Trip Report to Tempiute Valley for a week of observing Red Flag exercises, February, 2009
by Alan Gudaitis

Click to enlargeAs many of you know, Tempiute Valley is that vast stretch of valley where you can find the Black/white mailbox that was once thought to be the mailbox for Area 51. It also contains Groom lake Road, and the infamous Area 51 border without gates. Also, rising high above the valley floor is Bald Mountain with its Radar Domes capping its peak. Bald Mountain also marks the N/W corner of the Area 51 complex. And then over, around, and beyond are a few thousand square miles of air space comprising the Nellis Air Combat Range wherein Red Flag Exercises take place. It is where you go after the thrill of the jet engine roar of aircraft taking off and landing at Nellis AFB wears thin.

For this R.F. exercise I again chose the same spot I camped at last November, a small fairly level graded patch of gravel several hundred feet off the main road of the E.T. Highway.

February is a cold month just about anywhere in the southwest. The desert valley doesn't get much snowfall, but the nighttime temps drop dramatically with the setting Sun. You can actually feel the warmth of the afternoon Sun quickly dissipate as it starts to set behind the mountains.

Before the storms came in toward the weekend, this trips daytime temps were in the 50s with nighttime temps dropping to the high 20s at times.

I have long since given up roughing it in tents and sleeping bags, or reclining front seats of the automobile. I don't find anything enjoyable about spending several days and nights in the desert in the dead of winter observing Red Flag exercises when you have nothing to do in the evening but freeze your butt off.

Camp fires offer little warmth when the temps fall into the low 30s. Now I want my creature comforts, like a warm environment with good food and drink waiting, hence a RV. If I intend to stay 1-2 weeks out in the desert, it is a necessity for me.

This trip I ran my Honda 3000 generator almost 24/7 for several days. The electric heater helped assist the RV's propane heater quite a bit. High ceiling 5th wheel RVs are harder to heat/cool than regular trailers and propane heaters eat up the propane supply very fast. I also brought along extra gas, water and propane. The nearest town to re-supply is Alamo, almost a 100 mile round trip.

Now if your visit is only for a day/night or two forget all of the above. Joerg, Hank, and others have mentioned more than enough times what you need to survive in the desert for a couple of days. I don't go there to survive, but to take photos and enjoy my visit in comfort. I prefer to take my home with me.

Click to enlargeYou can only plan so much, and after all of my preparation, my visit was cut short by approaching storms from the Pacific, something totally out of my control, but you take what you can get.

As I have mentioned in my past trip reports, I take photographs not only for personal enjoyment, but to give the reader a sense of what transpires in the desert and skies during a Red Flag exercise, especially so for those who may never visit the area.

Unfortunately for a civilian observer like myself, more than half of the action occurs at high altitudes where it is very hard to see what is going on unless there are a lot of contrails. The plus side of the cold February weather is that there is an abundance of contrails left by the aircraft so many maneuvers can be seen even with the naked eye.

To supplement naked eye viewing I always have with me a pair of Cannon image stabilizing binoculars to make observations more enjoyable when not photographing. I call them my tools of the trade; don't leave home without them.

At this Red Flag I took a lot of photos of contrails. One in particular was a single Raptor that suddenly made an extremely tight loop. I didn't actually see the maneuver but caught the contrail just a few seconds after he/she did it. Look at the photo in full view and magnify. Whatever the maneuver was, the pilot pulled a lot of Gs doing it. That thrust vectoring sure is an awesome piece of equipment.

Again I had the pleasure of being buzzed by F-15s and Harriers, both day and night. One evening as I was standing outside my RV, at least eight jets all within a ten minute period flew by me only a few hundred feet off the ground and to either side of my RV. They were all heading into the combat area for a bombing run. A couple were so low that at first I thought they were the head lights of automobiles coming down from Hancock summit.

Each time I go to the Flags I usually get one good picture, at least from my point of view. This time is was a photo of a Harrier in the foreground with the top of Bald Mountain and it's two domes in the background. If you go to my Webshots link, you can't miss that one.

My Webshots link is:
http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/2671113210102180318gTfNTQ

March's Red Flag is just a few weeks away. Another chance to visit, another opportunity for some great aerial action.

Alan


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