Flight to East Tawas, Michigan

Flight to East Tawas, Michigan

This past Saturday, April 8 brought with it a bright sunny day here in West Michigan.  It had been some time since we had been “wheels up” so Randy and I decided it was time to climb into the Navion and set out on another adventure.

In the spirit of our “throw the dart at the map” types of trips, I began browsing the Fun Places To Fly website for a destination in Ohio.  (No special reason – I just thought I’d look south this time.)  I was narrowing down my choices when the phone rang.  One of our flying compadres called hoping to hitch a ride to Midland, MI to pick up his airplane from the maintenance shop.

That is how it happens so many times.   Something will happen, causing us to deviate from our original plan and initiate a “Plan B”.  However, looking back, some of our best destinations have been our Plan B trips.  For instance, remembering our Sedona journey last summer, our first night’s stop was in Cuba, Missouri.  We had originaly intended to land at the airport in Cuba.  After learning en route that the airport was closed for runway repairs, we diverted to the closest airport, Rolla National (KVIH).  Rolla turned out to be a WWII era airport rich in history, where we found a plethura of dilapidated C-47s sitting in their final resting place on the field.  It was a hidden gem we would have missed had we stuck to our “A” plan.

Saturday’s B Plan didn’t disappoint either.  Since we would now be heading north to Midland, I scanned the Michigan sectional for northbound destinations and randomly choose the town of East Tawas which is located on the east side of the state just north of Saginaw Bay, approximately 60 miles south of Alpena.

After a pleasant flight to Midland, we dropped our friend off and then made the remaining 52 mile hop to Iosco County Airport (6D9).   Prior to landing, we took a tour of the area, from the air.  The scenery below was stunning.  We are constantly reminded how fortunate we are to live in a state that offers so many beautiful destination just a short flight away.

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Tawas Point State Park
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Tawas Point Lighthouse

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On final for 6D9

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by airport manager, Marv Poland and his wife, Linda.  They were very hospitable and accommodating.  Marv explained that the airport courtesy car had a dead battery, and insisted we take their personal car to town.  Yet another wonderful gesture from our extended family of aviation aficionados!

East Tawas is a small resort town sitting on Tawas Bay off Lake Huron.   The short drive to town is reminiscent of a family vacation destination from the 1950/60s.  There are rows of quaint mom and pop motels and cabins lining the route.  There is nothing pretentious to be found here.  The people are friendly, down to earth and the small town atmosphere is welcoming and refreshing.  (I swear I saw June and Ward Clever drive past and wave!)

Newman Street, the main business district is dotted with gift shops, restaurants, and coffee shops.  We chose to dine at the Whitetail Cafe, as it appeared to be a favorite of locals.  It is a small family run diner with a small town feel.  The food is homemade and did not disappoint.  Randy and I both had corn chowder that was out of this world. My Traverse City Chicken Salad piled on homemade fresh bread was amazing, as was Randy’s Hamburger.  No frozen meat here.  It was an old fashioned hand formed patty of fresh beef, grilled to perfection.  The service was good and the staff friendly.  Another great find.

After lunch and a walk through town, we drove to Tawas Point State Park to check it out.  It is picturesque and offers campgrounds along with two miles of sandy beaches for strolling and swimming.  This would be a great destination if you like to fish, are into birding or just enjoy being outside in nature.  The Tawas Point lighthouse, located in the park was just as impressive from the ground as it was from the air.

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We enjoyed the East Tawas area very much and would like to return during tourist season, as there are many attractions and things to do in the area during the summer season.  What a nice  “B” destination this one turned out to be!

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An Encore Flight To Route 66!

An Encore Flight To Route 66!

After lingering gray and gloom in Michigan, we finally experienced a rare February weekend of sunshine and temperatures nearing 60.  So this past Saturday, February 18, my hubby Randy and I decided it was time for us to fly.

We often reminisce about the flying Route 66  trip we made last summer for our wedding.  It’s fun to look back on our adventure and rehash everything we saw and experienced.  So it’s no wonder that Route 66 once again popped into my head when trying to decide on an aviation day trip.  Route 66 starts in Chicago and heads southwest, through much of  Illinois. During our trip last summer, our first and only stop in Illinois was Litchfield, which is in the southern part of the state.  There are many towns along the northernmost section of Illinois Route 66 that are easily accessible by airplane in less then two hours.

After a bit of research on the internet, I found that the historical town of Pontiac, IL, approximately 180 miles from our home base of Hastings, MI, offered up some interesting attractions, including several museums.  So the decision was made.  Route 66, here we come again!

A pleasant flight took us along the bottom of Lake Michigan,  over Michigan City and Gary, IN.  A nice clear day with good visibility offered up nice views of the Chicago skyline in the distance.  Leaving the Chicago area to the southwest, it is amazing how quickly  the  industrial steel mills and urban landscapes give way to a panorama of farms and cornfields.  Below us, wind farms dotted  with hundreds of massive wind turbines stretched out in all directions as far as we could see.

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Beautiful Gary, IN

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This is for you Beverly!

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We touched down at the Pontiac municipal airport (KPNT) at 10:30AM local time.  The gentleman manning the FBO was very accommodating.  He fueled the airplane  and offered us the use of the airport courtesy car for the day.

Someday I think I’ll write a blog just on the subject of courtesy cars.  You never know what you are going to get  Many of them are old retired police cruisers or beater cars donated to airports to serve out their last days hauling transient pilots.  But this was the mother of all courtesy cars! It was an older model and mechanically had probably seen better days.   But man, was it awesome.    A custom airbrush design by local artist Tang-Dangbai, formerly of Beijing, China, featured an aviation motif combined with a Pontiac, IL/Route 66 theme. Check out the photos and you’ll agree, this is the most artistic airport vehicle ever. Tang also owns and operates an airbrush school in Pontiac.

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We made the short drive to town and our first stop was the historical Pontiac museum complex – three museums located on different floors in the same building which was formerly the firehouse.  The Route 66 museum on the ground floor houses a wonderful collection of memorabilia from the entire route beginning in Illinois and ending in California.  Walk up a flight of stairs and you will feel that you have travelled in a time machine back to the 1940s. This floor leads to a life sized reproduction of a 1940’s house, complete with living room, kitchen, laundry area and bedroom.  There is also a reproduction of a 1940s wartime canteen, complete with big band music.

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On the top level you will find the Livingston County War Museum.  The collection is vast and amazing.  There are over 250 life-sized mannequins, each wearing the uniform of a soldier from WWI to present day.  What makes this exhibit so unique, is the fact that each uniform bears the name and story of the soldier who wore it.  Many of them include a photo of the soldier as well.  This collection has been meticulously and lovingly maintained by a volunteer staff of military veterans and history enthusiasts who love to share their stories and experiences.

After spending several hours exploring the museums and chatting with the volunteers, we headed for lunch across town at a the Old Log Cabin restaurant, an icon of Route 66.  The Old Log Cabin opened in 1926 before Route 66 existed.  At that time it was a lunch counter with a service station, and faced the existing town road.  When Route 66 came to town, the restaurant starting losing business, as it was facing away from the highway and hard to spot.  The resourceful owners took on the challenging task of turning the building around so it would face Route 66.  It must have been a successful ruse, as they are still in business over 90 years later!

After a comfort lunch of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and homemade corn chowder, we made our way back to town for a walking tour.  There are several wall murals scattered through town, as well as a good number of shops. The Vermilion River runs through town and there are three unique wooden swinging pedestrian bridges crossing the river, the oldest, circa 1898.  Pontiac is also the Livingston county seat and the grandiose courthouse stands proud in the town square and is quite a sight to see.  We made a pass over town on our departure flight so I could capture some shots from above.  Another great adventure was had revisiting our beloved Route 66!  We hope you enjoyed tagging along and we look forward to seeing where next time takes us!

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Aerial view of Route 66

 

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Bird’s eye view of Pontiac, IL

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Blue Chip Casino, Michigan City, IN

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Warren Dunes State Park Michigan

New Year’s Day Flight to Gladwin, MI

New Year’s Day Flight to Gladwin, MI

Happy New Year!  Here’s wishing you nothing but blue skies in 2017!

Speaking of blue skies – January 1st marked our first sunny day in west Michigan since… hmmm…..well…since I can remember!

According to our local Channel 8 Meteorologist Bill Steffen, the Grand Rapids area had about half of the normal average total possible sunshine in December.  Now given the fact that December is typically our cloudiest month, that is pretty grim.  Our total sunshine amounted to roughly 9%.  According to Bill, that was only about 25 hours of sunshine for the entire month!  I’m not trying to be a negative-Nancy or anything, but fact is, December was 91% gray, gloomy, cloudy, snowy, icy,frozen, cold, wet, sloppy, (and many other adjectives that are not family friendly.)  Just not very conducive to roaring around in an airplane.

When New Year’s Day greeted us with bright blue, sunny skies,  my husband Randy and I scrambled to sneak in a flight before it all came crashing down again – which it did – the very next day.

We chose Gladwin, MI (KGDW) as our destination.  Gladwin is a small town roughly 100 miles north of Hastings,  the closest major town being Mount Pleasant, home of Central Michigan University, just to the South.  A pleasant and very smooth flight took us over miles of mainly farmland.

This time of year sometimes presents a challenge finding anything picturesque or interesting to photograph, so I try and look for any unusual geographical or man-made anomalies.  For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to photographing farms, as I think they are the quintessential representation of the Norman Rockwall-like rural America.  (Not to mention, the red barns offer a smidgen of color in an otherwise drab boring scene).

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We touched down at the Gladwin airport and found the terminal building to be deserted.  It was a holiday though, so this wasn’t unusual.  Fortunately the airport manager had the courtesy car keys available in plain sight, so all we had to do was sign it out and we were on our way.  It is always interesting and sometimes comical to see what kind of courtesy car you get.  This one was a large boat of a car – a  Dick Tracy-like former cop car boasting a large cow-catcher up front.  Fortunately this time around, we didn’t have to use the cow-catcher.

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Turning final to runway 27

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Love the cow-catcher on this old patrol car!

Historical downtown Gladwin is located on Cedar Avenue, about a mile from the airport. Gladwin offers a variety of shops and restaurants.  Most of the town was closed down as it was not only Sunday, but also a holiday.  However, we found that the quaint family owned restaurant we had come to dine at, the Pepper Mill was open for business.  Randy ordered the homemade corned beef hash and I had a mouth watering breakfast burrito.  Our very personable server, daughter of the owner, told us how her Mom comes in early every morning long before the sun rises and with her grandmother’s help, bakes their famous homemade pies fresh every day.  She gave us a list of the dozens of flavors available and explained that they have consistently made the mlive top ten pie list in Michigan.  Give them 24 hours notice and you can take any of these pies home with you.  We had no room for dessert after a great and filling lunch, but we’ll be back for sure to check out those pies!

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With our stomaches full, we headed back to the airport and launched back towards home.  I snapped a couple more shots en route  but mostly just settled in and enjoyed the ride.

All of those adjectives I mentioned above have since reared their ugly heads once again, so who knows when our next flight will be.  Being general aviation pilots subjected to Michigan winters,  we learn to be patient, take what we can get and relish every moment we can steal to spend in the air!

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Word? Hieroglyphic? Or just a drunk farmer?  What do you see?
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Meandering River

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Until next time!

An Afternoon Jaunt to Lake Michigan

How fortunate as aviators,we are to live in Michigan, with it’s wide array of scenic offerings.  The same landscapes seen from above can take on many different appearances, depending the season of the year, or even the time of day you fly over.  Whether Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall – anytime is a beautiful time to explore our Great Lakes state.

It is so easy to take for granted that while sipping our morning coffee, we can make a spontaneous decision to head to 9D9, hop in the plane and head to the shores of Lake Michigan  for a leisurely “sunday drive” and be soaring over the likes of Grand Haven, Holland or Saugatuck in roughly the time it would take to drive to the local mall.  This particular day, we lingered over Holland long enough to capture the photos below. Yes, we are very fortunate indeed!

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Holland inlet
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Brisk day for a sail

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Homebound sailboat
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Lots of empty slips this time of year! Lake Macatawa.
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Lake Macatawa.
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Holland lighthouse – “Big Red”.
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Coast of Lake Macatawa.

A Grand Canyon Bucket List Experience

Well the day has arrived – our wedding day!  We have a busy planned at the hotel,  coordinating everything for the ceremony at 6:30PM this evening.

I want to take a few minutes before things get hectic to tell you about our incredible experience yesterday.

We rose early and fortunately, I felt much better, almost back to normal.  That was a good thing, as we had something spectacular planned – a flight over the Grand Canyon.

Airspace is very limited over the canyon, especially now with the fire and air tankers in the vicinity.  We did some careful planning, especially Randy.  He researched the corridor we planned to fly through and checked with flight service to assure that the restricted air space around the fire area would not impact our flight path.

We launched around 7:30AM into a sunny, calm sky.  It was only about 1/2 hour to the rim of the canyon.  As we approached the rim, we watched the bottom drop out from under us. All was quiet in the cockpit as we both took it all in.  It took a little while for the scope of what we were experiencing to sink in.  Words cannot describe, and photos cannot describe the experience of being above the canyon – just the two of us in Miss America.  I still have goosebumps.

Even from our position, the smoke from the fire kept us from flying all the way to the north rim.  A short distance before we would have flown into the smoke, we made a wide turn back toward toward the south rim.   I am posting photos, but as I said, they don’t do any of it justice.  We were truly blessed to be able to do this.  Neither of us will ever forget it.

After our return, we explored old town Sedona and took in a beautiful sunset.  We were supposed to take a “star tour” for some very cool planetary and deep space telescope views.  We met with our guide and he spent over an hour with us, before we had to scrub our tour due to cloud cover.  We still had a great time with our guide, Dennis Young.  If we ever come back to Sedona, we will definitely reschedule.

Just a note – I’ve also included some photos I took Saturday evening of the sunset and also some night photos of Sedona.  These were all taken from our balcony.  What an incredible view!

We are very excited for our big evening.  We are having dinner immediately following our ceremony with our officiant, Reverend Carla Riedel, our photographer, Pamela Duffy, Airport Manager, Amanda Shankland, and their husbands.  They have all been so nice and have treated us like family.  We are so fortunate to have found such nice people to assist us in making our day a special one.   Details to follow!

 

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View from our room!

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View from our balcony

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View from our balcony!
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Departing Sedona for the G.C.
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Approaching the rim!
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Bird’s Eye view of the Grand Canyon.

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Smoke from the North Rim.

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North Rim fire up close.

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National Park rim road below.
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Randy’s new Buddy.

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Silly kids!
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Lunch with a view.

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End of a perfect day.

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Catching up!

I realize I’m a couple of days behind on the blog.  We’ve been in some pretty remote areas, including the Grand Canyon and wifi has been very sparse.

I have lots of photos to share, so I’ll just give a quick recap of the past couple of days.

Thursday, we said goodbye to our friends in Tucumcari and pushed on towards Arizona.  We had a long, but very pretty flight that took us over a mountain pass that opened up to the city of Albuquerque.  It was beautiful coming up over the mountains and seeing the city spread out before us.  Shortly before reaching our destination of Winslow, we flew over the painted desert and petrified forest.  It was surreal.  Not the kind of landscape we are used to in Michigan.  It reminded me of what it must be to fly over Mars.  We landed in Winslow and rented a car.  After spending a few hours exploring Winslow, and having a delicious lunch at the Turquoise Room at the famed La Posada hotel,  we “stood on a corner”, long enough to get the photo and then we drove to the town of Holbrook.  Now there is not a lot in Holbrook, Arizona.  It is a small town on old Route 66 and although, there are still some quirky 66 attractions in town, much of it has died along with the bygone era.  However, we had two very important reasons for visiting Holbrook.  This is where the county courthouse is located, so this is where we needed to obtain our marriage license.  Also, no trip to Route 66 is complete without a stay at the Wigwam village.  It was very hokey and fun.  It consists of a row of concrete teepees, each with an old classic car parked outside the door.  We were in #3.  The rooms were clean and roomy enough.  The owner was wonderful.  She comped us our room when she found out we were getting married!  Who does that? We were blown away by her gesture.

On Friday morning, we drove back to Winslow, returned our car and departed for our ultimate destination, Sedona.  Soon after our departure, we flew over the famous meteor crater.  That was a pretty interesting experience.  The best was yet to come though –  the approach in to Sedona was breathtaking.  We were awestruck.  It is by far, the most beautiful place we have flown.  Randy was able to check this off from his bucket list.  He is now a part of the “aircraft carrier club”.  Certificates are given to pilots who make a landing at Sedona, as it is similar to landing on a carrier.  The runway is high up on a mesa with cliffs dropping off on each end.   You don’t want to come up short and you don’t want to land long!

Upon landing, we met the airport manager, Amanda Shankland, who has been instrumental in making our airport wedding plans a reality.  After a brief chat, we rented a car and drove up the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon on our way to the Grand Canyon for the night.  We made a side trip to the Planes of Fame museum in Valle, AZ, before finally reaching the park.  Words and photos cannot even begin to describe the Grand Canyon.  You have to see it in order to really know how majestic and awe inspiring it is.  The large forest fire on the north rim was visible from miles away.  We couldn’t believe the scope and the size of the fire.  It is devastating.  High winds have made it impossible to contain.  Last we heard, it had burned over 4,000 acres.  We were on the South rim, and the fire and smoke was very apparent.  We went back to a overlook after dark and I took some photos of the fire at night.

After a great day yesterday, this morning I woke up with some kind of stomach ailment.  Last night I ate food from a questionable buffet at the lodge restaurant.  I’m not sure if that was it or not, but I felt so ill, I was barely able to function this morning.  I tried to power through, but when we drove to overlooks on the canyon this morning to continue our sight seeing, for the most part, I had to stay in the car and try to doze, while Randy went on to take photos.  We cut our visit short and also had to cancel dinner plans with our wedding officiant this evening.  What a disappointment.  I just hope this goes away before our wedding day – and that Randy doesn’t catch anything.  I feel a little better now, however still kind of queasy and funky.  Ugh!

We checked in to our hotel in Sedona this afternoon and OH MY!  It is fabulous.  You should see our view!   I’ll be posting photos of our digs on my next blog.  However, I wanted to get you all caught up on our adventure to date.

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Cadillacs and Bluebirds

We had a wonderful Wednesday.  It started with a flight to Tradewinds airport (TDW) in Amarillo, TX.  This was a lunch/sightseeing stopover on our way to our next overnight destination in Tucumcari, NM.  Amarillo was a fun stop.  We of course had to visit the infamous Cadillac Ranch, where a row of Cadillacs are buried in the middle of a corn field. It has turned into a graffiti fest, where people come, spray cans in hand and leave behind their mark.  We of course joined in the ranks, as you can see by the photo.  It was quirky and fun to see for about 15 minutes, but the 100+ temps were too extreme for us and we quickly returned to our air conditioned courtesy car.  (An old model Ford Taurus Station Wagon with a bad transmission).  After the thrill of the Cadillacs, we headed to a historical section of town, on old Route 66.  We had a great lunch at a  wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurant (they usually have the best food), called Smokey Joes.  Randy had one of the best Cuban Sandwiches of his life.  I had some brisket tacos that were to die for!

After lunch we returned our courtesy car and fueled up to head to Tucumcari.
We learned a sobering lesson in mountain flying.  It is not a good idea to launch for a flight in higher altitudes at 107 degrees fahrenheit.  It was a rough ride and we were both very glad to be on the ground in Tucumcari.  From now on, we will be doing our flying in the early mornings when it is still cool.  Airplanes like cool.

Tucumcari was one of our favorite spots so far.  We LOVED our motel, the Blue Swallow.  The owners, Kevin and Nancy were wonderful.  They made us feel like part of the family.  They were from Michigan, so we chatted quite a bit.  The way they have maintained this motel shows the pride they have in their part of the historical preservation of Route 66 landmarks.  The Blue Swallow exudes the old Route 66 charm.  It was clean, tastefully decorated and Kevin and Nancy bend over backwards for their guests.  Kevin even picked us up at the airport and drove us back for our EARLY morning flight on Thursday.  We would return there in a heartbeat.  What a great place.