Today kept up the theme for this trip – last minute rerouting due to weather, followed by sitting around the airport waiting for the clouds to lift.

The weather maps today showed rain and thunderstorms through northern Texas and eastern Oklahoma, right along my original route (of course). It didn’t look too bad further west, though, so I moved my planned mid-trip stop from Guymon OK (KGUY) to Pampa TX (KPPA), then more or less straight northwest to La Junta CO (KLHX). At that point I’d go north to Hugo VOR (HGO) to rejoin my original route to Centennial Airport (KAPA).

It took until about 9:30AM for Dallas Executive to turn off the beacon and declare the day VFR. I watched the beacon wind down to a stop and ran to 493 to get in the air. Thanks to David St.George’s suggestion, I ditched the routing around the various Dallas airports’ class D areas, and just asked Approach if I could head straight west to the Millsap (MQP) VOR. They said it was fine, and so I did. This took me right past four or five airports, all along the southern edge of tabletop-flat Dallas. This is Ft.Worth NAS/Carswell (KNFW):

As I neared MQP the clouds broke up, and I climbed up to 4,500 feet. Ft. Worth Center asked me to relay to Mineral Wells Unicom, to see if an aircraft on an IFR flight plan had landed there – a first for me. It was just taxiing past the FBO as I called, so mission accomplished.

At MQP I turned northwest onto course. The weather held for quite a while, but as I passed Hollis TX (O35) the deck started to descend as the ground rose. Finally, but reluctantly, I found a break in the deck and climbed up to 6,500 feet, VFR on top. Normally I don’t like to do that – the photography’s not very good, and I’m always worried that I’ll get stuck up there. Still, the forecast was for clear skies in Colorado, if nothing else, and I had a good four hours gas in the wings, so I decided to risk it. Sure enough, just as I went over KPPA the clouds broke (*whew*). Even better, I picked up a big tailwind – 136 knots is nothing to sneeze at – so I decided to let Pampa go and schedule a fuel stop at La Junta instead.

The clearing weather revealed a flat, parched landscape, with widely scattered houses and barns. If you’re looking for a nice fixer-upper, secluded, no nosy neighbors – this is the place for you.

Since I’ve started a “river of the day” theme, the rivers in North Texas… basically aren’t…

I crossed over my waypoint at  Boise City OK (17K), and dialed La Junta (KLHX) into the Garmin 430 for the next leg. Nothing. The updated database turned out not to go past Oklahoma. Oops. I had a few blank moments – it’s not like I can’t navigate without the 430, but you get used to things… Then I looked down at the iPad on its yoke mount… little airplane right on top of nice blue line across aero chart… Oh. Right. Onward to La Junta!

If you ever wondered where your hamburger comes from, by the way, I’d bet some of it comes from here. That’s a lot of cows in one feedlot…

I tuned in the La Junta ASOS (automatic weather station) about thirty miles out. Wind 180 degrees at 8, gusting 12. No sweat. The runway choice was 12 or 26, not bad either way. About ten miles out, 200 at 11 gusting 21. Not so good, but handlable, and by the time I was lining up to enter a downwind  ASOS was reporting 230 degrees at 17 gusting 24. Higher, but more aligned with the runway, so OK. I flew the pattern, entered final, and BOY did I need a crab angle to keep lined up with the runway. I must really be rusty to be that thrown off by a 30 degree crosswind. The landing was… well… bad. Not “any landing you can walk away from” bad, but enough to really rattle me. I turned on the ASOS as I turned onto the taxiway – “wind 180 degrees at 23 gusting 32”. Gulp.

The guy at the FBO was very friendly, and we talked about life in La Junta. As he put it, “the winds around here never know what they’re doing from minute to minute.” No kidding. He also said it was probably time to expect an afternoon thunderstorm.  Thanks – time to go… Sure enough, that looks like an anvil building in the distance.

The temperature by this time was 34C (93 degrees F), and the ASOS was reporting 180 degrees, 21 gusting 29, and 7700 foot density altitude. I am glad I only filled one wing when I got fuel, because that takeoff was… interesting.  Poor old 46493 just didn’t want to climb, even though I leaned out before takeoff as much as I could. With the airport and the surrounding countryside as flat as a billiard table, at least I could drift off center and climb slowly without worrying about obstacles, but it was an eye-opener.  There was just no climb at all at Vy, and not a lot at about halfway between Vy and Vx – the best performance was around 80mph airspeed, and I watched the oil temperature climb almost as fast as we did. We struggled up to altitude, finally, and I was able to get the nose down and build up some speed to get cooling.

Then, all of a sudden, the VSI pegged upward – we were climbing at 1500 feet per minute. I pushed the nose over, and we sped up to 120mph. Then we hit the matching downdraft, and had to slow to 80mph just to maintain altitude. And over, and over, all the rest of the trip, which fortunately was only 110 miles, or I’d have roller-coaster sickness or something.

Finally, the Rocky Mountains appeared in the distance, and Denver Center cleared me to contact Centennial Tower.

Not long afterward we landed on Runway 28 at Centennial (“wind 270 at 11 gusting 17” – piece of cake!), and the day was over.

My next flight will be on Monday morning, to Santa Fe – watch this space!

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