Desert Center Camp, L64
Night of June 30, 2006 - the 12 hour "dry sauna"

Click on any picture for larger view. Note: The orange-colored camera clock is 1 hour slow.

Desert Center (L64) was an Army training and support airfield during WWII for General Patton, built between 1940 and 1943, to train troops for combat conditions in the Sahara Desert to fight General Rommel's Nazi army. We had last visited L64 looking for prospective camp sites almost a year earlier.

Scott Schwartz, Stephen Bouzan, Brad Bernard, and myself flew the 107 NM (123 miles) from San Diego's Montgomery Field (MYF) to Desert Center (L64) in two planes, N4975F (C172-180) and N8148F (SR22). I piloted 75F, and Stephen piloted 48F. We departed about 5 pm. Enroute flight time was 1 hour for 75F, and about 45 minutes for 48F, departing and arriving first.

Preparations and loading 75F.  We had prepared a supplies & gear manifest used as both a camp checklist and itemized weight and balance data. Stephen and I discussed the weather and agreed we were good to go, so he met Brad at the hangar to load and fuel 48F, while Scott and I loaded 75F.

Takeoff at MYF and enroute, 75F. We flew 3,500 feet until out from under the San Diego Class B airspace at Lake Jennings, where we switched to air-to-air frequency 122.75 to check in with 48F ahead of us, and started our climb to 8,000 over Cuyamaca peak (6,512 ft), then up to 9,500 for our cruising altitude over the Borrego desert, Salton Sea, and desert pass southeast of Palm Desert.

75F approach to L64 and landing runway 23. The L64 airfield is almost invisible until we are only a few miles away. Stephen and Brad greet us on the ground.

We back-taxied past the displaced threshold of runway 23 to park the planes. The high-altitude view shows green squares where we parked the planes, and the red oval is the camp site.

It's 101F as we power down the planes and crack open a few beers to cool off under the shade of 75F's wing and assess our environment. The wind is about 7 KTS from the SW and very dry. Stephen commented it felt 'like a hair dryer'.

360 view at the old runway '23' numbers, now overgrown and off the east end of the displaced threshold chevrons
......... E ............. SE ............. S ............. SW ............. W ............. NW ............. N .............  NE ............. E

Making camp at sunset. We expected the temperature to fall quickly after sunset (we were WRONG).

Beautiful back-lit cloud after sunset

360 view from the campsite just after sunset
NW ...................... N ...................... NE ...................... E ...................... S ...................... SW...................... W

Evening under a HOT starry sky.  We had grilled steaks, grilled corn ears, and toasted marshmallows for dessert. In the group photo (center bottom row), we are left-to-right Stephen, Brad, me and Scott. Notice I'm holding (hoarding?) a bottle of water...


Stephen's camera is pretty good for astrophotography, too. He caught some constellations we saw to the south. The Sagittarius photo is a great shot of the Galactic Core - click here for Sagittarius photo annotations: yellow line, plane of galaxy; white figure, Sagittarius constellation 'teapot'; red, star cluster M7; green, star cluster M8; blue, galactic core star cloud.

Sagittarius    Scorpius    Uncertain?

We hit the hay around 1 AM, yet the temperature was still 94F !  We discussed our short supply of water and concluded we would be fine provided we minimized our stay.

We got up to break camp 30 minutes before sunrise, around 5 AM. It had cooled to 85F. Brad examines a 63 year old bolt and finds a beetle that died entangled on a marshmallow stick trying to get a drink from his beer bottle.

Just after sunrise, we drank our last bottles of juice and skipped cooking the eggs and bacon to fly back to MYF for breakfast!  It was 90F at 6 AM!

48F takes off from L64, following 75F. A few miles away, a small golf oasis and pond.

75F was climbing happily along when 48F, a SR22 "Interceptor", zooms up and does a circle around 75F. We arranged this photographic formation flight in advance.

48F westbound over Julian, then landing MYF on 28R.

Epilog: After securing the planes and getting our gear back into our cars, we met for breakfast at the local pancake house. We put away breakfast, almost two 1-gallon pitchers of ice water, juices and coffees between us. In retrospect, we didn't consider the available night temperature information, which was on the same data table as the wind speeds which we did check to decide if we needed tie-down anchoring. We also should have itemized our drink cooler inventory so we had about four times as much Gatorade, juice and water with us. Not as smooth as our 2005 desert camp experience, but we were prepared enough it was not a survival situation, and we had a good time!

Route of flight in red below, just over 107 NM.