The Liberty Gazette
September 13, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Somewhere down there, on a street corner along Route 66 is the statue of Glenn Frey and behind it, a mural of a woman in a flatbed Ford, who we all know is slowing down to take a look at him.
Our focus is beyond Winslow, Arizona and the Eagles, but were it not for Glenn and the group the town’s name wouldn’t be permanently affixed to a particular tune. The song plays in our heads even without our conscious permission because it has to, even when you just think “Winslow, Arizona.”
Those notes bouncing in the back of our memories, we watch and listen for air traffic arriving and departing the Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport just beyond our right wing, as we search for a large divot in the ground, a crater formed many years ago when a meteor shot through the earth’s thick gaseous layers and slammed into Northern Arizona. Just past the crater’s north rim we spot the white water storage tank, our first turn point in the Thunderbird 150 Air Race. The intersection of two dirt roads just beyond the tank indicates turn two and matches up perfectly to the latitude and longitude we’ve programmed into our airplane’s GPS.
These first two turns were chosen to give air racers a unique view of the famous crater. Pirouetting, we sweep around the rim flying the short distance from turn one to turn two and then point our nose south toward turn three, another jewel, an airpark at the edge of the Mogollon Rim. Or, if you ever read a Zane Grey western novel, you’ll know it as the Tonto Rim. The two-hundred-plus mile-long upheaval of land mass separates the high country north and east of Phoenix from the higher Colorado Plateau. During monsoon season it is one of the most lightning-struck pieces of ground on the earth. Today, not a cloud in the sky and we can see for what seems like forever.
We had been needing a change in scenery and welcomed this trip to Arizona, chasing old and new friends around the Western Sky and Arizona’s high, high desert. Overflying the Navajo Indian Reservation and Petrified Forest National Monument we reached Holbrook in just eight hours of flight time the day before the air race, in time for a potluck dinner at Mogollon Airpark, at the residence of our overnight hosts, Curt and Ellen. When they heard there was to be an air race with out-of-town pilots they graciously offered a room in their beautifully designed hangar home for our stay.
During the evening in the hangar full of pilots and food we discovered that our hostess, Ellen, attended the same high school as I did, and was even in my class, although she moved our senior year and graduated elsewhere. We reminisced about people and places we both knew well, amazed that we’d never met before this flying event brought us all together.
Crossing the race finish line was not the end of our respite from the working world. We took the opportunity to spend time with friends in Phoenix and Tucson before winging our way back here. But with new friends in high rim places, we’ll look forward to a return trip to Zane Grey country in the not too distance future.