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Soaring in the Heart of New Mexico


Billy Hill

With photos by

Mike Abernathy and Brian Resor

Moriarty, located in the Estancia valley, is home to the Albuquerque Soaring Club which was founded in 1960. Conditions in our little soaring Mecca are indeed unique in that we have; the Monzano shear line, a north/south lift provider, which develops at a point between the airport and the Monzano mountains.
Two pilots enjoy wave flying at 23,000ft thanks to a wave window and cooperation of Albuquerque Center
These same mountains,
A view of the Manzano range looking north with the Sandias near Albuquerque in the distance.
(about a twenty or so mile flight west from Moriarty), also provide both ridge lift as well as mountain wave. By virtue of the local topography, there are days when there is little if any Mountain Wave Primary. However, a second or more likely a third iteration of the wave can develop in the immediate vicinity of the airport. Both the shear line as well as the mountain wave can be used to get one out on course and to better conditions which may have developed either north or south of Moriarty.

Quite often we have mornings when thermals are enhanced by rotor activity,
A December wave day with low clouds over the Estancia Valley.
(or is it the other way around). There are also times when the diurnal effect has not yet created a barrier between the rotor and the yet-to-be thermals. This makes it possible to release in rotor at a relatively low altitude and transition into the laminar portion of the wave.

Then of course we have thermals. Starting in the spring, we can have days when lift is well in excess of 1000fpm. Said lift can extend well
A good soaring day at Moriarty
into class “A” airspace, that is thermals above 18.000 ft! Along with strong lift we have strong sink. More often than not, lift is associated with the cumulus clouds we normally expect to find on a good soaring day. Because of the dry conditions found in the west, there are also “blue” days. On other days we can expect overdevelopment and thunderstorms which can lead to dry micro-bursts.

June and July are generally the best time of year for extended cross-country flying, but away from the airport conditions have been known to start as early as the latter part of February.

One of the more prominent land-marks at the southern end of the Estancia valley is Laguna Del Perro, (the dog lakes). Most years they appear dry….rest assured, they are not! At best there is a thin crust which will readily give
Zulu over the Estancia valley. Notice the "dry" lakes in the background. Estancia is also visible.
way to foot-fall or landing gear. They are good for helping you find your way back to Moriarty, and they can produce some great thermals.

A good portion of the land in the valley is cultivated, (readily identified by the round irrigation circles). There is at least an equal portion in grazing pasture, some of which may be fit for outlanding. Jeep trails which traverse said pastures are not generally landable as they are relatively deep and can snag a wing tip. Best bets
The Estancia Valley can really green up with a good amount of monsoon moisture.
are the cultivated fields which usually contain a circular irrigation system which is to be avoided during approach and landing.

There are some ranch and duster strips scattered throughout the valley but only some can accommodate a fifteen meter glider.

The cultivation abuts the higher terrain south of the town of Willard which is twenty seven miles south of Moriarty. After that, it’s either grazing land or just high desert. Out landings on the higher
The town of Willard is northeast of some prominant irrigation circles. South of this area, the terrain turns into high desert and large ranches.
terrain are not advisable, but there are some ranch-to-market roads on which one might alight. Keep in mind however, there may be phone or power lines running parallel and close to the roads.

Further south and just a bit west is the White Sands Missile Range, which is prohibited airspace. To the southeast is Gallinas Peak and on past that is Lincoln Station. Further south is Carrizozo followed by Sierra Blanca and then Alamogrodo. There can be good soaring in that direction if it’s well marked with Cu.

The terrain to the East of Moriarty rises slightly to a high point
Headed southeast from Moriarty.
before it starts its gradual descent to the east. Clines Corners, one of our turn points is at that juncture. Apparently the government is so enamored with the Corners that they have put in a weather observation station at the point. Occasionally this ridge of higher ground will generate one of the many shear lines which can develop in and around the Estancia basin on a North/South plane. In the general direction of Vaughn and Ft. Sumner, (to the east where the terrain now starts its precipitous descent), can be found the infamous Marfa Dew Point line which is another shear that develops at times during the soaring season. It’s not unusual to find the cloud bases dropping as you head east, but then the terrain elevation is also lower.

Going north past the point where the escarpment
A view of the "escarpment" and also the igneous intrusion that mark the southen boundary of the Galisteo Basin.
drops into
A view of the Galisteo Basin from high in the wave.
the Galisteo valley can be interesting in that there can be copious amounts of sink in that area. A good rule of thumb is that unless the valley north of Stanley is marked with Cu you may want to over fly the higher terrain to the northeast around the White Lakes area and then north from there to the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

On the west side of the southern end of Sangre de Cristos (Sangres) is Santa Fe. On the East side is Las Vegas, New Mexico. Like its more infamous name sake, Las Vegas can be a crap shoot.
This is a view of the east side of the upper Pecos River valley. Las Vegas, NM is found on the other side of this area.
Because it lies on the down wind side of the southern end of the mountain chain, it is quite often a prodigious sink hole so again, if there are not clear signs of lift, it is best avoided.

The Sangre de Cristo range can provide both thermal and ridge lift along with spectacular scenery! Flights north to Taos or even further into Colorado are not uncommon during the height of the season.

Click here for information on flying north on the Sangres

Over and west of the spine of the Sangres the air is quite often dryer.
Santa Fe Baldy viewed from the west. Baldy is north of the Santa Fe Ski Area.
Because of this, a convergence line which runs north and south may develop over or slightly to the east of the spine of the mountain chain. Cloud bases on the west side will be markedly higher. Associated with this line will be tendrils of ragged looking clouds extending down from the higher bases. These clouds which Chip Garner calls “hangy-down-things” will quite often mark the areas of strongest lift along the shear line. My guess is that the hangy-down-things mark the transition between the two different convective condensation levels.

Flights to the northwest toward Cuba or southwest toward Magdalena can be excellent if the Rio Grande valley is marked with solid looking Cu otherwise all the irrigation around and south of Albuquerque can make soaring a bit soft.
The Jemez Valle Grande, part of an ancient volcanic caldera, is seen in this photo looking toward the northwest.

Due west of Tijeras Canyon is the Class C airspace which overlies the city of Albuquerque. The controllers there are user friendly, and if you are transponder equipped, are more than willing to give advisories on 123.9. Same can be said of the ABQ ARTCC, use frequency 133.65 south of I-40 and 132.8 north of it.

Jet traffic departing ABQ and going east is generally routed over the southern end of the Manzanos and will be at or above thirteen thousand feet. Arriving jet traffic from the east can be seen anywhere from over Stanley to over Estancia and at all points in between. Although there is a note on the instrument arrival procedures from the east regarding the presence of gliders, one should never assume
Soaring over typical field in the Estanica Valley.
that airline pilots are looking out the window! Since the advent of TCAS, airline pilots tend to use that piece of equipment to find traffic which may be a conflict for them. Otherwise they are not likely to look out for us. I spent six and one half years as one of their ilk so you can bank on that statement!

During the course of glider operations at Moriarty there have been some close calls and so I cannot overemphasize the importance of watching from high-speed traffic.

If the soaring gods are smiling on us, we can expect warm days with temps in the high eighties or low nineties and humidity in the thirties. This is typical high desert climate
A pilot enjoys the scenery over the Sandia Crest. Seen in the lower right of the photo are the radio towers at the Crest House.
and you must plan accordingly. This means remaining hydrated. Both a lack of water and a lack of oxygen can have severe consequences! There have been too many accidents in which a dehydrated pilot has made a bad decision because they had not drunk enough water. Same can be said of a lack of oxygen.

Survival gear, which includes a gallon or so of water, is a must. You need to be prepared to spend the night with your sailplane. That doesn’t mean that it’s likely to happen, but you must be ready for such a possibility.

Rental sailplanes are available from Sundance Aviation, which is also located at the Moriarty airport. Sundance can be found on the Internet at;

I guarantee you are going to have a great time, make new friends and have some wonderful stories to take back to your home gliderport!

See you in Moriarty!

This page last updated on: Nov 07 2007