The North American Monsoon.

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Our plan was simple: explore Utah’s canyons from the air. The monsoon had other ideas.

Okay, I’ll admit, I had no idea there was a North American Monsoon. Its very existence was hotly debated through much of the 1970’s, but meteorologists now accept that the southwest of the U.S. is annually affected by a legitimate monsoon. A shift in summer wind patterns under intense solar heating draws low level moisture from the Gulf of California and upper level moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The result, deluges in the desert, flash flooding and one grounded AirCam.

Sticking to a schedule, Bob and Cathy headed due east towards Oklahoma, avoiding the storms and marking the end of the”West from Above.”

Thanks for following along. Thanks also to Bob, Cathy and Melinda for an eye-opening exploration of the west.

#nevada #aerial #aircam #adventure #joshnewman #lakemead #westfromabove

Grounded by rain?

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According to the US Drought Monitor, most of the western U.S. is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought conditions. Farmers across California are drilling for groundwater, and in Tonopah, Nevada (the middle of the desert), the Aircam is grounded by massive thunderheads rolling through the landscape, belching thunder and lightning along the way. Apparently it’s not an uncommon sight at this time of year; this is the monsoon season.

Watching and waiting, Bob finds a way through the abstract patterns on the weather radar and turns the plane south to Lake Mead, where water is once again sparse. Currently at its lowest level since filled in the 1930’s, the Hoover Dam’s problems are written in a white mineral band often compared to a bathtub ring. 

Maybe it’s time to stop watering the golf courses?

#solar #aerial #aircam #westfromabove #nevada

Patterns in the desert

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“Holy cow, you can see where water has been but isn’t.”

Leaving the mountains and flying south, fire and water once again become themes of the landscape. The hills to the southeast of The Dalles were alight as we passed through, fire crews battling on the ground, while a helicopter dropped water from the Columbia to slow the blaze.

South in the Nevada desert, the historical evidence of water was everywhere. Dry lakes, empty stream beds and huge outwash plains gouged by the flow of water nowhere to be seen.

Unsurprisingly, sunlight is plentiful, making the desert an ideal location for solar power. Like something from a Sci-fi movie, Crescent Dunes C.S.P. (Concentrated Solar Power) project is impossible to miss. Projected to go online by late 2014, the plant concentrates solar radiation to heat molten salt, hopefully providing 110 megawatts of on-demand, renewable electricity.

#westfromabove #aircam #cascades #mountain #aerial #joshnewman

“You meet good people in aviation.”

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Maneuvering through lines of huge, partly built, Boeing aircraft, we casually mentioned to the first person we saw that we planned to spend a few days on the ground near Seattle.

Minutes later, Three-Two-Five-One-Echo was tied down in front of Terry’s F.B.O., Castle and Cooke. There was Bob’s homebuilt plane rubbing shoulders with private jets (and drawing more attention). Terry went out of his way to make sure our aerial-adventure-machine was well looked after and didn’t blink an eye at the long line of passengers that lounged on his couch while they waited their turn for a joyride over Puget Sound

Seattle being our northern most point we turned south towards Mt Rainer with two new crew members, Bob’s wife Cathy and his daughter Melinda. Adding Cathy, Melinda, and a car, allows the Aircam to land at airports that don’t have gas, opening up a new world of possibilities.

Over the rain shadow : Wenatchee to Seattle

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Which are the most beautiful mountains in the U.S.?

That’s a question sure to start a debate. The Rockies are huge, Sierras famous, Wind Rivers barely known and coastal Alaska’s fiords’ spectacular. Then there are Hawaii’s volcanoes, Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, as well as the Adirondacks and Great Smoky mountains on the east coast. The list, like the country, is vast. If you ask a Washingtonian, the answer is almost always, the Cascades. Why? Probably a little bias, but mainly it’s the relief.

Young and energetic, these mountains rise from the once glaciated landscape of Puget Sound at an aggressive rate. In the process, they create a rain shadow that collects the region’s famous rain (and world record snowfall) and feeds it to the forests below. In a blink you transition from eastern Washington’s high desert to western Washington’s emerald forests. The change is dramatic.