A True Cross Country
I have early planning on a goal I set years ago; to fly my Mooney M20J from my home in eastern Maryland to the West Coast and back; out by Southern Route and back by Northern Route.  I need stops in Grand Canyon, Los Angelas area, San Francisco area, and Casper Wyoming.  I am seeking advice from those more experienced at these passages; I have been as far as Casper from here.  I plan to do this in the mid Spring so density altitude is better but it's warmer than Winter.  I am normally aspirated; no turbocharger, no deice capability.  
8 Replies

@John Mulvey  I'm just now seeing this, so I'm guessing you made the trip in the spring.  If not, here are a couple of thoughts having made the southern and northern routes a few times.  But never did make it to CA, always made the turn up to the PNW.  

First, if you can, allow for a LOT of time for stops if you don't plan to make the trip again.  Or if you do plan to do more south or more north trips in the future, allocate time to the other leg on this trip.  Grand Canyon is definitely a must.  First time there I planned it as an overnight stop and went into the park for the evening and sunset.  Then the next day I went back early to do some hiking down into the canyon a ways, but note that it takes a lot longer to retrace your steps back UP.  Then I departed in the afternoon for another short hop which in your case would get you into the LA area. 

On the southern route I might also suggest Santa Fe.  There's a lot to do in and around SAF, so do some research and plan accordingly.  If nothing else, go check out the Loretto Chapel staircase and it's mystery, but there is a lot of other great things to see.  There is a lot to do outside of SAF too, but that would be another full day with drive time, etc.

Catalina Is. is on my list for when I do make it to CA.  Also KSDM to check off the most SW airport.

I don't know a lot about Casper, but have been going to Jackson (KJAC) for years.  The town is fun to check out and there are a few great restaurants there.  And then there's the hiking in Yellowstone and checking out Old Faithful.

Going more north there is The Gorge in the Columbia River by Hood River (4S2) if you're into windsurfing.  It is world renowned.  And both the OR and WA coasts are pretty and then there are the mountains all through that area.  You can easily fly by/around Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens (1980 big eruption) and others without worrying about mountain ridges.  And even the other mountains all have good passes and you can find lower MEAs if you're going IFR if you just look a little.  

Mt Rushmore is a must.  When are you ever going to get there again if you don't fly yourself.  You don't need to plan a lot of time, but it's just one of those places to go once and say you've been.  Be sure not to go during the Sturgis Bike Rally or you may have trouble finding a place to stay.

All the other places we stopped were either by chance, just picked as a fuel stop or by looking up “what to do” in various states and just stopping.

If you happen to have GAMI injectors, you could always go by Ada, OK to have them check out your injectors and see if they're tuned the best they can be.

On the flying part, do take oxygen.  There are times when climbing will either be necessary for an MEA if IFR or just for comfort going over/through a pass your J will have no problem climbing above.  But no need for you to get groggy, even if technically you are legal for the time you're up there.  Also, coming back you may really want  to climb as high as you can to take advantage of the tailwinds.


Pete, thanks for the pointers.  I have not taken the trip yet; but did go out to Casper this summer to visit our friends there.  I think that the true Cross Country will be when I have at least semi retired and can take several weeks out of my practice.  
Are there specific airways or routes that you use when traversing the Rockies?  The points of interest are definitely helpful; but I am also seeking navigation advice for the best routes across the Cumulus Granitus.  

@John Mulvey I've got a K, so none of the routes are really an issue for me.  It's more about the Wx than anything else.  But I've seen stories for many people that have done the trip in tail draggers, C150s, etc.  So it is doable, often along the Interstate routes. 

Additional note regarding the Wx…  Odds are what you plan for your future trip and what you fly are probably going to change.  And change daily.  Just go with the flow, plan on early morning departures and expect deviations or just plain landing sooner than planned due to Wx.  But it will all work out in the end.

In ForeFlight (and poss. G Pilot) when you look at suggested Routes you can set your max altitude.  That should only show you airways you can fly.  Going the southern route, it should be a non issue.  But pending what time of year you go you're still going to want to be as high as possible.  Primarily for the turbulence with the thermals off the ground, but also just to keep cooler.  The northern route may take a little planning, but is not a deal breaker by any means.

Thanks, Pete.  I do use Foreflight and it works well for me.  Using the max altitude function should help.  I hope to keep this forum posted when I finally do get to launch this mission! 

@John Mulvey. In 2016 I flew my Maule MX-7-180 from Hickory NC to McCall ID. Memorable stops along the way were Mt. Vernon IL (KMVN), Pierre SD (KPIR), Sheridan WY (KSHR) and Missoula MT (KMSO). I didn't have any trouble crossing the Crazy Mountains in MT at 10,000 MSL with my 180 hp carbureted Lycoming O-360-C1F. You just have to allow time to get there at 200 - 300 fpm. There are passes that you can fly through but wind and fog or low clouds can be problems. It's cold up there so make sure your cockpit heater works and that there are no exhaust cracks that might introduce CO into the cockpit. A good CO detector is important. I didn't need Oxygen since I didn't spend a long time at or above 10,000 MSL but if you plan to fly higher, a pulse oximeter and Oxygen system are good to have. Fly in the morning in the high country because the density altitude is a real factor once it gets hot. Winds and turbulence increase in the heat, too. Downdrafts on the leeward side of a mountain range can be severe if the wind is over 20 kts. Turbulence can be severe, too. Long distances between fuel stops can be a problem out west so it's best to call ahead and confirm the availability of AVGAS before you take off. Foreflight was essential. ATC won't be able to provide flight following unless you can fly at 15,000 or higher in the mountains. I'm sure you've researched survival gear so I won't belabor the obvious. There are long stretches of nothing starting in WY so be prepared. I planned two extra weather days to get there and two extra weather days to get back. It took me 5 days each way and I flew a maximum of 6 hours per day with landings every 3 hours. It was tiring to fly that much and I needed a break. I encountered widespread areas of rain, low visibility and low ceilings along the way. Weather is bound to be a factor on a cross country trip this long. I learned not to reserve a hotel room until the day of the flight when I had enough information about the weather along the route. This caused me a problem in Sheridan WY since all the hotels were booked due to rodeo week. But it also helped me in a few places that didn't allow last minute cancellations. Be prepared for in-flight deviations due to weather.


@John Mulvey
Hello John,

If you've already taken your trip, perhaps this will still be of use to another aviator.

For non-pressurized non-turbocharged aircraft, there are four basic routes between the Heartland and the Pacific Coast.  I have flown three of the four in C182 and C205 without oxygen on board.  All four follow major interstate highways for the very simple reason that the highways follow the path of least resistance – which is to say, they follow through the passes rather than climbing to the top of the mountains.

The northern-most route pretty much follows Interstate 90 and/or 94.  If you're using this route, definitely plan a stop at Mount Rushmore if you've not seen it before.  No matter how you get there, this route starts (westbound) at Billings, then Livingston, Bozeman (the airway here dog-legs to go through the pass – you should too), Butte, Missoula (follow I-90 if it's VFR – the straight line between Butte and MIssoula is pretty rugged territory), Mullan Pass, Spokane (SFF is a good stop), Moses Lake.  From there you can either use Snoqualmie Pass into the Seattle area or Stampede Pass into Tacoma. Boeing uses this part of the coastal mountain range for icing research so don't fly above the freezing level if there are any clouds.

Next route parallels Interstate 80.  It starts at Cheyenne (not far from your proposed stop at Casper). Laramie is a short hop through the low pass. West of Laramie follow the highway rather than the airway – it's a lot lower. Through the Great Divide Basin, then Rock Springs, Fort Bridger and through the pass east of Ogden.  Watch airspace around Hill AFB but Ogden is a reasonable stop. The direct line from Ogden across Promontory Point to Lucin VOR is empty land. Still, this routing is preferred over going farther south because of the Class Bravo around SLC. The railroad track west of Ogden is the only man-made thing for the next 100 miles. Make sure you avoid R6404A/B/C/D and hope the MOAs aren't hot. Clover Control is usually pretty good about allowing GA through, and I once got an airshow provided by a flight of F14s. Rejoin I-80 at Wells and follow the highway past Elko to Battle Mountain, which is a good refueling stop both for GA and the Big Iron heading from Canada to the LA Basin. Whether to follow I-80 or the airways west of BAM is your call – the airway MEAs here are 11,000 and 12,000 feet due to a couple of fairly isolated but tall peaks.  I've used both routes – ask at BAM for advice: if the mines are working, go direct; if not, follow the highway.  West of Reno, V392 follows I-80 pretty closely, but if you can shade your flight a bit south of the airway to follow the highway, that's  worth doing. From Sacramento you have your choice of destinations in the Bay Area (I was usually headed for San Jose for work reasons).

The next route is along the historic US-66 (now Interstate 40) route.  From Amarillo then Tucumcari, you can either head straight to Albuquerque or take the side trip to Santa Fe, for its Spanish heritage.  Follow the highway west of ABQ: Grants Pass and Gallup (I camped right next to my C182 at the edge of the ramp at Gallup one night). Continuing along I-40 over Winslow brings you to Flagstaff, the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  (Alternatively, from Winslow you can head a bit more southerly over Sedona and Prescott.) I've never used Grand Canyon airport, so no recommendation either way there.  West of Flagstaff I-40 goes through what amounts to high desert.  I feel more comfortable through here with the highway in sight.  I would follow I-40 as it makes its turn to the south at Kingman.  Stop at Lake Havasu City if you're interested in the London Bridge.  Then Needles, Hector, and you're into the LA Basin.  I used WJF as a refueling stop.

The fourth route is the one I haven't flown.  It starts at El Paso and follows I-10 to San Diego. From El Paso, follow I-10 to Las Cruces, then west over Deming and San Simeon to Tucson.  If you're interested, the boneyard at DM is interesting, and TUS has first-class service and support if you need it. Follow I-10 to Casa Grande, then avoid the whole Phoenix metroplex by turning west at Casa Grande to follow I-8.  High concentration of student pilot training at Casa Grande and east, so keep the eyeballs moving.  I-8 goes over Gila Bend and Yuma. Stay on the USA side of the border; it's worth talking to ATC along here so Border Patrol does not take an unpleasant interest in you. Take your pick of Brown Field, Gillespie, or Montgomery airports.

As you can probably tell, these routes are all best flown in VMC weather.  The airways don't always follow the highway, and when they don't, the airways can take you over some very rugged and remote country.  Be prepared: pack water, clothing and shelter appropriate for the weather – enough to support you and your passengers for at least 48 hours, to keep you hydrated, warm/cool and dry.  A hand-held radio AND an EPIRB, plus extra batteries, is not over-preparing.  You will sometimes be a LONG way from help.

You will also notice none of the routes goes over Colorado.  There's a good reason for that:  there's no good way across Colorado without oxygen.  It's pretty country, make no mistake, but it's tough going for non-turbocharged, non-oxygen-equipped GA aircraft.

Have a good flight!