Western US Loop: Part 4

Monterey, CA – Doing The Tourist Thing

We did some exploring around last night. This morning we got an early start and went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you’ve never been, you should put this on the list of places you need to visit. There are many huge tanks with all kinds of marine life, from tiny jellyfish to gigantic sharks.

Monterey, CA to Sedona, AZ

After wandering around the aquarium for the morning, we decided it was time to go somewhere else. Sedona has been on our list of places to go for a while now, so we decided to make it our next destination.

The Plan

We decided to depart IFR, even though Monterey had clear skies when we departed around 2pm. We did an initial plan to Sedona the night before, and called in for updated weather from the Million Air terminal. Scattered thunderstorms and light rain were forecast throughout all of Arizona and Nevada, and most of Southern California — which is the standard forecast for a summer afternoon in the desert.

Planned route from Monterey, California to Sedona, Arizona

This flight would be 3:30 enroute, if it weren’t for the unforeseen circumstances we encountered (more on that later).

The Flight

Our initial controller was pretty busy, and didn’t have a chance to give us an on-course heading for a few minutes. We ended up getting a nice scenic flight over Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean while he sorted out some other traffic. He got us on course, and we had a smooth flight at 7,000 feet for most of the way. We encountered a little bit of light turbulence, and could see that we were flying level with the haze layer that typically marks the boundary between smooth and rough air. We climbed to 11,000, and later to 13,000 feet to get above the bumps. We were using our portable oxygen system so there was no problem flying at these altitudes. We had our in-flight meal service of a few snacks and some bottled water.

To this point, there were no significant clouds in the sky. We could see a few cumulus buildups in the distance towards Sedona. But it looked like we could easily go between them, or under them since the bases were around 10,000 feet. At this time we were between the Los Angeles and Las Vegas airspaces, and were monitoring several flights heading to each of the busy airports. We still had about one hour left before reaching Sedona.

After studying the clouds for a few minutes, we decided our best option was to descend below the cloud bases. This would keep us out of the cumulus clouds, which can be filled with ice and hail even on a hot summer afternoon. The disadvantage of descending is that we’d be out of the smooth air we were in as soon as we got below the cloud bases.

Unforeseen Circumstances

Normally a little turbulence is no big deal for either of us. As we got down below 10,000 feet the continuous light chop started.

However, we had an hour to go before reaching Sedona and I was starting to feel nature’s call. Did I mention we each drank a 16 oz. bottle of water during the flight? There’s no toilet on board, so using the facilities means we have to land. As it turned out, Nancy and I were playing “bladder chicken” — we both had to go, but neither wanted to be the first to admit it. At the moment I discovered we were in the same predicament, I also lost the game of bladder chicken. Phil: “I kind of have to go.” Nancy: “Let’s not talk about that subject right now.”

I was willing to wait it out until Sedona, but Phil insisted on a pit stop landing for “my comfort.” Yeah, right! Needles (EED) was waiting just a few miles ahead with a toasty temperature of 97 degrees. An airport advisory confirmed the winds favored runway 20. Nature’s call was getting louder and the turbulence intensified as we descended to 2,000 feet and entered the pattern. Phil did a wonderful job with a very gusty approach. My instructions were to open the door immediately after ground contact to get some fresh air flowing through the cabin. Phil shut down the plane and didn’t waste anytime asking me to get out of his way.

We took care of business and continued on to Sedona.

The Flight … continued

We were both more comfortable after we climbed into the cooler air at 7,500 feet. Back on track for Sedona, I was keeping a close eye on the weather.

The cumulus clouds were still hanging around, but they seemed to have parted on the route between Needles and Sedona. We had a pretty smooth flight to Sedona, and as Nancy mentioned the colder air at 7,500 was welcome relief from the near-hundred degree heat of Needles.

The Sedona area is simply spectacular. The red rocks were shining for the lowering sun. I started to point out some of the more striking rock formations as I was setting up for the landing. Nancy reminded me to stay focused on the task at hand. We parked the plane and had to take a few pictures to try to capture the beauty that surrounded us. The airport is on a plateau, so the views were spectacular even after landing.


We stayed at the Sky Ranch Lodge which is very close to the airport. They picked us up in a van, but we could have easily walked to the hotel with our bags. After checking in, we asked for dinner recommendations and were directed to the Sedona Airport Restaurant. That was kind of unusual, since most airport restaurants just serve burgers and sometimes breakfast fare. The Sedona Airport Restaurant is different. It has a real menu with steaks, seafood, and a wine list. Nancy and I enjoyed a great view of the sunset and some distant thunderstorms while we had a wonderful dinner and a bottle of wine. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Sedona was so beautiful we decided to stay there for a few days. The next few parts are about our adventures there, including a spectacular sunrise hot-air balloon flight.

Series Navigation<< Western US Loop: Part 3Western US Loop: Part 5 >>

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