Pawhuska – White Haired Chief of The Osage
While scanning the map for interesting destinations, a town with the name “Pawhuska” caught my attention. It is a town in Oklahoma within my Ultralight Range AND it has an airport – prime elements for a Surfin’ Safari! The town was named after an 18th Century Chief of the Osage Indians. It is definitely the type of place I like to visit. The only downside was that the airport is 3.8 miles from town and there is no gas available on the field. Walking into town is one of the charming aspects of my Ultralight Adventures but thus far I had not needed to make a walking trip of that distance. The walk itself was not the main issue but when carrying two gas containers on the trip back, packing them nearly 4 miles would be a true test of endurance. I was prepared to do this if necessary, though.
Before flying to any town I have not been before I gather as much data from The Web as I can. I like Google Earth because it provides an actual photos from space of towns and airports. Another resource website is AirNav.com. That site gives you all the data you would need to land a jet. For me, though, what I need are pattern turns and telephone numbers for the field manager. Many of these fields have a car they let you use to drive into town but that fact is not listed on AirNav. I always call the manager of the field to state my intentions and to see if there are any special concerns. Even though the fuel availability is listed on AirNav, I always double check. Because Pawhuska Municipal was so far out of town, I asked about a car. The manager said “Sorry, No Car”. He did say I could call and they would get a policeman to drive me in to town. I said that would be nice but I really don’t like to bother those guys while they are on duty. I asked him if there was a flat open field near a gas station that I might land in. He thought about it for a minute and said, “The Elk’s Lodge Soccer Field would be OK”. While he was telling me this I was checking the location on Google Earth on my computer monitor. That landing field would put me less than a mile from the gas station. I thanked him for the tip, looked up the number for the Elk’s Lodge (#2542) and called for permission. A very nice lady answered the phone. I think her name was Sally but I was driving my car when I called and couldn’t write it down. She thought it was a cool idea and said no problem. She would even try to bring her daughter over when I flew in to see this “open air airplane” I was describing (While in town I did not see them but maybe they came out while I was making my grand tour). With this new landing option, the flight took on a different dimension. I would still have to “eyeball recon” the field by flying low over it when I got there. Then I would decide whether to land at The Elk’s Lodge or the Municipal Air Field.
Steeds Of A Different Breed
Just before taking off at dawn I took the two shots below so you can see why I call it Selby Aerodrome and Stables. It’s all about ridin’!
I had noticed when charting my course that it went right over Winfield. At the beginning of the trip I was cruising so low I forgot about it until I noticed signs of civilization. When charting the course I figured I could trace the river through town but, now on point, I climbed a bit to make sure this would be prudent. If it didn’t look good, I would circumnavigate the town to the West.
Wide Open Spaces!
Just The Place For The Wild Cousins Of The Corral-Mates I Had Left Behind!
Time To Look At The Map
Flying by GPS is child’s play it is so simple – just follow the arrow. Flying as low as I do, though, does not allow me to see very far ahead. Occasionally I like to land and look at the map. It is also a time to stretch the legs and take in the magnificent solitude of the prairie.
Short Leg Left
I only had about 8 miles to Pawhuska. When I landed, the wind on the surface was about 15 mph. The possibility it would get higher occurred to me. I figured I better get going. So after turning the nose back into the wind, I started the trusty Rotax and strapped in. While making last minute checks prior to takeoff I noticed the different tracks in the dust of the road ahead of me. With the motor running I did not want to get out of the seat but I really wanted the picture so I shot it sitting in the plane. The variety of impressions in the dirt tells an interesting story of recent history.
Interesting Surface Patterns
In many places I have flown over out here on The Great Plains I am treated to the sights similar to those featured in the next series. Just under the surface is flat rock which fractures in interesting patterns. There is enough soil for vegetation to grow which varies with the fracturing and produces these interesting patterns.
The Final Stretch
After passing over the plateau flats I could see the Pawhuska Water Tower at the top of a forested ridge. I gained some altitude to pass over it. Although I could not see the town of Pawhuska, I knew the water tower would be in the city limits. As soon as I got to the top of the ridge I would look for the airport and The Elk’s Lodge.
Pawhuska, Oklahoma From The Air
I did not walk to this location while on the ground but I looked on the web after returning home to learn about the fire. This smoking ruin had been the Historic Benson Warehouse until a fire engulfed it in the early evening hours of Wednesday, 10 July 13. Even though I flew over it the Friday after, it was still smoldering.
The pictures below feature my landing spot – The Elk’s Lodge parking lot. They said I could land there or the Soccer Field to the South of it. The two photos below were taken at 1,200′ AGL before I circled down to get a closer look at the prospective “landing strip”. In the wide shot you can see both Pawhuska Municipal near the top left of the shot just right of the highway and The Elk’s Lodge which is the yellow building with the white roof. Although an excellent airport, you can see how much further I would have had to walk from the Muni.
Even though Google Earth’s satellite pictures are a fine and wonderful thing, the free version I use has resolution that only goes so far. Now hovering over the site myself, my “baby blues” could see the Soccer Field was not optimal because it had a dirt surface. When possible I avoid landing on dirt as my landing gear can throw rocks into the propeller and knick it up. Also, it was close to the highway and had power lines at both ends. The parking lot appeared to have power lines only on its South end. If I couldn’t stop in time, I would be able to roll under them without a problem.
It Pays To Pay Attention
Previously I mentioned that the parking lot was chosen because it appeared to have wires only on its South end. That proved to be false. On final approach, about 500 yards out, I noticed the wire you see in these two pictures extending across the North End of the parking lot. I had plenty of time to forget the whole thing and fly over to Pawhuska Municipal but I know my MXL quite well.This was still more than enough runway particularly with the 15+ mph headwind. So, instead of skimming over the chain link fence and touching down at the beginning of the parking lot, I extended enough to ease over the single strand wire and set down toward the middle of it. I came to a stop in the grass off the South End of the parking lot, turned and taxied back to the spot you see above and “staked her down”.
Time To Walk The Town
Pawhuska Ground Wandering Complete
The temperature was close to 100 degrees and I had been walking around town non-stop since I landed after a two and a half hour flight. I headed back to the Shamrock Gas Station seen below to get some gas and head back to my plane. The proprietor had agreed to let me leave my gas containers there while I walked around town. Before fueling up I drank about 3 bottles of the Cranberry-Grape juice I like.
While studying my map for the Pawhuska trip I noticed a town I had heard of before but never visited – “GRAINOLA“! In my book, a town with a name like that deserves attention. It is now on my list of towns to visit. I made an aerial survey which you will see next. There was just one problem…
It wasn’t until I was proofreading this story and happened to look at the satellite photo of another village I had decided to visit that I realized the pictures above are actually Foraker, Oklahoma. Excellent! My new plan is to visit both of them in a Future Safari.
…and again oblivious to The Sky Surfer, the Wild Equines are spotted loping across the prairie below. I suppose it is immaterial whether they notice me. More relevant is that I could not bear to witness their passing without again exposing them to the rays of my camera’s probing lens.
Center Pivots & Underground Water
As I approached Selby Aerodrome to enter the pattern for landing I noticed an interesting phenomenon displayed in the corn growing around the airfield.
To the South of Selby is a large field with two center pivot irrigation units. As happens when you put a round peg in a square hole you can see the areas that lack irrigation coverage. In addition, the field directly to the East of the airfield has no irrigation at all.
Years ago I was told there had been a creek running through this area. Many years prior it had been re-channeled by the ditch and culvert system next to the roads – but it still runs underground. I think this is evident in the growth pattern of the corn that is not under the center pivot irrigation seen in this series. It is obvious why farmers prefer to use irrigation when possible.
A Different Ending
At the end of most of my Sky Surfing Safaris I feature a picture of the airport, airplane, windsock or combinations thereof. I thought for a change to show some marvelous meteorological displays I happened to catch the day following the Pawhuska Flight. That day after Church, I had no mission in mind but only wanted to grab some air and practice stall recoveries.
Never without my camera, I witnessed this majestic scene to the West. I made sure to capture it.
See you next flight!
Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™
Brian FitzGerald – Wichita
The Sky Surfer