Playing Poker along the Colorado River

Oh the things a pilot would not do just to find an excuse to fly some more!

Well, gambling is one of them! For the fourth year in a row, the last week end of January, a benefit Poker Run was organized by the association of women pilots of Arizona (the 99-ers) and I invited Marc, a colleague and old friend, to fly with me and test his new digital SLR. Jake, another pilot/colleague joined us flying his own, recently acquired, C172.

For those of you who never heard of a Poker Run, a simple explanation is due, at least with regards to the details of the flying version of the event, as they tell me that similar things are common in the boating/sailing world. The organizers pick five locations, airports within a given radius of several hundred miles, in our case in cities along the Colorado river. They establish a beginning and end time. At each of the five locations each pilot can pick a poker card (in a sealed envelope). The location chosen this year where, from South to North:
Blythe, Parker, Lake Havasu, Sun Valley and Needles.

The order the airports are reached is not important as long it is done within the allowed time slot. Each pilot is free to pick the flight path that is optimal considering his place of origin and the capabilities of the aircraft. The last card is typically retrieved in the final destination airport (Lake Havasu in our case) where all participants convene for the cards to be played (opening the sealed envelopes in front of the judges). The highest scores are noted and a small portion of the benefit money gathered with the registrations is used up as a jackpot for the winners.
I had been intrigued by the idea to join the Poker Run for the last couple of years but for one reason or another I had never been able to. This time the weather was perfect and at 5am (well before dawn) we were preflighting the planes at the Chandler municipal airport. Wheels up at 6:30am.


Mark brand new Nikon D300 took some gorgeous pictures throughout the flight although, enthusiastically experimenting with all the new features of the camera, he tried very hard to botch them. When the sun came up, we had already covered a lot of desert and we were almost approaching the edges of the border between Arizona and California marked by the Colorado river.


Landing in Blythe, almost exactly at 8am, was easy as the air was still so calm and it seemed like we were the first ones to reach the location. When we made it into the FBO and found it empty, a terrible doubt dawned on us… Was the Run starting at 8am MST (Arizona time) or 8am PST (California time)? The event brochure was not mentioning the detail and coming from Phoenix we had so naively assumed… Were we one hour early? Waiting one hour in an empty airport office in the middle of the desert was not exactly and exciting prospective. Fortunately, after a few minutes of perplexity, a friendly face showed up behind the counter exclaiming “so… is it today?” and offered us a box full of sealed envelopes to pick from…

While taxing back to the runway, a few voices started coming from the radios… we were not alone anymore… other pilots were joining the race…

Flying north toward Parker, our next stop, I remembered that there were some interesting indian “paintings” (or I should say carvings) that could be observed only from an airplane as they lay on the flat desert floor. 40-50 feet in size they were meant probably to be seen by some ancient gods. But as we started searching for them we realized that those gods had to have pretty good eyes. As big as they were, when flying anywhere above 500 feet from the ground the images would be too small to be detected against the rugged terrain. Here is just one of the many gorgeous pictures we took…


After Parker, we continued up along the river passing Lake Havasu,

Lake Havasu(where we would return later)

and all the way up to Sun Valley, a minuscule airport with such a narrow runway that we struggled to distinguish it from the network of streets of the surrounding developments. Then South again along the river to Needles, where cadets from the local military base handed us the envelopes right to the plane (nice!).

The final short hop back to Lake Havasu things got a bit hectic. All of a sudden the radio was filled with voices from a dozen airplanes all converging to the final airport at about the same time.


After a long(!) landing and a quick tie down, we raced to the judges’ counter to see our hand: a king, a queen, a nine, a ten and a… five!

Oh well, we were there for the flying after all. As a bonus the organizers offered an excellent BBQ to all participants and a short technical seminar (on mountain flying) was offered in the afternoon to tempt us and stay longer…

To top the day, the local FBO had the lowest fuel prices to be found in Arizona (and California too). What more can you ask for in a beautiful January day?

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