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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Black Canyon Blues

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, "Big enough to be overwhelming…  intimate enough to feel the pulse of time." Sometimes words can't be improved on. Henry David Thoreau couldn't have said it better. 

For a three year period back in my Montrose Treadmill days, I had the honor of being appointed by then Governor Richard Lamm to serve on the Colorado Water and Wastewater Plant Operators Certification Board. I chaired the Exam Committee, and gave aspiring plant operators nightmares by concocting math and science questions that would have tripped up Einstein :). Board meetings were held in Denver once per month, which necessitated that the lone western slope representative catch an early bird flight  aboard an aging, prop-driven commuter plane out of Montrose International. 

I was already a reluctant flyer in those days, but I swear to God, the pilots looked like sophomores in high school… they had pimples, for crying out loud, and some voices had yet to change. To make matters worse, I always seemed to get the flights with a women pilots and copilots. I'm sorry, ladies, but be honest… who would you rather have piloting your ass over 14,000 foot peaks along the Continental Divide in a whiteout blizzard?

This is the price one pays for choosing to live in a rural area, far, far away from da big citahh. You get to leftover, wore out, antiquated low-tech planes that the big airlines are wholesaling out for next to nothing… "puddle jumpers," that are basically spare parts, but just so happen to still get off the ground. 

As a passenger on those commuter flights I felt as if I was volunteering my services as a crash test dummy for Doogie Howser pilots-in-training, in obsolete planes that should have been grounded in the Nixon era. They were tiny little things with about 15 seats, probably made by Hasbro or Mattel, and they had no restroom

At 6' 4," I had to double over in half and walk gorilla-like to get to my assigned seat. Imagine the legroom in what was little more than a motorized sonotube. To make bladder matters worse, we stopped in Gunnison or Aspen for an additional twenty minutes to take on passengers. Woe unto coffee drinkers.

The good news was that I got to fly over the Black Canyon both ways, morning and late afternoon…  at low elevation, too, since Montrose snuggled right up to it. The bad news is that sometimes the mountain/canyon was shrouded in sleet, or snow, or clouds, or mist… and I'd just kinda sit there, staring out the window, seeing nothing but white, bracing for impact while praying that the teeny bobbers in the cockpit knew what they were doing. When weather got furious, as it often does over the Rockies, we were tossed around like a feather in a wind tunnel. But when it was clear and calm, I could stare right down the crack of the Black Canyon, see the white ripples of river rapids and people standing out on the observation points. It was a birds eye view that I never tired of… when the weather was good.


  1. Bear?

    After years without flying, it gets harder and harder to want to go somewhere bad enough to have to fly there.

  2. Why do you think women can't be pilots? It's not a question of strength, it's a question of being smart. We're smart. I'd rather have a woman pilot, because we're not driven to be macho and fly through bad conditions, I'd rather have smart. Your statement surprises me. My husband, who was a high time flight instructor reports that some of the best students he had for advanced ratings were women.

    1. I knew I would catch some grief for being honest…
      I didn't say women can't be pilots, tho. I just admitted that, when flying in furious weather over the Rockies I felt would feel more comfortable with at least one male in the cockpit… and I would prefer that they both be experienced and in their 40's instead of so young. It's weird, when it comes to doctors, I prefer women...

  3. My introduction to flight was courtesy of the U S Army. They flew me in a jet powered Boeing 707 from Phoenix to Houston where I changed planes. The second leg of the trip was provided by Trans Texas Airways that was using DC 3s to transport basic trainees to Ft Polk, LA. I don't think we every got over 500' above the ground and I watched a loose piece of metal flap one of the engine cowlings all they way.

    During my 3 years Army years I think I flew more miles than most 3 year Air Force personnel did. Probably put in more time at sea than 1/2 the navel personnel during those same 3 years. I also developed a basic rule "Do not fly in an aircraft where the aisle and window seat is the same one".

    I was on a commercial flight once when the captain made the announcement before take off that we were flying with an all female crew.

  4. Black Canyon and Gunnison are on our Colorado summer plan:) Can't wait to see the place. Your photos are drawing me in:) Gorgeous!

  5. Thanks for wild ride-- I did not know which would be worse crash landing or flak from women pilot remark! I could not be more comfortable in my wisc to florida flights. Once plane in air my search begins - last one was entire row to myself. Stretch out and relax.

  6. Flying: Everyone gets a certain quota of time in the air. Once your quota is reached, uh-oh. Between military time in the air, and business career-related time in the air, I figure I'm pretty close to MY quota. So, I don't fly anymore.

    One of my episodes included a "hop" from Danang to Okinawa...almost. Somewhere over the South China Sea between Vietnam and the Phillipines, my pilot of the C-130 said "Hhmmm...that's interesting." We in the cabin said "what's that?" The pilot pointed out the starboard (right) window. The propeller on the inboard engine was completely stopped. At 28,000 feet.

    This reminds me of a joke. I'll make it short. While flying, the pilot comes on the PA and announces "ladies and gentlemen, we've had an engine fail. Everything's okay, but we will be delayed in our arrival. Awhile later, he comes back on and announces a second engine "failure", tells us everything is fine, the plane can still fly with the remaining two engines, but we will be delayed further by about an hour. Unbelievably, he comes back on again to announce a third failure, saying we will now be 2 hours delayed. At which point, the guy next to me says " Jeesh, any more failures and we'll be up here all night".


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