Little did I know, while visiting Hill Aeorospace Museum to kick off our recent Western vacation, that I'd soon be having a much more personal experience with flying!
Donna and Jonathan's home in southeast Idaho is only a short distance from the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, lying on the Wyoming side of the border with Idaho, just south of Yellowstone National Park. These mountains are depicted in a famous photograph by Ansel Adams called The Tetons and the Snake River (left). I always wanted to see these spectacular mountains in person, but on two previous trips we made there while visiting Donna and Jonathan, freakishly bad weather--fog, rain, mist--completely hid them from view, even from their very base. Deeply disappointed, I concluded that these mountains don't really exist, and that the whole thing is an enormous hoax!
So, before our trip Donna and Jonathan devised a plan to prove to me that the Teton Mountains are really there. Jonathan's boss Mike is a licensed pilot, and having flown with him several times before, asked if he would take me up to see the Tetons "up close and personal" from the air. Mike loves to fly and readily agreed, and the kids sprung the idea on me early Monday afternoon. I was totally floored--I'd always thought it might be fun to go up in a private plane, but I'd never been confronted with a real opportunity to do so. Now I was gripped by the willies and agonized for the better part of an hour whether I really wanted to take the risk. I had no qualms about the pilot, but in a jetliner you're sitting in a pressurized cabin with at least has several feet of cargo space, a ton of luggage, and lots of metal between your tush and the ground. In a private plane there's nothing separating you from eternity but a thin sheet of aluminum or fiberglass. I also started calling to mind all the fatal small-plane mishaps reported in our local news over the last few years. Yet, not wanting to disappoint or embarrass Melany or the kids, I finally decided that an exercise of faith was called for, and agreed to go. But I still had several hours to stew and quake before the big moment arrived!
We drove a short distance to a small private airport near Idaho Falls where we waited for Mike's plane, carrying him and Jonathan, to land. Donna, Melany, and I were standing at the end of the runway when it came in, and I was a bit taken aback--the plane was all fiberglass (or "Plastic!" as I blurted out), and barely big enough to accommodate the two passengers (see below).
Mike and Jonathan hopped out and helped me climb aboard, strap in, and don a radio headset so Mike and I could communicate during the flight. I was more nervous than I've been in memory! (next two pictures)
Mike squeezed in next to me--we were practically in each others' laps--closed the canopy, and started taxiing the plane down the runway. Here I am (below) commending my spirit to God as the little plane-ette moved passed Donna's camera!
A few moments later we were in the air over the airport, and my "excellent adventure" had begun!
To my credit, I think, I didn't even reach for a barf bag (Mike had thoughtfully made sure that several were tucked into the passenger's side of the cockpit) as we encountered some turbulence over the fields and pastures between the airport and the Tetons, about a half-hour's flight away. But rest assured, I was saying my prayers (paraphrasing the 23rd Psalm, "though I fly through the valley of the shadow of death")! Incredibly, though, I settled down after about 10 minutes in the air--Mike was cheerful, reassuring, and told me about the various landmarks we were flying over, such as the Snake River, which I was able to photograph by pointing my camera through a small window in the canopy (picture below).
Before I knew it, we were approaching the Tetons at something like 10,000 feet above the ground (the summit of Grand Teton Mountain is actually about 14,000 feet above sea level). I didn't know which was more breathtaking--the mountains spread out in a vast panorama before me, or the fact that I was suspended so far up in the heavens over them! To contemplate both was a real faith-building experience! Mike was amazed that the air up there was as smooth as a blanket. Only a few wisps of vapor scudded between us and some of the highest and craggiest peaks in North America (next two pictures).
Finally, we were directly over the Tetons, and I finally knew for a certainty that they're there--and that only God could have brought something so huge, majestic, and beautiful into existence.
We then gently descended above the valley on the Wyoming side of the range, over broad mud flats and Jackson and Jenny Lakes (next two pictures).
After flying above the valley for a few more minutes, we crossed the mountains again, and were treated to more spectacular views of the Snake River (next two pictures).
As we soared in the setting sunlight over the pastures and fields of eastern Idaho, on our way back to the airport, I was struck by how much the ground looked like the rippling surface of a pond (next picture).
As we neared the airport again after a flight of somewhat over an hour, you could still see the mountains in the distance, above the farm fields (next two pictures).
The next thing I knew, we were descending rapidly, and I saw the runway coming up to meet us (that's the way it looked, though I think, physically, it was more like us coming down to meet it).
We had a marvelously smooth landing. The plane came to a stop, Mike opened the canopy, and I climbed out with Donna, Jonathan, and Melany there to greet me with delight--and more than a little relief--clearly showing on their faces. As wonderful as the trip was, it was great to see them and to have the ground under my feet again!
Here are the proud junior birdmen, Mike and I, beside the plucky little plane that took us above the roof of the continent. Thanks a million, Mike!
And a happy face to end the tale!