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  Field Notes From
Sky-High Over the Sonoran

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View Field Notes
From Photographer and Author

Adriel Heisey

Unfiltered for authenticity, these accounts have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Over the Sonoran

Field Notes From Photographer and Author
Adriel Heisey
I was flying over the immense dunes of Mexico’s Desierto de Altar, catching the dramatic light of sunrise. The brilliant pastel sky reflected on the pale sand. And for 20 or 30 minutes, I was up there alone, engulfed in a world of color. Yet the experience was bittersweet. It was the ultimate of what I try to achieve with my flying and photography, but I was keenly aware of how far away I was from my own world of civilization and humanity. If anything had gone wrong, I was facing a major ordeal being stranded in the desert. Still, I reveled in the exquisite solitude and uniqueness of the environment. I made camp next to the Colorado River where it approaches the Gulf of California. Tensions are high in this border area because of illegal immigration and the drug trade. But it’s flat vacant land, ideal for operating my light plane. So I stayed for several days.
The morning before I left, a platoon of Mexican soldiers armed with rifles rolled up in a humvee. I don’t speak Spanish, and my friend only speaks a little, but it was obvious to us that they were looking for trouble.
They immediately fanned out and surrounded the camp, searching everything. It was very tense for a while. These were young men who were probably bored out of their minds. The plane is skeletal; there’s nowhere to hide anything. So it became obvious to them that we weren’t up to any illicit operations. Then the mood eased, and they proceeded to clean me out of ice water. My friend managed to explain what we were doing there, and they became fascinated. There is a James Bond aspect to it, with the folding plane and attached cameras. They were so interested that they stayed for a couple of hours. We couldn’t get rid of them!
Despite preparation and the right permits, I didn’t really grasp what would happen when I took my plane across the border into Mexico the first time. When I opened the trailer for inspection, I felt so naked. I knew the agent was going to spend time going over the plane because it wasn’t very obvious what I was doing with it. After he went through all my stuff and checked my paperwork, the agent gave the impression that everything was OK. Then he focused his attention on the plane. He was fascinated with the propeller, the engine, and the parachute. I held my breath as he climbed in, put on the helmet, and started flicking switches and moving the throttle. Suddenly, to my surprise, this grown man started making engine sounds, like a kid pretending to fly. He was putting on a real show as his buddies came over to watch. And I had no choice but to stand there and wait for him to finish having his fun. When he finally got out and let me through, I realized that those few minutes of play were my price of admission.

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