Flight: Spain: A Tale of Two Airmasses

The time finally came to take a flight out of La Cerdanya. Suffice it to say, I am still human, have fears of the unknown, and generally have a reticence to blast into totally unfamiliar areas. One could try to make an argument that many of the areas of the United States that I traversed were unfamiliar, and that fails to factor untold decades of slow cultural data assimilation, map browsing, and probing the unknown. In effect, I started out small with the airplane in 1996 when I took lessons, and my world got bigger bit by bit. Getting thrust into Europe feels like starting all over again as a student; almost everything is new and scary.

I had been told that north wind days, previously disclosed as very bad in the mountains, were just fine to the south departing the Pyrenees toward the flatter sections of Catalonia, terminating eventually in in the Mediterranean. For that reason, I opted to head to Montserrat, this giant shrine of rock that I have wanted to see for some time.

On takeoff, I climbed from 3,609’ MSL field elevation to about 6,500’ MSL to clear the Cadí-Moixeró ridgeline and descend beneath a few clouds that were stationary near the ridgeline. As I descended on the other side to avoid the clouds, I was immediately captivated with the intensity of the rock formations on the south side of the range. I had seen them before; I just hadn’t gotten low enough to appreciate their sheer size and magnitude.

Continuing to descend, I took note of the fact that the air suddenly seemed to be smoggy and disgusting. Puzzled, I continued flying, as it was just clear as a whistle on the other side of the ridge. “Maybe its because I am so high above the ground,” I thought to myself.

Five minutes later, it was evident that I was flying in filthy, rotten, disgusting air. I aborted Montserrat and turned toward the farmland east of Lleida, intent on comparing what I saw from satellite imagery. When that turned out to be dry, and the air still vile, I turned to the north to head home via La Seu d’Urgell. Reaching a small ridgeline, the air suddenly became intensely clear, like when I had left. Literally, I was looking at the border of filthy, poor visibility, and clear glorious mountain air.

I spoke to a few pilots and apparently, that is quite normal around here. Catalonia is home to many microclimates, which I suppose makes sense, given that it is a semi-arid region with massive mountains and Mediterranean coastline. The air out of the north was clear, as is usual, and the moist coastal air was stationary in the lee of the mountains, with the north wind riding on top. I would presume that the north wind would eventually scour out the coastal air, though the weather information I have isn’t nerdlike enough to satisfy my compulsive obsession with weather factoids; therefore, I don’t know what happened to it.

Cadí-Moixeró ridgeline. Note clean air to the left, filthy to the right. I was too concerned with getting between the clouds and the ridge to notice.
img_1012-5-of-461

And then there was this rock, further distracting my attention by its magnitude.
img_1024-17-of-461

A temporary illusion that things weren’t so bad.
img_1035-28-of-461

Shortening the total distance looking through hazy air reduces the visual impact of it. 
img_1041-34-of-461

There is no escaping this visual. Look at the clean air mass sneering at me from above the clouds!
img_1078-71-of-461

An interesting building, though I wouldn’t want to stick around for the next earthquake.
img_1096-89-of-461

Flag of Catalonia.
img_1100-93-of-461

This speaks for itself.
img_1102-95-of-461

Make hay while the sun shines (or is obscured by haze). Looking downward at whatever I can make look decent given the circumstances.
img_1111-104-of-461 img_1120-113-of-461 img_1125-118-of-461 img_1137-130-of-461 img_1163-156-of-461

Day-to-day activities can look quite amusing from above.
img_1174-167-of-461

Dilapidated tower of some sort. Who put it there, and why did they let it fall apart but not everything else? Then again, redneckism knows no bounds….
img_1198-191-of-461

I have a picture that looks like this taken in southwest Montana a year ago….flying the same airplane.
img_1245-238-of-461

Haze letting up a bit, though I am not impressed.
img_1267-260-of-461

Clearly, it is rather dry down here.
img_1303-296-of-461

Irrigation does wonders.
img_1353-346-of-461

Who would let a house of this size go to waste? One of the many mysteries uncovered from the air.
img_1398-391-of-461 img_1407-400-of-461

There is a terrain feature that looks a lot like this in southwest Virginia, deep in hillbilly Appalachia. One can only hope that this section of Spain is more civilized.
img_1418-411-of-461 img_1451-444-of-461

Terrain features very similar in color and form to what I have seen in western Colorado and central Utah.
img_1464-457-of-461

The transition from Midwestern style farmlands to East Coast deciduous to Western terrain happens within 30 miles. Note clearer air starting to show up in the upper left.
img_0003-3-of-462img_0021-21-of-462

Airmass boundary.
img_0046-46-of-462

Suddenly in clean air.
img_0098-98-of-462

There is a similar feature to this west of Kremmling, Colorado along the Colorado River.
img_0118-118-of-462img_0157-157-of-462

Logging.
img_0171-171-of-462

There is a red feature like this outside of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
img_0195-195-of-462

Cadí-Moixeró again. I don’t tire of this mountain range.
img_0219-219-of-462

Mountain waves over La Cerdanya, hence the reason I went south instead of north.
img_0271-271-of-462

Western edge of La Cerdanya.
img_0274-274-of-462

Ridgeline that I snuck under in the first place, air mass boundary still in place, now with mountain waves overhead.
img_0299-299-of-462

Clean air left, skank air right.
img_0322-322-of-462

Mountain waves coming in from France, left downwind for runway 25.
img_0460-460-of-462