Barnstorming in a Ghost Town

How Mike, John, Lorna, and I are surprised by a successful desert barnstorming gig.

It started about a month ago. Janet and I had done some desert barnstorming and had ended up in Congress, across from the Congress Trading Post. We’d talked to some of the locals and they’d suggested that we go out to Stanton, a ghost town about eight miles southeast, when they were having one of their “outings.”

Stanton, AZ was a huge mining community back in the 1800s. The story goes that a group of settlers were traveling through the area, led by some Indian guides. In their travels, they crossed a mountain that came to be known as Rich Hill. In a place that came to be known as Potato Patch, they found gold nuggets the size of — you guessed it — potatoes, right on the surface. The miners came and the town sprung up in a valley just west of the mountain.

Stanton was quite a community in its day. It boasted an opera house, hotel, and stage stop. These building still stand, preserved and protected from vandals by the town’s current owners, the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association. (I can’t make this stuff up.)

The Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association is a club of people interested in looking for gold. The club owns several properties in the southwest. If you’re a member, you can camp on any of the properties for a very reasonable daily, weekly, or monthly fee. But best of all, you can dig on the club’s mining claims, like the ones around Stanton, where they’re still occasionally finding impressive gold nuggets.

The Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association has several outings at Stanton every year. I missed the one in December, which was supposed to be the big one. (Let’s hope I don’t miss it next year.) But I did make it to the one on February 21, 2004. And I brought Mike, John, Lorna, and Tristan’s R44.

I’d made arrangements two weeks before with Linda and Larry, the town’s caretakers. The rides would be $25 per person and would go up and around Rich Hill, with views of Potato Patch. I didn’t expect to do many rides. After all, the people who go to Stanton are an older crowd and older folks tend to be afraid of helicopters. But I was wrong.

We arrived five minutes late and there were so many people waiting around my landing zone that I couldn’t land there. Instead, I had to land on a nearby road and let Mike out with instructions to shoo them away. When I repositioned, Mike, John, and Lorna went into action. They loaded my first group of passengers before I could even think of getting out. When the crowd finally faded away more than two hours later, I’d taken 26 people on rides.

The ride itself is worth mentioning in some detail. Stanton is at about 3500 feet. To view the top of Rich Hill and Potato Patch, I had to climb to 5500 feet. I took off from my LZ, climbing carefully over some power lines, then turned toward the ruined ghost town of Octave, in the next valley. I flew up that valley, climbing at 800 to 1200 feet per minute (depending on my payload). At the end of that valley, I hopped over the mountain to the valley in which Stanton lies and headed toward Stanton, which looked like oh-so-many tiny trailers off in the distance. After a quick peek at Potato Patch — which is kind of a bowl at the top of the mountain — I began a steep 1000 feet per minute descent. Of course, that’s not steep enough to be at ground level by the time I reached Stanton, so I headed out over the desert about a half mile before looping back over Stanton and then looping back again to my LZ. I did this about 10 times and really had the hang of it by the time we were done.

I took my ground crew on the same tour before heading back to Wickenburg. I was tired. I’d flown nonstop for more than two hours and I’d never even gotten out of the helicopter. When we landed in Wickenburg, I checked the hobbs meter, which only runs when the helicopter’s collective is up. Exactly 2 hours. For the first time since starting my desert barnstorming, I made some serious money.

Best of all, Mike, John, Lorna, and I had had some fun.

And the Lost Dutchmen members? They’ll be talking about it for weeks to come.

One more thing…if you should happen to be watching the Outdoor Channel and see some aerial video of the Stanton area, you know who flew the camera around.

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