Enroute Sightseeing: DFW to Las Cruces by Larry Pardue
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For those departing the Dallas/Fort Worth area for Las Cruces, you have a varied and scenic flight ahead.
Doug's Suggested Waypoints:
- 52F (or any departure around DFW - this is just my home field))
- MQP (VOR)
- ABI (VOR)
- SWW (Sweetwater TX - where almost all of the WASPs were trained in WWII)
- T49 - Big Springs, TX (alternate fuel stop / look for the wind power generators)
- MAP (VOR)
- INK (VOR)
- SFL (VOR)
- EWM (VOR)
- EWUZU (Intersection)
- KLRU (Las Cruces)
These waypoints keep you clear of all military airspace, on established airways (mostly), provides a little history and spectacular geology (thanks again to Larry) and gives a fuel stop opportunity (Big Springs). dgr
More on Wind Farm at Big Springs...
The Big Spring project was conceived and implemented by TXU Electric & Gas, a subsidiary of TXU, Dallas, Tex, and York Research Corp, New York, NY. Turbines were supplied by Vestas, Lem, Denmark (US office: North Palm Springs, Calif). Projected annual generation is 117-million kWh. This project is part of TXU's renewable energy program, called "TU Renew". Customers in the Waco, TX area can designate what percentage of their monthly electricity use is generated by wind power.
The first phase of the project consists of 46 Vestas wind turbines: 42 V-47 models and four V-66 models. The V-66 units are the largest wind turbines in the Western Hemisphere. They stand 371 feet tall with rotor blades of 216 feet in diameter. Annual energy production of the facility will approximate 117 million Kilowatt-hours of electric energy, enough to power 7300 homes. At their highest point, the four 1650-kW turbines reach 371 ft, taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The second phase includes four V-66 wind turbines generating an additional 6.6 Megawatts of power, or a net of 19.7 million Kilowatt-hours annually, enough to power 1300 homes near Waco.
The farm is located between Dallas, El Paso, Del Rio, and Amarillo, where wind resources, ranging between 14.3 and 15.7 mph, fall into the desirable wind power Class 3. Construction began in July 1998, and the first 600-kW machine was commissioned on Dec 2, 1998, the last 1650-kW machine on April 22, 1999. Rich Nerzig, facility manager, commented that commissioning and startup proceeded on schedule, although some crane erection days were lost because of high winds that made lifts impractical.
The entire flight, in general, is a progression to drier, rockier and higher terrain. Around Big Spring (look for all the power generating windmills) is about where things really start changing. The green starts to go away and more rocks and sand appear.
Approaching the New Mexico state line you will begin seeing huge patterns on the ground of small squares connected by thin lines. Those are the roads and oil wells of the 250 mile by 300 mile Permian Basin, what the latest Forbes Magazine calls "the largest concentration of oil ever found in the continental US." If you fly near Monahans look for the big sand dunes.
After entering New Mexico, you should shortly see an unusual ridge line, far in the distance. This is the Guadalupe Mountain Range, which is a terminus of the Permian Reef, on the edge of the famous basin from which so much oil and gas has been extracted. The reef arcs around, mostly underground, for a few hundred miles, then reemerges as the Glass Mountains, south of here, in Texas.
In New Mexico, the reef gradually emerges from the ground about 5 miles southwest of the Carlsbad airport, where my RV is based. The reef is tilted so that it is higher to the southwest, up to a maximum of 8,749 feet (highest point in Texas), near the abrupt end of the mountains at Guadalupe Pass. The end, so abrupt it looks like it was cut off with a knife, is called El Capitan, or locally, The Point of the Mountains. South of El Capitan is where the Permian Sea had an outlet to the ocean. Just north of El Capitan is the highest point, Guadalupe Peak (locally Signal Peak), where as a nine year old boy, I was absolutely astounded to find fossil sea shells, in this very arid climate, 8,500 feet above sea level.
The Guadalupe Mountains are the finest exposed reef in the world, and contain two national parks. If you fly up the southern escarpment (sea side of the reef) you will first see buildings and a large water storage tank, right at the top of the ridge. This is the vistor's center for Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This park contains well known Carlsbad Cavern, but note that the park title is Carlsbad Caverns. That is because there are over 100 caverns in this small park, and hundreds more in the rest of the mountain range. Several are open to the public, some by appointment and some only with special permits. As you fly up the escarpment it will be difficult to miss the many large holes in the ground. Some have vertical entrance drops approaching 300 feet. One has such a large entrance that a helicopter once flew into the cave through the entrance.
Perhaps the most outstanding cave in the world is located about 3 or 4 miles west of Carlsbad Cavern (the entrance is inconspicuous). Lechuguilla (lech-uh-gee-uh) Cave (32 degrees 11.4', 104 degrees 30.2'), dwarfs Carlsbad Cavern in length, depth and volume and is in near virgin condition. A very expensive airlock has just been installed to control the 60 to 70 mph winds that can rush through the entrance with changes in barometric pressure.
Flying along the escarpment, you will see a series of deep and rugged canyons. Just short of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a canyon called Big Canyon. If the wind was light from the south and if one was careful to fly DOWN the canyon and if one entered the canyon with enough speed to make it to the plains below in case of engine failure and if one entered the top of the canyon at about 32 degrees 3š, 104 degrees 46š, one could have the experience of flying inside a marine reef, and a spectacular experience it would be. Personally, I recommend against this experience strongly, on safety grounds!
After Big Canyon, I like to fly higher because of the National Park, but it is still pretty easy to spot the stainless steel pyramid right at the top of Guadalupe Peak. You might also spot some hikers. The pyramid was erected by, I believe, American Airlines, as a monument to lost flyers. Many have been lost in the immediate vicinity. Look south from Guadalupe Pass to see hundreds more wind generators up on the ridge tops.
After the abrupt end to the Guadalupes it gets real flat, real quick at a large dry lake called Salt Flat. Up near the northern end of Salt Flat you can see a small area of snow white sand dunes, the Gypsum Dunes. This is a miniature version of White Sands National Monument that may be visible further to the northwest.
A bit further ahead, past Dell City, you will notice about 20, mostly cone shaped, volcanic peaks that go up to around 7,000 feet. Fly over there. These are the Cornudas Mountains, which are Cretaceous intrusions of magma into the Permian limestone. Look for columnar basalt and perched lakes.
The next big mountain range is the Franklins, just on the other side of El Paso, Texas, but there are some good sized hills east of El Paso called the Huecos (pronounced somewhat like the town Waco, TX, not like the Waco airplane). The sectional has a VFR checkpoint labeled Hueco Tanks. What could that be? Well the tanks are natural rock basins that were an important water supply for Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches and early settlers, that used this site. There are lots of pictographs. This site, like Pine Springs in Guadalupe Pass was a stop on the Butterfield Stage Line.
You will probably fly through Anthony Gap, west of Newman VOR (there isnšt much choice, considering the gigantic White Sands restricted areas just about abutting the country of Mexico). On the other side of this small pass is the Rio Grande River with its corridor of crops, freeway and railroad, that you follow up toward Las Cruces. Just south of here is Santa Teresa airport (Dona Ana County) with its very good air museum of FLYING aircraft. Further up the river, in the vicinity of the village of Hatch, are the famous chili fields but in this area you will see large orchards of excellent Pecans.
Off to the right now, near Las Cruces is the very distinctive Organ Mountain range. I donšt know how this range got its name, but the mountains do look a lot like a pipe organ, with all the vertical lineaments.
I hope you enjoy the trip, with its many opportunities to see what our country is like from the God view. What a privilege we have to be able to do this.
I'm always looking for more 'Enroute Sightseeing' articles. Look at your next trip in the RV and see if there are any interesting historical or natural waypoints on the way. dgr