Arizona Sabbatical: Apirl - May 2000
By: William R. Cotton

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On the evening of the 19th Vollie and I loaded up the truck with all the gear needed for a three week road trip to Arizona, my last trip of my sabbatical. Included in the gear are day hiking packs, camping stuff (truck camping), bicycle (for commuting), lecture material for three lectures at the University of Arizona and one at the El Tiro gliderport, research materials, soaring stuff and clothing for a three-week trip. Oh, and stuff for our dog, Donner, who is going with us this time.

In the morning we hooked onto my sailplane and trailer, which I had readied for road travel the weekend before, and headed to Boulder, CO, where I attended the last of a SHEBA/FIRE workshop that I attended all week. This concluded with a brief GCSS Polar Clouds Working Group meeting. At 3:30PM we hit the road south, driving as far as a KOA Campground near Buena Vista, CO. The campground is nestled among large rounded lichen-covered boulders, and from them we had a great view of the sun setting behind and rising onto the snow-covered Collegiate Range.

We got an early start heading south and drove through the beautiful San Louis valley with views of the Sangre De Cristo range and then through Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and down to Alamogordo, NM. The last three hours we drove through some of the most remote countryside and villages in the U.S. We essentially went along the north, east, and the next day, south boundaries of the White Sands Missile Range.

Alamogordo is a desert town of about 35,000 people where our friend Annette Claycomb her husband, Jim Gallagher, and their two children live. Annette used to work for me assisting Brenda with secretarial duties in the early 80's. After leaving us she went to the University of Washington, where she worked on a PhD in Linguistics. After some strife with her advisor, she left with an ABD. While in Seattle, she met Jim (a "native"), and that really worked out well for her-he's great. She works part time teaching at the junior college, and Jim teaches 1.5 time with 4 classes a term at the college and one at the Air Force base. Their children, Elizabeth, 8, and Daniel, 10, are very nicely behaved, intelligent kids. They were great fun to be with. (Actually, Lizzy's birthday's tomorrow, and Dan's was on the winter Solstice.) Annette is very happy living in the small community and enjoys the desert life. She has even built, from scratch, an adobe playhouse in the back yard.

In the evening we had dinner with them at a local pub-restaurant, the Compass Rose, and enjoyed the food and socializing. We slept in our camper, which we parked, along with 35ft trailer, on the street. Our rig extended the full length of their property minus the driveway. I don't know why people put up with us, says Vollie.

About 9:00AM we headed west along I-10. We drove to Wilcox, where we backtracked southeastward along side roads to Chiracahua National Monument. There I had intended to find a campsite and explore the area, but the campground in the National Monument was. I didn't feel adventurous enough to pull my long rig up windy gravel National Forest roads to one of their campgrounds. So, we unhooked the trailer and drove to the summit where we viewed the interesting rock spires. We then drove to a lower level where we had parked the trailer and then took a 3 mile walk along a valley trail that Donner was permitted to walk on. It followed the banks of two dry streams along a beautiful meadow and some woods with alligator junipers (their trunks look like alligator skins) and scrub oaks, among others. Historic ranch buildings and the remains of a CCC camp can be inspected along the way. As sunset approached we headed back to Wilcox where we found an RV place ("Lifestyle") at which we could park our long rig.

Easter Sunday. We packed up and hit the road for Tucson. Arriving too early to check into the motel, we headed straight northwest to El Tiro Gliderport. There I pulled out the sailplane and rigged it for soaring. Vollie and Donner then hung out in the camper while I tried the soaring conditions. Nilton Renno and Bill Rogers arrived about 11:00AM or so and rigged their new Discuss-2 glider, which they own jointly. It is a very nice, fast high-performance ship. Nilton was towed aloft and I followed with a self-launch. At about 2500' AGL I found a strong thermal and, after only 6 minutes or so of power, put the engine away and thermaled to 6000' or so. I found Nilton and chased him towards the northeast to a small mountain called Picacho Peak. I lost sight of him there and I headed north to another mountain with nothing but sink over it. I returned to Picacho, gained a few thousand feet and headed back across the massive sinkhole irrigation area. I then scratched back to 5000' and headed back to El Tiro. I flew for only 1.5 hours but I mainly planned on a reconnoissense flight, especially since I couldn't get my main GPS to work and I was unfamiliar with the area.

We then headed to the Ghost Ranch Lodge, which is to be our base for the next two weeks. It is a neat place with single-level separated rooms surrounding a large park-like atmosphere with ornamental oranges, a Sonoran desert garden and palms, bougainvilla and many other flowers and shrubs. Our room has a kitchenette, which is especially nice for a long stay.

I began the day with a run with Donner around and through some cemeteries, a park and along streets where Donner enjoyed chasing the rabbits. Then I set to work on a proposal that I needed to get finished by the next day. It took a long, frustrating time to get information for getting the aol connection to work. About 2:00PM I got on my bicycle and pedaled to the university to show my face. After a few miss-turns I finally found the Department of Atmospheric Science and with no fanfare at all was given a room, keys to it and the building, and a computer room with printers. I didn't even have to chase around and get 3 signatures and then run across campus to a key dispensing person as in some other un-named university. In the office I have an old PC with Windows 95 that I can use to check my e-mail and web browse. It all seemed quite adequate. I was given travel expense forms as well.

I then biked in the 90+ heat back to the motel and took a nap as it was my fast day.

After the morning ritual jog with Donner, and free breakfast at the motel, I finished up the proposal and send it off to Brenda to finish up and incorporate changes from my colleagues on the proposal. Then I biked to the Dept and chatted with some of the faculty, did some e-mail stuff and biked back to the motel. Vollie and I then drove to the northeast part of town and visited the (Ted) De Grazia Gallery In The Sun at 6300 N. Swan Road. The buildings are all constructed of handmade adobe with interesting floor tiles, and iron doors. I wasn't too crazy about his paintings but enjoyed the funky buildings.

I then took Vollie up Mount Lemmon where, within 30 minutes of driving, we went from sweltering Sonoran desert ecology to ponderosa and fir forests and aspen that had yet to leaf out. Grass on the ski slopes had just started coming out. We cooked our supper in the camper and ate at a picnic table. On the way down we enjoyed views of the lighted city in the dark.

After the morning jog and breakfast I biked into the Dept and interacted with colleagues and began reading Alex Costa's dissertation. I got e-mail from Brenda that there was a fire rather close to our home in Rist Canyon. Then I drove out to the gliderport and took my DG-400 for a flight. I decided to fly south to Kitt Peak, which is about 30 miles away. I first attempted to self-launch without a wing runner but the cross wind was too strong and I couldn't lower the windward wing. So I taxied back and signaled to one of the crew that I would like to have a wing runner and then got off just fine. After a few minutes of motoring I again found the "house" thermal and climbed to 4500'. I then headed toward Kitt Peak with my GPS now working. I found the thermals to be very powerful, generally in the 8-10kt range, but they were very widely spaced. The highest I could get was about 5500', which was about 3400'AGL. I'd run into one of those thermals and bang! up would go a wing. I'd bank into it and thermal up a thousand feet or so and then head toward the mountain at 80kts. The terrain below got rather inhospitable looking with no roads and no land-out options. Eventually I got to a mountain immediately to the northeast of Kitt Peak where I could climb to 8000' and then flew over a ridge that put me right over the observatory, where I thermaled to 8500' while enjoying the views of all the facilities.

I then headed north, back to El Tiro. With the 8500' height advantage I could fly straight north and porpoise along through the thermal tops at 85kts. I made it back to the gliderport at 6500' and had to pull the spoilers and drop my landing gear to get down. The total flight was only 1.5hrs and I had flown over 60 miles; not exactly a speed record, but I am still trying to feel out what I can get away with here. One can pretty much decide where one wants to go and just do it much like a powerplane, as long as one stays away from the irrigated fields and other sinkholes.

I returned to the motel and we called the house to see if anyone was there to answer. Our son Bill was there and told us the fire was less than 0.5 miles from the house and the sheriff had called for an evacuation of the area. Being a search and rescue (SAR) member, he was let through the barriers. He was trying to evacuate our cats. He found one but couldn't find the second one, who is a scarety cat. We told him to leave plenty of food because we were not sure when our house sitter could get back.

We then prepared a meal in the kitchenette and sat outside in the twilight on our patio and had supper with a bottle of wine. It was still rather warm out there as the bricks in the building were still releasing heat from the western sun exposure of our patio.

After the morning jog ritual, a bike ride to the office and working until 2:00PM, I biked home and Vollie and I drove south about 50 miles to the artsy and historical town of Tubac. There we explored art museums, many showing paintings by local artists. I enjoyed Hugh Cabot's paintings and even took some pictures of them. We were told he was also the official combat artist of the Korean Conflict, but those works are in Washington, DC. The building was a very old adobe structure that was neat in its own right. We walked around the little old funky Oldtown, visiting many artisans' shops. One gallery was surrounded by beautiful gardens with fountains, sculptures, windchimes and inviting nooks. We then found a Mexican food restaurant where we ate outside on the patio with the sounds of a water fountain nearby and the smells of roses scenting the air. The food was great and we had a fun relaxing time. I recommend visiting Tubac.

On this morning's run through the cemetery we encountered a pair of coyotes. The male had a very bad limp. Donner got very excited about seeing them. Then shortly after we flushed a jackrabbit, which also got Donner excited. Almost every morning we have seen cottontails, but this is the first time that we encountered a jackrabbit or coyotes.

After a breakfast on the motel patio accompanied by birds singing and occasionally stopping for crumbs at our table, Vollie and I drove to the university. There she walked the campus and visited museums and I worked.

Then in the afternoon we drove north to the unincorporated town called Oracle. It is on the northern edge of the Santa Catalina Mountain Range and is at an elevation of about 4000'. Being 2000' feet above Tucson, where the temperatures were in the upper 90's, Oracle was much cooler; only in the middle 80's! It is hard to identify a town center as the houses are spread out over the desert in a low-density fashion. We visited a ranch turned into an artists' colony where there was a small gallery. We also stopped by another old dude ranch turned into rental properties (Rancho Robles). It was something to see with the whitewashed buildings, a large entranceway with a white arch, all very Spanish looking. A retiree, recently transplanted from a small town in southern Colorado, chatted with us at the entrance. As it turns out, he attended engineering school at CSU years ago.

On the way back into town we stopped at Tohono Chul Park to view the cactus in bloom. Speaking of cactus in bloom, almost at the gliderport are some saguaro, which are in bloom with their white flowers.

In the evening we had dinner at an Italian restaurant with Xubin, and Ben and Nancy Herman. The food (Orange Roughy in orange sauce with a side of mushroom spaghetti) was good and we enjoyed chatting with them.

After the usual morning jog with Donner I went out to the gliderport to go soaring. At about 11:0AM I self-launched with the intention of flying to Estrella Gliderport which is south of Phoenix. The winds were forecast to be 15 to 20kts out of the northwest, so I decided I had better head to the northwest. The thermals were not as strong for the most part as in my previous two flights and they seemed to be more widely spaced. I made good progress toward Estrella, which was about 54 nmi away, until I got to the town of Casa Grande. Except for some lift over a hill to the south of town I couldn't find anything. Here I was only 18nmi from Estrella and I could see the mountains near it and even the bend in the railroad tracks near it. I eventually had to call it quits and even after gaining as much altitude as I could over the hill, I had to use my "iron thermal"(my engine) to get out of the valley. Once I got over higher terrain and in the lee of some small mountains, I got what seemed like smooth wave lift and had no difficulty soaring back to El Tiro. I landed after 2.5h of flying, a bit frustrated. Later I heard that the regional soaring contest run out of Turf Soaring north of Phoenix canceled the task for the day because conditions were so poor. So I didn't feel quite so bad after that.

That evening Vollie and I attended the Tucson Soaring Club dinner where I was the guest speaker. It was held at a restaurant (the Mountain View) featuring Eastern European suisine. Bill had salmon, Vollie had Wiener Schnitzel, the third Choice was roasted chicken. I had to adapt my talk to changing visual aids. They brought a 35mm projector but no carousel to put the slides in. They also brought a brand new overhead projector and I first had to figure out how to put it together. I eventually gave a talk on how I got started in flying and how that led to meteorology. I then gave some "war stories" about my research flying experiences and ended with a discussion of soaring meteorology including Chris Golaz's LES simulations of boundary layer thermals and cu with varying soil moisture and of our RAMS soaring products on the web and a brief discussion of my Kenya soaring adventures and our simulations of the convergence line I soared on.

Vollie, Donner and I headed southwest to Kitt Peak. I had hoped to see lots of cactus in bloom along the way and near the base of the mountain, but while there were a few in bloom, the dry winter had certainly taken its toll. We took a self-guided tour of the 2m telescope and then a guided tour of the 4m. It is a very impressive facility and the views from up there are very impressive. There are many telescopes of different types and sizes.

We stopped by the Desert Museum on the way back. It is a very impressive outdoor museum, kind of a cross between a desert park and a zoo. The trails meander through the desert landscape and there are signs for coyotes and javelinas, and darn if they wouldn't be there! Then we realized a nearly invisible net-material fencing enclosed them. There were lots of birds flying free plus others in an enclosed aviary. It was very nicely done.

I again started the day with a jog with Donner around the cemeteries and the large block. It was cool enough that I felt chilly at the start but after a few minutes I warmed up. It still got into the lower 90's. I gave a seminar in the Department of Atmospheric Science on "Extreme Precipitation Estimation". I described our project of simulating historical flash flood storms and how we are using those results to eventually build a GUI for estimating extreme rainfall anywhere in the state. Bob Maddox, a former CSU student and leading authority on flash floods was present. He really liked our approach and results so far. There were a lot of questions and discussion at the end.

Donner was excited that we flushed a jackrabbit and a cottontail on our morning jog. We don't always spy critters, but occasionally we have a good day.

After working at the Dept in the morning I went out to El Tiro Gliderport to evaluate the RAMS boundary layer and thermal forecasts. The model predicted boundary layer depths to 7500' over the lower lying areas and over 10,000' over Mt Lemmon. So I self-launched and after a 2000' climb and 4 min of power, I put the engine away and soared to 6500'. I then headed east gliding over the sinkhole irrigation area and worked in weak lift along the flanks of what I believe is called Black Mountain. I finally worked along some north-south oriented ridges and got up to 7500' over the mountain. I then headed east across Oro Valley in about 6kts of sink. With this amount of sink I reached the gently rising terrain on the western flank of Mt Lemon, but too low to go further without any lift. So I was forced to get out the iron thermal and power up to the sidewall of the mountain. There I found very strong lift after only 5 minutes of powering and put the engine away. Working up the western flank of the mountain my vario frequently went off scale at 10kts. It was really rough but in no time at all I topped out over the peaks at over 10,000' and soared over a group of towers and what looked like radar domes at what appeared to be the summit. The views were spectacular as I used a combination of ridge and thermal soaring over the high terrain. I then headed back west toward El Tiro, gliding and dolphin soaring my way back at speeds of 80 to 90kts. My total flight time was 1.7h, and between the turbulence and the heat I felt like I had quite a workout.

After my morning jog around the block with Donner and a bike ride to work, I went over to Hydrology and had group meeting with Jim Shuttleworth's group and Soroocian's group. They took me out to lunch and I went back to atmos to work on Alex Costa's dissertation. At 4:00PM I gave a seminar at Hydrology on our model sensitivity to soil moisture specification and the work we're doing applying their artificial neural network model to estimating soil moisture.
I managed to get Vollie up at 5:00AM and then we drove north about 20 miles to Catalina State Park. We hiked through desert trails enjoying the birds and the desert flower and fauna. This is the best time to be up and about in the desert. It was cool enough at the beginning of our walk to wear a jacket, but by the end we were down to T-shirts. That afternoon the temperature peaked at 98F.

I gave a seminar at 3:00PM to the National Weather Service office on our experiences doing realtime mesoscale numerical weather prediction with RAMS. We had a lively discussion following the talk.

In the evening we drove down to tour the outside of San Xavier Mission, which was built in the middle 1700's. With its whitewashed walls, it really stood out with the sun setting behind it. We came back through Tucson Mountain Park and took a brief walk along the mountainside just as the sun was setting.

We then had dinner at an Indian restaurant, which had changed owners and names since we had been there last, but the food was still excellent.

Donner and I did our run around the block, through the cemeteries and so forth, before I headed to my last day at work at the U of Arizona. I took Xubin and Nilton to a Mexican restaurant near campus and then after some discussions with a young lady working in hydrology about our work I biked back to the motel. Vollie and I then drove up Mount Lemon to escape the heat and take a hike. We hiked along a trail that went along a stream bed and then crossed it and several others. There was not a drop of water in the area. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as Tucson has reported only 1" of precipitation this year, which is about 50% of normal, which isn't much to begin with. The trail climbed about 1000' and then we turned back for our supper date at the Renno's. Nilton and his wife Maria-Carmen and their son, live near the southern flanks of the Catalina's in a very up-scale neighborhood. The house is very modern with nice views of the mountains and it has nice sonoran desert landscape. We had a very good Brazilian-style meal of a fish/sea-food concoction as well as deserts and drinks. Vollie had a very potent Brazilian-style Margarita drink but I abstained from that.

Donner and I did our morning jog and then I went out to the gliderport. Last evening I discovered that our truck battery was dead and this is after I had the truck electrical system checked out on Thursday. I still have some problem with the truck electrical part of the refrigerator. The guy had reversed the polarity on the refrigerator switch from where I had installed it, but when I apply my multimeter to the switch terminals, I get current through it where he set if off and not when it is saying on. Doesn't make sense to me. I have pulled the plug on the camper so that I can charge the camper battery and see if I get power to the lights in the camper after that. Then I'll worry about the switch and refrigerator.

I met Nilton at the gliderport, but by noon he was still waiting for his wife to pick up their son, so I decided to take off. I motored in rough air to the little hill that produces the house thermal and shut the engine down at 4000' and climbed in continuous lift to 7500'. I then headed west with my goal of making it to Estrallia this time. Learning from my previous attempt, I kept further south, well away from the irrigation areas. I made use of lift off the dark rocky hills and was able to maintain 7500' all the way until about 10 miles west of Casa Grande. From there I could hardly find a spot that wasn't irrigated. I did find a narrow corridor of unirrigated land and headed into it. I even found a 6 kt thermal that carried me back to 7500'. I had enough altitude to glide and dolphin soar to the Estrallia Mountains. But with the prevailing northwest flow the eastern side of the mountains was in sink. When I overflew Estrallia Gliderport I was down to 3500', but the airport is at 1200'. I was still a 1000' above a trainer trying to stay airborne out of the field.

I then struggled to gain altitude as I headed east towards the sinking air near the irrigated fields. In that narrow corridor between irrigated fields I finally found enough lift to get me back to 7500' and from there I worked back into those black-looking rocky hills and continued east at 7500' and then down to 5500' and back up to 7500'. I also found some good lift along the southern boundary of the irrigated fields and eventually made it to another hill where I got up to 8500'. I was then within 20 miles of El Tiro so I glided and dolphin soared back at 85kts. Total flight time was 3.5hrs.

I overflew the gliderport and carefully checked the wind triangle, but on final the winds switched to crosswind at 20kts or so and I had my hands full keeping aligned with the field and landing smoothly.

I then put my plane away into the trailer, said good byes and thanked everyone for their hospitality. They sure are a great bunch at El Tiro. One thing that surprised me was how few privately owned singe-place ships were flown out there. Basically there was Nilton/Bill Rogers plane and mine. Everyone else was either the 2-33. or one of the two Blanik twins, or the Grob G-103.

I returned to Ghost Ranch Lodge and after a short nap, Vollie and I had supper with a bottle of wine out on the porch dressed in shorts.

With trailer in tow we headed north on Arizona state highway 77 through Oracle, then Globe where we left the sonoran desert, through Apache country, then east on I-40 where we again headed north on Hwy 191 through Navojo country. Winds were strong westerly through the high desert country. Just outside Bluff, Utah we stopped for the night at a campground along the San Juan River. Rising early the next morning we drove down into the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. There we found one of the few vacant campsites and managed to back in the trailer with the truck camper along side it. We did so in pouring rain as a frontal passage with squall line was occurring just as we arrived. I took a nap and Vollie walked around between showers but got caught and got soaked.

In the afternoon we hiked from the Squall Flat Campground to the Elephant Hill trailhead and back along the road, a distance of about 8 miles. It was a nice day for walking as the temperatures were in the upper 70's. We enjoyed seeing the spring flowers although they were rather sparse owing to a dry winter. I hoped to find some barrel cactus in bloom with their deep red flowers, but could not find any along the trail. Finally, I found one under a pinon tree as we took a shortcut on one of the switchbacks on the road.

We had a pleasant evening at the campground and then rising early headed east again.

Avoiding interstates again, we followed Utah 40/Colorado 90 from La Sal Junction to the beautiful Paradox Valley which the Dolores River flows through. Then we traveled on through Naturita and Norwood on Hwy 145. I filled my tank in Norwood and took a gasoline bath. Someone must have turned off the pump with the automatic control still on so that when I turned on the pump gas spurted out all over me. I had to change my clothes and put the smell stuff in the sailplane trailer. From there we went through Placerville over the beautiful Dallas Divide with spectacular views of Mount Sneffels. We parked the trailer in Ridgway and drove up a gravel road to a lot that we have attempted to buy but the owners won't sell. It is at 8500' and overlooks a beautiful valley and across the valley is one of the best views in Colorado with Mt Sneffels "in your face". The owners permit people to stop and view so we had a lunch of subs bought in Ridgway while enjoying the great views.

We then headed east through Montrose toward Gunnison, but turned off to Lake City. There we climbed Slumgullion Pass, which is very steep, and was a slow climb pulling the trailer. We stopped at the Creede Airport and tied down the trailer and then drove up the 4-mile steep climb to our lot at 10,300'. There was no snow at all on our southfacing lot and it was warm enough for us to eat outside at our folding picnic table. We also didn't need a heater overnight. The next morning we took a hike up a jeep road reaching over 11,300' where we finally encountered snow on the road. Still it was warm enough to wear shorts and when the wind wasn't blowing, just a T-shirt.

After our morning hike and lunch we headed north up highway 285 to Denver and north on I-25 to Owl Canyon Gliderport where I tied down the trailer. We got home, very tired, about 9:00PM and had supper at 10:00PM after unloading.

Thus ends what is probably my last sabbatical. It has been a very busy one what with all the trips and still trying to keep things running smoothly at home. I learned a lot, made a lot of professional connections, developed new ideas for research and even wrote proposals one of which already has funding approved. In addition we experienced a lot of new parts of the world or viewed others at different times of the year from previous visits and made lots of new friends. I also got in some fun soaring flights and some of those may even lead to technical journal articles since we are simulating some of those cases with RAMS.