Recommendations for a trip around California for a European pilot

Discussion in 'Cool Places to Fly' started by Jns_V, Feb 21, 2016.

  1. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    I'm a relatively novice PPL (no IR, trained in C152, also have Arrow checkout and some experience in flying in the Tatra Mountains) from Central Europe. I'll be attending a conference in LA in early March and plan a little flying holiday around California. Most of the trip I'd be alone, but I will have a colleague whom I have to drop off on the evening of Day 1 or the morning of Day 2 at KEDU. I've tried to do my homework and read loads of trip reports, but still have a couple of questions that may be answered by you folks on this board.

    The itinerary would be roughly the following:
    Day 1: LA area to Davis/Sacramento
    I plan to start around midday and fly along the coast up to the Gold Gate, do a brief bay tour and head to KEDU.

    • Any problems / suggestions about the routing? Any places of interest?
    • I may want to have a brief stop en route to refuel and give a rest to my passenger. Any suggestions for this?
    • What is the best airport to overnight in the Sacramento area? I'm mainly looking for a place with accommodation nearby, preferably not needing taxis. I may be a bit interested in visiting the city of Sacramento itself, but it's not a must.

    Day 2: Sacramento to Death Valley
    I am about to cross the Sierras at Lake Tahoe (the Mammoth Pass look a bit too much for this time) and stop en route at Bishop Airport.

    • Any other places worth a stop besides/instead of Bishop? Maybe an airport with some nice natural feature around and easy access to courtesy / rental car.
    • Which is the better airport / hotel in the Death Valley? I'm leaning towards Furnace Creek.
    • What about MOAs? Will they likely be active? Is it really OK to enter them VFR?

    Day 3: Death Valley to Las Vegas
    • Which airport to use in Las Vegas? Is KLAS OK in a SEP? Locationwise it seems to be unbeatable.

    Day 4: Las Vegas to Los Angeles area
    I'll have to arrive by early afternoon, but will probably aim at an earlier arrival just to not stress it out. If everything goes well, however, I would have time to stop somewhere en route. Any suggestions for this?

    I'll be flying an Arrow for the trip, will have ForeFlight w/ Stratus and oxygen. I have already organised my piggyback license and will do BFR / airspace familiarisation / checkout with the FBO before the trip, on a separate day. I will not be pressing anything, the colleague can fly commercial to Sacramento and I will cancel any legs and stay closer to LA should the weather dictate. I'd apreciate answers to any of my questions or any other general suggestion for the flight. Thanks for everything in advance.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2016
  2. Rykymus

    Rykymus Line Up and Wait

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    I fly out of KSCK, and have gone up and down the central valley, all the way down to San Diego, and up the coast as far as the Golden Gate. (Have flown the Bay Tour several times with friends.) Plenty of places along the coast for fuel, but nothing between San Luis Obispo and Monterey. Fuel is probably cheaper at OAR than MRY, but there are no services. Monterey is a good place to stop, as there are a lot of things to see and good restaurants. Del Monte Aviation has crew cars for free, and can get you a rental for about $40/day if you prefer. They have a $40 fee which they wave if you're buying greater than 15 gallons, but it's usually cheaper to just pay the fee. (I fly in there a few times per month.)

    The part of the coastal flight that is most interesting is from Monterey up to the Golden Gate. Half Moon bay is a nice place to stop as well. Plenty of good eats within a short walk. Nice strip and cool approach. But often Marginal VFR. From Half Moon Bay up, you have stay pretty low until you get out from under SFOs bravo airspace. But very nice views, and flying over the Golden Gate is a hoot.

    KEDU is a nonevent. No services, just fuel. No cars, and too far to walk into town.

    If you want to visit Sac, go to McClellan. (MCC) McClellan Jet Services is great. Open 24/7, lots of free crew cars, with the lowest fuel prices in northern CA, AND they pump it. If the Arrow has the range to make it from LA, that would be a good spot to refuel. Also probably a good spot to stay the night before you hop over Tahoe.

    The Tahoe flight is great, and it's easy as long as the winds are calm. Best to do it early, as the winds tend to pick up by about 9-10 am.

    That's about as far as I can get you. I haven't flown the east side of the Sierras yet, although I plan to soon.

    Sounds like a great trip. If you have the time, try to include a flight over the Grand Canyon. Only an extra 145nm each way, and bound to be some great views.
     
  3. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    If you haven't already done so, some training in mountain flying would be highly beneficial to your survival. Sparky Imeson's book on the subject is often recommended, although even he fell victim to the dangers of mountain flying.
     
  4. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    Rykymus, thanks for the valueable practical info, I'll be able to use it when planning and executing the first part of the trip. I'll probably skip flying over the Grand Canyon this time, even though I agree with you that the views would be spectacular. I have already flown a helicopter tour over the canyon as a passenger and on this flight I would like to keep myself closer to California.

    Palmpilot, I appreciate the advice and I believe that I have done and will do my due diligence here. I have studied the relevant theory and flown with a CFI in the Tatras in Slovakia. Not nearly as impressive as the Sierras, of course, but it is about as much as I can get within a reasonable amount of flight time from the home base. The aircraft will also be reasonably light (single pilot, minimal amount of luggage, leg well below max range). Of course if the weather, inlcuding winds, will not seem right on the day, I'll skip the crossing and stay on the Western side.
     
  5. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Sounds like you're well prepared.
     
  6. BillTIZ

    BillTIZ Final Approach

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    Schat's Bakery in Bishop, must stop. Short drive up to Mammoth Ski area.

    Las Vegas, North Las Vegas airport, VGT. Two casinos nearby for lodging. Easy access to the strip by taxi.

    Downtown McCarran is big $$ for landing fees, parking, and fuel. Not an easy walk to strip hotels, but taxi accessible.
     
  7. BillTIZ

    BillTIZ Final Approach

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    I suppose we should ask, you have already completed the requirements for a US pilot certificate based on your European certificate?

    With your US certificate, current Flight Review?
     
  8. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    BTIZ, thanks for the info about Bishop and Las Vegas. I'll have a closer look at KVGT, but may still do KLAS to get some "big airport" experience. Their landing fees are on par with those at LHDC, my second home airport with its 1 - 3 scheduled flights per day, so I can probably absorb them. (Not surprisingly, the number of GA flights is on the same order.)

    As I've mentioned in the first post, the paperwork for the piggyback certificate is ready. I have my FSDO appointment and also an appointment for the BFR afterwards. So these things should be OK.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2016
  9. BillTIZ

    BillTIZ Final Approach

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    Great on getting the paperwork ready, I missed that.

    KLAS is known to keep VFR traffic waiting to get in, especially during peak traffic times. The local ATC is not very Class B friendly to VFR small General Aviation aircraft. Even landing at the satellite GA airport, the standard response to the locals is, "Unable, remain clear of the Class B"

    KHND is a great GA option, but very far from the strip.
     
  10. SCCutler

    SCCutler Administrator Management Council Member PoA Supporter

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    I cannot add substantively, but I salute you for both your planning, and for your adventurous spirit in undertaking this great trip.

    Take lots of pictures, post updates here and remember: everywhere you go, there are PoA folks to meet and, if needed, to help.
     
  11. Pilawt

    Pilawt Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    You are going to Catalina (KAVX), aren't you? It's a unique experience.
     
  12. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    Spike Cutler, thanks for the ecouraging! I have been lurking at the PoA for some months and have found it a really forum and also a great resource. I will surely post updates in this thread.

    Pilawt, I'm doing a KAVX checkout as a part of the BFR / type checkout to get this experience. I'm not sure if I'll go back there solo on this trip, however.
     
  13. Ravioli

    Ravioli Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    +1 on the Vegas ATC. They rarely take the time for lowly VFR pilots.

    I'd go with Henderson since it keeps you on the south side of the Bravo the whole time. North Vegas would probably put you in the West side VFR transition corridors.
     
  14. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    It's a shame that KLAS is such unwelcoming. I've been to Las Vegas and the Strip before, so if access is not that convenient, I can do something else. Keeping this in mind, would there be any better destination in the general area?

    Btw, if flying from Furnace Creek L06 to Las Vegas, it is better to fly out of Death Valley to the South and stay on the southern side of the Spring Mtns, or to climb within the valley and fly north of Spring Mtns, but of course south of the restricted airspaces?
     
  15. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Check the weather in Death Valley before going. Europeans screw this up ALL THE TIME.

    If it's 50 C, don't go. Yes, it can get THAT hot. Not likely in March, but it's still pretty unpleasant "only" at 35 C in a small aircraft. Death Valley is almost the hottest place on earth. It can be life threatening.

    I won't drive through there without at least a gallon of water per person. And generally only in winter.

    It has been springlike in California over the past few weeks. Furnace Creek is around 30 C this week. That's fine with plenty of water. But watch the winds, and don't assume "flat" ground is landable (much of it is quite hostile).

    I concur that KEDU is pretty boring. Some more interesting ones in the area are Sac executive (KSAC), Nut Tree (look in the hangars), McClellan (KMCC), and even Sac International (KSMF). KSMF is by far the easiest place to get a rental car on a weekend, and there is quite a bit to see in Sac. Or you can go to Merced instead and land at Castle (former B52 base with a good air museum), though that's pretty far from Sac.

    As a visiting European, you may find Columbia (O22) interesting. It's an old gold rush town in pretty good shape, not far from Yosemite, walking distance from the airport. Half Moon Bay (KHAF) has the best $100 burger in California (IMO), but without an instrument rating, you may not make it in. You can walk from the south ramp to the harbor and get some of the best seafood in the region.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2016
  16. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    I know that. I have been there once in the summer when the temperature was 127°F / 53°C, a personal record for me. :)
    Thank for the suggestions. Currently I'm leaning towards KMCC for that night stop. I'll, however, certainly check Columbia out if I'm unable to make it to the other side of the Sierra Nevada for some reasons.
     
  17. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    Btw, folks, do you think that Mojave KMHV is a good place to stop en route from Las Vegas to LA? Is there much to see for a visiting GA pilot? (It would be a Saturday.)
     
  18. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    The departure will be a bit inconvenient due to R-2515, but it's not a bad place at all if the wind is nice. Mohave is an incredibly ugly town, though the airliner graveyard is kinda interesting. Frankly, I prefer both Tehachapi and Fox. Fox has really good food, and Tehachapi has the nicest people I've met anywhere. Lake Isabella (AKA Kern Valley; L05) may be quite a lot prettier; Tehachapi is not bad at all.

    Honestly, if you're looking for a nice stopover, it's hard to beat Big Bear.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2016
  19. Scrabo

    Scrabo Pattern Altitude

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    Take a side trip when leaving "Lost Wages" and fly over the Grand Canyon (KGCN) and then onto LA.
     
  20. SoCalPilot88

    SoCalPilot88 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Sounds like you did your homework but I'll offer a couple reminders about Death Valley. Bring your own tie-downs. Remember there is no fuel at the field. I flew an Arrow there last year from So Cal and had to stop in Daggett on the way back to refuel. The old asphalt north of the runway is plowed over and very rough. From pattern altitude it appears landable but it will tear your gear off. Just stay on the pavement and you'll be fine. You can call for a ride so you don't need to hike all the way to the ranch. I heard rumors of a landing fee but never experienced it.

    The direction you head to Las Vegas would depend on your specific destination. Easiest would be to enter the Las Vegas airspace south of the Spring Mountains. From there you are centrally located for all three landing options (KVGT, KLAS and KHND). Be prepared for Class B clearance and rapid decent after passing the mountains.

    Love to hear how your trip went.
     
  21. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    Is there cell phone reception? When I drove through the valley in 2012 we had no signal anywhere. Granted, it was T-Mobile, so coverage was lacking in other parts of the country as well.
    OK, this is how I thought when I looked at the map.
    I'll sure keep you all updated here.
     
  22. mr_happyland

    mr_happyland Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Big Bear would be a much better option for that route. It's a great little airport and the mountain scenery will be a nice contrast. Just be up to speed on density altitude operations.
     
  23. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    Big Bear, unfortunately, requires a separate checkout for that FBO and I'm not sure whether I'd be able to fit both that and Catalina in the available time.
     
  24. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Ask them if they will count previous mountain experience. Sometimes the answer is the right one.

    I'm a bit surprised you're allowed to fly over the Sierra but not Big Bear. Lake Tahoe altitudes are similar, but mountain turbulence can get a LOT worse flying south to Bishop.

    Lots of flat landers screw up mixture on high altitude takeoffs, but that's hardly the only hazard.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
  25. SoCalPilot88

    SoCalPilot88 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    While in Death Valley, our cell phones worked at the airport, the Ranch and the Inn. I believe there is a land line at the airport as well. Standard practice with the businesses there (hotels, Jeep rental, etc.) is you call them when you arrive and they will pick you up from the airport. I attached a pic of the facilities at the airport.

    We decided to just walk from the airport to the Ranch so we never actually called. However, texting and Facebook certainly worked well with cell service.

    If you plan on staying overnight the Ranch is pretty nice and walking distance, but the Inn is much nicer with complimentary shuttle service. Jeep rental is across from the Inn. The attached pic shows the pool at the Inn. It's supposed to be replenished by natural spring water every couple days so there are no chemicals.

    Death Valley, 5-2-2015 004.JPG Death Valley, 5-2-2015 008.JPG
     
  26. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    So, just a quick heads up: I did my checkout on Monday and Tuesday, and set out on the trip yesterday. Originally I wanted to stop en route at Monterey, but due to weather (and not full tanks on departure) changed it to San Louis Obispo. In San Francisco the Golden Gate Bridge was only barely visible, but the bay itself was clear and NorCal was nice enough to let me through their Bravo despite some misunderstandings in the beginning. Dropped pax off at KEDU and flew to KMCC to overnight. I must say that Mcclellan Jet Services was incredible, thanks for the suggestion. Right now I'm in Bishop, having crossed the Sierras at Lake Tahoe. I'll overnight here tonight and will skip Las Vegas on the way back and overnight tomorrow somewhere that is more on the direct route. I will probably fly over to Death Valley tomorrow, but not overnight there.

    Thanks for all the suggestions so far, I will write a more proper trip report with pictures when I'm back to Europe.
     
  27. BillTIZ

    BillTIZ Final Approach

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    We have weather moving in this weekend. Supposed to be breezy on Sat, chance of rain with wind on Sunday.

    Of course that would be this weekend, NASCAR is in town.

    I'll be at Jean (0L7) this Saturday for a while with students.
     
  28. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Mountain passes in SoCal are not looking good today. High winds. Be real careful, tie everything down, have lots of terrain clearance (the higher the better, in general -- at least above peaks), and give all passengers puke bags. This afternoon, the bad spots appear to be around Mojave and Cajon/Big Bear, with several other spots further south. And get out of there earlier, as it's gonna get worse. For now, Bishop looks good.
     
  29. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    I am safely on the ground, finally completing my whole trip. Thanks for everything again, the tips I got here were essential.
    I have done a complete writeup with pictures on a Eurpoean forum where I am a regular contributor. I did not want to copy the whole thing here again, but feel free to comment here as well.
     
  30. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Great write-up!

    I too have had trouble restarting an Arrow after a brief shutdown. If I were still flying the type, I would probably try to master the hot start procedure.
     
  31. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Sounds like it was a real blast of a trip.

    Good call not scud running over the San Gabriels. VFR into IMC accidents around there are not even close to rare enough. I didn't realize you were renting out of KSMO. I'd have suggested somewhere further from the ocean. Even KVNY, though KWJF usually has MUCH better weather, as you saw.

    Tehachapi is very much a train town, and always has been. That's basically the only feasible mountain crossing into the southern Central Valley for a railroad (there is only one other across the Sierra, and it's north of Lake Tahoe near Truckee). It also serves as a bedroom community for Edwards AFB, as it's a substantially more pleasant place to live than Boron or Mojave. Glad you enjoyed it.
     
  32. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    Thanks!

    It is the only accessible SE 4-seater aircraft at least somewhat good for touring around where I live in Hungary, so I will certainly put a couple of hours into it. The only issue is that while most of the time it starts right away even when it is hot, sometimes even the veteran instructors at the school cannot start it. Two years ago a CPL checkride was almost cancelled there due to this. So they just try to evade hot starts as much as possible.

    It really was. I do not want to say that it was a trip of a lifetime, because I hope that many more will follow. :)

    I had been following the weather at KSMO for the past month and normally it seemed to be good, but indeed my checkout, but not the return flight from Tehachapi would have been easier from KVNY. I choose KSMO because the location had to be accessible from Downtown LA, where the conference was, without a car for both the checkout and the trip itself. In this respect KSMO was good, KVNY would have been acceptable, but no joy for KWJF. Next time I'll try to schedule my plan with this knowledge in mind.

    It really was a neat place. Next time I'll try to get a car to reach the loop itself and spend the best part of a day there.
     
  33. BillTIZ

    BillTIZ Final Approach

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    Excellent write up! Glad you had a great experience. Sounds like with the winds crossing near Tahoe, you got into rotor turbulence for a while from Mt Wave.

    The gear in transit light is normal for an Arrow. Many times its one of the switches on the nose gear doors that need adjusting. A little turbulence or a little different airflow may pull a nose gear door open just enough for the light.

    Bakery in Bishop is "the" place to eat. Joshua approach is always top level service.

    Your trip back into the LA valley, sounds like you went west of Fox Field and basically followed the VanNuys ILS to Rwy16 course.

    Something to consider for your next trip to fly around the US Southwest. West Air Aviation at VGT has a T-41B Mecalero, think C-172 with 210HP CS prop, that many Europeans come over and go on week long tours. Page AZ, Slot canyon, Grand Canyon, Sedona AZ.
     
  34. Jns_V

    Jns_V Filing Flight Plan

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    Thanks!
    Yes, it surely was. Reading up on the subject before and applying the recommendations in practice helped very much in making through that part of the flight.
    Does it require any special treatment in this case? Should prolonged flight like that be avoided?
    Yes, my course basically that ILS, as evidenced by the multiple calls for traffic (bizjets) arriving on KVNY rwy 16R.
    Thanks for the suggestion, I will have a look at them when I am in that area the next time.