Read the whole story and/or view the picture galleries.
The story unfoldsEva had a meeting in Las Vegas and why not take advantage and go for a holiday (no, the university does not pay for her flight, these days are gone). 26 years ago we had visited Bryce Canyon and Arches National Parks, but it was August and we were just dying of the heat. Late April should make the perfect trip.
Two weeks without the chance of paragliding? Hell, no! There is paragliding in Utah. Most of the paragliding seems to be near Salt Lake City, but that will be too far for driving.
I found the "Central Utah Paragliding Association". Many sites and good descriptions. Stacy Whitmore readily answered all my questions. My lightweight equipment easily fits into the baggage.
The journey beginsArriving in Las Vegas, picking up the camping van and off we go.
First stop is Zion National Park. Again and again I call Stacy to ask about flying conditions, but it is very windy.
And cold, darn cold! Our van does not have a heating (the heater works with AC current, but where do you have AC current when you camp in a National Park). So we must brave the cold, especially as we move on to higher elevations.
In the rental station we heard that in Bryce it had below zero. "Do you mean Celsius?" - "No, Fahrenheit"
Next stop Bryce Canyon. Last time (August 1988) we only looked at the viewpoints because we found it too hot for hiking. This time we go down Queens Garden Trail. Wow, a totally different experience!
Moving on, we stop at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (not to be confused with Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona). A very nice walk in the desert. And, what a surprise, petrified chunks of wood.
|Camping in the wild, near Capitol Reef NP|
We move on to Capitol Reef NP, some more hiking and driving through Waterpocket Fold, a dirt road with interesting switchbacks. The campground is full, so the park ranger advises us where to camp in the wild, just outside the park boundaries.
|in the middle of Nowhere|
Then the weather turns to really bad with thunderstorms and heavy rain. What can you do in bad weather? Drive.
|hoodoos and balanced rocks|
|this is the trail|
We go further north-east to Canyonlands NP. We rent a Jeep for a day and have lots of fun. We hike the Syncline Trail. Six hours, not one boring moment!
|arches, arches, arches|
In Arches NP, we join ranger guided walks to learn about geology and ecology.
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Paragliding, finally!We meet Judy Whitmore in Richfield. Some bad news and some good news: The bad news is that the high pressure that is currently over the Mexican border is keeping the winds howling through Wednesday. The good news is that the same High Pressure will push the storm to the north of us and we should have a flyable day on Thursday as the high pressure moves towards us and mellows things out.
So, today there is still too much wind. But she drives us to Cove Mountain and shows us where to launch and where to land, so tomorrow we will find our way. Will we be able to drive our van up to the launch site? Officially it is a 2WD road. "Do you know how to drive a stick-shift?" Yes.
So we can borrow the rustic (and rusty) Nissan Pathfinder which really blends in with the majestic landscape. What fun to drive! Check out the Landing Zone once more, and then up to the launch site. "Cove is a magical place, but high mountains create strong conditions. just be wise and enjoy" ... Stacy's advice.
Launch - not my best one, but I managed to get airborne on the first try. Bumpy thermals (at least what I call bumpy). I try going towards the top of the mountain, but I sink too much. Not to get trapped, I decide to stay near the launch site. Thermaling, sometimes above the TV towers and sometimes below them. I easily find the LZ, and so does Eva with the Pathfinder.
In the afternoon, Judy drives us up to the launch site again. A few full-circles and I fly high above the TV towers. Soon I get gently blown up and towards the peak. A smooth and effortless ride up to the snow-covered top of Cove Mountain!
In the meantime, Judy and Eva drive to the LZ. Every now and then I see the reflections of the car windows flashing up as they slowly crawl down the dirt road. Eva hears the stories from the early times of paragliding, when nobody knew how to fly a paraglider and the pioneers had to find out by themselves. I do some sightseeing over the valley and go for the LZ where I see the Pathfinder parked. The wind picks up and I experience a helicopter-style landing with zero groundspeed. The interesting thing about this final approach: It is completely smooth, not a single bump in it. Fascinating!
"How much do we owe you for your service and help?" "It comes around. Doing good comes back to you, one way or another."
Stacy is proud of "his" mountain and would take it personally when it does not provide a good flight for a visitor.
|that flying smile on the face|
Thank you so much, Judy and Stacy!
The journey goes onHeading back to Las Vegas, we take a scenic detour via Cedar Breaks National Monument. A National Monument is very much like a National Park. We know from our earlier visit that Cedar Breaks is at a high elevation which made us freeze even in summer.
What we do not know: The road is still closed for winter. We walk the remaining four miles to see the great amphitheater of colored rocks and pinnacles adorned with snow.
|Air, Fire, Water, Earth|
in Red Rock Canyon visitor center
Back to Vegas, Eva dresses up and joins the meeting while I explore the surroundings. We feel not yet ready for the big city life, so we spend the last night in Red Rock Canyon. Far too early we have to leave the beautiful visitor center with its interesting displays, return the van and fly home.