Day 3, Leg 2: Canyonlands, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon

The San Juan River in Goosenecks State Park, Utah

The San Juan River in Goosenecks State Park, Utah

The second flight of the day takes us through western Colorado, Utah and Arizona:  over Canyonlands National Park, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon, to Grand Canyon National Park airport (KGCN). The weather forecast shows some rain a few miles south of the Grand Canyon airport, slowly moving to the north.  We discuss whether to wait in Montrose or not, but decide to take off — with a plan to divert to Page, Arizona (KPGA) if the storm moves north.  Out of Montrose, we climb at 10,500 ft to cross a small pass on the Uncompahgre range. As we climb out, we notice that 7CF’s suction gauge has dropped to zero, which means our backup attitude indicator — an important instrument for flying in the clouds — does not work. The most likely scenario is that the vacuum pump broke, and we will have to get it fixed. But for now, no big deal; we’re out of the clouds and continue on.

As we head further into Western Colorado and Utah, the scenery becomes wild, with amazing rock formations, deep canyons and very few people. We drop below Denver Center’s radar coverage, and we’re glad to have the Delorme inReach onboard — to transmit our progress as we head west, and our precise location if we have an off-airport landing.  We first see what later becomes the Colorado River near Goosenecks Park, then follow the river to Canyonlands National Park. The sharp canyons and the meandering river are beautiful.

After Canyonlands, we take a detour south to overfly Monument Valley, a cluster of majestic sandstone buttes in the middle of the Utah desert. It’s very impressive, and one of our favorite sights so far.

We continue southwest towards Page, AZ, overflying Lake Powell and the dam at the upper end of the Grand Canyon.  The weather has mostly cleared up, with a few light rain showers nearby.

As the Grand Canyon comes into view, the size is hard to comprehend, even from the air. But we need to focus on the flying, as we navigate the special flight rules area over the Grand Canyon; we take the Zuni Point corridor southwest at 10,500 ft. The Grand Canyon is gigantic and the view is breathtaking, although maybe not as good as the one from the ground.

As we exit the special flight zone area, we start to descend towards Grand Canyon airport (6,609 ft). The airport is hidden in the middle of trees and we first misidentify it; after some confusion we safely land at the right airport and roll out on the long runway there.

And then the engine stops.

We’re in the middle of the runway, still rolling, and the propeller is at a standstill. We can’t decide if the fuel mixture is too lean (not enough gas) or too rich (too much), but either way, we’re coasting down the runway at a busy airport with a dead engine.  Jean-Baptiste takes the first taxiway out to the left and just manages to clear the runway.  First we try a warm engine start, then a normal one, then — convinced that we must have flooded the engine by now — we try a flooded start, but still it won’t catch.   We wait in the plane for the FBO to send a tug, but before it can arrive, the airport fire department smells excitement and rushes over.

Eventually, we get towed into the transient aircraft ramp.  After waiting an hour for the engine to cool down and any flooding to clear, the engine fires right up, and we idle it on the ground for 15 minutes to recharge the battery after those start attempts. We decide that it was probably too lean on landing, but then too rich during our re-start attempts, and head into the park for an unscheduled rest day.