The day starts early with a check of the weather and preparation of new turnpoint databases for the PDA (running WinPilot Pro) and LX 7007. (This step I managed to overlook before the previous day's attempt, though when I started that flight I knew I could select a new database on the PDA in flight.)
To get the same database in both instruments, I loaded the ASA and El Paso turnpoint files in SeeYou, deleted the non-landable points, and saved a geographic subset of the remainder to WinPilot (dat) and LX (da4) files in turn. I was thankful that Alby reminded me to do this today. Smart bird, he.
In addition to weather checks on xcskies.com and drjack.info, Cliff "CH" Hilty, Alby and I spend a little more time planning the possibility of getting to Alamogordo or even Moriarty. We decide that if (1) Alby and I make it to Deming early enough, (2) Albuquerque Center clears us to fly through the R-5107 (White Sands Missile Range) restricted airspace, and (3) the weather that direction looks good enough, we will divert northeast to attempt one of those alternate destinations.
The flight plan, as far as landable turnpoints to El Paso goes, consists of Cascabel, Willcox, Lordsburg, Deming, Dona Anna, and finally Horizon Airport (formerly West Texas Airport, on the east side of El Paso).
Giddy-up! I slap Cliff's horse on the flank and send him on down I-10.
Alby and I launch at El Tiro. Three minutes later I release in 3 knots at 2600 AGL. The sky to the east is mostly blue but well to the northeast some white puffies are visible.
After reaching 9000' (the field elevation is 2100') I flew west to find something over the higher ground nine miles from the field. Halfway there I stopped to turn in a few knots, and when this was suddenly disappearing after only 1000' gain, I spied some dust devils on course eight miles to the northeast. I pushed the nose down and connected with the first of them. That got me to 11,500' and from there I headed toward Mt Lemmon, 35 miles east. Some CUs were showing up just northeast of there.
We arrive south of Mt Lemmon at 9k, just below the peak. The lift to this point has been marginal, but then the day is still young. At this point in the flight the goal is to find the higher lift around Mt Lemmon to get to Cascabel, 30 miles east. With the wind coming from the SSW, I search along the Pusch Ridge southwest of Mt Lemmon for some adiabatic lift, and find some, eventually working it to 12,500'. This is good enough for a glide to Cascabel, so off we go. Still solid blue, but I can see CUs forming way to the north and east. I hope my kindred spirit Alby is enjoying this as much as I.
After a long, sink-riddled glide to Cascabel (a remote dusty strip by the San Pedro River way out in a place you absolutely have to be going to to get to), I finally hit a few knots at 8500'. (I was thankful not to be nearly as low there as I was five years earlier, when I caught a butt-thumper at pattern altitude above the strip.) Ten minutes later I resumed course at 13,000'.
The clouds to the north and east look like they were getting farther away. Cliff, who is well ahead of us on the east side of Tucson, reports CUs north of Willcox and lots of dust devils by the freeway.
On course to Willcox I stop in just about all the air I encounter that's going up. The day is still young and landout options far between, so I don't take any chances, especially with CUs visible (maybe 50 miles) to the east.
North of Willcox I'm finally up to 14,000' and now confident that the day will end at one of the three planned destinations.
After an hour and ten minutes of glide-and-turn in blue but strong skies, I finally reach the CUs twelve miles north of the ghost town of Steins. The first one is a dud but the second one is decidedly not - 9.2 knots to 16,600'. This flight is now in the serious No Excuses stage. I hear Alby telling me how much fun he's having, and how beautiful this part of America is. I say yes, I agree, but it's even more beautiful from this altitude!
I curse myself, yet again, for forgetting to pack a camera in the cockpit.
I call Albuquerque Center and ask about the R-5107 (White Sands Missile Range) restricted area. Will we go toward Alamogordo (and possibly Moriarty), or continue to Texas?
Some very thick cloud cover to the north and east has me slightly concerned about the weather that way. Alas, Albuquerque Center reports that the R-5107 is hot. (The tone in his voice suggests that it's a dumb question - "Eh? It's always hot!" is the message I get.)
So, El Paso here we come.
(Conversation overheard in cockpit)
What's that over there?
Alby, that's the Deming Aerostat. Ask Randy Acree about those. No, we're not going any closer.
Why did you stop turning in that thermal? Dude that was like 14 knots and you just waived it goodbye.
We have an altitude limit, my friend. We can't go above 18,000', and to play it safe we absolutely stay below 17,500'.
Cool! But this is still the highest I've ever been.
Yeah, I bet you tell that to all the taxi drivers. And yes, it's cool, I'm freezing my toes off!
Can I have a bite of your apple?
No. I'll explain later.
What are those big round things down there?
Cowboy hats, Alby. Welcome to Texas!
We cross the border into my home state of Texas at 16,000'. At this point I have enough altitude to fly well over the El Paso Class C, but to play it safe I skirt the perimeter around the north and east side. (Horizon Airport, formerly West Texas Airport, is tucked into the east side of the Class C, just west of the city of Horizon.)
Exactly as the forecasts predicted, the sky to the east of El Paso looks lower and less organized than to the west. Cliff reports that the Garmin nav is showing a 5:30pm arrival time at Horizon Airport, so to kill time, I head southeast in an attempt to pick up a cloud street following the line of the Rio Grande starting around Fabens, about 25 miles away. This is the worst leg of the flight! Nothing but down, down, down until I turn around before losing my ability to land at Horizon. Just before getting back to Horizon I find some lift to work back to 12k.
6 PM (local - now an hour later than AZ)
With Cliff still a half hour out, I head to a street to the northeast, and this one works much better. Thirty miles later I turn around to head back and call it a day. Alby says he's hungry, what's the possibility of a real Texas steak for dinner? I tell him, "pretty darn good, pardner. You'll like it better than the fish those Californians have been giving you! Better than any apple, too."
As promised, Alby gets a steak dinner at the famous Cattleman's Restaurant (which is a turnpoint in the El Paso database!). The wine is Bin 38 - a very fine 2002 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Grenache Noir. If you think that sounds good, you shoulda tried the 10 ounce aged filet!
Alby says goodnight with a Thank You to Sergio for organizing his journey across this great country of ours. The El Paso club doesn't do much cross country (not surprising, being boxed in by the Class C west, Mexico south, R-510x north, and the next landable point to the east just short of San Antonio!), so hopefully someone from Alamogordo or even Moriarty will be able to trailer down and fly Alby to his next destination.