Southwest Trip Report


We are glad to be back, but we had a lot of fun on our trek through the Southwest. The first stop we made was in Amarillo, Texas, to see Rick Pavek, , who was a great host. He gave us a tour of the area, including the small "Shelby Kritser Aviation & Space Museum and Restoration Facility", located at the Tradewind Airport. They had only a few items, a list of which can soon be found on our www page, which includes all aerospace related-sites, museums, their exhibits and other aircraft that we saw during our trip.

Later we went to the Hotsy Totsy shop, a place that sells nothing but hot pepper sauces, salsas, candy, etc. We haven't yet dared try the bottle of "Habanero Hot Sauce From Hell: The World's Hottest Hot Sauce -- Beyond Hot" which we got there.

New Mexico -- Trinity Site and White Sands

Kathryn's birthday and the 50th anniversary of the first explosion of the atomic bomb, July 16, started early, at 4:45 a.m. We arrived at the gate of the White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, the night before, and camped there with other people who had already arrived. By the time they opened the gates, at 5:00 a.m., there was a line of headlights that extended back for miles through the desert darkness, waiting to get in (the area is open to the public only twice a year, and of course, this was a special event).

We ran into 'Agent X' (Mark Farmer) and Tom Mahood , his wife Jerri and sister Heather. Peter Merlin was covering the event for the "Aerotech News and Review", and we talked a bit about "unusual black triangular aircraft in the night sky". The media was there in full force -- particularly Japanese. Reporters were everywhere, flipping open their notebooks at the utterance of an opinion. And there were a lot of opinion givers: an Indian woman spoke about what was done to her lands, a Japanese woman talked about what happened to her lands.

The Rainbow Nation/hippie crowd was there, singing, beating drums, and chanting. They hugged each other, formed a big ring holding hands, and members of the ring took turns saying how awful atomic science and technology was. Some older protesters (with straps bearing slogans wrapped around their foreheads) were escorted from the area for pouring some red liquid on the ground zero monument, which military personnel were guarding. There was an atomic advocate there who wore a foam rubber mushroom on top of his hat -- probably pretty unpopular with the chanting and hugging folks.

This took place, miles inside restricted access military land, within a fenced area less than a mile square, where the test blast occured. The ground zero monument, a triangular pyramid, about 15' tall, 8' wide, composed of dark, fire-blasted, ominous-looking basalt stone, stood at the lowest point, to the right of center. On the left, part of the blast crater was preserved; covered with a roof which had windows to peek through. Around the perimeter, attached to the high chain-link fence, were photos showing different stages of the project.

After we left Trinity Site, we went to through volcanic fields to a petroglyph site (where ancient people had carved glyphs into stone), and to the White Sands National Monument (miles of high, snow-white dunes, so clean that you can run barefooted with abandon). We could not visit Holoman AFB, where most of the F-117s are based, because their public tour is always on Wednesdays -- and we didn't want to wait three days during their rainy season. We were chased away from White Sands by a Sand/Thunderstorm that blew in while we were sitting on the dunes.


On our way to California, we didn't visit the White Sands Missile Range Museum nor the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, AZ, but we stopped outside the Yuma NAS, in Arizona, to see the planes fly. We found an airplane-groupie already parked nearby: in her late 40s, dressed in a tube top and short shorts, dancing around, and waving to every plane that flew overhead. She also waved at the several cars that honked as they drove by (she is something of a fixture there).


We passed through the extensive, irrigated, agricultural fields of Southern California, and over high mountain passes to San Diego. We spent a day walking through the lovely harbor area (Seaport Village), saw a lot of aerial and naval action at the nearby island military base, and walked through the renovated Gaslamp District (formerly a notorious red light district, now all gentrified). We also visited the San Diego Air Museum, and they literally had to throw us out when they closed.

Skunkstock '95

A couple of days later, after visiting an art festival at Laguna Beach, it was back to the desert, on the edge of Lancaster, to "Skunkstock '95". It was held at the "Wing And A Prayer" -- a pilot and aircraft industry worker's pub -- which is filled with aircraft memorabilia, and is reminiscient of Pancho Barnes' bar which was featured in "The Right Stuff". More than a dozen of us stayed there for hours, having such fun that the time flew by (oh, such a pun!).

Larry Smith brought lots of nice photos of the M-21/D-21 restoration project in Seattle. Peter Merlin showed many of his expedition photographs, including some from the latest F-117 crash site near Zuni. Paul McGinnis brought a lot of maps and other material about government secrecy and black projects, including his newest paper about the Boeing 'Senior Citizen'.

Hal Weber , there with Nora Baker (who worked at L-1011 TriStar flight tests), told intriguing stories of his days as Flight Test Engineer at the Skunk Works, working on the first A-12 (121/60-6924) and the first SR-71A (2001/64-17950).

Lance Thompson, who wrote the article about Peter Merlin and Tony Moore in the March 1995 issue of the Smithsonian Air&Space magazine, was kind enough to take a group photograph of those who stayed till the end. Maybe we can later post a gif/jpg here?

Afterward, we went with Paul McGinnis and Dwight Thibodeaux past the CIA's and General Atomics' UAV test site near El Mirage, to take a look at the restricted-access Lockheed RCS (Radar Cross Section) facility at Hellendale, and see if there was anything interesting going on. We stood on a hill in the desert, looking through binoculars, getting excited at any sign of activity, until it was too dark to see, then we retreated to town for dinner.

JPL and Vandenberg AFB -- the LLV-1 launch, NOT!

The next day, we went to the open house at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. They had a nice facility, and did a great job with the exhibits showing what they had done, and planned for the future. We were very happy to snag an Internet connection from a demonstrator there, and check our email!

Later, at Santa Maria, we checked into the motel which was serving as the news center for the upcoming Lockheed Launch Vehicle 1 (LLV-1) launch, taking place later in the week at Vandenberg AFB. We had gotten press accreditation before we left, so we got to be part of the media group.

Early the next morning, we got a large press package (which included an explanatory notebook, video tape, publicity photos, etc.), then rode a bus to Vandenberg AFB. Peter Merlin was there too, again covering the event for "Aerotech News and Review". Some speakers greeted us: one of them was Russel "Rusty" L. Schweikart, Apollo Astronaut, now Executive Vice President of CTA Commercial Systems Inc., who built the GEMstar-1 satellite.

The launch structure was enormous -- built for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL, aka KH-10), which was cancelled, and later modified for Space Shuttle launches (which never took place there) -- and the little LLV-1, a commercial launch vehicle, was rather dwarfed by it all. We went up close to it, and it had so many company logos on it that it looked like a race car.

There were some problems with the vehicle though, and it was a tense press conference that evening, while we waited for final word on whether there would be a launch the next day or not. Reporters from three news stations were outside the room speculating, nervously, on live tv, what the problem was. When the call came, it was bad news: the launch would be delayed for at least a couple of weeks. Oh well. We left for San Francisco the next day.

San Francisco and ARC

What a town! Lots of high hills, beautiful buildings, and all that wonderful water from which cool breezes blow. We went to Fisherman's Wharf, watched the Sea Lions loafing around on pier 39 (it was given up to them in 1991, when they started showing up in droves), and walked along docks where lots of small fishing boats were docked. We saw the filming of a segment of C/Net Central, a tv show, and got the host's autograph (Gina St. John). We rode up and down those incredible hills while hanging off the side of cable cars, and visited China Town. There were entertainers on almost every street corner, all with cans ready to receive cash. In the morning, there were many people doing Tai Chai on the wharves, and at Haight Ashbury Park. We visited a snooty art gallery, too. After we left San Francisco, we stopped by at the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) in Mountain View.

Mojave Desert, again

Then it was back to the desert again, where we went to see the wind farm at Mojave, and made a short visit at the Blackbird Airpark at Palmdale. The temperature hovered around 113 F -- the first extreme heat we had on the trip. We spent a bunch of money at the Skunk Works Employee Store, and got some really cheap Lockheed videos, too -- thanks for the recommendation, Robert . Andreas went to take a look at the brush fires near Lancaster, while Kathryn relaxed in the cool motel.

The next day, we visited the Blackbird Airpark's Open House, where we saw Hal and Nora again, and met Tony Landis, NASA and black aircraft photogapher and Doug Nelson, the Director/Curator of the Air Force Test Center Museum at Edwards AFB. Andreas got several autographs of current SR-71 pilots (Larry Brown, Gary Luloff, Tom McCleary, Terry Pappas), an SR-71 RSO (Jim Greenwood), two early A-12/SR-71 pilots (Col. Tom Pugh, 'Dutch 61' and Bob Riedenauer, 'Dutch 62') and some others, in his "SR-71 Pilots Manual".

A little bit more Arizona

We spent a couple of days in Tucson, going to the Pima Air Museum, and to art and historical museums at the University of Arizona. Our last stop before going directly home was Sant Fe. It was colorful, filled with interesting artsy shops (the things you can do with the cactus form!), and historical structures. Kathryn met a Peruvian artist who was an excellent salesman -- he really knew how to connect with someone looking at his work. He discussed his carving methods and the meaning of the images which he engraved on the shells of gourds, until it struck a chord, and she had to have one.

Colorado and Nebraska

Ok, we didn't go quite directly home, but stopped at a few aviation-related places along the way: a drive-through at dusk through the beautiful Air Force Academy facility in Colorado, and a visit to the Strategic Air Command Museum in Nebraska; but we are back now! Our kitties are delighted, too.

(c) 1995 by Andreas Gehrs-Pahl