After the Rain

We go for a helicopter flight after a storm cleans out the air.

We had a storm last night in Wickenburg. It came upon us suddenly, from the west (I think), just as we were going to sleep. Soon the rain was pounding against our newly refinished roof and the bright flashes of lightning were illuminating our bedroom.

It’s monsoon season here in Arizona and storms in the late afternoon and early evening are to be expected. But we haven’t had quite as much rain here in Wickenburg as I’d like to see. The wash that runs past our house has been dry for over a year. And the unpaved roads in town have been just as dusty as they are the rest of the year.

Last night changed all that. It rained like hell. And when I woke up this morning and took a look down into the wash, it was clear that it had become a river during the night. The loose sandy surface was packed hard and wet and the debris that had been left there from the last flow was gone, replaced with fresh debris.

There wasn’t any damage this time around. Just some sand deposited on our driveway. Our neighbor, Danny, was out there with a Bobcat bright and early, working on the steep dirt road we use to get to our homes. He bought it used from a local landscaping contractor and I think he was tickled pink to have a chance to fire it up and use it.

Meanwhile, everything looked really fresh and clean. One of the odd things about living in the desert is that it’s so dry most of the time that dust really gets all over everything — including the trees and rocks. The natural colors of the desert seem washed out when, in fact, they’re just dust-covered. A good hard rain takes all that dust out of the air and off of everything. The desert looks green and alive.

And it feels cool. This morning, the temperature outside was probably in the mid 70s. That’s downright arctic in central Arizona in the summertime. The air was fresh and smelled of the rain and flowers and life.

It was the perfect morning for a helicopter ride.

Mike and I drove over to my friend Jim’s house. Jim lives about three miles due north of Wickenburg Airport. He flies a Hughes 500c helicopter. Years ago, he won a bid to build hangars at the Airport, which was in dire need of more hangars. Jim wanted a hangar so he could park his Hughes 500 in it. He figured he could lease the rest of them and make some money. He spent six months with the Airport Manager and other town powers-that-be to come up with a plan that was satisfactory to all parties. He presented the finalized plan at a Town Council Meeting. The Council members said, “Hey, wait a minute. There was only one bidder on that contract. You couldn’t win it. It has to go back out to bid.”

Jim's HouseJim is like me. He doesn’t take a lot of bullshit. He told them what they could do with their hangars and applied for a permit with Maricopa County to build a hangar and helipad at his house. In less than a year, he had a huge hangar on his 48-acre spread with a nicely marked and perfectly legal helipad out front.

The airport didn’t get new hangars for another three years.

Anyway, the airport is getting ready to close for a month due to construction. Although I’m perfectly confident that I can safely fly in and out of there while construction is going on, they’re closing down the place to helicopters, too. They seem to think that there won’t ever be a safe landing zone anywhere on all that land at any time of the day or night for a whole month. It’s bullshit, but not worth arguing about it. Jim said I could camp out at his place. So it’s not like I’m being inconvenienced.

So after topping off my fuel tanks in Glendale the other day (0.7 hours round trip from Wickenburg), I brought Zero-Mike-Lima over to Jim’s place and touched down right on the helipad.

Jim’s out of town. He and his wife are in the process of moving to San Diego. His house and the 40+ acres still left (he sold off a piece) are for sale. Two houses, a pool, horse setup, shop, garages. And, of course, the hangar and helipad. I’d buy it if I had that kind of money and wanted to invest it in Wickenburg. I don’t and I don’t. If I had that kind of money, I’d be in San Diego. I guess that’s why Jim’s there and other people are living in his house.

Airport ConstructionWe took off to the south, toward the airport. I’d brought along my video camera and Mike was using it to shoot images of the things we flew over. I’ve been wanting to get some good video footage from the helicopter for Flying M Air’s Web site and the wickenburg-az.com Web site I run. But I don’t seem able to get it together. I can’t take video while I fly. Heck, I can barely snap a few photos while I fly.

So today, Mike was in charge of the cameras. Although the video footage was too shaky for use — even online use — he got some great photos of the airport construction and downtown Wickenburg, as well as Jim’s house.

Wickenburg from the AirWe used to do aerial photography together with a Pentax 67 medium format camera. It was a pain in the butt. The camera could only hold 20 shots (I think), it weighed a ton, and although it did have an exposure meter, it didn’t have automatic exposure. That means the photographer had to adjust the shutter speed or aperture for every shot based on the meter reading. Mike didn’t like to do that. He’d set the exposure once or twice during the whole shoot. So half the pictures would be under or over exposed. Of course, the film couldn’t be processed in WIckenburg — we had to send it out. And we had to send out for enlargements, too. It was idiotic.

So now we use a 7 megapixel Canon PowerShot that I carry around with me in my purse. We can take up to 70 images on the card I have in it and even if 80% of them are bad, the remaining 20% are still enough to choose from. So just point and shoot, shoot, shoot.

We were only out for about a half hour. It was still cool when we got back to Jim’s house and put the helicopter away.

Now, later in the afternoon, I see the clouds building to the north. Maybe we’ll have a replay of all that wonderful rain again tonight.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

What do you think?