Illinois Valley, OR.

By admin on December 22, 2011

One area of Oregon we had not spent much time looking around was that of the very far south of the State around the large town of Ashland on the northern border of California. It’s usually hot down that way in the summer and our preferred method of accomodation during our trips away, which involves a tent, isn’t the best option for the 90+ degree heat. However, the airport at Illinois Junction/Cave Junction looked like it could provide us with a few nights of comfort and the weather forecasts were predicting cooler than average temperatures for the time of year.

Instead of flying directly to Illinois Valley across the forested mountains of the Coast Range we decided it would be more interesting to fly down the coast to the seaside town of Brookings and then turn eastwards across the high terrain to the valley. The Pacific Coast is really a pleasent area of the world to fly over with lots of interesting scenery, it is also much cooler than inland areas and has the benefit of a good number of airports to land at in case of a problem.


Cape Arago Lighthouse just to the south of

We departed Florence in idyllic weather, full sun, nice temperatures and only a slight wind from the north. We transitted to the west of North Bend’s newish class D airspace but still spoke to their ATC who sounded as though they were still getting used to their new turf. If you have ever listened to the coastal weather broadcasts for the Pacific Northwest (useful for more accurate weather information than most other sources) you will instantly recognise many of the features we were to fly over, the first being Cape Arago which is just to the south of the North Bend airspace. Continuing southward you soon cross the seaside town of Bandon and then across another familiar name, Cape Blanco. There is a great little airport at Cape Blanco but is little used as it is located more than 5 miles away from the nearest small town, Port Orford.


Port Orford Head & Dock.

South of Port Orford the landscape changes to a more rugged cliff lined coastline with large numbers of rocky islands that are home to sea birds and seals and which have to be flown over with care. Together all of these islands form the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and pilots area required to allow 2,000ft clearence so as to not disturb the wildlife that live and breed there.


Mack Arch

As we approached Brookings the early morning fog was burning off and dissipating leaving the town and airport clear. The airport is located on the rising terrain to the east of the town at an elevation of 450+ ft., much higher than all the other airports on the Oregon coast. This location helps protect it from the worst of the northerly winds that flow down the coast during the summer but can cause problems when there is low cloud around and when winds are from any direction other than the north. Brookings is one of the busier coastal airports and has its own AWOS and sells both 100LL (AVGAS) and JET-A.


Brookings Airport perched on the edge of a hazy Coast Range.


Early morning fog breaking up just to the south of Brookings.

After a short stop we departed Brookings for Illinois Valley across the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. In 2002 nearly 500,000 acres of the area including most of the Kalmiopsis was burned by a wild fire called the Bisuit Fire and the ‘damage’ can still be seen today with millions of skeletons of dead trees littering the hillsides and valleys. Unlike the thickly forested mountains along the rest of the coast the forest here has been really thinned out dramatically changing the character of the landscape. It’s a popular hiking area with numerous trails to walk along and many fresh fast flowing rivers to swim in.


The Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area on the Coast Range between Brookings and Illinois Valley.


Kalmiopsis erosion.


As Illinois Valley, which is located a few miles away from the easterly slopes of the Kalmiopsis, came into view I put out the usual approach call on the radio and was greeted by an automated airport announcement which included basic weather information. No other aircraft were in the area so I crossed the airport at 2,000ft for a general look-see of the area and then joined the lefthand pattern for runway 36 from the east. Even though the temperature was up in the 80′s and there was a 10kt variable wind blowing in the valley the approach to the 4,800ft runway was suprisingly smooth. We parked up in the tiedown area and were soon investigating the facilities to see if this quiet airport was the stopover opportunity we thought it would be.


Tango Charlie on the Illinois Valley apron.

In 1943 the airport was built by the US Forestry Service as a home for the newly established Siskiyou Smokejumper Base. The purpose of the facility was to be a training and operational base for firefighters who would parachute into remote locations to fight forest fires, it was operational right up until 1981. Nowadays a number of volunteers, including ex. Smoke Jumpers, are establishing a museum here which will hopefully protect the surviving buildings from development and from decay. There is an interesting self guided tour which provides some fascinating information of the base including details on a series of unsuccessful bombing raids by the Japanese on the area during World War II. Apparently the Japanese had an idea of sending aircraft armed with incendiary bombs over on submarines with a mission to set the thick forested areas of Oregon on fire. The few attacks that did go ahead failed but they led to the creation of the base due to the real threat of one being successful.


The Smoke Jumper Base Museum. The museum is run on a volunteer basis and consists of the original Smoke Jumper buildings and interpretation for self guided tours.

The old Smoke Jumper buildings are surrounded by well kept grass lawns and large shade producing trees, and the old shower/toilet block is still in great working order and available for use by visitors. We were welcomed by one of the museum volunteers and he told us to put our tent up anywhere we liked, he told us we were welcome to use all their facilities and even pointed us to a hidden water fountain that would give us cold spring water to drink….it was going to be a great place to stay for a few nights!


Tent at Illinois Valley, a really pleasent place to spend a few nighs under canvas.

The next day after a very comfortable night we got up early for a flight over to Ashland and to have a look around the general area. We departed to the north and gradually climbed up to 6,500ft which was needed to get over the mountains to the east of the valley. It as a bright sunny morning with only a light wind but was forecast to get a lot hotter and windier in the afternoon. Before dropping down into Ashland we decided to fly on a bit further to visit Pinehurst State Airport which which is located 10 miles to the southeast of the town. This airport really is in the middle of nowhere with very little around the area apart from a few houses scattered in amongst the trees. The area around the airport is bowl shaped and surrounded on three sides by gradually rising terrain, it is on the Oregon Department of Transport’s Warning Airport list and here is what they say about it….

Pinehurst State Airport is another low-use airport that has significant emergency value. It is located in the southern Cascade Range between Ashland and Klamath Falls. The airport is often clear when Ashland and Medford are socked in by fog.

The paved 2800′ X 30′ runway is a little more than 400′ short for its elevation of 3650′. The runway was overlaid in recent years, and the tiedown area was paved. The NE – SW runway slopes up to the SW. The first half of the runway is fairly level, but it then slopes up abruptly at about 4%. The airport is surrounded by trees, but the approaches are cleared out for over 1200′ on each end. The trees to the NE are about 50′ tall and the trees to the SW are about 80′ tall. Because of the taller trees to the SW and the slope of the runway, great caution should be exercised when landing to the NE. Strong winds here from almost any direction will cause low level turbulence.

Regular winter maintenance is not scheduled, but local pilots do try to keep the airport open. After the first snowfall it is a good idea to check NOTAMS for the runway status.


Pinehurst State Airport.

On final to runway 22 the narrowness and slope of the runway, and the height of the trees that surround it became much clearer and I could understand why ODOT publish their warnings. There has been a large area cleared of trees just in front of the 22 threshold and this certainly helps the approach, although it does give you the weird impression of descending down into a hole on short final. The runway is just about wide enough to turn the Cessna around on, although there is a wider turning area at each threshold to use if you prefer. The tiedown area is another matter, it is TINY! There is an extremely narrow ‘taxiway’ up to it which is only just wide enough for the Cessna and the whole thing is on quite a slope which would make unpowered maneouvering of an aeroplane very difficult. As we were not staying long and there were no other aircraft around we left Tango Charlie on the taxiway!


Landing at Pinehurst State.


Tango Charlie just about parked on the airport ‘apron’. Not much space to park here but that shouldn’t usually be a problem as not many aircraft fly into Pinehurst.


Looking up the sloping runway 22.

If you like camping in very quiet locations then this airport would certainly be an option but there is nothing around except trees and a few houses. After a short time of exploring the limited facilities we climbed back into Tango Charlie and departed for Ashland on the downhill runway 4 to take advantage of its 4% slope. Instead of climbing out over the terrain to the west of the airport which would entail a couple of climbing turns to gain enough altitude we departed to the south where the hills are much lower.


Pilot Rock which is located 10 miles south of Ashland.

As we skirted westwards around the south side of the higher ground we passed by the impressive looking (and aptly named) Pilot Rock, once past this we turned northbound at Siskiyou Summit which is the highest stretch of the I-5 interstate (4,310 ft elevation). It was at this point we picked up a sudden 40 knot tailwind from the south out of nowhere which took us a bit by suprise but this quickly reduced as we past over the summit and started our descent to Ashland. By the time we were on final for runway 30 the wind was from the north at a leisurely 5 knots.


Ashland Municipal Airport.

Ashland Municipal Airport felt busy with several maintenance companies working on helicopters and some larger aircraft, there was a nice looking FBO, a good number of aircraft on the apron, and a healthy number of aircraft flying around in the pattern. The fuel price was higher than other airports in Oregon but this was probably due to its location near to California where they charge sales tax on fuel. We put enough fuel in our tanks to get us where we needed to go and then walked the short distance to the Oak Tree Northwest Bar & Grill for breakfast….the breakfast was very plentiful and very good!

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