So the day finally came. Uncle Errol met us at the hotel early (before the sun was up) and we ate breakfast at their buffet. We sat and chatted for a while since it was still dark out and I was waiting for the temperature to warm up a bit. Eventually we headed out to the airport as the sun came up and we could see how clear the sky was. The weather was perfect on our entire route except for some turbulence up north, but we decided we wouldn't be flying that far anyways. The lineman brought my airplane out of the heated hanger as I called in to get my weather briefing and file my flight plan.
It was pretty frigid outside as I preflighted the airplane, but everything was in good shape. They REALLY topped off the tanks since fuel flowed out of the top of the tanks when I took the caps off to check the quantity. I quickly put the caps back on and wrote down "full" in the record book. I moved headsets around since Michelle would be in the back for this flight and explained everything I was doing for my Uncle. After the preflight I primed it really good and gave it a try. It started right up, but was a bit rough due to the cold weather. I let it warm up and just a bit faster than idle until for a few minutes, then let it truly warm up at 1200 RPM for another few minutes; I was able to get the cylinder head and oil temperatures into the green before takeoff.
We circled a few times over the airport to gain altitude before heading east near Cedar Breaks National Park, which was at about 10,000 ft. Once we cleared the high terrain, we descended down a bit for better sightseeing. We couldn't go down too far since Lake Powell is a National Recreation Area and I have to stay at least 2,000 ft above the rim of the canyon, which was around 5,000 ft. Still a ways out, we could see the smoke stacks from the power plant near Page. Errol said the environmentalists were very upset that they allowed the smoke stacks to be located there and I can see why. The smoke created a thin haze that extended quite a ways up the lake.
We turned south to overfly the dam and a little bit of Marble Canyon before turning back north over the dam again. I made sure to fly past the dam before turning back so I wouldn't be considered "loitering in the vicinity" of the dam, which is prohibited by the FAA. Then we continued north over the lake, then turned east and flew around the south side of Navajo Mountain. We kept flying east and while we were trying to find Monument Valley on the map (since it wasn't in my GPS) we eventually could see the features in the distance and just flew right towards them. Errol pointed out some of the different features including the mittens as we circled around them. It was very cool to see shadows rotate around the features as we flew, of course they weren't physically moving, but it appeared that way since we were moving past them.
Eventually we ended up on a northerly heading and I put the GPS waypoint I created for Natural Bridges National Monument straight ahead. On the way, we flew over the San Juan river that feed Lake Powell and we got to see it twist and turn as it made its way. As we approached Bridges, we could see the outline of the park on the map and compared the roads to what we saw in front of us and we could define the park. The hunt was on to see if we could actually find any bridges from the air. My uncle was keen to point out that whenever the road made a hook towards the edge, there was a lookout for a nearby bridge, so that's where we looked. Sure enough we eventually found a few bridges and I circled around so we could all see them and get good pictures.
After we were finished with Bridges, we headed to Bullfrog further north on Lake Powell. We flew over Halls Crossing and Bullfrog Basin airports since nobody was crossing their legs yet and headed south to the Rincon, which was formed when some of the walls collapsed cutting off the river forcing it to follow another path. Next we headed west towards the Escalante River. We flew west over the river and Errol was able to guide us to 2 more bridges. This area of the lake had several interesting features such as shear walls, large islands, canyons feeding the river, etc.
On our way back from the Escalante River, Errol showed us hole-in-the-rock, which is where the LDS blasted a ramp down to the Colorado River for their wagons to use. It is impossible to imagine a wagon going down such a steep trail and I guess it's more unbelievable when you're standing right there. Next we headed south-east back across the lake towards Navajo Mountain to see Rainbow Bridge. I circled back around to get another view at the natural bridge and for a better opportunity for pictures by putting it off the right side for Errol and Michelle.
After Rainbow Bridge we started heading for Page, but since everybody said they could keep holding their bladders, we turned west and started heading back instead. We flew right over Bryce Canyon, which seemed impressive, but not as much as what we had just seen. We were told it is better to see it from ground level. I can believe that since I know Zion itself is much more majestic from inside the slot canyons than it is from flying over. We also flew over Panguitch and Errol was able to find his house before we crossed the final pass and were headed back down to Cedar City. It was easy to see that it must have been warmer than freezing temperatures because the ice and snow still on the runway was beginning to melt and clear off. After almost exactly 4 hours of flying, I shutdown the airplane and the lineman put it back into the heated hanger for the night.
We were all hungry at this point so we headed to Denny's for lunch then back to the hotel. This was a good time for us to take a dip in the pool and relax for awhile after being up so early. We went to Applebee's for dinner and watched part of the San Diego Charger's game before heading to bed for the night. I'm still excited about how well the flight went, how much we were able to see, and how smooth the air was.