We awakened this morning with a light, cool, crisp, mountain breeze wafting through the open window. Our motel room high above the town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is away from traffic, hence the only sound of civilization is the echo of an occasional dog barking in the distance.
Dry is the operative word in this community. "It has been dry, no rain here since January," announced Stan as he greeted us. Windy too, "Usually the springs winds cease by the end of May and it is nice the rest of the year but lately we have been having 'terribly strong' dry winds," was Lois' comment.
Underscoring the danger of strong dry winds in this mountainous desert country a huge column of gray smoke erupted about 15 miles northeast of the city Saturday afternoon. Standing in the mall parking lot I could occasionally see flames rising above the forest. Later toward evening we observed fire bombing aircraft maneuvering to drop their loads of fire retardant to retard the spread of the wild fire. Next day the tell tale of wind blown grey smoke was well in evidence.
Santa Fe appears to be a haven for the rich and famous, a place of opera and art. We strolled through the farmer's market and noted fresh lettuce for $8 a pound. Many vendors were selling brown eggs, only $5 a dozen and authentic, too, with smudges of chicken manure left on. Actually, a good variety of fresh vegetables were on display all proudly labeled "organic." I was tempted to tell them that they could get better yields if they would just apply a little of the commercial fertilizers that my company sells. Ann especially enjoyed the displays of art ranging from paintings, sculpture, and jewelry. It is a nice place to visit.
Leaving Santa Fe on an instrument training mission next morning we were treated to continuous turbulence; pilots call it light to moderate chop, almost all the way back to Norton, Kansas. Ann's comment was that it was the worst two hours of flight that she has ever sat through. For a student learning to fly the airplane strictly by reference to instruments some exposure to flight in turbulent conditions is good experience, but one can also get a little too much of a good thing.
Before leaving Norton to drive to McCook I pulled up a radar picture on my cell phone. The decision to proceed west to Oberlin to avoid the line of building thunderstorms along Highway 6-34 looked prudent. Then, from Oberlin we figured that we could slip into McCook after the line of storms had moved east.
About six miles south of McCook we pulled off alongside the highway to watch the storm clouds. We had been listening to Rich Barnett taking reports of storm spotters about that time reporting a tornado on the ground four miles north of McCook.
Then Ann spotted a large funnel cloud emerge from the solid clouds approximately over the west edge of the city. It hung menacing there for a few moments before disappearing back up into the clouds without touching the ground. During the 30 minutes or so that we paused, we counted no less than six funnels, some large and some small, drop down from the clouds, hang for a few moments and then disappear back up into the maelstrom from which they came.
Never in my life have I seen so many funnel clouds than we did those minutes that we paused there on the hill. It was that same system that moved east and caused damage north of Cambridge and Arapahoe.
Stopping alongside the highway to watch the action I couldn't help to think that Mother Nature could have arranged things a bit better. They didn't need the tornadoes but the 6 inches of rain that fell north of Hayes Center from that same storm system could have done wonders in slowing the spread of the forest fires we'd witnessed a few hours earlier in New Mexico.
I had started the week in a whole different world. The order was to take the company's twin engine Cessna to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a mechanical inspection. Being a little slow to learn, I assumed that I'd be on the ground for a few hours and then fly back home later that same evening. Bad assumption. It was three days later that another company pilot picked me up in the other company airplane for the flight back home.
It has been my experience that fixed base operators catering to corporate pilots generally negotiate attractive rates at local motels. Most nice motels will furnish toiletry items for those who "forgot" and so it was. My cell phone charger was left at home but when I asked the desk clerk pulled out a basket of chargers that other long gone guests had left in their rooms and loaned me one. Personal credit cards cover meals which are in turn reimbursed when one finally returns home. Walmart up the street in walking distance sells new underwear, socks, and clean clothes as needed. I just wished that I could have taken Ann along to enjoy the mini-vacation.
While in Sioux Falls I was pretty much anchored to Joss Foss Field but I was impressed with the community. The airport itself is busy. Served by at least three airlines, it also has considerable general aviation traffic, much of which is in the corporate jet class. The South Dakota Air Guard (future home to Lt. Sean Cappel whose parents own the Napa Store here) also has a squadron of F-16s that I enjoyed watching sortie to and fro.
The city of about 150, 000 souls is obviously prosperous and growing. Due to copious spring rains, everything was lush and green. Unlike their neighbors to the south and west Sioux Falls doesn't seem to have much of a problem with flooding that is evident all along the Missouri.
My first impression -- I could live there.
That is how I saw it.