National Geographic
Menu

Flying Baja, A Pilot’s Adventure – Day One

The first in a series of guest posts by volunteer pilot Will Worthington about his flying adventure over the changing coastline of Baja California.

LightHawk volunteer pilot Will Worthington kayaks in the Sea of Cortez with family dog Sofia.
LightHawk volunteer pilot Will Worthington kayaks in the Sea of Cortez with family dog Sofia.

How it Began

In 1980, my family and I began falling in love with the Sea of Cortez and the Baja Peninsula. We were entranced by that part of the world and its beautiful shoreline, estuaries, wildlife and people. After taking a few flights to Cabo San Lucas, Mulege, Loreto, and other remote destinations, I knew had to see more.

Eight years ago, I became involved with LightHawk and started encouraging support for conservation to maintain the wild character of Baja and sustain the health and abundance of the Sea of Cortez. The region has started to see ongoing construction projects, sites of proposed mega-developments, areas threatened by mining, and other sensitive areas in need of careful attention. I found an ally in LightHawk’s Mesoamerica program manager, Armando Ubeda who shared my enthusiasm.

 Aerial Photo, Cabo Riviera Marina, Mega-resort Development, Resort, La Ribeira, East Cape, Baja California, Mexico Copyright:©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk
Aerial of Cabo Riviera Marina a large resort under development on the East Cape of Baja California, Mexico
Copyright:©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk

When my phone rang earlier this year, it was Armando asking if I would be willing to donate my time to pilot LightHawk’s Cessna 206 for a photography mission over Baja. Would I ever. What ended up as a 10-day photography expedition began, for me, on May 17th with a commercial flight to Mazatlan.

Day 1 – Off to Sea

Arizona pilots are not accustomed to flying long distances over water. As I picked up LightHawk’s meticulously maintained Cessna 206 in Mazatlan, I did my best to suppress my apprehension for the ferry flight to San Jose del Cabo to begin the photo expedition.

I measured the distance on the charts several times and several ways, and sure enough it was less than 200 nautical miles, or less than two hours across the entrance to the Sea of Cortez. Nevertheless, I still took a deep breath as I lifted off and headed into the wild blue yonder with no land in sight for a long time.

© Ralph Lee Hopkins – With Aerial Support by LightHawk
© Ralph Lee Hopkins – With Aerial Support by LightHawk

Friendly Voices in the Sky

Although I thought I’d be on my own while I crossed from the mainland to the Peninsula, I was happy to hear a welcome response from San Jose air traffic control. He saw me on his radar approaching at 90 miles out. Nobody else heard the cheer or the sigh of relief aboard the plane.

The Cessna 206 is well equipped with two navigation systems, as well as a back up.  Before departing, I had donned a self-inflating flotation vest and pulled the six-man life raft up where I might have a chance of finding it in the event of a water landing. Knowing I had Air Traffic Control watching for me, and safety precautions in place, I engaged the autopilot, tuned the radio to Willie’s Roadhouse and broke out the snacks.

When I finally arrived in San Jose, I had logged 1.9 hours on the tachometer and a sense of mission accomplished in bringing the 206 to the tip of Baja so the expedition could begin. The adventure had just begun.

Up Next, Pilot Log #2: Follow Will as he explores a wild (for now?) coastline.

Will Worthington is a LightHawk volunteer pilot and Board Member, registered civil engineer and certified flight instructor. He lives in Carefree, Arizona with his bride of 51 years and flies a Cessna 182 RG out of Phoenix Deer Valley Airport.

Comments

  1. Chris Peterson
    San Diego
    July 31, 2013, 12:24 pm

    I used to fly with Arnold Senterfit, the original Bush Pilot’s of Baja Author. What a class act and a great guy. We would take a group of planes down and stay at the hotel in San Ignacio, about 65 miles away near a small asphalt strip. All the planes would circle over San Ignacio for about 35 -45 minutes and I would lecture about grey whales and take questions all the while flying over the lagoon. There were a few times that we landed on the beach for lunch and sat under the wings for shade. I’m sure Arnold’s book about flying Baja are still out there. He was the Grand Master of flying Baja and new every dirt strip and gas can on the peninsula. You are missed old friend.
    Chris

  2. Murray Bolesta
    Green Valley Arizona USA
    July 23, 2013, 2:36 pm

    Will is my buddy who flew me and some colleagues a few times, a few years ago, on conservation-related flights in the borderlands of Arizona USA. I’m an art & heritage photographer who supports Lighthawk and wish I could do more.

    I visited Baja as a teenager in the 1970s and to me it was something like the Yucatan in that it was wilderness then. Nothing but endless expanses of free and open beaches. The coastlines of both places are now devastated by developers. The coral at Cancun was destroyed within months of being developed by Mexico, by hordes of ignorant tourists scrambling over it with their sunscreen.

    I hope Will’s flights over Baja can contribute to the effort of conserving what’s left of wild nature there.