The Liberty Gazette
July 31, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Cool morning air graced the patio while I watched the first rays of sun break through the marine layer that lay between us and the mainland causing the swelling Pacific Ocean to glisten and gleam like a deep blue-green jewel-speckled blanket that kept busy Los Angeles a world away. The hundred or so boats moored in sleepy Avalon Bay rocked gently in the morning breeze in calm waters. A few souls ventured into the streets below as the town began to stir from its slumber.
Linda: Perched atop a hill overlooking Avalon on Catalina Island, sits a special place reminiscent of the old Zuni Indian pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico. We spent the night in the “Vanishing American", one of 15 rooms in the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel named after titles of books by the famous author. Our room was the namesake of one of Grey's novels published in 1924. The island’s rugged interior was once a popular place for filming Hollywood movies and it’s only a 26 mile boat or plane-ride away. In 1925 a film crew came to the island to turn the story into a motion picture. The 11 buffalo shipped over for the film were left on the island to proliferate - and proliferate they did; now numbering in the hundreds.
Mike: From our veranda I imagined watching the Chicago Cubs in spring training at the old baseball diamond in the 1920s. The 1950s through 1970s saw Grumman Goose amphibious airplanes swooping down through the canyon from the west, splashing into the protected waters of Avalon Bay, their pilots as flamboyant as any of the characters in Zane Grey’s one-hundred-plus novels. High above the natural amphitheater of Avalon stand the Wrigley Mansion and the Zane Grey Pueblo, two pillars facing each other overlooking the tourist town with breathtaking views of the rocky island and marina below.
Linda: We enjoyed an evening stroll through romantic Avalon, which we learned has a very low crime rate because, well, it’s on an island and to where would a crook escape? The lovely sunrise drew us out for more exploring and shopping but all too soon it was time to return to the Airport-In-The-Sky. The ten mile road from Avalon to the island's hill-top airport climbs steeply, switch-back upon switch-back, out of the canyon that shelters the town, up to the plateau where buffalo, wild pigs and a rare fox wander about. Desert vegetation, buffalo grass, chaparral and manzanita cover the slopes and I even spotted a few cactus and the large spikey-leaves of native yucca plants.
Mike: Before leaving we wanted photos from atop the airport's control tower, which has been on the island since it was returned to civilian operation following WWII. No real air traffic control service exists at the field; pilots maintain their own separation by radioing position calls to one another. We got some great shots, and the day was shaping up to be a very busy one as the marine layer burned off on the mainland, allowing more weekend flyers to cross the channel to the island in search of a buffalo burger or a ride to Avalon for the day.
Linda: And so off we flew, Texas bound. Over the open water we made landfall just north of San Diego then crossed some rugged mountain ranges and pointed the nose eastward and home, 1,200 miles away.