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Friday, July 4, 2014

The Gathering at Monument Valley 2014

The sixth annual  “Gathering at Monument Valley” was held the second week of October at Gouldings Lodge and Trading Post in the Navajo Indian Reservation, near the border of Utah and Arizona.  Altitude 5200 ft. ASL.

It is a non-sponsored event with a different atmosphere than most American Fly-Ins.  . First, it’s a long way to go, and the accommodations are limited to recreational vehicles and tent camping.  One would not expect to draw a big crowd, but this year’s turnout was excellent.  They were a diverse group of pilots who have traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles, with one common agenda… Fly the Holy Grail of Powered Paragliding. In the group of 70 pilots were several of the sport’s most recognizable people, including filmmakers, instructors and a host of colorful characters hailing from all parts of the Americas and Europe.  It is one of those rare venues, where the professionals blend in and politics and marketing are set aside.

Flying Monument Valley has its own unique set of challenges. The terrain is a labyrinth of massive buttes and delicate spires towering more than a thousand feet above the desert floor.  The bases of the monoliths are marked by steep slopes covered with scree and the flats are engraved with deep impassable arroyos. Everyone agreed, that while the terrain was rugged, there were places to make an emergency landing, (even  trikes), provided you had sufficient altitude.   Even so, any walk out and recovery would be difficult and possibly expensive.  The consensus was, that unless the conditions were perfect, it was best to stay high, know the direction of the wind and keep in mind, that the weather side of this monolith might also be the rotor side of that big rock up wind!  If you want to fly low, then stay in the flats near the airstrip.

During the non-flyable hours there was plenty to do.  If you wanted to see the monoliths from a "snake's" perspective, the lodge provided jeep tours through the park.  Or you could explore the area yourself by foot, bike or ATV.   Gouldings is the trailhead for several great hikes that lead into to hidden box canyons or walk out onto spectacular vistas.  The old trading post has a museum that documents the old west and the years that John Wayne filmed his epic westerns in Monument Valley.  For a small fee, the Navajo have a resort and visitor center that hosts a large display of Indian and geological artifacts.  Or you could just hang at the park and soak in the pool
The entire weekend was flyable but Friday afternoon provided the best conditions with the majority of pilots getting long flights, deep into the Navajo Tribal Park. Some chose a particular group of monoliths and flew them, up close and personal, while others went for altitude and enjoyed the big picture. A favorite tactic was to fly close to the surface of a high mesa and experience going from 5 feet AGL to 1200 AGL in the blink of an eye. The high flyers described surreal views, such as one poetic gent who claimed it was like looking down on dozens of butterflies playing in a rock garden.  Low or high, with over 100 square miles of breathtaking territory, it’s possible to fly the Navajo Tribal Park and Reservation for years without ever repeating a track.

Filmmaker Ryan Southwell’s broke new ground when he and one other spent the night 1200 above the desert floor camping on top of Eagle Mesa.

“I've always loved camping, and getting away from it all, but going to a place only accessible by air takes the thrill to a whole new level. My friend, Brad, and I left the folks at, “The Gathering”, to fly over and mount Eagle Mesa with our overnight gear. We pitched tents on the edge of the east cliffs and enjoyed the beautiful stars, a hot dinner, and an amazing sunrise over the mesas. It's incredible to know you are in a place that only a few humans may have ever set foot. In the early AM we were greeted with flyovers by Team Fly Halo to ensure our safety as we launched off that rock for our return. The overall Monument Valley fly-in experience was incredible and I can't wait to get out there again.”

It was fun watching the beach pilots launch at 5200 ft. but it was even better watching the veterans after they landed.  Guys with hundreds of flights would land after a long cross country and swagger back to the staging area. Only, instead an, “Ah Shucks", look on their face, it was more like the look of a beginning pilot after their first flight, grinning from ear to ear, totally amazed at what they had just experienced.

By all measures, the sixth annual gathering was a great success. The accommodations were good, the weather was flyable, and everyone was able to experience an, “Epic Flight”.
The 7th annual "Gathering at Monument Valley”, will be the first weekend of October in 2014
Hail Storm the day before

Kick off Spaghetti Dinner

fixing the brand new Mini Plane

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