Day Seven

October 22, 1996

Morning takeoff - Strawberry

As the sun came up, the steam lifting off Strawberry Reservoir was reflected in the glassy calm water. Temperatures had dropped to 15 degrees during the night but birds and people weathered it fine. The weather report indicated another storm coming in this afternoon for the northern part of Utah; we needed some good luck to get south of it. The lower humidity created much less frost on the planes so take off was earlier. The throttle on Kent’s plane was still sticking so we heated it up again and sprayed the cable with solvent. It helped some.

Errol taxied back up the road and took off towards the water. We cleared the parking lot so he would have enough distance in case he couldn’t gain altitude. Kent took off in the other direction. I was hoping for a nice close shot with the digital camera so I could post it to the internet but it didn’t work this time. He circled the pen a couple of times as the birds were released. I had my plane radio on and they could hear his warbling through the radio and joined him.

As they circled, they turned left and headed out over the reservoir. I followed them south and the rest of the group headed north. The road south was snow covered, narrow and icy and I was the only one who had the vehicle to handle it. The scenery was spectacular. New snow on the mountains, morning sun, and no signs of civilization except for deer hunters and there were plenty of them. Around almost every turn there was a camp or a truck with orange clad people. No signs of deer though. No blood anywhere.

As I reached the top of the pass, I radioed Kent and Errol that I would be soon out of radio range. They indicated that their probable landing would be somewhere on the road north of Helper. I could see them both far in the distance, high above the landscape. From the top of the pass, I could see snow capped peaks in the distance and a panorama of hills, valleys, and forests and trees.

Radio contact lost and over the top, I had to slow down to stay on the narrow icy roads going down the south side. As I worked my way down the mountain, the hunting vehicles parked to the side got larger and larger until just before the main highway there were caravans of large motor homes in deer hunter camps.

I drove in solitude over Soldier Summit to the cut off road. No sign of Kent or Errol anywhere. I waited at the junction for a while until Ron showed up (he and the others had gone around through Duschane). I went on ahead into Price and out to Wellington calling on the radio and looking for good hayfields that may have provided a good place to land. No sign so I turned back. In front of the Price hospital exit I met the others. No activity at the emergency door was a good sign.

We had two options for communication. Errol could return and fly up high enough to give us radio contact and give us the exact location; or they could call us from a pay phone somewhere on our cell phones. As we were standing around trying to call each other, we discovered that Price’s cell coverage didn’t have roaming capability. Ron fortunately knew the code to forward calls to this area. Ten seconds after I keyed in the code, the phone rang and it was Kent. He was calling from Green River, sixty miles to the south!

Apparently they had come off the pass with good altitude and air conditions and just kept going. It was a record distance for a one leg stretch - right at 100 miles in two hours and thirty five minutes. It was great news and a good break.

We drove the 60 miles south to Green River and found Kent, Errol and the cranes sitting among the Cessnas at the Green River airport. Wayne, the airport mechanic was very accommodating and had taken their orders and gone to town to get them lunch. Weather in Green River was much warmer and without snow. Now it was starting to feel like we were really on a trip.

From the air, Kent had to fight the throttle most of the way. We had done too good of job fixing it and now it wouldn’t stay open so he was working the throttle, flying the stick, and trying to run the overhead camera remote. The birds however, had developed a good flying rhythm and could have gone further but the planes had to refuel. As we watched the footage from the plane cameras, we noticed that the cranes had learned where to fly around the plane so that there was very little effort required to stay in the air. Some of the video was spectacular with shots just inches from the flying birds.

After eating and working on the planes in Green River we decided to try for Moab. A storm is coming in and we need as much distance as possible. With the red rocks and sunset coming up (plus some good air) we decided it was ok for me to fly with Errol to get some air-to-air video. What a rush! Errol’s plane handled two people fine - it was the footage that was hard to get.

I was using the Sony digital and since we were shooting through the window needed to have manual focus. That, plus the fact that we couldn’t get too close to the other plane or the birds would spook, required that I zoom out completely where it was much more difficult to stay steady. I think I got a few good shots but we’ll see what’s left from the editing table.

The flight from Green River to Moab was incredible. The sun was setting, the river was still below us, the rock hills were red and orange, and the high peaks in the distance were snow capped. We circled several times and then came in behind and to the side of the birds at a slow speed. The cranes were trailed out behind Kent in a smooth line off one wing. They were gliding and occasionally pumping to stay in formation. It was a beautiful sight.

Just before sundown, we landed at the Moab airport. No other air traffic, it was completely still and the sunset was spectacular with high clouds rippling in reds, oranges, and yellows clear across the horizon. The colors were from dark blue to fiery orange and every color in between. Within minutes we had the pens up, the cranes safe and fed, and were ready to feed ourselves.

Gary G. came out from the airport to meet us. "This is the coolest thing that has ever come to this airport," he said. He was extremely helpful and accommodating. He brought a ladder for Ron to adjust the cameras. He arranged for us to use a vacant trailer for the night. And even found us a phone and fired up the furnace.

We drove into Moab and had dinner at Bucks while previewing videos and looking at the pictures from the day. It has really lifted our spirits to make such good progress... around 140 miles total today. If the storm goes north of us we could still make our tentative arrival date of Saturday.

Moab sunset


next day