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SOUTHWEST AIRSPORTS

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East Potrillo Mountains

Doña Ana County, New Mexico Rated H/P3
     Torrey Paso launch 31°51'53.70"N 107° 0'24.54"W  4,944' MSL 800' AGL – PG
     Bill Cummings (south) launch  31° 49.662'N 106° 59.006'W 4,506' MSL 400' AGL – HG/PG

USHPA required notification: The RGSA and Southwest Airsports recommend that you do not fly at this site as it is not a chapter managed site.  If you do choose to fly at this site, you must take full responsibility for your actions, and recognize that you are fully and solely liable for any damage incurred by yourself, others, or others’ property. This site is unimproved with significant safety issues, including potentially challenging wind and thermal conditions. Flying at this site can be risky to the pilot, property owners, and our sport as a whole. This site is unpermitted, uninsured, unmanaged, and unimproved.

Flyable Conditions

This is the desert.  It is at least an hour of driving and hiking to get to the launch areas so it is a good idea to know the conditions before heading out.  Here are the things to check if you want to successfully soar and get up in the E. Potrillo Mountains.  The range can be flown in thermic conditions, according to your comfort and skill levels but most paragliding instructors do not recommend soaring desert mountain ranges when thermals are strong.

1. Check the most recent balloon soundings for the region (EPZ) to be sure that the winds are SE to about 8,000' MSL.  If there is a strong subsidence inversion above 8,000' MSL, this will help isolate the lower air masses from Jet stream turbulence and other disturbances that may passing through the region.  We have found that the Hachita Valley weather station (#HHRN5 31.702000 -108.34175) is in a similar air mass as the Potrillo range even though it is about 80 miles west of the Potrillos.  This means that if they are east at Hachita, they are east at Torrey Paso launch.  Its data can be retrieved from this MesoWest profile (hover your mouse over the westerly point on the profile for more info).  On the same profile, check the Deming Municipal Airport conditions (#KDMN 32.26222 -107.72056).  If Hachita and Deming are easterly, the Potrillo Mountains will work.  If both are NE to SE at 7 mph or greater, conditions will be adequate to stay aloft over the spine of the mountains. As the winds turn more SE, the air in the Potrillo range gets more turbulent.  We have observed that all of the models can be wrong about wind direction which is why pilots must check Hachita and Deming before heading out.
2. Study this sample Skew-T and text list when conditions were just soarable (Jan 3, 2016).  The soundings showed winds SE but this is due to the effects of the Franklin Mountains east of where the NWS balloons are released.  Easterly winds moving towards the Franklin Mountains will tend to go through the pass that is SE of the NWS station in Santa Teresa.  In other words, balloon soundings below 8,000' MSL (the top of the Franklin Mountains) that have any easterly component will not be accurate per the direction of the air mass about 10 miles east and west of the Franklin Mountain range.  As the air mass gets near the Potrillo ranges, its direction will not be influenced by the Franklin Mountains.
If you do not how to read a balloon sounding, the weather section of this site has instructions on how to read balloon soundings, among other things.  Our sport is intolerant of pilots who do not take the time to study the weather carefully.

Description

This was one of the days when you drop everything and go flying.  Buzz Nelson follows a cloud street after launching from Torrey Paso and first to do it in this region.  He is flying northwest from the E. Potrillo Mountains on his way to Mt. Riley (the mountain in the foreground).  "No name" is just behind and Mt. Cox is to the left of the three sisters.  Photo by Buzz.

paragliding in the E Potrillo Mountains, NM

The East Potrillo Mountains – view looking southeast.  Photo by Glenn Tupper.

East Potrillo Mountains photo by Glenn Tupper

Directions to the Torrey Paso launch.  Directions to the Bill Cummings (south) launchGoogle Earth image of an overview of this range.  This site is off the grid and has intermittent cell service, depending on your carrier.  Access to the Torrey Paso LZ does not require 4 wheel drive but it greatly helps getting close to launch.  Access to the Bill Cummings (south) launch requires 4 wheel drive.

Rated H/P3.  This range is (7) miles long and is located in south central New Mexico running SSE to NNW.  Because of its orientation and slope, it is well suited for ridge soaring with winds from ESE to NE, especially in weak conditions.  In laminar conditions, pilots can stay up in light winds if they stay close to the terrain. However, do not fly close to the terrain if there is any chance of turbulence caused by thermals.  In the winter, on cloudy days, or late/early in the day the risk of turbulence is negligible. It is never good to fly when a strong Jet is overhead as gusting in the high desert can be severe and sudden if there is any chance of mixing due to the absence of an inversion between where we fly and the Jet.  If a trough or some low pressure disturbance is going overhead, that can also cause the Jet to mix to the surface.

Jason Tilley soaring above Torrey Paso launch.

paraglider soaring over the East Potrillo Mountains

When winds are westerly, benching up and soaring might be possible but LZ options are more limited.  That is, if you land out somewhere it will be a long hike as there are few access roads on the west side of the range.

Soaring over the top of the range.  View is northwest with Mt. Cox (L) and Mt. Riley (R) in the distance.  The pilot in this photo went all the way to the north end of the range.

East Potrillo Mountains, south central New Mexico

With easterly winds more than 6-7 it should be possible to fly the entire range from end to end but it will take skill navigating a deep saddle in the south end.  Buzz Nelson and Max Montgomery have flown the entire length of the range in a single flight.  When winds are strong 15+, pilots have to be careful not to get blown over the back.  The lift band extends over 1/2 mile out front under these conditions, so it is easy to stay clear of the faster air going over the crest of the mountains.  When thermic conditions are present, Buzz and Max proved that pilots can get away to the west and northwest, even getting to the thermal goldmines in the Potrillo Volcanic Field (15) miles northwest of the range.

View south from launch.  Pilot is Lee Boone

East Potrillo Mountains

Looking east from near the Torrey Paso launch.  In the far distance (32 miles away) are the Franklin Mountains of El Paso.  Lee is getting ready to launch.  Here is the HD video of his launch from Torrey Paso.

East Potrillo Mountains

View north from Torrey Paso launch.  The basalt cliffs of Kilbourne Hole maar are just visible in the distance.  The launch area is relatively clear of bushes and big rocks.

East Potrillo Mountains

Looking northwest from Torrey Paso launch and over the back (this is the west face of the E. Potrillo mountains).  This photo was taken in the same spot as the photo above but turned 90 degrees.  There are countless fingers running out from the crest on the west face of these mountains which would make flying the range with southwest winds difficult because of turbulence.  There are no roads running along the west face – you will have miles of hiking if you land on this side of the range.

East Potrillo Mountains

Torrey Paso Launch

The most accessible launch site is Torrey Paso (see below). Flyable with winds from ESE to NE.  When the air is SE, the air tends to be turbulent as it rolls over the fingers out in front.  Being just below a saddle in the range, the venturi created by the narrow saddle increases the speed of the air coming in at launch.  This makes the site ideal when conditions may be too weak near the surface to get up and out (usually the case).

Wind gradients are significant in the desert southwest because of the rough terrain and greatly affect our ability to launch and stay up.  Once up and above the surface of the earth a few hundred feet, we are able to stay aloft.

It is about 15 minutes to hike to Torrey Paso launch.  The actual launch area is at the south end of the saddle and in front where there is a small clearing. When conditions are strong, it may be best to launch from the parking area and bench up.  Follow the road from the LZ up the east face, park, and then hike the rest of the way.  We are working on a lower launch that is safer when winds are strong (so no one will get blown over the back).

In moderate conditions, the full range is flyable.  In strong conditions, the lift band is over a 1/2 mile out in front.

In weak conditions, pilots should turn immediately left (NNW) after launch, stay close to the terrain, and stay in the north end The Bowl (the lift band which goes about 1/2 mile NNE).  If you go further, you will quickly sink out.  Thermals from the fingers just north of launch wick their way up to the peak right above.  The best thermals in these conditions are about 500' out in front of the peak.

The LZ is huge and unobstructed.  However, skilled pilots can land on the road to the parking area to save a 1/4 mile hike.  Near the end of the day (an hour before sunset), the katabatic flow out of the mountains (like everywhere else in the southwest) can be significant.  Winds aloft and near the surface can be 180 degrees different so be ready to land going downwind.  This means landing flares must be very deep and you may have to run it out.  Fortunately, the main LZ is fairly flat and, if you have a wind sock planted, you should be able to land into the wind without going uphill.

East Potrillo Mountains

Max Montgomery launching from Torrey Paso launch.  The launch is not sheer in front so pilots can safely abort a run.  Buzz Nelson carefully groomed this launch area for us.  Photo by Buzz.

paragliding in the E Potrillo Mountains, NM 

BENCH SITE

This site is above the parking area near and below Torrey Paso launch.   With strong east winds, this area should provide good benching possibilities for both HG and PG.  It is on a spine right at the base of the bowl. With strong east winds, this area should provide good benching possibilities for both HG and PG.  It is on a spine right at the base of the bowl.

BILL CUMMINGS LAUNCH

This launch site is not as good as Torrey Paso but is accessible by motor vehicle.  It is the only site that faces true east (which is why it works better for SE winds).  It is accessible by 4 wheel drive and is more suitable for hang gliders as it has a steeper slope than the Bench Site above the Torrey Paso LZ.  Winds may be stronger overall at the South launch as well.  Launching in westerly winds might be possible but is not recommended.  Here are the directions to the launch site.

Below is the view from launch looking east.  The Franklin Mountains are visible in the far distance.  The launch slopes down about 45 degrees to the flats.

East Potrillo Mountains

Our thanks to Bill Cummings and David Grant for their assistance and advice in improving this site.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

Launching from the steep slopes and cliffs in the desert mountains requires excellent kiting skills.  It is hazardous to inflate and then immediately turn before stabilizing your glider overhead for a few seconds or more.  Many pilots have damaged their equipment and been banged-up attempting to launch in the often turbulent air that characterizes the desert air we fly in.  Pilots must have the skills to kite a glider overhead under control before attempting a launch, especially in strong air.  In addition, all pilots should master inflating their gliders with the A's in one hand and the C's or D's in the other.  You may have to de-power your glider at any moment and this is the only way you can safely do it while attempting a launch.  Pulling deep on the brakes does NOT de-power your glider!  In addition, you will not have time to go searching for the correct risers if things start to go wrong and you do not have the correct ones in your hands.  Jamming the brakes will only make things worse.  If you need training on how to do this, we can help.

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