A spectacular flight from any direction, looking down at the Colorado Plateau’s immense rivers, canyons, and sandstone buttes will astound you. Then land beside the Green River and look up at the beauty of Mineral Canyon.
The Mineral Canyon airstrip lies just north of Canyonlands National Park, about 20 nautical miles southwest of Canyonlands Field Airport (temporarily closed for renovations, check notams) and about 30 nm northeast of Hanksville. It’s marked private on the Denver Sectional, but it’s open to the public. A better chart for Utah’s backcountry strips is the GH-UT Supplemental World Aeronautical Chart. The chart and its companion two-volume book Fly Utah! depict 57 Utah airstrips never before published on aeronautical charts. The chart also shows noise-sensitive areas, roads, waypoint identifiers, and other features, and is made of a waterproof laminated material. There’s also a Backcountry Utah Waypoints database for iPad/ForeFlight. The database and chart are free with purchase of the book. All are invaluable resources found in the cockpits of virtually every Utah backcountry pilot. You can also see approaches and departures to many Utah strips on this DVD.
When you can tear yourself away from flightseeing, head to 38:31.6N, 110:00.3W, monitoring 122.9 MHz. Restricted Area R-6413 is almost never active, but check notams or call Denver Center to verify. I like to arrive high enough for a good look at the terrain, especially when a strip is at the bottom of a narrow canyon, as this one is, because once you’re in the canyon on approach, you won’t see the strip until you’re almost on short final.
Descend into the canyon well up- or downstream of the strip, and then just follow the Green River. Overfly the strip and check for surface conditions, winds, or debris. Do not land if the strip appears wet or muddy. Then go back around for your landing approach. Runway 14/32 is 2,173 feet by 50 feet, at 3,946 feet elevation. Remember the low butte off the north end of the strip. If landing on Runway 14 (downstream), you’ll need to fly over it on a steeper approach or S-turn around it. The slight uphill slope toward the north means the preferred calm-wind runway for landing is 32 (upstream). To go around, just climb out over the river. Park at midfield on either side and tie down; winds can come up quickly. Aviation Consumer rated these the best.
You’ll be camping, of course. Please use Leave No Trace methods, pack out all your trash, and always fly courteously. Bring water or purify the river water, and bury body waste at least 200 feet from the river. Keep a close eye on any campfires—a spark could set the brush on fire.
Now that you’re settled in, it’s time to enjoy these remarkable surroundings. Through yearly flooding, especially after each Ice Age, the river has cut deeply into the layers of sandstone and shale. Those layers represent eons of time, when the Colorado Plateau was alternately covered by great sand dunes and inundated by a shallow sea. A human life is but a moment in comparison, yet I’m always comforted by the realization that these sandstone walls will be here for eons more after we are gone. You can fish, swim, and hike up or down the canyon. You can even mountain bike the road that runs near the strip. Look for dragonflies, the T-rex of the insect world. Once I found a tarantula hawk (thankfully expired; see photo). Listen for the sweet, descending notes of the canyon wren. Enjoy the tranquility. Marvel at the Milky Way.
More formal entertainment can be had by contacting Navtec Expeditions, which offers rafting, canyoneering, and 4x4 tours of the area, or Redtail Air Adventures, which recently hosted Tom Haines, AOPA senior vice president of media, outreach, and communications, at Mineral Canyon. Now he, too, knows: There is no place else on Earth quite like this.
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