Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hike 2016.005 -- Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Blackbird Airpark, and Saddleback Butte State Park, Palmdale, CA

I have a somewhat short attention span. A lot of the time, I'll read something, which will remind me of something, which will remind me of something else. In this case, I think I came across a story about this place in Houston, where they have a full-sized shuttle mock up, mounted on top of one of the actual 747s that they used to transport the space shuttle around the country.
So then I read that the other 747 shuttle transport was in not-too-far-away Palmdale, in a place called, Joe Davies Heritage Airpark. Well, you may recall that, a little less than 3 1/2 years ago, the space shuttle Endeavour was flown around the Los Angeles area, and is now on exhibit at the California Science Center, in south Los Angeles.
So now, having read that one of the shuttle carriers was in Palmdale? Road trip!

So I decided to combine the trip to Joe Davies with a short hike, to the top of Saddleback Butte. That way, it wouldn't just be a long drive for a short wander in a park. It was a long drive, followed by a short walk, then a short drive, followed by a modest hike, then another long drive. ;D
Probably about two dozen aircraft on exhibit at Joe Davies, plus three in the adjacent Blackbird Airpark. In addition to the shuttle carrier, there's a B-52, sitting right next to the 747. Nice to be able to put both in context of size.
The composite transport was also fun, just to tap, and feel that, yes, that's not metal.
Most planes on exhibit (possibly all of them) were developed by Lockheed's Skunk Works, and many were assembled at the nearby manufacturing plant. Nearly all were jets, from the 1960s on forward.
The F-14 (previous shot) was funny, because they had those little spokes on the top of the tail fins, to keep birds from alighting and pooping on the plane.
Across from the T-38 (previous shot) was an F-5 (not pictured), which is basically the same plane, except the T-38 was a trainer version, with two seats. There's also an F-4, directly beyond the T-38, and a lot of 100-series fighter jets, from 100 on to 105.
On the Blackbird Airpark section, there were only three jets: An SR-71, an A-12, and a U-2. There was also a small, unmanned drone.

The A-12 and SR-71 are, to my untrained eye, largely identical; the A-12 was an earlier version of the SR-71.
This shot, and the next one, are of the A-12. The previous one is of the SR-71.
After that, there's the two planes; the one on the left is the SR-71, and the one on the right is the A-12. There's also an A-12 on exhibit outside of the California Science Center, by the way.
These jets are just so sleek. Despite being 1960s technology (though probably the internal sensors were updated numerous times during their operational lives), these planes still look futuristic.
They've also been superseded by either newer planes or newer satellites, which is why these planes are now on static display, here. Meanwhile, to our north, modern aircraft still flew test flights.
From the Airparks, I headed, first east, then north a few blocks, to Avenue J. According to Google Maps, they're about 26 miles apart, and 37-40 minutes to drive on surface streets. So it's a bit of a drive, but not far, if you're already here, in the Antelope Valley. You can certainly both in a decent half-day. In fact, the drive seemed shorter than that. Don't expect to pass much in the way of retail options along the way, however.
Because I forgot my free State Park passes, I parked on 170th Street, which runs along the park's western boundary. That added a slight amount of distance. But the hike up to Saddleback Butte from the campground area is only 1.6 miles each way, so we're talking a total of less than 3.5 miles, roundtrip.
Nice hike because you get such a panoramic view. It's not very high, but it's higher than most that's around you.
San Gabriel Mountains are far to your south. The desert stretches around you. Some Joshua Tree. In the spring, sometimes, a lot of wildflowers.
It's also got running water, flush toilets, and convenient camping. I've done a few nights of astronomy from out here, though not much, recently. For various reasons, I just haven't had as many dark sky nights the past year as I had in the past.

Earlier in the week, I had half a mind to turn this day into an overnight stay. But it was so cloudy during the day, I didn't even bother packing my telescopes.
It's short, and not very steep to the summit, at least not until after the saddle. And, even then, it's just a short 1/8th of a mile or so from there to the summit. A little bit of care is necessary to pick your way to the top. By the time I got there, the broken clouds had turned to gusty and dark. I enjoyed my view, then returned the way I came.

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