I'm not going to make it to Oshkosh this year, but I just finished a phenomenal 6-day trip across the Canyon and Indian country in the Four Corners area (AZ, UT, CO and NM) in my 3.1L Corvair-powered Zodiac 601XLb. 


Departing from Falcon Field (FFZ) in Mesa, AZ, the first leg on Sunday, July 1st, was to Cliff Dwellers Lodge (AZ03), one of the very few places you can land within the Grand Canyon Special Flight Rules Area.  Cliff Dwellers Lodge airstrip is actually owned by Hatch River Expeditions, a famous river running outfitter, and is a 3800'-long, well-maintained dirt strip at 4200' elevation.  No services, of course.


After the long reduced-power climb up out of the Phoenix valley, where the OAT going through 5000' at 0730 was 88°, the plane finally settled in at 10500' (OAT 73° = 13500' DA) and the oil temps and CHTs slowly came back into reasonable steady operating conditions.  After crossing the main part of the Grand Canyon (through the Zuni Corridor), I slowly let down to 8000' and then finally circled down for landing within 3 NM of the field as allowed.  After tying down, I walked to the mile or so to the actual lodge.  201 NM and 1.82 hours enroute using 9.4 gallons of gas.



Next day was a short flight over to Bullfrog Basin, UT (U07), which is inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area that includes the enormous Lake Powell reservoir formed by the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.  On the way, I stopped at Marble Canyon (L41) for breakfast, just to check out the poorly-paved 3700' strip.  It's still in poor condition, and the parking area is really breaking up badly.  Climbing out of Marble Canyon, I only went up to 7500'  A few rain showers and clouds along the way kept the temps down.


The 3500x40' National Park Service runway at Bullfrog Basin at 4200' elevation is in great condition - your tax dollars at work.  No services again.  It's a long, downhill walk to the resort and marina area, so I called the hotel for a ride after about 2 miles.   With the breakfast stop, this leg was 73 NM, 0.95 hours enroute and 5.5 gallons used.  This pic shows that the lake is down about 70' from full.  This is an awesome place in every sense of the word!



Leaving Bullfrog the next morning, it actually felt cool to my Valley-thinned blood, about 65°!  There are not a lot of places to get gas out in this part of the country, so I stopped at Cal Black Memorial (U96), only about 10 miles from Bullfrog Basin, to on-load some fuel.  This is an excellent 5700x60' paved runway at 4400' elevation, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  A surprisingly young man operates the one-man FBO there, with snacks, coffee and weather. AVGAS, MOGAS and Jet are available 24 hours a day!


Leaving U96, it was still relatively cool, about 74°, and I was able to climb at higher power settings up to 9500' enroute to Black Rock (ZUN) in far western New Mexico, which serves the Zuni Pueblo 4 miles away, mainly for medical evacuations.  Flight following is generally not available in this part of the country below 12000', but you can usually talk to Albuquerque flight watch on 122.00 at 9-10000'.  At ZUN, the 4800x50' runway at 6450' elevation is in mediocre condition, and the parking area/helipad is a little worse.  Again, no services.


I found a few abandoned wheels and tires near the long-abandoned hangar, and rolled them over to the plane to use for tie-down anchors.  The Corvair continued to run smooth and steady on the way, turning the Sensenich 64x47 wood prop at 2950 or so RPM, burning less than 5 GPH at altitude.  Since I had the heads done by Falcon Machine, temps have become much better balanced, with about a 20° side-to-side difference in CHTs and <100° total EGT spread in cruise.  This leg, including the gas stop, was 182 NM, 1.86 on the EFIS and 10.0 gallons.



In Zuni, I stayed at the Halona Inn Bed & Breakfast, the only lodging in the town.  I visited the Zuni museum and spent a lot of time just walking around, observing the modern Zuni way of life from the outside.  The Puebloan tribes, direct descendants of the Anasazi who built the cities at Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon, are friendly peoples, different from the more taciturn Navajos and Apaches that live out in the Big Empty.  The operator of the B&B was nice enough to get up early to make breakfast and then ran me out to the airport, saving me the long uphill walk.


The next day was the 4th of July, so I headed over the Kayenta, AZ (0V7) for the big Indian rodeo.  First I popped over to Gallup, about 30 miles away, to get some more gas.  The 30-gallon tanks on the Zodiac give it great range, over 500 NM, but with little weather reporting in this area, it's "Better safe than sorry."  It was again cool when I took off, about 64°, and I was able to climb at high power without any temperature problems.  Really nice after the ridiculous summer temps we get down in the Valley.  


I have my inlets opened to nearly 5", and an additional fixed cowl flap for the summer, but there is a temperature inversion over Phoenix in the summer, where temps go *up* as you climb through 4-5000', even in the early mornings. This requires care to operate safely.  Of course, once it gets cooler in October or so, I will have to remove the fixed flap, then block off most of the oil cooler and finally put in inlet restrictors, just to keep temps up where they ought to be. 


Kayenta, at 5700' elevation, has another of those long, beautiful runways you often find on the Res, with no traffic, no services and unreliable PCL.  The guys that fly the single-pilot medvac operations out here in small King-Airs really earn their pay.  The Kayenta runway is 7140x75', so they can get in and out all summer long.  Seemed like I had to taxi forever to get the parking are on the far end of the field.  This leg made it really clear how a little plane can be a time machine.   Including the gas stop, it took 1.47 hours for the trip, which would a hard eight hours on the ground, across some truly desolate terrain.  130 NM and 6.6 gallons.


While walking from the airfield to the hotel, I intersected the local Independence day parade, and sort of walked along with it the entire way to the Best Western. 



The rodeo and following fireworks show were mobbed.  In small towns, nearly everyone shows up for events like this and the Navajo are no different.  They do have a different idea of "personal space" compared to city folk, however, and when I say the rodeo stands were packed, I mean it!  The Res is dry (i.e. no alcohol sold), so it was less rowdy than you might expect in a small town rodeo in Oklahoma or Texas, but that's probably good.  Lots of kids and dogs on the roads, even some loose stock.


I departed to the East the next morning under cloudy skies with isolated showers, probably virga, visible in the distant South.  The plane was wet from some very welcome rain during the night and morning temps stayed cool under a high overcast.  I climbed only to 7500' as I headed East, because I wanted to get a good look at Shiprock, a very large standing formation that, at least from the air, looks nothing like a ship.  Shiprock is a major station of the Navajo Tribal Police, and figures heavily in the books of Tony Hillerman (highly recommended).  The route also took me through the southern part of Monument Valley.


From there, it was up on to Aztec, NM, which is not on the Res but still has a beautiful, newly repaved 4300x60' runway at 5900' elevation.  Fuel is available there, but cash only and $6.30/gal, so I passed on it, planning to visit Pagosa Springs the next morning anyway, where gas is $5.60.  Total for this leg was 107 NM, 1.12 on the EFIS and 6.1 gallons.  A local pilot was finishing up when I landed, and he was nice enough to give me a ride into town from the airport, which is up on a mesa a few miles out.


The big attraction in Aztec is the Aztec Ruins National Monument, which were mis-attributed many years ago to the Mexican tribes, but in fact were part of the extended Southwestern Anasazi civilization of the 1100's and 1200's. The ruins are very similar to those in Chaco Canyon, albeit smaller.  They were excavated back in the 1920's, when archaeology was more similar to looting than it is now.  Since being absorbed into the National Park Service, however, the ruins have been stabilized and many of the rooms were filled back in to protect them.  Still, it is very, very impressive.



Aztec is actually a very vibrant little town.  The year-round Animas River runs right through the town, and it is surprisingly verdant for a high desert location.  I stayed in the Step Back Inn, which is very nice, and conveniently located for everything, including the local museum and town center filled with buildings from 1890's and 1900's.  Not being on the Res, I was quite pleased to enjoy a cold beer that evening!  The Inn has cinnamon rolls and coffee in the morning, and the manager's husband, an ex-pilot, was nice enough to run me back up the hill to the airport.


That was more or less it for the exploration part of the trip.  On Friday morning, I wanted to check out the airport at Pagosa Springs, CO (PSO), about 55 NM Northeast, because I might participate in one of the Sport Air Racing League events there in the Fall.  The SARL actually has a class for VW/Corvair powered planes, and though my 601XL wouldn't be competitive against any KR or Cleanex, it still looks like fun. 


The 8100x100' PSO runway is at 7670' elevation, the highest I landed on during this outing.  After I filled up the tank (and emptied the other one), I took off with a 9100' density altitude (!), and headed back on a 3-hour leg to Mesa (FFZ).  Went most of the way at around 10000', 13K DA, leaned way back.  Total fuel burn for that 325 NM leg was only 13.7 gallons!  Of course, on the descent into Mesa, I once again had to absorb the heat.  At 1100, it was 95° onthe ground, headed for 107 later in the day.


Solid, reliable performance from the engine and the airframe.  No glitches. No problems. Even no headwind!  Cruise speeds averaging about 115 KTAS, not bad for a 601XL.  1 quart of oil added.   The people you meet doing General Aviation have to be some of the best ever!  Doesn't get much better than this...




Andy Elliott


471 hrs since 11/08

Web Site Link


Views: 974


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Comment by Don Walker on July 12, 2012 at 9:52pm
Thanks for sharing your trip with the rest of us still in the building stage Andy. This kind of trip report provides great incentive to keep working on my own 601XL.

Thanks for the entertaining read!
Comment by Gerald M. Staton on July 12, 2012 at 7:54pm

Dr. Elliott, this is an awsome article, thank you so much!  I traveled this area when I was a college student in the mid 80s.  It brings back great memories.  Now I have to get back to work on my 601HD so that some day I can join you!


Comment by Tim Garrett on July 12, 2012 at 5:47pm
I agree with rest of the commenters, great write up! I'm really going to have to get further west than Wichita!
Comment by Tim Smart on July 10, 2012 at 2:30pm

Thanks for your trip log, havine lived all over in AZ most of my life this makes me homesick. Things go right I'll be back at least part time in a year or so. Thanks again & safe flying.
Comment by Joe Harrington on July 10, 2012 at 2:09pm

Thanks for taking the time to put together that great trip report! Reports like that don't just fabricate themselves. It is very evident that you put a lot of time and effort to write this up and all us are the benefactors. Reports like this keep us all motivated and show us what we may look forward to. Thanks again! Joe

Comment by Stephen R. Smith on July 10, 2012 at 11:50am

Hello Andy,

Good flying and great post.

Thanks, Steve

Comment by Sebastien Heintz on July 10, 2012 at 11:31am

Andy: Great post!  Thanks for sharing!

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