After multiple trips in our Warrior up and down the west coast, Ma decided it was time to venture east, especially to do some flying in the 'Big Sky' country of Montana. After our continuing cool and cloudy skies in early June, it was time to head for hopefully sunnier conditions east of the Cascades and into the Rockies.
Early on our planned departure date, our Puget Sound weather continued its trend of low overcast ceilings, so it was time to file IFR and blast above the clouds to cross the Cascades. Once we climbed past 5000 feet, we were clear on top, and after passing the BANDR intersection, VFR conditions greeted us as we cruised past Wenatchee. Looking down over the plateau north of Ephrata, lots of visible dust devils were being blown to the east, and the airmass rewarded us with a strong tailwind direct to our first stop at Felts Field in Spokane. Friends in Spokane loaned us their hangar loft for the evening, as we checked out the Skyway Cafe on the field for a late lunch. I checked out work-in-progress with Jay Pemberton on their N3N on floats project, and also watched their Grumman Goose depart.
The next morning, clouds were again hugging the tops of the local peaks, but with enough clearance to try a crossing of Mullan and Lookout Passes on the Idaho/Montana border. The skies cleared into classic Montana ‘Big Skies’ as we descended into Missoula for a fuel stop, then cruised between 8500-9500’ with light to moderate turbulence most of the route past Butte, with lots of yawing as we tightened our lap belts. The entire northwest had received an abundance of spring and early summer rains, and all of Montana surprised us with green fields and hills, especially lush for early July, when all the hills and mesas were usually already quite brown. The winds continued as we descended to a left downwind into a gusty runway 28R at Billings, where we pulled out a smooth landing in 9 gust 17 crosswinds. A delicious dinner of braised short ribs, steak stroganoff, and a fine French Cab Sauvignon at BIN 119 completed our second day’s journey. We spent another full day in the Billings area, enjoy the blue skies, hiking on the Rimrock trail and checking out Jake's Downtown for some excellent Montana steaks.
Instead of heading directly back to the Puget Sound, we flew our magic carpet back west through Mullan Pass, past Coeur d'Alene, then south to Walla Walla for an afternoon of wine tasting. The Gorge Aviation FBO provided free overnight parking and low fuel prices. Our best wine tasting was at Kontos Cellars, which always has some of our favorite Syrah, and we then enjoyed a surprisingly good Indian dinner at Walla Walla Indian Cuisine.
The Walla Walla area was clear and sunny for our departure the next morning, and we decided to fly down the scenic Columbia Gorge on our way home, knowing that west of the Cascades we would be cruising between Marginal VFR and IFR conditions. Once we passed Hood River and skirted below the low ceilings, we first picked up flight following, then an IFR clearance back home. We cruised over a sea of white that stretched from the Pacific all the way to the Cascade peaks, necessitating an instrument approach to get home, but thankful for the solid stretch of sun in Montana and eastern Washington. Magic carpets are fun!