track, I definitely smashed the crap out of any prior flying day by a wide margin with the image count.

The way out is straight west, flying the length of the Pre-Pyrenees. The next post will be the same leg coming back, except over the spine of the Pyrenees – nearly the entire length of the mountain chain.

The Pre-Pyrenees are interesting in that they are not exactly foothills, as the terrain can exceed timberline, yet the rock features are immensely varied, with all sorts of interesting things going on. The Pyrenees themselves are as one would expect: big ass mountains.

The terrain contained things that reminded me of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Appalachia, New York, farm country, hill country, scrub brush, snow, thick pines, and everything in between. I was like a kid in a candy store and my arm literally got tired holding the camera and my hand fatigued from pressing the shutter button. With 548GB of camera cards and 11TB of hard drive space, I am awaiting the arrival of my new computer, as the current one is ready to start on fire when I start retouching photos. Too many pictures….

Map of flight out and back. Outbound leg (this blog post) is bottom half of the white line. Yellow line is border of Spain and France (France north, Spain south for the geographically ignorant).
Map

Inversion – though it will not be affecting this flight!

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Serra de Boumort
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Collegats-Queralt
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Embassament de Sant Antoni
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Vall Alta de Serradell-Terreta-Serra de Sant GervàsPre Pyrenees (8 of 38)

Muntanya d’Adons
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Vertical rock is a very nice thing to see in an airplane.
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More or less the border of Aragón and Catalunya. Més o menys la frontera de Catalunya i Aragón. Hey, imagine that….Catalan! Más o menos la frontera de Cataluña y Aragón. Spanish too!
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Unnamed terrain. Closest village is El Sas.
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Apparently terrain like this is so common, it has no name. Closest village complexes all end in Serradúy….
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Highway HU-V-9601.
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Turbón
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Collado de el Santo. 
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Peña Montañesa
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More vertical rock!
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It is getting exhausting figuring out the names for these things (that, and in an Aragonese symbol of not giving a crap, the hills stop having a name on Google Maps). These are between the last named mountain and Jaca.
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There are three churches at timberline on this hill, all duly named after some long dead saintly figures, yet nobody can bother to name the mountain itself? 
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East of Sabiñanigo, looking east toward where I came.
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West of Sabiñanigo, looking toward Santa Cilia airport.
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There is a terrain feature like this in southwest Virginia, deep in hillbilly Appalachian coal country. I really don’t know what to say as the comparison is unmistakable yet I have no desire to defile Spain with the Confederacy….
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What the hell is this? 
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Jaca
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West of Jaca, just before the airport.
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I heard some strange noises coming from behind the fueling station at the airport. I walked back to find out that chickens live there. If one wishes to understand why Mexico and all of Latin America is the way it is, may I suggest non-Catalonian Spain as an explanation?
Chickens - 1 (1)

 

Flight: Spain, France: Mediterranean Coast, Pic d’Canigou

Narration for this flight is provided on my monthly AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) blog post, though in keeping with tradition, I am including a large amount of photos not tendered on the AOPA post.

Additionally, I skipped a few weeks ahead with this post, as I had entered into a period of flying repeatedly in the local area, capturing relatively amazing photography of Cadí-Moixeró and Pedraforca over and over again in the winter, with varying cloud formations. While interesting, it is a bit repetitive AND… I decided that capitalism and book sales can shove it. I am so madly in love with Cadí-Moixeró that I am going to do an entire book of photography on the park, even if nobody buys a book. The last time I said that, the book in question was one of my better sellers for that season, so I give up on that front. Readership can be a collective fickle mistress.

La Masella – I was tempted to ski down this valley last month (out of bounds) and decided against it.
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This clump of rock stands between me and Barcelona Approach.
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Foothill of Serra Cavallera
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Serra Cavallera.
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Haze far worse than expected based on observations.
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Rocks below are the border. France on the other side. Pic d’Canigou with snow on it.
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Some sort of old military installation at the border.
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Geologic terminus of the Pyrenees at the Mediterranean. Haze is actually a precursor to a Saharan dust storm.
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France left, Spain right.
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France
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Banyuls sur Mer, France
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Port Vendres, France. I was wondering what on earth a train terminal was doing here, until I found out its a deep water freight and cruise port.
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Pic d’Canigou, from the Mediterranean.
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Platja Grifeu, Spain
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Punta Blanca
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Looking back the other way.
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Same place, with Pic d’Canigou. France, Spain, the Mediterranean and snow-capped Pyrenees….all in one image!
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The last time I kayaked, my kayak sprung a leak and sank in the middle of a 40 F (4 C) lake.
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Underwater textures.
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Near Cadaques.
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Near Roses, Spain
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Old military installation near Roses, Spain. I am beginning to think the star pattern is not for looks….
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An interesting take on haze in Catalunya.
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Pic d’Canigou, France.
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French Pyrenees
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Spain is technically the foreground.
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Flight: France, Andorra, Spain: Winter Pyrenees

There is a little section of mountains, akin to a “range” though lacking in distinct identity as the name implies in America, that scares the crap out of me. Its just so…harsh, and there is no good way to get out in the event of an emergency. As such, I have only nibbled at the edge, and so far hadn’t really gone over it. It is a bit to the west of Pic Carlit in France, with an altitude of 9,583 feet, which isn’t enough to impress me by the numbers. As you’ll see in the pictures, it was rugged enough. Waiting until the mountains were as unforgiving as possible with deep snow and cold temperatures, I decided to fly over it.

For some reason, despite the deep snow, penetrating cold, and harsh nature of the mountains when they are prone to avalanche, I find the entire experience peaceful and pleasant, almost a Zenist moment in the airplane, which lasts until I can’t feel my face, hands, and feet, then I head home. I don’t get the same peace flying over the same terrain in other seasons.

Ascending into the Pyrenees….Spain
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Andorra
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France
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Snow drifts….blowing up the side of the mountain against gravity.
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Looking into the Midi-Pyrenees region of France.
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Rugged section I have been reluctant to fly over. Here we go….
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Back in Andorra. This image is practically pornographic.
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Crossing the border back into Spain.
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People seriously tear up the Pyrenees with backcountry skiing. I cannot believe the places people climb to. No matter how remote….there are usually some tracks going down it.
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Descending into La Cerdanya.
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Where I descended from.
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Flight: Spain, Andorra: Pyrenees Sunset

I have this strange issue where I won’t fly unless I come up with some sort of stated goal. Yes, I know, I am flying a Piper Cub, and for some reason I need a purpose that is more than just going flying. On this particular day, I had an itch to go up, though I didn’t want to go far, yet I wanted to look at something I hadn’t look at already….

I hatched a brilliant scheme, falling back on my days flying in Wyoming: why not go up at sunset? The Pyrenees would have soft, yellow light cast on them, and absolutely everything in the area would look different under those conditions. The plan worked quite well, with a fantastic surprise toward the end of the flight, as I discovered a glorious overcast inversion on the other side of the Cadí ridge, set against the harsh, dry, beautiful clear air that was on the Cerdanya side. This flight ranks as a classic ten out of ten, as imagery was fantastic, and it was just plain fun to wander around without having to think too hard.

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Looking into Andorra…
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I would say “that damn inversion,” except its pretty this time!
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Looking toward La Cerdanya from Andorra border.
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La Cerdanya, including airport, from directly overhead.
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Cadí ridge, with overcast.
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Montserrat. I feel like the thing is always watching….
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Sunset, with Pedraforca to the right.
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Flight: Spain: Masella, Pedraforca, Cadí-Moixeró After Snowstorm

After crawling out of my self-reflective philosophical aviation hole last December, I started to expand my horizons and creep out of La Cerdanya, venturing a bit farther into unfamiliar terrain. This concept worked as early winter weather is rather stable in Spain, so the general condition of the world around me stayed the same. Under those circumstances, my instinct is to start finding new things to look at.

That all changes when the seasons change.

As noted in a prior post, I thought our one winter blast was largely it. Sure, I expected some more snow, but how was I to know if any potential future storm would be as good as the present? I learned through experience that an entire month can go by where above-timberline peaks receive zero snow at all. Could this be the last good storm for the year?

Nope. It was really just getting started.

We got slammed again down in the valley, and logically the storm was measurably more severe at altitude, dumping prolific amounts of snow on the Pre-Pyrenees. Everything I had previously been photographing now looked entirely different. Instead of “some” snow on Cadí-Moixeró and the rest of the area, it was coated from top to bottom. That meant that my focus shifted to revisiting the more interesting of local places, to get them in an entirely different perspective.

There was that, and the fact that normal instability endemic to mid and late winter had arrived. That meant pleasant days with interesting moisture meandering around the mountains, which has a correlative relationship to moist winter storms anywhere else on earth I have flown. The more water or snow that falls out of the sky, the more likely the sky does interesting things with weather phenomenon.

On this particular day, there were cap clouds over various terrain features, with a few cloud layers here and there in some valleys, but not others. It was all set against an incoming disturbance in the atmosphere, which made a nice complement to my imagery, offering a more monochromatic look than the typical sunny day perspective.

La Cerdanya, covered in snow.
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La Masella, with Cadí-Moixeró sneaking in the background.
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Summit of Tosa d’Alp, hiding in a cloud, barely distinguishable from clouds in the background. Ideal flying weather!
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Tosa d’Alp from a distance.
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Tosa d’Alp, closeup, with cap cloud.
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Fair amount of snow cover. Puigllançada.
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Cadí
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El Pedraforca
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North slope of El Pedraforca, with Cadí-Moixeró to the rear right. Note incoming weather.
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Gósol, from El Pedraforca.
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Pedraforca again. I so badly wanted to fly in the saddle between the cloud and the snow. I have a peculiar desire to stay alive and keep my pilot’s license.
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Cadí-Moixeró, with weather rolling in.
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Bor. I have this enigmatic displeasure with looking up place names. I will gladly fly to them, take a picture, post them on the Internet, and identify them on my sprawling complex of maps, though I find the act of labeling them to be tedious and uncompelling. 
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Flight: Spain: Cerdanya Snowstorm

While we live at 3,871 feet in a valley in the Pyrenees, La Cerdanya is not currently known as a locale that receives a lot of snow. The eastern Pyrenees are drier than the central and western parts (said western areas have glaciers) and is effectively a high altitude Mediterranean climate zone, which is admittedly pleasant to live in. Of course, while I happened to be in the United States, La Cerdanya got slammed with snow down in the valley. Fortunately, it got it a second time before we got back, so I had the chance to fly on an unplowed runway. Due to glider operations, with long wingspans and tow aircraft landing in the grass, the runway is never plowed as ensuing snow piles would linger and halt glider operations. That meant that I had to go up on a not-so-stellar day, for fear the snow would melt if I waited too long.

Ceilings were low with abundant moisture stuck in the valley, though there was enough room to fly around and avoid flying into the side of a mountain, keeping a close eye on the weather as it evolved. Instead of my traditional style of bringing the sky into my images, I opted to focus on more intricate details of life covered in snow.

PA-11, with opportunities for CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) in the background.
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Prats (The town name means “meadows”).
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The airport, entirely indistinguishable in a sea of flat, white light, except for my tire tracks from takeoff.
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Camp de golf (Catalàn), Campo de golf (Español).
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Alp
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Das
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Riu. As you can see, La Cerdanya features many villages with three letter names.
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Vineyard.
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Bellver
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Flight: France: Forest Fire

After some days of inversion, the air became gloriously crystal clear, a situation endemic to northerly wind events in winter, so I decided to head to the Val du Capcir in lovely France for some local wandering.

After routine rigmarole such as driving to the airport, preheating the engine, opening the hangar, preflighting, talking to Spaniards who think the PA-11 is the coolest thing on the planet, and warmup, it became evident immediately after takeoff that the air quality had become downright awful. It was obviously smoke, though as one may surmise, it is difficult to pinpoint the source of smoke when one is surrounded by it. Thus, I continued my path east in La Cerdanya, heading to the south side of the valley for favor of avoiding nasty turbulence that accompanies north wind events.

As expected, the air cleared rather rapidly, and I was then able to see that the smoke had a source somewhere in the Val du Carol on the French side, clearly getting fanned by dry air and some wind. As my flight continued, it got too bumpy and unpleasant to warrant proceeding ahead, so I turned back, flew through the smoke again, and landed.

The funny part was after landing. I asked one of the airport guys if he knew where the fire exactly was and what started it. In Spanish, he replied, “The French started a fire.” “A controlled burn?” “Yes.”

I find this dialogue amusing, as it is slyly telling with regard to regional prejudices and cross border disdain. If the same conversation happened in America, the reply would be “It’s a controlled burn.” There would be no “The [insert disdained group here] started a fire.” Then again, Spaniards will inasmuch admit that they dislike the French, and the French dislike them. As I have had some of these educational conversations, I posited the notion that the two groups share a valley, so perhaps some neighborly cordiality might be in order? “No, that is why we hate them, because they are so close.”

French Cerdagne, not in the smoke, and roughly at the point of too much turbulence for my liking.
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Someday I will get off my rear end and hike around these.
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French property division. Yes, I know, no smoke yet. Scroll down.
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Smoke spewing out of the Val du Carol and ruining everything. 
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