Joan Larsen’s Travel Stories: Flying Low and Slow Over Sedona

Posted on October 24, 2012

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An Arizona landscape to take your breath away

By Joan Larsen

There are some places in our world that take our breath away in ways unexplainable – but we find their visual beauty forever lodged in our hearts.  And so it is with the town of Sedona, with its red rock canyons and sunsets so otherworldly, that lies only 90 miles north of Phoenix, but truly is a world apart.

There are times in all of our lives that we need to get away.  My own term for it is “undoing the ordinary,” losing myself in another world.  Sedona?  For me, in the desert Southwest, it is my own magnet, drawing me back again and again.  When I return home with my memory banks filled with the awe and wonder, I am ready to take on my world again.

But now – yes, in Sedona – a brand new world had opened up to me.  Always – since childhood really – I was more than willing to attempt anything adventurous.  The trails of the area, the longer and harder the better, were seductive.  I didn’t miss one of them over the years, easy or very difficult, and consider them wonderful.   But some years ago, in one magical moment on the road close to town, what I later learned was a RAF S.E. 5a World War I fighter plane flew over the car, disappearing at the top of a high plateau.  I hadn’t met the pilot, Doogie Klein – yet – but I was enamored of this relic of the past.  I had to see the plane, meet the pilot.

Finding a way to the top of the plateau was a whole other tale, but hidden in the heights was a small private plane airfield of old planes – and a world seemingly virtually unknown to most around Sedona.  Also on this plateau – with the best views ever to be seen of the town and its natural beauties – was  the town’s best kept secret and the most beautiful place to stay rather modestly…  called Sky Ranch Lodge.

We checked in – and forever after over the years, this was to be our home away from home.  The panoramic views were unexcelled.   But you see, we found out that Doogie Klein and others of his ilk would fly in at 6:45am most mornings for a round table breakfast at the airport terminal. This went on for years.  Now there is also a group of small plane pilots coming in for an “afternoon tea” get-together!!

“Groupie” that I was, I could be found welcoming the pilots coming up from small airstrips at ground level at that early hour.  Doogie – in his WWI replica plane – dressed for the occasion always in his WWI military uniform, laced knee-high brown leather boots, and that handlebar mustache   – sometimes with a white silk scarf flying backward in the wind.  I found him irresistible in those earlier years!

Doogie flew in the same way Amelia Earhart and Lindbergh had.  They called it “pilotage” which was  finding their way by following roads and landmarks from the air.   I wanted to go up in one of these old planes so badly.  But most seemed one-seaters.   Nonetheless, Doogie could count on me to be waiting to hear his stories every couple of years, and, in the process, learning all I could about his fabulous life and the planes themselves.

I didn’t give up on flying in the ways of the past.  Never.   The airfield head promised to tell me if someone would take me up.  And then –  perhaps because I begged a lot – a biplane service opened.

The planes were bright red, and I wore a helmet specially designed from the one that Katharine Hepburn wore in her early flying years – and I climbed on that wing, and into the front seat for the trip of a lifetime.  I cajoled the pilot into flying off his beaten path to the red rock formations I had climbed, following the various trails as we went.  Sweeping in and out and through the formations, banking here and there, seeing the trails from the skies was a mind-blowing experience.   Below is Vultee Arch – and yes, in the old days I felt I could brave anything and walked across it.

Would I recommend the little red bi-plane?  Absolutely.  Do you think once was enough?  No way!  I am hooked.  Going at sunrise or sunset when the iron oxide that has stained the rock monuments is at its most beautiful provides the best pictures.  But that little red bi-plane ride  in itself is an adventure  all its own.

The beauty of the Sedona area remains forever embedded in my heart.  Spring and Fall are the best seasons to go…  so you can count on seeing me there in April.

Look for the bright red bi-plane!!!

Writer Joan Larsen has travelled the world for a lifetime, particularly in search of its most remote places.  But it is the polar regions that have become not only her field of expertise but have been the special places that she is drawn back to again and again.

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