"FLYING THE SANTA FE TRAIL"
(IIB, Independence, Iowa Municipal Airport)
By: Lee C. Bowden with his 1945 Vintage Taylorcraft BC12D, N39911, with 65 horsepower, cruising speed 95 mph, date of manufacture November 26, 1945, restored December 24, 1999, and purchased June 6, 1960.
What a high, like 10,500 feet high and above the mountains. What a blast, like landing at Las Vegas with 27 mph winds and 32 mph wind gusts. Lee put 23 hours plus on the Taylorcraft during the flight. The Garmin GPS 195 reported 1,924 miles. Great tailwinds at 9,500 feet all the way home made the one day return flight possible even with the late start at 10:10 Central Daylight Savings Time. At times the tail winds were between 30 & 40 mph.
Our Santa Fe Trail Flyers group consisted of: seven aircraft, three automobiles, and 23 flyers representing the states of: CA, FL, IA, KS, NM, MT, OR, and TX. The aircraft consisted of four-place Cessnas, Pipers, Bonanza, Grumman, and two vintage aircraft a Cessna 195 and the only two-place 1945 Taylorcraft. Most members of the group were retired or semi-retired.
Waypoints along our route included our group starting point at Larned, KS, elevation 2,011 feet, three days; Liberal, KS at 2,883 feet, two days; La Junta, CO at 4,238 feet; Las Vegas, NM, two days at 6,877 feet; and Santa Fe, NM at 6,348 feet our ultimate destination. The flight to Larned included a stop at Brenner, NE for fuel and a relaxing packed lunch at the airport.
The flying, new friends, the food, the vacation, the sites, and the times were all great. It was a very interesting group. Everyone along the "Trail” treated the flyers group very well. At Larned KS the Chamber of Commerce came out to greet the flyers and the group was featured in the local newspaper, “The Tiller & Toiler” several times. Some of the points of interest included: Lost Spring, Durham Ruts (which were very evident from the air even at 4,500 feet), of course, the ground was higher there. At one point the ruts could be easily followed for 150 miles, Other sites included: Ralph's Ruts, Plum Buttes, The Great Bend Airport, Pawnee Rock (both from the air and on the ground). There was much to do at Larned that was the Santa Fe Trail Association's headquarters this year. It moves to a different location along the Trail each year. The group followed the "Wet” or northern route and the "Dry" or southern route. The routes split at the town of Ford a bit southeast of Dodge City, KS. The lower crossing was called the "Cimarron Cutoff."
In the town of Larned a coyote was observed in broad daylight. They come to town to steal the dog food and eat out of the garbage cans. The coyote fencing can be a real status symbol with many types and designs made from the shaggy bark of the juniper trees.
At Pawnee Rock, KS, an outcropping of rock in the middle of the vast flat prairie represents the mid-point on the Santa Fe Trail. Here young Kit Carson, standing guard one night in 1826, is said to have shot his own mule, mistaking it for a Pawnee. Perhaps it was his unkind companions who named Pawnee Rock to commemorate the young man’s blunder.
At Liberal, KS the flyers visited The Mid-America Air Museum, with 101 aircraft, making it the fifth largest air museum in the nation. Yes, the museum did have a military version of the Taylorcraft suspended overhead as if on a mission. Pizza Hut catered our meal here and while we were eating we got lots of wind and rain. Fortunately, I had put my Taylorcraft in the hanger.
While flying west from Liberal, KS to La Junta, CO an hour was gained crossing from Central to Mountain Time.
My favorite place was "Bent's Old Fort" at La Junta, CO. This was the center of trade and culture (if any) in the early West. It was a blend of: Whites, Indians, Spanish, and Mexicans. We had an excellent guide of the National Park Service, which made the fort really come alive.
At Las Animas the flyers visited the Kit Carson Museum and Boggsville the last home of Kit Carson in Bent County, CO. This is also the home of “Festus” U. S. Deputy Marshal in “Gunsmoke.”
After crossing the barren plains of CO, it was good to see the Perry Stokes airfield at 5,762 feet elevation and the town of Trinidad on the Purgatoire River with a few scattered ranches below. Fisher's Peak in Southern CO was a neat site to fly by with its peak at 9,627 feet extending into the cloud base. Raton Pass on the CO / NM border was not a problem with room to turn around in it as The Sangre De Cristo Mountain range passed by on the west The Taylorcraft passed through the pass at 9,000 feet with the cloud ceiling a bit higher. The pass elevation is 7,834. It was a bit gusty here as the flight progressed over the airfields at Raton, elevation 6,352 feet and Springer at 5,891 feet.
It was enjoyable flying over some neat green flat top mesas with tops at 7,625 feet. The air was whooshing down on the lee side as I approached and I was losing altitude a bit as I approached; but, gained it back again as I passed over the up wind side. Some of the mesa tops looked like they would be great landing fields, but I did not check them out.
Several photos of "Wagon Mound" were taken which was rather special. It looks like a wagon (duh) with a double team of mules pulling it across the prairie. Wagon Mound is located east of the Historic Fort Union National Monument ruins. Many more wagon ruts are located in the Mora river valley and east of the Turkey Mountains.
The Fort Union National Monument Ruins were circled for photos and again one could see ruts from the wagons very well. Next, came Las Vegas and the Plaza Hotel where many movies have been made since the time of "Tom Mix" (who's that?) The hotel is visited by a ghost, which is partial to women. Rick Hannen, trail leader, was assigned to room # 310, which is often visited by the ghost. Rick reported seeing a red spot. However, this turned out to be a spot of rust in the bathtub.
The flyers school bussed into "Santa Fe", the oldest state capitol city in the U.S., and toured the Art Capital of the Southwest on Canyon Street. A fine dinner was enjoyed at the La Fonda Hotel on Santa Fe Street and the group saw the oldest church in the USA, the San Miguel Church. This old mission was built by the Spanish about 1636. It was rebuilt in 1710 and has been in use since that time. Rick Hannen, flight leader for the trip, and Lee Bowden visited the State Capital Building, which is round and looks like the emblem on the New Mexico State Flag or the Sun. New Mexico was admitted to the union in 1912, as the 47th state. The Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca was the first white man to visit the area. He crossed the present state from Texas to reach the Spanish settlements in Mexico in 1536. The end of the trail destination was reached in downtown Santa Fe that was founded in 1610. The trail, which was traveled from 1822 – 1879 passed through the states of: MO, KS, OK, CO, and NM. The flyers were fortunate to have Phyllis Morgan from Albuquerque, NM, a researcher along to narrate many interesting stories about the Santa Fe area. One of my favorite stories was the Civil War battle won by Union forces at La Glorieta Pass, referred to as the Gettysburg of the West. Phyllis has walked the entire length of the “Santa Fe Trail” over a period of years. “The Old Santa Fe Trail: by Colonel Henry Inman, © 1897, is an excellent read.
Do you know why they use pivot irrigation systems in the Great South West? Think! Think! It is so the farmers and ranchers can better rotate their crops.
The hay bales are wrapped in plastic and also stored in sheds. The reason is because the sun's ultra violet rays eat up the plastic wrap in the clear air. It seems that most of the cattle are being raised in huge stockyards throughout the west. A huge yard was observed west of Liberal, KS and others in the area of Texline, TX. Water continues to be a major problem in the southwest. The annual rainfall in New Mexico is 7.5 inches per year. In Santa Fe many signs were observed reminding people to conserve water. In some restaurants you were not served water unless it was requested. In Santa Fe it is possible to walk the Santa Fe riverbed and not get your shoes wet. The Ranchers have attempted to hold water by the use of dams on their ranches.
I have this problem for you to solve. I am flying along looking into the distance and see this giant power station with three huge tall smoke stacks each 606 feet tall. I am flying at 4,500 feet. The tops of the stacks appear to be about one half of their height above the horizon. Now I am confused. I recheck my map. I recheck my altimeter. I recheck my thinking. However, as I grow much more near the station the stacks appear to shrink in size and the tops are now even with the horizon, and as I get even closer or at about five to ten miles the top of the stacks appear to be much below the horizon where they are supposed to be. Please explain this to me. Have fun!
On the return flight from Las Vegas, NM, I picked out Mt. Dora, elevation at 6.290,on the horizon in the distance as a landmark to navigate to. The skies are crystal clear and you are able to see forever. It was over an hour or 100 miles plus before I reached this landmark as I had a very good tailwind. Capulin Volcano National Monument passed by in the distance on the left. Upon leaving NM and flying into TX I lost an hour going from Mountain to Central Time. It is certainly easy to navigate with all the excellent references such as mountain peaks. The rivers, when evident, like the Arkansas, Canadian, and the Cimarron show up so very well.
Two stops were made to refuel on the way home from Las Vegas, NM with wheels off at 10:10 A.M. Central Time. The first stop was at Dodge City, KS for 46 minutes and the second was at Shenandoah, IA for only 11 minutes. I circled the house in Independence to let Linda know I was home and landed shortly after seven o’clock, 7:08 P.M. wheels on, just before darkness set in at about eight hours actual flight time.
I was able to fly over eight States on my flight: IA, MO, NE, KS, CO, NM, TX, and OK. I did pick up two new States, CO and NM. This brings my total to 22 States I have landed in with the Taylorcraft. The highest airport that I have landed at is Las Vegas, NM at 6,877 feet. The lowest airport I have landed at is Crystal River, FL at 9 feet. The highest airport in the U.S. is at Leadville, CO at 9,930 feet. I have flown the Taylorcraft to 14,000 feet plus many years ago. The Taylorcraft would go higher, but the air was getting thin. The lowest airport is in Death Valley, Furnace Creek, CA in Death Valley National Park at -210 feet. My greatest ground speed to date was 151 mph while descending from 9,500 feet to Independence, IA at the end of the Santa Fe Trail trip. I am very thankful that we have the “freedom” to fly as individuals in our personal aircraft to so many beautiful places in this vast country. New Mexico is certainly aptly named the “Land of Enchantment.”
Keep your speed up and your wings level. Wishing you CAVU or ceiling and visibility unlimited
Saturday, December 31, 2005
"FLYING THE SANTA FE TRAIL"