Camping Trips

Darryl and the boys

The weekend after Christmas afforded another great opportunity to load up the helicopters and head for the Arizona desert to get in some tent camping, helicopter style. In this case it was a new experience for me as my best friend Darryl and his son Josh would be joining Tommy, Riley and me in a second helicopter.  Our good friend Bob was allowing Darryl to borrow his helicopter so we could make this a two-ship, and hence a five person camping trip.


Leaving Deer Valley

My part of the trip started out at Deer Valley Airport (KDVT) located northwest of Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport. Tommy, Riley and I hoped aboard N756TB, my Mooney Bravo and pointed our noses westbound. We left just ahead of this little weather system that had been brooding to our North for a few hours. It was time to be on our way.


Riley’s first trip in the Mooney

Since this was Riley’s first trip in the Mooney, he got to ride shotgun on our way to Palomar Airport, our home base. (KCRQ) It was an amazing ride, some clouds and a beautiful sunset over the Salton Sea made for a great trip back to California.

The Salton Sea from 12,500′

The next morning, we packed up the boys and headed to our favorite waterhole in Escondido – Starbucks. After eating a wonderful and nutritiously balanced meal, we headed for the airport. For the trip out, I would carry all of the camping supplied in the back seat of the 500 (since the Enstrom does not have a back seat and its baggage compartment had the auxiliary fuel tank installed). I would take Riley as it was his first helicopter trip and Darryl would take Tommy and Josh in 18PD.


Josh, Tommy & Riley


On the way out to our camping spot, we landed in a ravine  just before arriving at Blythe airport to let the boys stretch  their legs and get some fresh air. Long helicopter trips for people new to that style of travel and movement can be a bit much sometimes. The nice thing about the helicopters is you can pretty much land them anywhere, airport and runway not needed!


Our second ship – N18PD



A beautiful sunset


Once we landed at our campsite and got everything set up, it was time to watch a beautiful sunset and get our campfire going. Darryl and I had already visited the new campsite, verified that there was no one around for many, many miles and set up a fire ring and collected a bunch of old, dead wood for use as fuel!


Enjoying the fire


We had a very enjoyable evening of camping. The boys hiked about, got some shooting lessons from the master himself (Darryl), stuck themselves with cacti pretty good (drawing blood in several cases) and generally had a fantastic time. We brought all of our food, water, etc in with us and sat down for a nice meal made from Mountain House dehydrated camping food. It did not take long for our MSR multi-fule stove fueled by 100LL to boil the necessary water for the food. Anyone interested in camping should check out Mountain House, the food is absolutely amazing and the cost in very good.


Breakfast time…


After spending the night in 35 degree weather, we were up and about looking for something warm to drink. In actuality it was not bad at all since we had REI and Northface 20 degree sleeping bags. About the only thing the bags did not save us from was the ongoing snoring of Darryl which kept everyone (but him) awake through the night! The boys have all suggested a different tent on the other side of the landing zone for Darryl for our next trip!


A short stop on the way home


Heading back from the camp site to Carlsbad, we once again made a quick stop for some fresh air. The boys took the opportunity to scout around a bit and find some old cow bones which promptly went into their pockets.


Catching up on their sleep


Ah…on our way back to Deer Valley after a good weekend of camping. Tommy and Riley are both sleeping, the vibration and drone of the Mooney has that effect on some people, just ask my sister!


Joey in the Mooney



A different kind of camping…

I have always enjoyed camping. From the time I was a young boy and had the opportunity to camp out with friends or just by myself, I enjoyed camping. I enjoyed the allurer of pitching a tent and sitting around a camp fire, waking the next morning smelling like smoke and ready for another day of adventure.

As I have gotten older, my perception of camping changed a bit. Once attached to the fleet while a US Marine, I had the opportunity to “camp” in some really interesting places during some really interesting weather. These spots ranged from Camp Pendleton here in Southern California, to the Northern Training Area (better known as NTA) of Okinawa Japan, to Camp Lejune back east and beyond. Pouring rain and freezing weather did nothing to slow us down as we huddled in out shelter half (so named as it took two of you to end up with a shelter “whole”), freezing to death (or so we thought). Eventually we resorted to wearing our gas masks and “heating” our tent by burning the triox heat tabs that came with our MREs! We had to wear the masks as the fumes from the trioxane were toxic! But we were warm and that was all that mattered. Those triox tabs were worth their weight in gold during are much loved Marine Corps camp outs!

One would think that I learned my lesson utilizing tens to camp with, but even after the Corps I kept at it. Friends and I would load out campe gear and head for the Sierra Mountains in California to camp out next to some stream or other in the national parks. Again, we learned as we went and generally had a great time.

Part of “tent” camping is figuring out what you can take, who you can take and how long you can go. As some of you have seen my other “tent”, a lot of those questions are not relevant. At 43′ in length and enough room to sleep 17 (yes, we have had 17 people in out trailer sleeping) the only two questions you need to ask yourself’s are 1) How much is diesel and 2) Where can I stuff a 43′ 5th wheel!

Trailer Camping


So now I am even older yet and still enjoy camping. I enjoy the entire process of camping. To me, simply “camping” is not the joy. Planning for the camping is part of the fun. Where are we going? How are we getting there? What are we taking? Who are we gong to take with us? (this of course is dependent on the “What are we taking” question). Once we figure out all of those questions, then we get to figure out the logistics.

First we plan, then we pack, then we travel and then we set up, then we start the fire, then we burn everything in sight (if you have the boys with you), then we set up the portable toilet (if you have the girls with you) then we figure out what we are going to eat, then we figure out how we are going to cook it, then we spent two hours messing with our miniature multi-fuel stove until it reaches the temperature of the sun like it is advertised to do, a single degree cooler just won’t do it, then we burn ourselves boiling water on our “hotter-than-the-center-of-the-sun” multi-fule stove, then we eat our wonderful dehydrated Mountain House meals (which I might add taste far better than Marine Corps MREs)!

So all of this, including the final tearing down and cleaning up and returning home are fun times for me. I like to include others and we have a great time. The goal, of course, is lasting memories. Create great memories in the minds of the kids and they, in turn, will do the same for their kids. That is the hope anyway.

So this last camping trip that I took really pushed the limits of all of those things. First, it was a camping trip for just three of us. It would just be Tommy, Carter and me on this trip. One reason was the selected mode of transportation and the amount of camping equipment we had to take with us.

The first step of the trip started with me flying the Mooney (1990 Mooney M20M Bravo) from Carlsbad, California to Phoenix Arizona at 17,500′ and roughly 200 knots ground speed (230 mph). I topped off the Bravo with 120 gallons of 100 octane fuel. You might ask why I needed so much fuel for such a short trip.

Well, in my mind, the ONLY time you can have too much fuel is if you are on fire!


Flight from CRQ to DVT


Mooney Bravo Panel at 17,500′

So I climbed aboard my fire-breathing piston steed, climbed from sea level to 17,500′ in just under 15 minutes, leaned out my mixture and winged my way towards KDVT – better knows as Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix Arizona. I leveled out at 17,500′ and utilizing the EDM930 (far right of the screen) was able to lean out my fuel mixture to about 17gph and then I sat back and enjoyed the flight. One hour and forty-six minutes from startup, I shut down at Atlantic Aviation at the Deer Valley Airport!

Savvy Analysis Data Dump from my EDM 930


Once I picked up the boys at Deer Valley, we climbed aboard the Mooney for the return trip.  Since I didn’t have enough oxygen canulas to go around and I figured the boys would not appreciate the bad headache (or worse) they may have after flying home any higher than 12,500′, that is where we stayed for the return trip. A little slower and a little higher fuel burn, but they enjoyed themselves on the way home and we had great fun completing the first leg of our journey.

The boys in the Mooney


So the next morning after a healthy breakfast at our local Starbucks, we head for the airport.

Breakfast At Starbucks


Ok, so now the next part of the trip comes into play. We are heading for the open desert to go camping. No phones, no water, no electricity, no civilization, no anything that we do not bring with us. That means we have to bring everything with us! Food, shelter, water, sleeping bags, firewood, cooking equipment, kids, you name it, we have to take it. Needless to say, loading our “camper” took some time and a lot of reshuffling and repacking and (eventually) deciding what did not have to actually go with us. We ended up sitting on the ground since we took almost everything but the chairs!


Packing Job!


After finally making sure everything we really needed was packed (notice the chips on top?) we finally get ready to pull pitch and head for the Arizona desert. Our target is a secluded mesa about 50 miles South East of Blythe. Besides myself and other campers with me, I have only seen one other person at this site ever! It makes for a perfect get-away, no noise from other people or campers, no traffic, nothing. You need a helicopter, a parachute or a lot of rope and determination to visit this particular campsite as no known roads exist to get to it and even if there were, its difficult to drive almost straight up!Thankfully I carry enough fuel in the 500 to get from CRQ to DVT non-stop, so we were able to make our camping spot with enough time to setup camp before losing daylight!

After a very exciting flight out, we prepared to set up camp!


See how excited he is?


Unloaded camping gear


And of course, what would camping be without a camp fire? Sadly someone forgot the hot chocolate AND the marshmallows! Guess I better check that list better next time!


Nice Campfire


One of the nice things about being out in the middle of nowhere (in the winter) is that it gets dark very quickly. Eventually the boys run out of  scraps of stuff they can burn, and they are only willing to go so far from the campsite to find other dead stuff, so its off to the tent we go where the boy splay cards and I read my ipad.


Game of Cards


So off to sleep we go (at 8PM). Our queen sized North Face 20 degree sleeping bags and REI mats keep us completely warm and toasty during the 40 degree night. No animals (human or otherwise) sneak up on our campsite, there are no no blowing winds or weird noises to bother us during the night. And thankfully (for me) no need for the boys to go visit the “bathroom” in the middle of the night!


Camping gear ready to be packed back in the 500


After a great night of camping, we are ready to pack up the helicopter and take the short flight back to Phoenix. The boys decide the camp needs an official gideon and head out on the hunt for an “all natural” flag that can be left to identify our camping spot the next time we fly over.


Camp Gideon


We managed to get everything (and everyone) back into the helicopter for the short hop back to Phoenix. A great time was had by all and we are already looking forward to our next Helicopter Camping Trip.

Once more great memory to add to the books!


Tommy in the rear with the gear!



Carter rides up front on the way home





Now entering Dead Horse State Park. This was the sign that greeted us as we arrived at our Thanksgiving campsite located in Cottonwood Arizona, about an hour and a half north of Phoenix.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

The plan was simple, I would take the day off on Wednesday, hook up to the trailer, drive to Phoenix and then we would all take off early on Thanksgiving morning and drive to Cottonwood for a Thanksgiving campout!

Cottonwood Camp Site


The trip started as most of our camping trips start – a lot later than I would like. I hit starbucks and headed up to Perris California where our trailer is stored. After hooking up, it was off and running to Phoenix. My trusty GPS told me that I would need almost 6 hours to get there and would consume a lot of fuel doing so! The F-450 I had purchased to tow the 17,000 pound trailer does not sip the fuel when pulling, but it also has absolutely no trouble pulling the trailer up any of the grades I encountered on the 79, 60 and 10 interstates. I loved my F-350, but it was not up to the task of pulling the new trailer.

F450 Mileage


On a whim, I decided to get the truck and trailer weighed after fueling (70 gallons in this truck). Not too bad for a pickup and a toy hauler:

Almost 27,000 Pounds!


So Thursday morning arrived and we once again hit starbucks before hitting the road. It was a nice drive up with not too much traffic to have to contend with on the way up. It was a nice ride with Josh, Tommy and Abby keeping me company on the way up.

Once we arrived and set up base camp, it was time to get started on our turkey dinner. Mary had it all planned out and I brought my trusty deep fat fryer. The goal was to eat our dinner by 6pm and by 3pm we had not started cooking the turkey yet! The nice thing about the fryer is that it only took 80 minutes from raw turkey to total perfection!

80 minutes from Raw to perfection!




That didn’t last long…


After a wonderful turkey dinner and a beautiful sunset and campfire, we were ready for more fun adventures.

Getting ready for a camp fire!


A warm fire


The next morning my sister Johanna and niece Naomi arrived and we all set off for the lagoons to go fishing. We were hoping to catch a bunch because the darn fishing licenses and trout stamps cost us almost $100 for two days of fishing! The day was awesome, and the lagoons were very pretty.

Fishing Lagoon


Johanna and Naomi


Mary busy with the kids


As luck would have it, we ended up with about 12 trout. Josh and Tommy each caught their first fish. Mary and Joey caught some and I caught some. It was a good couple of days of fishing and great time spent with people we love.


Look at all the fish!


Of course, catching fish also meant cleaning the fish and this was a first for everyone as well. Mary and Josh jumped right in to help with the cleaning which was a good thing since I stabbed myself with a very sharp filet knife necessitating my overseeing most of the actual cleaning as opposed to helping with it. Emma and Abby got to carry some fish heads from the cleaning area to the trash and they did a wonderful job! Josh and Mary really plunged into their work and soon all the fish were clean!

Blood and Guts


The finished product…


Of course, what else would a 13 year old boy do with fish heads…?


A great fashion statement!


A good time as had by all, but soon it was time to pull up camp and head back to Phoenix and then back to Escondido for me and the trailer. Everyone was worn out from all of the hiking, running around with new friends they met at the camp ground, and all of the fishing!

All-in-all, another wonderful camping trip and more great memories for the kids!