WOW (Women of West Valley Flying Club) would have made quite an entrance had we arrived into Columbia by plane as prospectors 160 years ago. Instead, the date was Thursday September 12th 2012 and we had the benefits of aerodynamic engineering and norcal to guide us.
|Arrival at Columbia Airport (O22)|
How life has changed since this time but not for Columbia State Historic Park where the main gold rush town of Columbia has become preserved for posterity. A total of 16 WOW pioneers flew over from the Bay Area’s six different airports in 6 different planes ranging from C172s, C182s, Cherokees, and a Piper Dakota seeking riches in the form of lunch and laughter. Not only did we have WOW members, but many members of local 99s chapters joined us. We were also met at the airport by a local glider pilot (friend of one of our pilots) who shared lots of local color.
Being non-towered, the flight into Columbia was a choice between runway 17 (calm) or runway 35 (not-so-calm) and most pilots cautiously opted for 35 with a left downwind arrival. I couldn't help noticing a small hill momentarily obstructing the numbers as Amanda - our skilled student pilot - went from downwind to base. With an elevation of 2,120 MSL there was no doubt about it, we'd gone up the hill a bit. The area is also prone to wildfires and the stationed Cal Fire unit at Columbia was hard to miss at what is currently its busiest time of year. Several WOW's watched as a 30,000 pound Grumman S-2T air tanker carrying 1200 gallons of fire retardant weighing an additional 20,000 pounds struggled to get airborne and utilize the full 4670 feet of runway 17.
|Lunch at the Saloon|
The next exciting installment was an adventurous 15 minute stroll that meandered from the airport to Jack Douglass Saloon in the town passing many a marble limestone outcrop and the odd lizard. This saloon is said to be one of the oldest watering holes in the west (yee-haw) and served some refreshing locally made wild cherry flavored Sarsaparilla - the 1850s name for root beer - and some pretty good food. The 'humongous Douglass deluxe nachos' gets the big thumbs up but only if you're really hungry and have a friend or three to share it with.
Columbia was a fun destination and at 88 miles from Palo Alto airport, it was just far enough away to feel like you were experiencing a very different part of California and all within an hour by plane. Next time we really should do a spot of gold panning. There can't be a better endorsement to travel by plane than this.
(written by Jayne Pearce/edited by Sue Ballew)