Saturday, December 29, 2007

Where Am I?

No, that wasn’t me whistling in to MRY in my Lear 25 for the golf tournament. (Hint: I don’t own a Lear.) But that could of been me shooting landings at the Camp Granite airfield out along Highway 62. Don’t bother looking for it on the Los Angeles sectional, by the way. Camp Granite was abandoned in 1944. Flying to places like that, you can’t look it up on a section and you don’t call the FSS for a weather briefing, you call the guy at the gas station at the junction, if the place is lucky enough to have such a thing, which most such places don’t. In fact, if you drew a circle fifty miles wide around Camp Granite, on any given day the odds are you’d be the only human in it. That’s the reality of the Great American Desert, which may help you to understand how someone like Steve Fossett could go missing and not be found.

California, my native state, is fairly large; lotsa people, too. But the people are clustered near work & water, which leaves the desert portions pretty empty. For example, Camp Granite is about five hundred miles from the Pebble Beach Golf & Country Club - - it isn’t even on the same sectional. In fact, you’d need more than forty dollars-worth of sectionals to cover the entire state of California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Klamath Falls, Las Vegas and Phoenix). Even then, you wouldn’t have much luck finding Camp Granite... or any of the hundreds of abandoned airfields scattered across the western United States.

Forty bucks-worth of sectionals is kinda rich for my blood. Add to that the fact they don’t show abandoned airfields and you’ll get some idea why I use other kinds of charts, such as old road maps or the super-sectional from California’s own Division of Aeronautics, a state agency under CalTrans, our state department of transportation. The super-sectional costs about nine bucks and like road maps it isn’t supposed to be used for Air Navigation, with capital letters and all that. But when the air-nav charts don’t show the places you want to go, a good map - - even a 1955 Texaco road map - - and a healthy dose of common sense, will usually get you there.

As a point of interest, especially for the frugal airman, most states have some kind of aviation office; Department of Aeronautics, Aviation Bureau or what-have-you. And most of them offer some pretty good charts, usually copied from the FAA’s sectionals. Best of all, State charts are often free or, like California’s, cost less than the sectional(s) covering the same area.

A golf tournament isn’t someplace I’d pay to go and a Learjet can’t take me to the places I want to see. Most lightplanes will get me there, even a homebuilt puddle jumper that leaves my head sticking out in the breeze and requires an Armstrong starter to get the engine going. Once you arrive at the middle of Nowhere the Nazca-like lines that were visible from the air will vanish when viewed from the ground, the ghostly image of tent cities blown away on the desert wind. Indeed, if you lack the shaman’s gene there really isn’t much to see in the Great American Desert and the typical white man dismisses such places with a shrug; the WWII camps a page of history erased by the bureaucratic hand. But dry lakes were once inland seas and for those of us who can see the passage of time such places justify more than a casual visit.


31 Dec 2007 -- A sharp-eyed reader named Oliver (see the 'Comments') noticed I'd gotten my photos mixed-up, posting a pix of Camp Coxcomb (which is near Hwy 177) instead of Camp Granite. -- rsh