Pacific Bonanza Society Branson or Bust Air Safari
June 12-20, 2003 by David Lister, PBS Newsletter Editor
Eleven Bonanzas carrying 26 members came along on the trip of a lifetime for the first PBS Air Safari from Bend, OR to Branson, Missouri to Columbia, CA.
Day 1 - Bend, OR
Most of the Air Safari participants congregated in Bend to renew acquaintances and prepare for the flying days ahead. The skies were clear and we could only hope for the same for the next nine days. We stayed at the Riverhouse Inn and enjoyed a social hour on the outdoor patio and a wonderful dinner that evening. Conversation was filled with anticipation of the flying adventure that lay ahead of us.
Day 2 - Pray, MT
We departed early on Friday morning after receiving a briefing from our fearless leader and PBS President Stephen Walker. Even though it was early morning we attracted quite an audience as we took off one after the other in cool and clear conditions to the east towards Boise, ID and West Yellowstone. After Yellowstone we wandered up the beautiful canyons to Paradise Valley and then hopped over the pass to Bozeman. ATC could not have been much more accommodating and cleared the entire group to land.
After lunch and refueling we took off and backtracked to the Paradise Valley to the Chico Hot Springs Resort. The resort allowed us to use their paved, 7000 foot driveway as an airstrip. Landing was not as hard as it might sound but finding the resort was the hard part. Once the aircraft were on the ground we taxied to parking outside of our cabins.
Chico Hot Springs was founded in the early 1900’s and has a combination of older and newer buildings. We spent the afternoon basking in the warm spring water while chatting about the flight over the mountains.
Dinner at the resort’s restaurant was an experience unto itself. We indulged in some of the very best beef and fish meals that you could ever imagine. Despite the large portions some also experienced a fine dessert or two. Needless to say we had to revise our weight and balance calculations after that evening meal.
Day 3 - Custer, SD
We departed Chico Hot Springs early and flew to Custer via Little Big Horn, Devils Tower, and Mt. Rushmore. Many of us circled Devils Tower and Mt. Rushmore to savor the vistas from the air.
We landed in Custer, checked into the hotel, enjoyed buffalo burgers at a local restaurant, and then boarded vans for a tour of Custer State Park. The scenery in the State Park is truly remarkable. About half way through the tour we were treated to a wandering band of about 100 buffalo just 20 yards from the road.
The next stop on our tour was Mt. Rushmore for an evening concert presented in a tribute to Flag Day by the South Dakota Symphony and the lighting ceremony. The faces carved in granite were every bit as spectacular from the ground as they were from the air.
We stopped off at the Crazy Horse monument on our way back to the hotel that evening. The monument is under construction and will be several times larger than Mt. Rushmore. Our guide mentioned that at the current rate of construction it will take decades to complete.
Days 4-6 - Branson, MO
We woke up early and departed from Custer for Branson via Hastings, NE before the daily heat brought on the usual thunderstorms. The weather was typical for that area this time of year. White, puffy, cumulus clouds at about 6000 feet made the flying interesting and added contrast to the flat terrain. Several members had fun photographing one another against the backdrop of clouds that made for memorable snapshots.
Branson is in the southern portion of Missouri and probably hosts the largest number of theaters per square mile in the world. Shows start at 9:00 in the morning and continue through the evening. One can find almost kind of show to satisfy any taste. We saw everything from 50’s music reviews to comedy at the Jim Stafford Theater to music and dance at the Shoji Tabuchi Theater to seeing living history at the Sons of the Pioneers show. Many enjoyed the scenic railway, a lunch cruise on the paddle wheel boat on the lake, or a tour on amphibious vehicles.
Day 7 - Carlsbad, NM
After three nights and two days in Branson it was time to begin the first leg home. The weather at the airport was clear but it didn’t take long for us to encounter lower ceilings and reduced visibility over Arkansas. The weather did not last long and before we knew it we had clear skies, smooth flying, and a reasonable tail wind too.
We landed in Carlsbad around noon, tied down the aircraft, and boarded a tour bus that took us to the “No Whiner Diner”. The lunch was amongst the best we had all trip. We stuffed ourselves with half pound salsa burgers, steaks, trout, and salads.
After lunch we boarded the bus again and went to Carlsbad Caverns for a tour. What an incredible natural creation it is. We all felt a sense of awe and wonder as we walked through the caverns with ceilings as high as 200 feet.
We left the caverns for a short drive to a restaurant for a quick dinner and then returned to the caverns to see the bats take flight at dusk. It is hard to describe the sight of nearly half a million bats leaving the Natural Entrance of the caverns within a half an hour.
Day 8 - Laughlin, NV
We departed Carlsbad on a beautiful, clear morning for Farmington, NM for a refueling stop. The scenery was incredible over the high desert with the Sacramento Mountains in the distance.
The stop in Farmington was short and sweet before the propellers were turning yet again for the short 45 minute trip to Monument Valley, UT. Half of the members landed at the airstrip at Gouldings Trading Post while others pressed onward to Laughlin, NV. Those who stayed in Monument Valley ate lunch in the Stagecoach Dining Room and took a tour of the valley with a Navajo guide.
Laughlin was hot and dry. Upon our arrival the temperature was 105 degrees. The locals said that it was a relief since it was 112 just a couple of days before. The microbrew specials at the “Boiler Room Pub” that evening tasted so very good after the hot day.
Day 9 - Columbia, CA
It was already warm in Laughlin when we departed at 9:30 for the final leg of the Air Safari. Fortunately the winds were relatively calm and we did not experience the usual turbulence over the Mojave Desert. The mountain scenery with the low stratus spilling over from the LA basin was remarkable. We crossed over the pass into the Central Valley of California to find the familiar hazy conditions.
Four safari aircraft continued on to Columbia, CA for the final night of the trip. Others decided to by-pass Columbia to fly home instead.
The Air Safari was an incredible experience and a resounding success. It was an opportunity for some of us to venture much further away from home than we had ever been in our aircraft and to experience flying conditions that we infrequently encounter. It was an event that all of us will remember for many years to come.
Thanks go to Stephen and Teri Walker for their time and energy that went into planning the trip. Without them we never would have had the time our lives.