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Ron Kilber's Aviation Stories Masthead

Marble Canyon, Arizona

By Ron Kilber

June 12, 1999

Navaho Bridge As we fly northward at 10,500' above mean sea level (MSL), the South Rim of the Grand Canyon lies just miles ahead. At this longitude near Grand Canyon Village, the canyon is some twelve-miles wide to the North Rim. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon stretches northeast and west as far as the eye can see. More than a mile deep is the Colorado River, which snakes 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado all the way to Mexico. A hundred miles upstream, the Glen Canyon Dam holds back water creating Lake Powell whose shoreline surpasses in length that of the entire US Pacific Coast. More than two-hundred miles downstream is Hoover Dam, majestic, forming Lake Mead, and on south is Davis Dam and Lake Mohave, and further on is Lake Havasu and Parker Dam, and finally through Yuma and beyond the Mexican border is the Mouth of the Colorado River, which empties into the Sea of Cortez.

Gaylord, Pete and I departed Scottsdale Airport (SDL) at 7:30 a.m. in their 1966 "E" model Mooney, and now at 8:40 a.m. we're in calm air on our way to the Marble Canyon Airport (L41) where we'll rendezvous with other members and friends of the 100-member-strong Phoenix-area "Breakfast Club". The group selected the tiny outpost for its June hundred-dollar getaway.

L41 is 65 miles more north of here and situated in the bottom of Marble Canyon in the northern fringes of the Grand Canyon alongside the Colorado River 13 miles southwest of Page, Arizona. The short-and-narrow runway is within one of the most majestic areas on the entire face of the world. No where else on earth can you find the concentration of geographical wonders. Besides the Grand Canyon, there's Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, Capital Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, to name a few -- all of 'em and many more wonders close by.

Off our right wing, the South Rim village (6,860' MSL) is always a bustling little place. Tourists from around the world are getting their first-ever glimpse of the Grand Canyon. Hikers are on the steep and winding Bright Angel Trail, which begins at Grand Canyon Village on top and descends ŕ la switchbacks, with frightening drop-offs, a distance of 4.6 miles to Indian Gardens (3,800' MSL) and continues on down to the Colorado River to a foot bridge (mile 7.7 -- 2,400' MSL) and then a short distance more to Bright Angel Campground (mile 8.5) and Phantom Ranch (mile 9.8). There, the bottom-of-the-canyon oases are perfect for rest and recreation before resumption on the 10-mile, butt-kicking, always-another-switchback hike to the village above or, alternatively, to the more-than-a-1,000'-higher North Rim (mile 23.8 -- 8,241' MSL) via a 14-mile-long trail, which averages ten percent in grade with many places much steeper.

This backpack excursion takes you through one-billion years of geological history and several climates. Those are the good parts. That bad is that you get to hike through 4,580 vertical feet (or to the North Rim, more than a mile vertical).

I remember well my annual hiking pilgrimages to the canyon floor via not only the Bright Angel Trail, but the steeper Kaibab Trail and others, too. While time has taken a toll on my physical ability for steep, difficult hiking with a heavy backpack, none of my enthusiasm for the Grand Canyon has diminished.

As we adjust the Mooney's heading to traverse the Grand Canyon using the Dragon Corridor, we climb to 11,500' MSL in accordance with the Grand Canyon National Park Special Flight Rules Area (SFAR 50-2), which applies to all airspace within its boundaries from the surface to 14,499' MSL. There's air traffic everywhere, much of it tour operations at lower altitude, and it takes our six eyes to try to spot and keep track of 'em all. Still, we manage to find time to ponder the beauty and sanctity of this delightful day and the wonderland below us.

Without a system of "flight corridors" in the heavy-use Grand Canyon area, it'd not only be an airways free-for-all, but surely there'd be an awfully lot of mid-air collisions. The "Dragon Corridor", for example, is a few miles wide and runs parallel and a distance west of a diagonal line connecting the North and South Rims where large numbers of tourists congregate. Northbound traffic traverses at 11- or 13,500' MSL, while southbound is at 10- or 12,500' MSL.

I suppose it can be assumed that corridors thus located away from people can't bring as many complaints to the air-tour industry, which generates, I'm sure, millions of dollars daily in and around the Grand Canyon. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, especially where money is involved.

For any pilot, however, it'd be difficult, if not impossible, to navigate the area below 14,500' MSL legally without aid of the Grand Canyon VFR Aeronautical Chart. There are flight-free zones where no flying is permissible below 14,500' MSL, places where special authorization is required below 10,500' MSL, sectors where flight is restricted at some specified altitude to the surface (e.g. Marble Canyon, surface to 4,999' MSL) and there are altimeter-change boundaries where a pilot uses the Las Vegas setting, for example, after first using Grand Canyon's. About the only place a pilot can stay out of "restricted" trouble is where the SFAR allows flights below 3,000' above ground (AGL) while landing or taking off within 3 nautical miles of an airport.

More than once I've sat, feet dangling, on the South Rim's edge for hours not only to rest after returning from a multi-day backpacking excursion to the canyon's floor, but to just ponder and comprehend the limits and bounds of our world and the universe. For me, the Grand Canyon has helped shape my impression of otherwise incomprehensible dimensions of the universe.

For example, if I want to take a walk numbering 15-thousand foot-steps, who really knows how far that is? But on the Bright Angel Trail, it's about 15-thousand steps from the South Rim village down to the Colorado River. Hundreds of hikers complete the feat daily simply by placing one boot in front of the other. And because so much vastness of the Grand Canyon is available for simultaneous viewing, it's easy to visualize all 15,000 foot-steps to the river. So much of the trail and canyon are there to view all at once. And our attention can zoom from one end of the trail or canyon to the other -- instantly -- a feat not even light can match. The Grand Canyon, like views from mountain tops and airplanes, is awe-inspiring because of the vastness of visual information available instantly to the eye. No where else can one experience this visual euphoria except when at places like this.

More so, when I compare the Bright Angel hike with the distance, say, to our sun in the solar system, suddenly it's very easy to conclude that the energy source of all life on earth isn't really all that far away. If each footstep equals the distance of the earth's circumference (24,000 miles), for example, then it only takes 3,875 steps to represent the distance from our sun to earth (93-million miles) -- not even a two-mile hike on the Bright Angel trail in earth-circumference/foot-step parlance. In other words, simply by visualizing a hike 1.83 miles to Indian Gardens, the 93-million-mile distance to the sun is easily comprehensible and has yard-stick meaning.

In contrast, Mars' orbit lies only about a half-mile farther along the trail (mile 2.3), and the Bright Angel Campground (9.5 miles) is about where Jupiter's orbit is. Saturn's orbit isn't quite to the North Rim, and Pluto is represented about where our destination lies today -- the Marble Canyon Airport.

The Grand Canyon has always been a sacred place for me. Once, in the 70s while stressed out in the Fortune-500 world, I wanted to quit my job, but took the day off instead and flew my airplane to the Grand Canyon. After a few pensive hours of foot-dangling on the South Rim, I returned to Phoenix renewed and rejuvenated only to experience work as a new adventure.

When the visual opportunity of the Grand Canyon is contrasted, say, to that of a cubicle worker or shut-in, there's little wonder the market for Prozac-like drugs and depression counseling has grown exponentially. More of life once revolved around nature and Grand Canyon-like stimulation, before arrival of artificial environments and experiences available only vicariously from Hollywood. Out here, where the mind is otherwise bored from visual starvation, the gigabyte volume of image data entertains and stimulates. What a faith healer does to rid crutches, the Grand Canyon does to eliminate need for mood-altering drugs.

Today, after we cross the canyon, the North Rim and the Kaibab Plateau, we begin our descent to the bottom of Marble Canyon and the airport. Even though we're cruising at 150 knots, it doesn't prevent another Breakfast Cluber from overtaking us in a Glassair.

"Wow, is he flying!", exclaims Pete in the left seat.

As we approach the airport, Marble Canyon is not as deep in these parts as is the Grand Canyon back at the village. There are two reasons.

For one, the river elevation here is about 3,100' MSL. That's 700' higher than the water below the village where it flows at 2,400' MSL.

Two, the earth's surface in the Grand Canyon region has risen slowly over millions of years, but not as much in Marble Canyon. All the while, the Colorado River continued to flow and erode the rising canyon walls. For the Grand Canyon to have been formed otherwise, the Colorado River would've had to flow uphill.

Here, too, Marble Canyon's floor has a predominantly flat appearance, excepting for the gorge where the river flows 500 feet lower. Hundreds of fjords line the Colorado River, providing not only drainage for snow and rain, but a visually stunning, ink-blot tributary-like appearance of the canyon's bottom.

Landing at Marble Canyon Airport has its challenges and fears.

First, this is Arizona, which is synonymous with especially high density-altitudes during the summer. The landing field is already at 3,606' MSL, and according to my chart the length is only 3,700' (although local commercial literature says 4,500'). While that may be sufficient to land any slug and survive, it's awfully short, dangerous and a challenge when attempting a mid-day take-off around here in any airplane.

High density-altitudes are not only a problem at takeoff, but at landing, too. The big difference, however, is that if you run out of runway on landing, you'd go off the end of the strip after you've already slowed considerably. On takeoff, however, if you run out of runway, you'd do so at a much higher speed. Neither is an experience any pilot wants to hang on his "been there" "done that" wall.

Second, the approach end of Runway 3 is not only lower than is 21, but there's a 300-foot-deep fjord a very short distance from the end of the asphalt. For me (I'm not dispensing advice here), I'd never use runway 21 for fear of landing "long", only to disappear forever into the next world via the footless abyss at the end of the pavement. Nor am I trying to scare, only make aware that Marble Canyon is not a place to implement a pilot's personal preferences, but a place to employ one's best judgment. This may mean landing downwind on runway 3 (uphill) or taking off downwind on 21 (downhill).

The wind is calm, so the decision for runway choice is a no-brainer. Pete's at the controls on final for Runway 3. As we cross the fjord, I'm curious if there are any airplane wrecks in the tributary canyon.

Thankfully, I see none.

We touchdown just after the numbers, and then the other end of the strip disappears from our sight. Not only is runway 3 lower than is 21, but there's a hump, too, which makes it impossible to gauge just how much field is left. Already aware this is a short strip and without an onboard odometer to know how much runway is left, Pete's not taking any chances that we might run out of stopping distance, so it's full power for a go-around -- and more breath-taking views, too.

Once airborne again, we can see several member airplanes already parked as we fly by.

Within minutes, we're on final again. But this time Pete's not letting any hump get in the way of a landing, and manages with plenty of runway to spare.


Even though we're technically still within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park, no one's around to collect an entrance fee. I think the government is working on the theory that anyone who comes to Marble Canyon will go to the North or South Rim, too, where everyone is charged (now dearly) to gain entrance. Otherwise, we'd have to pay a fee just to have breakfast today.

There is, however, a posted notice near the aircraft parking area. Bottom line: No landing fee if you patronize the lodge or restaurant. No word though on how much if you're not hungry.

The Marble Canyon Lodge and restaurant are across US 89A within sling-shot range of aircraft parking. Pete and Gaylord figure that's where the bathroom is, so they bee-line there. I figure it's where the food is, so I follow.

I spot today's newspaper headlines: Russia Defies NATO and surprises the allies and arrives in Kosovo with an armored column.

Personally, I don't think any deal should've been made with Milosevic who bargained to preserve Yugoslavia'a sovereignty and territory. Heck, he had all that before the campaign of ethnic cleansing. Now, after capitulating to NATO, Yugoslavia is in shambles. Milosevic should be hunted down and made an example to send a message that the free world will never tolerate any atrocities anywhere in the world ever again. It is simply incomprehensible that a force the size of NATO can't even swat a fly like him.

Within a half hour, 29 BC members are seated and enjoying not only some pretty good vittles, but lots of camaraderie and hangar flying, too. I've opted for the breakfast buffet, not only because it's an all-you-can-eat-bacon affair, but there's also a cold table of fruit, juice, yogurt and cereal. The milk is so thick it may be more courteous to call it cream. Out here, who cares about acculturated tourists preferring low-fat, low-cal diets?

Breakfast with Gaylord and Pete Greenfield turns out to be especially interesting. Gaylord, Pete's father, served as a Marine Corps fighter pilot and squadron CO during WWII in the South Pacific. Besides Corsairs, he flew Hellcats, Avengers and Grumman Ducks, among others. He's landed on the decks of the Midway, the FDR and the Coral Sea, and in Paleliu (Palau Islands) he had to come in on final under 50' where howitzers were firing over the runway to enemy positions in the hills beyond. He once thought he was gone forever in Guadalcanal when his wings uncontrollably went vertical on final from vortices generated by aircraft ahead, but just as quickly returned to normal attitude for a safe landing in the nick of time. While in flight school in Corpus Christi, Texas, "Medal of Honor" Joe Foss spoke to his class, and some years later Gaylord hangar flew and enjoyed libations with the former South Dakota governor of my home state. He also ferried countless aircraft to points everywhere, including many Gooney Birds.

When I ask him about a C-53 (aka DC-3), which was restored in Mesa and flown two years ago to Europe, Gaylord knows all about it. And he's surprised to learn that much of what he read about that project was written by me.

"Small world", I say.

Gaylord has a valid medical certificate and is current in seaplane and single- and multi-engine land type, and at 77 years of age will soon qualify for entry into the UFOs, the United Flying Octogenarians, the international club for pilots 80 and over. And if flying doesn't keep him busy enough, Gaylord is also active in real estate sales -- and serious about it (his business card sports 5 phone numbers).

Pete, on the other hand, owns a long-haul trucking company. Inasmuch as I used to go through the gears on a 10-speed Road Ranger a long time ago, we've got enough in common for plenty of conversation for a beer-drinking session sometime. Pete has been a pilot for ten years, and has logged the majority of his left-seat hours since acquiring the Mooney with Gaylord about a year ago.

After breakfast, it's leg-stretching time. About a quarter mile from the landing strip, the "Historic" Navaho Bridge (circa 1929) and the "New" Navajo Bridge (1995) span side-by-side 600 feet across and 500 feet above the Colorado River. The historic bridge is now designated a pedestrian-only walkway, while the new and wider structure carries US 89A across the gorge. Both bridges make for an eye-catching spectacle not only from the ground, but from the air, too.

Another feast for the eyes is the Navajo Bridge Visitor Center, which features an interactive video presentation called "Crossings Through Time." It was written, produced and directed by a long-time racquetball partner and friend, Barry Fuller. The presentation took over thirteen months to complete and won a Silver Award of the Charleston International Film Festival. It traces the history of Colorado River crossings in the area from the First Americans, through the Spanish Colonial period and Lees Ferry, to the historic Navajo Bridge and then the modern Navajo Bridge. It took months to research the material for the presentation and locate archival photographs, film footage, etc. -- a very insightful look at the history and personalities of the area.

Of interest to pilots, Barry recently set up a new web site to connect people who share similar recreational and sports interests. One category of activity on his site is Aviation, and Barry told me that some pilots flying into Seattle recently found tennis partners during their layover by using his free site at

Getting back to the Navajo Bridge Visitor Center, park literature boasts of a state-of-the-art composting toilet. This might be the out-house that gained the attention of Congress where someone was under fire for paying a million dollars in $700-per-hammer-like fashion for a toilet that could've been had otherwise, say, for a few thousand bucks. Thus, the PR program to justify it. Better to have a bathroom exactly when needed than to have complaints from tourists who can't or won't wait until they get a quarter-mile farther down the road. Personally, I think any toilet stinks that doesn't flush or is dependent upon bacteria, which has to be properly metered by season (and tourist diet) in order to work, and I can't see how the public is any better off than with a Porta-John.

Incidentally, water (or the lack of it) played a role in the design of the out-house. Jane Foster, together with her three sons, own not only the Marble Canyon Lodge but the only local water supply, an underground source originating from the summit of the nearby Vermilion Cliffs. They saw the Park Service's plan for a new visitor center as a threat to their family business, which they've owned since 1959 and is situated on a private land island within the Bureau of Land Management's territory. Naturally, the Fosters fought to prevent the construction of the visitor center. In the end they lost some land for the center, but successfully bargained to prevent not only what might've turned out to be a competing concession rivaling the South Rim's, but retained -- incredibly -- all the water rights.

For a flush toilet to have been constructed at the visitors center, the government would've had to drill all the way to the water table, which is more than two-hundred feet below the Colorado River -- more than 700 feet below the center.

While in negotiations with the government, perhaps the Fosters knew no one would drill that far for water, but they didn't count on any enterprising bureaucrat to come up with a composting toilet to shunt needs-a-bathroom tourists away from their business. As consolation, however, the Marble Canyon Lodge does attract the thirsty, inasmuch as no drinking fountain or water is available at the visitor center. These tourists in turn buy lots of apparel, food and gifts.

The government on the other hand, while solving the toilet problem without water, may still be scratching their heads trying to figure out how to provide drinks for tourists. After all, where else in the world can you go and find at a visitor center neither a drinking fountain nor water to wash hands after using the toilet?

By the way, the land on the east side of the Colorado River is owned by Native American Navajos who have their own concession at the apposite end of the foot bridge. Native American products, including jewelry, are made locally and sold by Navajos.

Without a Navajo Bridge today, any traveler wanting to cross the Colorado River wouldn't fare any better than one of western-pioneer life during the late 1800s. In fact, s/he'd be worse off because Lees Ferry (4.4 miles upstream -- maybe 6 by road), which figured prominently in the exploration and settlement of the surrounding canyon country, no longer is in operation today.

Before Glen Canyon and Hoover dams, the Colorado River was "too thick to drink and too thin to plow" (anonymous). Arriving in those days without a canoe or other water conveyance, attempts by pioneers to cross this river of rapids proved futile. Natural barriers such as this river and other environmental factors served to quickly weed out the weak and unfit by a very rapid process of natural selection. Those who survived were the hardiest in body and the most resilient in character.

The New Navaho Bridge is the only point for vehicular river crossing between Glen Canyon Dam at Page, AZ and Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, Nevada -- a total of some 350 river miles or a crow's-flight distance of 200 miles.

Furthermore, without a Navaho Bridge, the only way to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim is via the Page-Kanab-Fredonia route, which would extend a road trip another 100 miles or so. Alternatively, there's a route via Las Vegas, perhaps four- or five-hundred miles out of the way -- which would be preferred only by die-hard gamblers who haven't yet hit bottom.

Out here, where there's only one road, destinations and places are measured in reference to distance on the river. Lees Ferry is the zero point for measuring river mileage along the Colorado River. Traveling downstream (or upstream), the river mileage increases. The foot bridge, which carries the Bright Angel Trail across the river, for example, is near mile 88 -- downstream. Glen Canyon Dam, on the other hand, is mile 15.5 -- upstream. In other words, it's 103.5 miles from the dam to the foot bridge below Grand Canyon Village.

All rafting and river trips through the Grand Canyon -- private and commercial -- begin at Lees Ferry, and continue as far as Diamond Creek, which is 226 miles downstream. There are no other launch sites between these two points on the Colorado River.

If sight-seeing or river rafting isn't one's cup of tea, hiking, backpacking and trout fishing are in no short supply in Marble Canyon. I've seen pictures of some pretty good-sized fish taken from the waters above Lees Ferry. Or if one just needs to get away to unwind, there's the local Marble Canyon Lodge and, in nearby places and surrounding towns, motels and B&Bs providing economy- to first-class accommodations.

After sight-seeing and the requisite pose for a group picture, everyone readies for departure -- some for home, some for more sight-seeing and some to find fuel. The wind, perhaps 10 knots and gusting to 15, is favoring runway 3, which slopes uphill. So the age-old question floats around generously: Which runway are you going to use?

Some decide to depart on 3, others bet on 21, which is my preference. With the winds as they are, it's probably a draw as to which runway to use. Somewhere, I'm sure, there's data available to help a pilot decide. For example, what wind speed cancels out the advantage gained from gravity on, say, a 3 percent slope?

I don't know enough about physics and mathematics to make a scientific decision, but I do know that a three-percent grade on a mile-long runway means one end is higher by more than 150 feet. Now we're talking something that has meaning. Imagine dropping any airplane that high as dead weight. No one would argue it'd make a big bang, but not as big a bang if you'd make the wrong decision and end up in the gorge off the end of the runway.

Still, 150 feet is a long way to drop anything as dead weight. First, the airplane would descend at a rate of about 2,000 feet per minute (FPM) after one second, about 3,800 FPM after the next, and about 5,800 FPM after the third second, which is about when it'd hit the dirt. That's over 65 MPH! A free gravity catapult -- without any aid from the engine.

Of course, the above is a free-fall situation and a stretch from real life on a real runway where there's friction and other things that come into play, but those aside, and theoretically speaking, gravity can be a huge advantage to have on your side when taking off.

I suppose the real litmus test to find out the exact advantage from gravity would be to taxi into takeoff position on a no-wind day, cut the engine, and release the brakes to see how fast we'd be coasting, say, after a mile down a three-percent grade.

Conversely, it follows that the exact same degree of force works against us when departing uphill, where any advantage can only come from a head-wind.

And speaking of headwind advantage, I remember around 1980 an incident, which occurred at the Goodyear Airport in the Phoenix area. All of the lee-side doors were open on the huge hangar, which was big enough to park not only a twin-jet airliner, but many other airplanes, too. The wind was blowing pretty good that spring day when someone decided to open just one windward door in front of a Cessna 172 (if I remember the model correctly), which had its nose pointed directly into the wind. So violent was the venturi effect generated by all the back doors being open that, in an instant, the C-172 climbed toward the rafters until it stalled above the door line, only to come crashing down -- nose first! Happily, no one was in the airplane -- or under it.

I think my attempt to illustrate the impact of both gravity and wind goes without saying that when taking off, neither gravity down-hill nor wind up-hill should ever to be treated lightly. As far as any airplane is concerned, both assist flight equally. And the only trick for the pilot is to judge as accurately as possible the effect of each force in any given opportunity. Ignoring too much slope by preferring too little wind could prove disastrous -- or vice versa.

Anyway, the problem with group travel is that group mentality usually prevails. In other words, everyone now wants to leave at the same time. It looks like a carrier deck out here, everyone lined up en échelon, patiently waiting for a takeoff slot. The only person missing is a flagman to signal the next pilot for departure.

We're one of the last to depart, deciding to take off on runway 21. As we roll, the other end of the runway is out of view, and I can't help think of the possibility of a head-on collision with a landing airplane, if one snuck in without our notice. But all is well, and we're airborne by midfield, which is about the same position for those who chose to depart on runway 3.

Even so, I still prefer a down-hill departure when it's a draw situation. The wind could lull on you, but gravity won't ever do that.

Earlier, we arranged to hook up near Lake Powell with 6864Q, a Bonanza with Breakfast Club member Allan Wallace in the left seat and passengers Trish Wallace, Jim Nelson and Bob Shane who wants to take some air-to-air pictures.

We're coming up on Lake Powell now. Held back by 700-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam, the huge reservoir since the early sixties backs up the Colorado River more than 200 miles into Utah. Its near-100 side canyons provide water-craft enthusiast with endless exploration opportunity. Nearby is Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which is the world's largest natural bridge, standing 290 feet tall.

As soon as we hook up with the Bonanza in midair, Gaylord thinks the air is barf-bag rough. No one argues, so the photo session is canceled for smoother air another time.

Gaylord noses the Mooney to a southerly direction, and says he knows these parts so well that he can negotiate all the way home unaided by VOR, GPS or compass. Now that's my kind of navigator.

Soon we're over the Little Colorado River, which flows into the Grand Canyon to join the Colorado River downstream at mile 61.5.

Then it's over Sunset Crater National Monument, which is a huge cone-shaped volcanic crater just east of the San Francisco Peaks (12,633' MSL).

It isn't long before we're over Interstate 40 -- stretching east and west, horizon to horizon -- connecting the manufacturing and import facilities of Southern California with cities in the US heartland and which continues all the way to Wilmington, South Carolina near Cape Fear and the East Coast.

Pete is no stranger to I-40, having 18-wheeled it more times than he may want to remember. Truck traffic dominates this route, more so during winter, owing mostly to the fact that Interstate 15, I-70 and I-80, which connect L.A. with Chicago by way of Colorado, is a more dangerous route for truck travel on the snowy, mountainous roads during winter. If a trucker does not have to off-load, say, in Denver, the preferred route to deliver California and Pacific Rim products to the Midwest during ski season is Interstate 40 right below us.

The route has long displaced the famous 2-lane "Route 66", also below us and forever immortalized by the TV series of the same name wherein Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis), a couple of wanderlust adventurers with a Corvette, provided vicarious experience for everyone to enjoy.

Today, Route 66 is mostly driven by baby-boomer and nostalgia aficionados who want to see for themselves what first appeared on TV some 40 years ago.

The air is even rougher as we fly over terrain more formidable, so the trip home is slower to negotiate the bumps safely.

When we departed Scottsdale this morning, the air was glass-smooth and we could see for a hundred miles. Interestate 17 was loaded with northbound traffic transporting Phoenicians for a weekend to cooler places away from the furnace heat of the desert. Sights along the way were breathtaking.

At Cordes Junction, we flew over Arcosanti, which houses more than a hundred social and architectural experimenters in the high desert.

Then it was on to the Verde Valley where we flew alongside Mingus Mountain (7,880' MSL) and the ghost town of Jerome and then over Cottonwood.

Eventually, we climbed to 10,500' MSL to negotiate the Mogollon Rim some miles west of Sedona. Once over the Colorado Plateau, forests, lakes and meadows dominated.

After flying alongside Bill Williams Mountain (9,256' MSL), we over-flew the Valle-Williams Airport, which has been since 1995 the new home of The Planes of Fame Air Museum Grand Canyon, a satellite of the parent organization in Chino, California. Later this month (June 26-27), Planes of Fame is sponsoring the Second Annual Warbirds Air Display. Half of the museum's 22 aircraft, including a Constellation used by General Douglas MacArthur, is in flying condition.

Approaching Scottsdale is not without incidence. Just before we're ready to report over Rawhide, a 1967 Cessna 310 declares an emergency with a dead stick on the left engine. We're directed to circle, and fortunately for the airplane in peril, its pilot manages to land at Scottsdale before we complete a 360 degree turn.

At 2:20 PM we touchdown to find the C-310 clear of the active runway waiting for a tug.

The day was a blast, made perfect not only by a fine bunch of aviation friends, but one of the most breathtaking and mentally stimulating locales in all the world.

If anybody's going to Marble Canyon, I'm ready to go back.

Group Picture

Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy (SDL), Jon & Diane Ruopsa (FFZ), Ken & Louise Grey (FFZ), Don Downin & Roger Degler (FFZ), Jim & Cheryl Carter with Chase & Chad (FFZ), Greg Robinson & Sue Miller (FFZ), Pete & Gaylord Greenfield with Ron Kilber (SDL), Allan & Trish Wallace with Jim Nelson & Bob Shane (SDL), Steve Bass, Joe Kaspar and Jim Palmer (SDL), Paul Fortune & Kathy Bean (GEU), Richard Azimov, Linda Taylor and Richard Spiegel (DVT)

Not everyone is pictured nor in caption order.

Ron Kilber ( is a Phoenix-based private pilot who writes about aviation adventures, destinations and airplanes. If you have a story suggestion, contact Ron via email.

© Copyright 1999 Ron Kilber All rights reserved.