Flight: France: Limoux, Autumn Wine Country

Limoux is a tiny little nothing that comprises the nearest name for the farthest reach of this two hour flight. It was a section I had not yet wandered to: out of the French Pyrenees and descending down into wine country yet in the direction of Toulouse in lieu of the Mediterranean. For many reasons, driven mostly out of emotion, I hadn’t done so yet. Perhaps it has something to do with being in France, or the climb to 6,500 feet only to descend down to 2,000 to then climb back to 6,500 to descend to 3,609? Or it might be that the climate and wind is entirely different there. Perhaps it’s the entirely rugged, canyon-filled terrain? Or to top it all off, it’s in sort of a never-never land on Google Maps, with a lot of that quadrant clouded in on satellite shots.

Nonetheless, it was time to go in late October.

It is pleasant now to consider autumnal harvests and the rejuvenating gathering process of the year’s philosophical fruits. As of this moment, we are buried under tremendous amounts of snow and have been experiencing temperatures down to -9F, creating a wholesale change in how one’s environment is viewed.

The funny thing about the area in question is that a local Catalan explained to me how the French view this area of France (and Spain) as the “culo del mundo,” the “ass of the world.” It is the Iberian way of calling it an armpit, yet I find the scenery pretty.

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Donezan

Sarrat de Canada

Above Le Clat

Cailla

Wine Country

Beginning the ascent back….

La Serre – that’s original…

Chateau de Puivert. Sounds a lot like “Pervert Castle.”

French highway D16, like that matters to anyone. Taken directly over Camp Marcel.

Sneaky little plateau surrounded by rugged terrain. Taken over La Benague.

La Rebenty river down in that gorge.

Entering the Val du Capcir.

Now a few in infrared, the old camera. Ruisseau de Salvanières, on the way down.

L’Aiguette

Wine Country.

Beginning the ascent…

Somewhere on the way up…

Val du Capcir.

Mont Louis / Coll de la Perche

Flight: Spain: Castejon de Sos

Was it push pins on the map, the mystical allure of an airfield I probably should avoid, or my list of Pyrenees peaks I needed to chip away at? I can’t even remember, as the flight was in the throes of passion of Catalan independence. It was a beautiful fall day, and this was a bit of a neglected corner of the central Pyrenees. That, and there was one silly peak that taunts me from a distance as well as on Google Maps. It was time to check it out.

The flight out was fine, as was the climb up to 11,000 feet. From there, it was a classical hop between peaks and glaciers over 3.000m (I am doing a book on the 3.000m peaks, among other things). From there, I had to get another look at Pico Aneto, the tallest peak in the Pyrenees again, this time from a few new angles. A host of sub peaks awaited, all of which I had plenty of time to enjoy, as I needed to descend from 11,000 feet to 3,000 feet down to Castejon de Sos, and it takes quite some time in this airplane.

The landing there was truly special. I could not make out a windsock. Winds were out of the north at altitude, so I came in for a right-hand pattern on the northeast facing runway. Still way too high, and with terrain on three sides, I did a corkscrew over short final, blazing my way in skimming the tree tops. As I got the Cub to descend below tree line, careening by horses grazing next to the field (with no fence to block them), something felt very wrong. I was screaming way too fast, and the field was way too short. I gave her full power as I realized the wind was a tailwind, which is grotesquely unsafe in such a short field.

Climbout was another story, with terrain on all sides. I made 250’ AGL, pulled a 180, slowed the airplane down, and wedged between tree branches, over some bushes, and over a dirt pile. I only used half of the field, stopping well before the horses, and taxied back to a piece of grass to make my fuel transfer.

As that was in process, I noted a commotion behind the airplane. First it was a few dogs, then a few sheep. I lifted my head to look, and a shepherd holding two dead rabbits was coming through with at least 200 sheep and 4 sheep dogs. One of them, a Great Pyrenean breed (how ironic, deep in the tallest part of the Pyrenees), took a special liking to me and tried to get me to come along with the herd. Eventually, they all wandered to the runway, where they crossed/grazed with the unfenced horses, not giving a hoot that it was an airfield.

Takeoff was fine, though I wouldn’t want to lose an engine, or I’d eat a birch tree. I corkscrewed out of the valley and the flight home was a classic late afternoon autumnal passage.

Sheep that don’t want the shepherd…

Nefarious peak that taunts me is in the center horizon.

From whence I came. Normally I overlook this area as massive peaks lie to the left, making this an afterthought.

The peak again. Out of Catalunya now and into Aragon.

Infrared (old camera).

There’s the damn thing. 

The other side of it, as it connects with higher Pyrenees terrain.



Still only at 9,000 feet….

En route to 11,000 feet….


I think this is the French border.

France to the left…

A glacier on the French side. A bit windy up here.

Commencing descent into the valley below…

Enigmatic textures.

Valley of Benasque

Much lower, and still much more to go….

Looking left…

Looking right….

Foolishly thinking I am pretty far down. Much more to go…

Aeronautical shepherding.

About to takeoff…

Airport/sheep pen/horse grazing patch below.

Riu Segre. Back in the land that wishes to distance itself from Spain.

Southeast of La Seu d’Urgell.

Cadí-Moixeró

Flights: Spain, France, Andorra: Mid-Winter Musings

It is only a matter of time before someone engaging in the self-imposed lifestyle of aeronautically-themed expatriate nomadic exile would eventually have to face this philosophical question: what exactly is going on here with all of this seemingly exploratory activity? I can only begin to answer the question be reverting to an egocentric cultural genesis of this sort of thing: growing up as a “local” American.

America is quite obviously an enormous country filled with incredible natural diversity. That reality is mated to a pre-existing frontier mentality, where the taming of the West has only happened to any modern and great extent within the last century, most pronounced since the development of the interstate system, air conditioning, and a subsequent improvement in telecommunications. One would note a historical inflection point in American history after WWII, where these things converge to make the crossing of the country something that doesn’t take weeks or involve taking one’s life in their own hands.

It is imprinted in the US passport a quote from a past president, something to the effect that America is all about what lies over the hill, and what untamed wilderness remains to be explored, exploited, enjoyed, or subdued. When I was young, I distinctly recall the general disposition of the American West and California as being something people aspired to achieve, as it was sort of a universal appeal, where that same West called each person at least to make a pilgrimage before they die and see such incredible, spiritual vastness.

By the time I got around to heading west, the world was a far more interconnected place. I could hop in the car and arrive in Colorado in two days, scheduling conference calls on my mobile phone (and billing clients), while sipping Starbucks….in the rural Midwest. No longer was it necessarily an achievement to arrive somewhere and see it, it was an achievement to pay the rent in a remote town that cost triple a mid-size East Coast city. No longer was it the spiritual vastness; it was the spiritual vastness without hordes of tourists ruining the place.

Obviously we still crave the American sense of frontiersmanship, yet we have overrun our frontiers and now have turned vast wilderness into overpriced hunting ranches….owned by hedge funds. Ok, so off to Europe it is.

Europe, as one can imagine, is a cultured pastime to Americans. It is a sign of sophistication, elite adventure, wealth, and all around pugnacious supremacy to travel to undiscovered destinations in Europe, as opposed to the decidedly middle class throngs that go to….ugh…Disney World. Maybe that was the case 100 years ago when it was expensive and difficult. Now? With $10/day roaming, and a $500 concentration camp class airline ticket, the masses can come here from America, pontificating about a “glorious Bordeaux” they sipped while in France ($5), while posting on social media the trappings of their new life as a global sommelier. But wait a second….aren’t we seeing the same thing that happening in America: the mass production of something that used to be rare?

To make matters more complex, there is this sneaky little idea that Europeans do not find Europe to be the capital of supercilious imperiousness. To them, wherever they live is…gasp…home and they too wish to travel on holiday to enjoy something else. However, they are traveling and not exploring an undiscovered continent. If they wanted to do that, they would go to Russia, and well, that is not #1 on the list. So what is going wrong here?

I would guess there is a difference between travel and exploration, between only knowing one’s own locale (wherever that is) compared to the discovery of the rest of the world (wherever that happens to be). At one point, I was a little kid chasing his grandfather’s airplane in a county with more cows that people. I didn’t learn that foreign languages even existed until I was 6. Now? I am flying a similar airplane in a valley in Spain with more cows than people while speaking one of those foreign languages, enchanting myself and my American blog readers, while equally enchanting Spanish pilots telling them about Colorado.

Europe is not a mystery to Europeans. Hell, every square mile of America has been measured and mapped. There isn’t a frontier to discover anymore in the western world of any great significance; the frontiers are inside us, and are really a function of relativism of our geographic origin point with its associated socio-cultural norms to the rest of the world.

With that out of my system, a few photos attacking the Pyrenees with my pile of cameras, enjoying the mid-winter snow and admitting I have developing a need to go out and attack something with the airplane, as its getting too familiar around here.

Puigcerdà, with the Val du Carol, France in the background. Those mountains are beckoning….

Looking at haze layers toward Moixeró.

Barreling toward the cloud layer as the sun is going down. France with Andorra in the background.

Puigpedrós. Definitely going there!

Andorra again.

10,000 feet…now above the cloud layer looking into Andorra.

Sunset tones while descending.

A few from the same flight with 590nm IR, no channel swap. 

Hey, I’m figuring this thing out. Note the green trees. It comes off the camera that way, despite IR spectrum.


Puigpedrós, from below.

Two days later….Masella.

The eponymous Montserrat.

Ski tracks.

Mid-winter Cerdanya.

Same flight, now in IR. This image is Urús beneath Masella, 590nm IR, straight off the camera.

And channel swapped. This is what IR photographers have in mind, as the blue sky is more realistic. The problem is going from green pines to yellow pines is not, though I like them both really. Its a neat way to see the world. The next series will be identical images raw and swapped.

Ascending Masella…

Looking back at Cerdanya.

West slope of Masella, looking into Catalonia’s hinterlands.

This is self-evidently Cerdanya, so smugly stated after lecturing about the exoticism of unknown locales.

On final approach.

Flights: Spain: 590nm Infrared vs 830nm Infrared vs Visible Spectrum

I really didn’t think the day would come like this, but it did. I got bored with aerial photography – too repetitive. So…. I bought another infrared camera! This one is 590nm wavelength as opposed to my existing camera, which is 830nm. 830nm is mostly black and white, with a touch of blue if properly channel swapped. 590nm allows for black and white plus yellow, which is normally reserved for foliage. I would end up with permanent autumn, which is a majestic season, so I was sold.

Last May, the camera came pretty quick with a small bill from customs. This time? All hell broke loose and a flamenco dance of paperwork ensued with Madrid, resulting in an equally small bill from customs, though laden with more pieces of paper to make everyone happy. The camera arrived precisely as my airplane was out of service, so my alleviation of boredom became an exacerbated case of coitus interruptus.

Finally, I was able to haul all 4 cameras up into the airplane and try some test shots. Initial results are mixed. 590nm is much more sensitive to overexposure, whereas 830nm is practically bulletproof. Blue is overkill right now on 590nm, and I haven’t figured out how to selectively tone down the blue hues in certain areas, and will probably have to whore myself by paying for some training in Photoshop, as selective color desaturation in a limited area is a more elevated task that I cannot due in Lightroom. The bottom line is that winter is not the greatest for any infrared photography, and the visible spectrum wins the trophy. As I get a chance to descend into the lower Mediterranean forests, I am sure the 590nm will begin to show some interesting results, equally as much as spring will probably be quite a treat. Some comparative imagery is below from initial flight tests.

First flight: visible. Obviously not the greatest day for photos.

First flight: 590nm.

Note light sensitivity in the cloud. This is worse than visible, whereas 830nm is better than visible. 

Second flight, visible.

Second flight, 590nm.

I do like how it shows the shadowed pines so brightly, though the washed out tones are going to require some practice and tuning.

Third flight: visible spectrum.

Visible again. Clearly it snowed.

830nm infrared. Note a tiny bit of blue in the upper right, otherwise dull.

And 590nm infrared. The snow comes back blue, of which I severely desaturated. Almost zero yellow to be found anywhere. 590 actually comes back brighter than 830….

Flight: Spain: Delta de l’Ebre

This flight set my record for maximum photographs taken in one day: 5,102. Cycling between three time-synced cameras, it was a quite a dance in the cockpit all day, flying down to Reus, refueling, then to the Delta, back to Reus for fuel, and then home. I had the joy of flying over five miles out to sea to avoid restricted airspace (I don’t like overflight of water), and had a cornucopia of microclimates: mountain waves and turbulence leaving the Pyrenees, pleasant temps in the rolling Mediterranean hills and forests, followed by an inferno on the ground in Reus. Föhn winds were in full force, which then collided with the sea breeze over the Delta itself, causing temps to come down again, followed by a literal wallop into the land air mass when I impacted the convergence point near the shoreline again. On the way home, the coastal air mass interacted with the Pyrenees, creating a massive wall of clouds towering into the sky, though I was able to sneak through a hole at 9,000 feet over Cadí-Moixeró and wedge home.

For the perceptively gifted, one may note that the images were taken in summer. “Is this schmuck that far behind?” August and later September snowfall upset my workflow, and then there was that whole referendum thing in October. I am recouping key flights that I missed in between these noteworthy events so I can, I don’t know, get on some sort of compulsively precise schedule.

Mountain waves – La Cerdanya

Montserrat, infrared.

Mediterranean hills between Montserrat and Reus

Parc Natural Els Ports – fresh up here, hell on the left horizon.

Descending toward the coast.

Reus Airport – hotter than hell and all of the staff could care less about refueling. Lovely jet in the background.

Mediterranean, infrared. Kind of bleak looking.

Visible spectrum. Costa Daurada (“Gold Coast”).

Won’t be landing on the beach if the engine quits. Why do people pay premium prices to vacation like sardines? Prison is cheaper.

Heading out to sea to avoid nuke plant. Not particularly thrilled.

Fish farms.

Approaching the Delta de l’Ebre.

Mussel farms.

Rice farms on the delta. In would be hilarious if the locals shared cultural characteristics with Louisiana bayou dwellers, though I doubt it.


More mussel farms, west side of Delta.

Infrared salt evaporation ponds.

Salt evaporation ponds.

More rice nonsense.

Sod farm with rice and the Ebro River behind it.

Ebro meets the Mediterranean, infrared.

Right here I smacked into the land air mass, resulting in a rapid 300 foot ascent.

Tarragona port facilities, infrared.

Tarragona

Windsurfer.

Tarragona.

Tree.

En route home.

Cars. This is literally practically in the middle of nowhere.

Entering the Pyrenees.

Oh, that wall of clouds…

Sneaking over Cadí-Moixeró.

Flight: Spain, France: Menacing Rainbow of Death

I have always had an attraction to chasing rainbows in the airplane. The problem is, it is very hard to do, as rainbows tend to come after thunderstorms, and pilots are suggested to furnish 20 miles of clearance away from any thunderstorm activity. That advice is a death blow to the idea….unless it is ignored.

I had some fanciful notion that, when some thunderstorms blew through, I’d get some great lighting. Then I got this idea that a rainbow would show itself. I sort of just “knew” that it would. The problem is, the storm was quite raging, windy, and angry, and my logic sequences were firing warnings over and over while I waited.

First, it was the black clouds and wind. Then when that came and was replaced by a heavy downpour, I began preflighting the airplane in the hangar. As the heavy rain turned into a moderate rain shower, with light showing on the backside of the storm, I pulled the airplane out, jumping in before I got too soaked. I performed a runup as the rain switched from moderate to light, and taxied to the end of runway 07 with the light rain transitioning to clouds. Lined up and ready to go with the rain still falling, I was waiting for that sensible (ha! If there is anything “sensible” about this plan) moment to take off. Just then, a beam of sun materialized in front of me, followed by a rainbow right off the nose. Full power and I was off….

Rainbows tend to be fleeting. The truth behind that statement is because, over one point on the surface of the earth, rainbows do not last long as the storm moves away and people tend to stay where they are. This flight proved that the rainbow itself lasts longer…one just needs to chase it.

That I did, into France, back into Spain, and up into the mountains, until the sun set, and then I came back home. It was quite a flight.

Note: All black and white images are infrared.

Statue at La Cerdanya Aerodrome: a woman with breasts, wings, and no head – all that matters to Spanish male pilots.

Taxiway and runway with impending storm.

Menacing, swirling clouds.

That sensible moment to take off.

To get a stronger rainbow, I have to turn the polarizer to the opposite setting I normally do. The better setting for contrast virtually erases the rainbow.

Puigcerdà. The rainbow is closer, and arcing around without contacting the ground, which means I am in the rain. That would have been quite correct as I was getting wet with the door open.

Imagine that, infrared captures the rainbow too!

The money shot! This is the cover for book number 14, with the aerodrome in the foreground.

Looking the other way, things are nice and idyllic.

Appears the rainbow is winding down over Osseja, France.

Not really – still going! A delightful combination of thunderstorm, rainbow, and mountains beckons.

Puigmal (9,500 feet or so). France left, Spain right.

The white on the ridges is hail from the storm.

Book #13: Around the Summit: Flying Grand Teton

I am extremely proud of this latest release. I had initially planned to do a book on Grand Teton National Park when I came to Wyoming, though I didn’t have an idea of how it would turn out. My first books had a defined list of items, whereas this was a smaller space, and it would be a matter of what I found, and how it looked.

It turns out, I became what I consider to be a ‘real’ mountain flying pilot during the course of this project. Prior to the Tetons, I tended to go up on nicer days and keep some reasonable distance from towering peaks. By the second time I flew over the Tetons, I was getting close. By the third, I found I could wedge myself between clouds, peaks below, and peaks towering into said clouds. Over time, it became possible to add layers of clouds, snaking through holes and popping out in various areas, either sandwiched between layers, or top of the whole thing.

Then came the coup de grace: 35 knot winds with outside air temperatures of minus 30F, with an overcast layer beneath. An image from that flight made the cover of the book. I should be glad I didn’t get frostbite with the door open in temperatures like that! It is also noteworthy that I found that high wind didn’t necessarily mean downdrafts or turbulence: many times it was serene, with placid air despite the wind.

The book covers just about every square inch of the park: its glaciers, mountains, lakes, forests, and everything else. If the three Teton peaks did not exist, the rest of the park would still be considered noteworthy; we simply do not notice it because of the main feature. I spent a lot of time with the airplane in harsh backcountry areas taking photos.

Flight: France: Provence Lavender, Languedoc Wine Region

I was admittedly unsure where the lavender specifically was when I arrived in Provence, and a quick conversation with a French pilot pointed me the right direction. I had fortunately picked a good starting point, and it would be a pleasant flight around Le Luberon to see fields in full color.

As was the case in Holland with tulips in full bloom, the fields were not 100% coverage, and what is more, the colors are best at a 40-degree angle. That generally means that every field one mile away looks stunning, while the fields beneath look lackluster in color. After about 20 minutes of vainly chasing the supposed superior colors yet another mile away, I finally figured out I was getting bamboozled by light angles, and then it took another 20 minutes to figure out how to get some decent imagery. Usually that involves much larger fields, which allow some angle, lower altitude, and some determination.

I distinctly recall a very warm and fuzzy feeling while over the town of Sault, which is famous for its lavender, thinking that doing it in the good old vintage airplane from New York is a far superior method for tourism of renowned locales. That, and I was quite pleased to have gone somewhere else I had been wanting to go for a long time.

The flight home was the next day, also featured in this post, which involved almost no wind, as the Tramontane and La Mistral wind features had died down. That also meant that Mediterranean haze began to ooze inland, which meant landscape photos weren’t so hot. You’ll see a few examples as I climbed into the Pyrenees.

I made my worst landing in five years, despite the bright sun and null wind. I’ll blame it on having taken almost 11,000 photos in three days over 17 hours of flying time. The last flying bender of this magnitude was done in September 2015, and, well, I am still writing the book(s) from the photos I took back then.

Lavender

Lavender with wheat.

Example of irritatingly lackluster color.

Lower Luberon, infrared.

Approaching Apt, infrared.

Near Apt.

Rhône River, near Avignon, infrared. The controller kept telling me not to overfly the “Pry Zone.” It took a bit to figure out he was referring to a prison.

Either the French have taken to building coliseums, or the Romans did it in more places than just Rome. Nimes.

That looks like rather miserable work.

Much better! Making agricultural hard labor look trendy and hipster. 

Languedoc wine region. Note a bit of sea haze oozing in.

Some form of monastery, convent, or other semi-administrative ecclesiastical complex. While not in the photo, I did see a few crosses in inventory, literally laying around on the ground.

I am unsure what this is, though the message is loud and clear. “Ours is bigger than yours.” To think that such things were built centuries ago….

Yay feudalism!

Languedoc, infrared.

More long, cylindrical poles to add to my global collection.

I believe this is part of the “Avenue of the Castles,” though I am not certain. Infrared. Visible image of the same thing is useless due to haze.

Ascending the Pyrenees. This image is post processed to death and the haze is still a bit excessive.

Pic Canigou, with abundantly clear haze layer.

Pyrenees ascent, with haze lowering a bit.

Now the haze has dropped 70%, as I have climbed over the skank layer evident in the Canigou photo, hence the rationale for living in the Pyrenees and whining about how hard it is to fly down lower and get good photos.

Val du Capcir, infrared.

Les Angles

Puigcerdà, Catalunya, taken while over France.

Flight: France: Mediterranean Coast, Camargue Delta

I was going to provide lavender photos, and there are too many pretty pictures of the French coastline on the way, so I am going to break this one up. This post contains images along the Mediterranean Sea from Perpignan, France to the Rhône River, and a few north as I head to Carpentras to refuel. The lavender will come next.

As mentioned in the last post, the wind the day before was screaming, so I ran off to the Spanish desert instead. On this day, it went from “screaming” to, I don’t know, something like “maximum an idiot would fly in,” though it meant the air was quite clear. Both the Tramontane and Mistral winds were raging, which are funnels between the Massif Central and either the Pyrenees (Tramontane) and Alps (Mistral), making for an incredibly rapid weather transition zone in the South of France, dry air, and just plain angry wind.

Fortunately, the wind has a bit of a shadow, sometimes, in between the two events. Therefore, I chose fueling stops near Montpellier and east of Avignon, out of the line of fire. Wind during flight can be disconcerting, though it’s the landing that really matters. I did break my record for slowest groundspeed in the Cub: 37 knots at cruise power, which means I was hitting a 30kt to 35kt headwind for a period of time along the Rhône River, though it was oddly free of turbulence.

La Perche Pass, France. Ground elevation roughly 5,000 feet.

Leucate, north of Perpignan.

Marshes and salt ponds, infrared.

And in color….

Windsurfers.

Windsurfers in action. I was barely passing the guy on the right due to how hard the wind was blowing.

Note how hard the wind is blowing from shore to sea. The ripples are quite strong for such a short fetch. 

For some enigmatic reason, the wind was creating lift, and I was under a military no-fly zone at 800 feet, so I head to power back to only 1800RPM to not go up any higher.

Pervert in a Piper Cub? No naked French people here, though I doubt the lady with exposed cleavage and large breasts (left, center) anticipated anyone directly overhead….

Agde

Agde, infrared.

Here I go invading privacy again, though no nudity. There is a lady reclining in the bow of the boat, again probably not anticipating an airplane when arranging beachwear.

Agde

I don’t know enough about the French to understand their proclivity for strange architectural experiments.

Sète

A markedly different way to memorialize the deceased. Sète again.

Frontignan, infrared.

Frontignan, in an almost horrifying juxtaposition to visible spectrum.

Carnon Plage, Aéroport de Montpellier Méditerranée in the back left.

Le Grande-Motte

Etang d’Or, final approach to fuel stop in Candillargue.

Salt ponds, Camargue Delta.

Infrared.

Not infrared.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Helicopter

Plage de Beauduc

Reminds me of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, except for the ocean color.


Self-evident statement: lighthouse.

Heading inland….

Rhône River, at 40 miles per hour. Note the ripples indicating wind.

Chateau, south of Paradou. No name on Google Maps, so it must be private.

Massif des Alpilles. It was rather….warm.

Durance River. Color is authentic, not doctored. I believe it comes from rock silt off the alps, as the Rhône looked similar in Grenoble a year prior. Avignon airport in the background.

Book: American Texture: Canvas from the Sky

Number twelve is the first of a new project style: a national focus. I started gathering images for this one back in 2011, when I first discovered that zoom images without a horizon could be compelling and interesting. Over the years, I kept snapping pictures here and there of textures and patterns that I stumbled across while flying across America. Now that I am in Europe, the time finally came to put the American images together in their own work.

Since coming to Europe, I have been focusing perhaps a bit…obsessively…on textures and patterns as found here. Book #12 is really the opening act of this subject, as I have enough images already to write a few more. I am still figuring out how I want to put those together, so stand by while I keep hoarding thousands more….

Cover: Great Salt Lake, Utah