Day 5, Leg 1: California-bound!

The Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam

Back to flying! Today is a big day — we’re heading to San Francisco with a lunch stop in Santa Barbara. The direct route from the Grand Canyon to San Francisco would overfly the Sierra Nevada mountains, so we first plan a leg to Santa Barbara, then up the California coastline to Palo Alto.

With the first bus leaving at 8:25 am from the Grand Canyon, we get a late start and only manage to start the engine around 10 am. We had planned to overfly Death Valley on the way to Santa Barbara, but the extra distance would force us to stop for fuel in Las Vegas, so we instead take a direct route. The wind has picked up at the Grand Canyon, with some pretty strong gusts, and 7CF’s stall warning horn is chirping as we climb out — even with the airspeed indicator showing 100 mph.

We first head down the Grand Canyon towards Las Vegas, Nevada. There is so much more to see of the Grand Canyon than the organized bus tours; it’s truly gigantic! At the end of the Grand Canyon, the scenery flattens out and the Colorado River transforms into Lake Mead. Las Vegas Approach clears us into their Bravo airspace, and is happy to have us circle the Hoover Dam a few times before we continue westbound.

As we pass Las Vegas and enter California, we see three incredibly bright spots below the horizon — the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, reflecting solar energy to make steam and then electricity. We parallel Interstate 15 into the Mojave Desert as we head west. In the middle of the Mojave, Jim announces that he needs the “emergency (empty) gatorade bottle” for a bathroom break. It’s been said that every county in the country has an airport (and they all have toilets), but we decide not to test that theory in Baker, California today!

We start seeing more signs of human life as we approach the coast: first Edwards Air Force Base, then with bigger and bigger towns and the Greater Los Angeles area. Switching our radios to the much busier Los Angeles Approach, we finally spot the Pacific Ocean! Jim lands us at Santa Barbara airport and we take the crew car for a nice seafood lunch on the pier in downtown and a swim for Jean-Baptiste in the Pacific Ocean just next to UC Santa Barbara.