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Best of day 14: Turning around over Death Valley

We’re back to mountains and desert. Today’s flight from Santa Maria to North Las Vegas ended up in being the longest flying day since we started this adventure. 5h35 of flight, and we crossed Death Valley three times…

The departure out of Santa Maria was IFR to get on top of a solid overcast layer. The tops were at 2.000 feet and we then had crystal clear skies.

Flying on top

We flew the first mountain ranges on our route in the valleys, at altitudes below the tops and the ride was smooth. We started having turbulence over the desert and we climbed from 7.500 to 9.500 feet. This reduced the turbulence but we still had some.

Flying in a valley

Climbing that high cost us time and fuel. We also had headwinds slowing us down and the fuel situation was close to our minimums. It seemed that we could not reach Las Vegas with a sufficient fuel reserve. There are not a lot of airports in this part of the country and we started to work on options for a fuel stop. No way we would become a fuel emergency over Death Valley.

The best one was Inyokern, near the China Lake Air Force base. This was forty miles behind us, and we had to stay above 6.000 feet because of restricted airspace. We descended in circles above the airport and landed in the middle of nowhere. Inyokern airport was completely deserted. There were cars and other planes, but not a single soul around. The place was silent, and the sun was burning our skin. This felt just like a western thriller in the desert. All building were closed, we found restrooms in a hangar, then fueled up the plane and took-off.

Inyokern airport

Climbing back to 9.500 feet in the desert temperatures was like a marathon. We had to fight for each and every fight. We had to reach 6.000 feet before resuming our flight on course because of the military airspace surrounding the airport. Our average climb rate was lower than 150 feet per minute… But we made it to 9.500 feet, and even to 10.000 feet.

10.000 feet

We crossed Death Valley eastbound one more time. At our speed, it took few minutes, and we were really happy to have lot of fuel on board. This is probably the last place on earth where you want an emergency…

deathvalley

After that, we passed the last mountain ranges separating us from Las Vegas. The descent into the Las Vegas area from 10.000 feet was really impressive. This city in the middle of the desert, with funnily shaped buildings is a strange sight. We landed at North Las Vegas after a total flight time of 5h35 in one day, exhausted but safe.

Downtown Las Vegas

The black pyramid is the Luxor hotel and casino, were we had a bad Internet connection. This, and other surprises, is the reason why this post comes online a bit later than usual.

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