launch at Valle de Bravo, Mexico powered paraglider launching from Evergreen Turf farms

SOUTHWEST AIRSPORTS

paragliding training center

Risk management plan for Southwest Airsports

Updated January 2, 2018

Student Preparation and requirements

We have every student sign the all applicable waivers before they can receive instruction from us. Our waiver has a health questionnaire section which requires all students to declare that they are fit for the sport and have no medical or mental conditions that could interfere with their piloting a paraglider.  If they indicate that they might have such a condition, they are requested to not sign the waiver and ask for a full refund of any tuition paid.

Students are monitored during all activities for signs of problems. Students are encouraged to bring water and wear breathable clothing as well as shoes that provide ankle support. We also bring bottled water and encourage pilots to drink water often. A complete first aid kit is kept inside our truck at all times and is quickly accessible. (see Emergency Action Plan

Students are not allowed to attach to the glider without having a helmet on. This is standard procedure.  Students must do a verbal pre-flight check before launching and if they detach from any of their equipment and wish to launch again.  Students must land before other students can fly.  Only one PG student at a time is allowed in the air.  Multiple PPG students may be allowed to fly at the same time.  Since the farms are flat, the students do not attach emergency parachutes to their harnesses as the use of them would not be effective at the maximum heights experienced during training.

Radios are used to maintain contact with students at all times when they are in the air.

Acceptable Flying Conditions

This is the desert and wind direction and speed can vary dramatically, especially 3+ hours after sunrise and 2- hours from sunset.  Therefore, we do not train from +3 hours after sunrise to -2 hours from sunset during the spring, summer, and fall.  However, this can change if there is extensive cloud cover that suppresses thermal development or it is during the winter months.  Morning training is generally the best.  If winds are less than 12 mph from any direction we will train.  With new pilots, the winds must be less than 5 mph.  There must not be any significant gusting as this usually indicates mixing of the surface air with higher speed winds aloft.  The turf farms facilitate training with winds from any direction.  Most mornings, the winds are still or under 4 mph.  Such conditions help students improve their launch and landing skills.  Often enough, the winds in the early AM can quickly switch direction, a characteristic of the light winds we find in the high altitude desert.

Mini-wings

Mini-wings are defined by Southwest Airsports as a canopy less than or equal to 18 square meters.  It is strongly advised that mini-wings not be flown in moderate to strong thermic conditions.  This judgment is up to pilot discretion.  In general, from spring to fall months, it is recommended to launch during the first 3 hours after sunrise or during the last 2 hours before sunset.

Mini-wings are permitted at the following sites without instructor supervision only if the pilot is a current USHPA member and if the pilot holds the appropriate M1 or M2 rating, as specified at each of the following site descriptions:

  1. Evergreen Turf Farms: Towing will be done under instructor supervision. No M rating required.
  2. Agave Hill: NOT FLYABLE Due to shallow launch angle, this is not a desirable launch for mini-wings.
  3. N Mount Franklin: M1
  4. Nelsons: M1 with strong kiting skills and confidence with austere LZs. Initially shallow and rocky launch which then drops vertically several meters. Abortable launch in first 15 meters.  Ideally launch with 7mph due to launch angle and terrain features.
  5. Dry Canyon HG Launch: M2 due to unabortable cliff launch (Not a Southwest Airsports training site).
  6. Dry Canyon PG Launch: M1 with strong kiting skills and confidence with austere LZs. You must run between ocotillo and rocky terrain. Ideally launch with 7-18 mph winds as slope is initially shallow for smaller mini-wings. Recommended 14 square meter wing or larger due to slope angle.  (Not a Southwest Airsports training site).
  7. Mag Rim: M1
  8. Lee's Lookout: M2
  9. Anapra: M1  Caution in winds > 10mph on launch to not be blown back into barbed wire fence which is about 15 yards west of launch area. It is advisable to set up on the slope itself in such wind conditions. Large LZ free of obstacles. Do not fly south of border fence into Mexico.
  10. Mt Riley: M1  North launch: preferable to have 5mph winds to aid in shallow slope take-off as well as to reverse launch to make sure the many thorny bushes do not snag a line. There are abundant cacti to avoid on launch. Avoid north launch in 12mph or higher winds as the north launch sets you up downwind of either Mount No-Name (in north winds) or Mt. Cox (in NW winds) unless you have a perfect ~330 degree wind passing between the two. Fly west and eventually south to land on 4x4 access road to avoid aforementioned rotor. East and South launches: steep enough for zero wind forward launches. Austere LZ: you have the entire desert, take care to avoid little canyons, but there are plenty of flat areas without too much vegetation.

Training Sites

The following sites are used by Southwest Airsports for training purposes:

  1. Evergreen Turf farms
  2. Agave Hill
  3. Lee's Lookout
  4. North Mt. Franklin
  5. Magdalena Rim
  6. Nelsons
  7. Anapra
  8. Mt Riley

1. Evergreen Turf farms

Overview

The turf farms are owned Evergreen Turf P.O. Box 18 Santa Teresa, NM 88008.  Southwest Airsports operates there by verbal permission of the owner.  Such permission could be rescinded at any time.  Evergreen Turf requires 3rd party liability insurance from us.  Students and any visitors accompanying them can visit and use the turf farms time but care must be taken not to drive on the grass or disturb in any way the farm operations.  The turf farms are located in a remote part of southern New Mexico, well away from populated areas.

Southwest Airsports has been teaching at the turf farms for 9+ years.  The site has previously been covered by the local chapter’s site insurance.

Because the site is private property and posted, we can train without interference from the public or any other passersby except the employees and staff of Evergreen Turf.  The particular turf farm we train at is approximately 100 acres in size.  It is a huge circle and we can set up our towing operations with winds in any direction.  Because we usually train on weekends, there are no men working on the farms so we have, virtually, a private park to train in.  We help the property owners by keeping an eye on things.  When anyone connected with the operations gets within a 100 yards or so of our operations, we stop everything and wait for the area to clear.

Obstacles

There are two obstacles at the turf farms which pilots must avoid.  One is the irrigation equipment, a long elevated pipe on wheels that is 1,000' long.  The other obstacle(s) is/are farm workers and their machinery.  We always set up so that the irrigation equipment is on one side of the farm or the other from us.  This gives us hundreds of feet of clearance.  We also setup so that the launch direction is completely clear of the equipment.  We direct students to land in the 50+ acres that is on the opposite of the equipment.  The equipment is easily visible from the air.  We do not launch pilots if there are any workers or any farm machinery within approximately 500' feet of our flight operations.  Farm staff and employees are aware of our operations and know to stay clear if they see a pilot in the air.

Parking

Everyone must park closely adjacent to the winch which allows a maximum area to land near the launch point near the winch.  When necessary, less experienced pilots will be asked to land in clear areas of the farm.

Visitors & Spectators

Children are not allowed at the turf farms during training.  All visitors must stay clear of the winch and launch areas.  They are not permitted to speak to the pilots when the winch is running or there are pilots in the air.

2. Agave Hill

31.913033° -106.506967° 5,335' MSL 600' AGL Rated H/P3 or H/P2 with an instructor present
LZ 31.910659° -106.519001°

It is flyable with winds from 220° to 320°.  Best winds are winds from 240° - 260° at 8 - 12 mph for PG.  When winds are less than 240°, ridge lift is much less and there is a lot turbulence at launch from the base of N Mt. Franklin.  When winds go north of 260°, the site becomes turbulent because of the small mountains in front.  Conditions fade an hour before sunset and you will not likely be able to bench up.  If conditions are weak or it is late in the day, go to Lee's Lookout instead.

We suggest that visiting pilots fly the site with a guide because of potential hazards soaring the Franklin Mountains.  Contact us or the RGSA.  All pilots must register with the authorities before flying Agave Hill which is located in Franklin Mountains State Park.

Introduction

The Franklin Mountains present exciting and challenging flying, especially for soaring.  Because of direct exposure to the west and with no other mountain ranges out front, the range has excellent ridge soaring.  On average days, an experienced pilot can soar over 1,500' higher than the highest peak.

Significant skill is required to successfully fly Agave.  You will perfect your benching abilities as getting up and out is not easily done (see below for notes on how to do it).  The shopping centers, parking lots, and industrial buildings west of the Park are a constant source of thermals that drift into the mountains.  These thermals, combined with ridge lift, make this the amazing site that it is.  Make sure you have a GPS – you must always know your speed over the ground.  At slow speeds, you may be going forward or backward – make sure you know which.  Launch is near the top of the daily inversion which covers the Rio Grande valley and can make the air at launch variable.  Pilots need to time their launch carefully at the beginning of the cycle in order to get up and out.

Gusting forecasts & Jet Stream Info: It is important to note that overhead disturbances, thermal activity, and the Jet stream can greatly affect our flying in the region.  Thermals and atmospheric disturbances can cause the Jet to mix down to the surface and cause dangerous sheer turbulence.  If you see any gusting in the hourly forecasts and the Jet is overhead, our experience is: stay on the ground – unless you want to rock and roll.  In general, it is best to stay on the ground if there is any gusting in the forecasts.

Expectations for student pilots

Students launching from Agave for the first time have the advantage of a shallow slope launch that is over 50 yards in length, a broad area behind launch that is safe and open in the case of some mishap while launching, and a large area to safely land out front.  The site has no rotor or obstacles out front when the prevailing winds are in effect (240 degrees).

For P2 students, winds at launch should be 240 degrees and less than 10 mph.  There should be little or no thermal activity.  They should stay to the left (south) as they head out and aim for the access road west of the check-in office.  Setup is easy and forgiving as there is plenty of altitude reach the road (the LZ).  If, for some reason, the student gets low after launch, he will want to stay out of the few gullies which are directly in front of launch and, instead head for the higher parts of the slope out front or the jeep trail that goes just east of the access road before it turns northeast.  The instructor will guide the student, if needed.  Traffic is light on the road.  If the pilot sees a vehicle coming, he should land in the bushes that are to the left of the road (south side).  The downside is that his glider lines will likely get caught and this will require some time to extract them.  The right side of the road may be used but it has larger bushes and is closer to the main drainage arroyo for the Park and has large rocks which the pilot could trip over when landing.

P3 students may venture up to 1.5 hours on either side of dusk and dawn to experience weak thermals out front.  They can launch and fly left or right.  If turning right, they can explore the house thermal (see below) and attempt to stay aloft.  If they sink out, they can head for the road which goes to the parking lot for Mundy’s Gap (this is the road they drove up and then parked. The road slopes down for ¼ mile and is very easy to land on. If there is a vehicle on the road simply land right next to the road on either side. As with nearly everywhere around this launch site, there will be low bushes that will easily grab glider lines which must be carefully extracted.

All students must be alert to:  1.) the presence of vehicles on the roads (our landing areas) and land in the bushes if there are any vehicles nearby.  2.) there are arroyos out front which must be avoided because of the presence of rocks which can cause pilots to trip while landing.  More advanced students can land in the arroyos (not advised) but must avoid the rocks carefully.  Other than the few arroyos and the presence of vehicles there are hundreds of acres out front where a pilot can land – and walk out.

Directions

Please contact us or the RGSA for directions.

Launch

If the winds are 240° there is some turbulence at the launch face caused by the Triangle and the canyons in front but it is benign. There are no cliffs or major obstacles either in front or behind launch which means it's easy to bail in case you need to.  The area in front of launch has adequate lift if the winds are coming in over 7 mph.  Soaring is possible with as little 5-6 mph if you launch at just the right part of the cycle (at the beginning).  To get to the top of the mountains see "Benching up from the Triangle" below.  Stay away from the vortex at Mundy's Gap (the saddle northeast and behind launch).   The house ridge lift/thermal is at the north end of the launch area (see image below).  Do not fly behind launch unless you are certain the winds aloft (6K') are less than 15 (PG only).  Top landing at Agave is possible.  Be patient getting up and out.  You must utilize the house thermal that is about 100m north of launch unless the winds are over 12+.  In that case, you will need to worry about being blown over the back from the higher winds aloft.

Winds Aloft

Be certain to check winds aloft before arriving at launch.  If it's over 20 mph at 9K', do not fly (PG) as you can get blown over the top of the range which would be an adventure.  The presence of the Triangle to the south and the vortex at Mundy's Gap to the northeast always affect the winds at launch.  Winds will always tend to be southwesterly regardless of whether winds aloft are much more west and even northwest.  If winds aloft are too southerly (less than 240°) you will notice more turbulence at launch, no lift out front, quirky air, and, especially, the presence of sink out in front.  Nonetheless, none of these conditions are particularly hazardous = sled ride to the bottom but you may not reach the LZ.  Landing somewhere out front means a hike to the road and, perhaps, picking your glider out of the bushes.  Stay out of the arroyos because of rotor/turbulence when landing short.  Pilots have landed everywhere out front and have not experienced any particularly hazardous conditions.  Stay to the south of launch as much as possible if you have to land short.  It will be a pleasant and easy sled ride. More experienced pilots can land in the parking lot at the base of the trail going up to Agave and thus save themselves a long hike back to their vehicles.

Remember: This is the desert and air during mid-day, especially during the summer months, can be challenging.  Less experienced pilots should stick to the early AM or late PM outside the late fall and winter months.  Laminar air is almost always present late in the day and dreamboat soaring in the Franklins occurs at that time.  Thermals can be gigantic and sharp-edged here, as in the Owens Valley.  Always check the weather or with us before flying.

LZ

The Park authorities have graciously permitted us to land on Park roads.  A sled ride from launch will provide adequate altitude to land just beyond (SE of) the check-in cabana or, better, to land on the road just southwest of the parking area at the base of the trail that goes to Agave Hill.  That way, you can hike back up to launch if you failed to bench up the first time.  It is advisable to put up a streamer on the side of the road as wind direction can change often.  If you land near sunset, be cautious of the katabatic flow that comes down the mountains.  It can be just 20' thick going west and the air just above it can be moving east = do NOT land near the mountains if it is late in the day but land on a high spot out in front of the Park.  While pilots can land safely anywhere in the flats in an emergency, it is best to stick to established roads, cleared areas, and trails.  Be sure to personally check out the LZ's before using them.

Going over the Back

If you go over the back of the range, head northeast or you will fly into the controlled airspace ("C") of El Paso International Airport that begins at the north/south Patriot Freeway (Hwy 54).  The moment you sense you are going backwards, get as high in lift as you can and then once you start descending again (after you are downwind of the range), turn tail with full speed bar away from the mountains.  If you can, stay out of the controlled airspace.  Land anywhere safe as far away as possible from the mountains.  Your ground crew or other pilots will call the airport if you must land in controlled airspace and notify them of the emergency so don't worry about that – just land safely. 

Benching up from The Triangle

With a minimum of 150' (300' is best) over launch, it is possible to fly south over Deep Sink Canyon and get to The Triangle where there is ridge lift and thermals going right to the top of the mountains (see the image below).  The Triangle works with air the same way water runs down your arm and off your elbow.  There are many ridges that go up from the base and connect at the top and so on.  Thermals follow these ridges up and can merge at the top.  The very top of the Triangle has a sum of all the thermals going up the ridges.  Thermals have a period of about 5 minutes so you must be patient once you are aloft.  Wind velocity periods are about 2+ minutes.  If you don't have the necessary height over launch, head for the LZ.  If the winds are not northwest, you can head for the road leading to the parking area from which you hiked.   The Triangle is bisected by two smaller triangles at the bottom.  If you are near or above the top of the smaller triangle to the north, you will be at a sufficient altitude to bench up.  In other words, if you are above launch and can look straight across to the top of this smaller triangle, head across Deep Sink Canyon.   You may have to soar the Triangle a while as you wait for a thermal to blow in from the valley.  If winds are weak, be patient!  If you do not know how to turn flat and conditions are weak, you will probably sink out.

Watch your forward speed at all times when getting high at the Triangle! If you think you are being blown backwards, apply full speed bar immediately and head straight out or south into the sinky area directly in front of N. Mount Franklin (between the ridges).  You may have to juggle this maneuver with big ears.  The gradients in the Franklins are substantial and going out and down will quickly get you out of the fast air.  Lift is everywhere upwind of the range and you will find it a mile or more out in front 1+ hours either side of sunrise/sunset.  It is not advisable to fly PG in the summer between 10:30AM and 5:30PM – the thermals are very strong and turbulence near the terrain can be unnerving.  Launching in the late afternoon pretty much guarantees a smooth ride to the top but things die at launch an hour before sunset.  Stay within The Triangle as much as possible as there is bad sink/rotor in the canyons on either side.  Once you are a few hundred feet above the top of The Triangle, you can drift back towards N. Mt. Franklin.  If you find yourself going down, head back to The Triangle and try again. Be patient.

Google Earth image of Agave Hill

Dragon's Mouth

The Dragon's Mouth (DM) greatly affects the winds and lift in this part of the Franklins.  When getting near or crossing Transmountain gap (State Hwy #375) from the south, it is important to be at 7,000' MSL or above as there is no lift and, if winds are >12 out in front, there is a risk of being sucked into the Pass – it is powerful vortex.  When approaching the Pass from the north, the pilot will already be at 7,000' or above and there will be a slight tailwind so crossing the gap is much faster (and safer) than coming from the south.    (Please see image below.)

Dragons Mouth - Franklin Mountains State Park

Coming north is usually harder.  In the image above and below there is a little hill just to the upper left of the red circle called Secret Hill.  If you are coming from the south, you want to be sure your starting altitude is at least 7,000' and then crab north directly over the ridge.  If you can get to Secret Hill and be level with it, you are home free.  Then, just follow the ridge right back up to the top of N. Mt. Franklin.  The lift is superb north and above Secret Hill because it works much like the Triangle – thermals wick up the ridges and pop off the top of this hill.  Always watch your ground speed carefully!  Come down immediately and land anywhere if you start going backwards.  Unlike flying through gradients, you will not easily know that your airspeed over the ground is decreasing.  The change starts slowly and then increases rapidly as you get near DM.  Mundy's Gap should also be avoided but is nothing like the Pass at Transmountain.  Make sure your speed bar is attached and working properly before launching.  This is the most hazardous area of the Franklins but is easily avoided.

Below is the view a pilot should have before crossing Transmountain.  He is well above the peak of N. Mt. Franklin (>7,200').  You will lose over 1K' crossing the gap.  Stay west of the ridge by crabbing as you go north.  As long as you can stay west of the ridge and move north, you will cross the gap.  However, if you stop moving north it means that the wind velocity at the gap is the same as your forward speed!  You can use some speed bar to continue but be careful.  If you do not think you can reach Secret Hill, turn south immediately and land at the country club (easily visible with its fairways and greens).  The DM is a giant sucking machine and gets worse the lower and east you go.

If you get sucked into the DM, don't panic – turn east, hit the speed bar, and stay as high as you can.  Follow the strong air out of the mountains which means follow the highway.  It will be an adventure but probably harmless.  Sometime, we will launch an RC model airplane or a helium balloon and watch it go through the DM and let the world know what happens.

view of the Franklin Mountains from a paraglider

Miscellaneous

It is possible to explore the canyons and ridges of the Franklin Mountains.  You can top land on some of the ridges and local pilots have set up for landing on them a number of times.  The only reason we can think of for doing this is if you must land quickly for some reason, like avoiding the Dragon's Mouth.  You will probably have to hike out as the bushes make wing inflation difficult.  Top landing on North Mount Franklin is possible and safe but it is unlikely because of the presence of strong lift until dusk.  If a pilot wants to wait out in front until near dusk (when conditions subside), he can top land and then do a sled ride down but then he has to face the katabatic flow in the LZ.  Thanks to World War II, the top is flat and level, except for a small radio tower (less than 20' high). Always check winds aloft.  You will not enjoy flying the Franklins if winds aloft are faster than your glider's top speed.  Katabatic flow down the mountains begins at dusk and makes landing more difficult as the pilot will be landing in a weak downwind = higher ground speed with the possibility of air just above going the opposite direction.  Be READY for this if you plan to fly late.  This daily flow is often strong enough to overcome the prevailing wind.  This means that the pilot will find himself flying in air going the opposite direction as he descends below about 300' AGL.  Above this altitude, the winds may still be strong enough to keep the pilot in ridge lift.  When in doubt fly to and then land on a ridge a mile or two west of the mountains as the katabatic flow will be much weaker there.

Pilot Registration

Pilots must register in order to fly in Franklin Mountains State Park.

3. Lee's Lookout

31.877933° -106.500250° 5,520 MSL 1,000' AGL
LZ 31.910659° -106.519001° and 31.876146° -106.519084°
Bail LZ's: PG/HG 31.871923° -106.507787°   PG only 31.882664° -106.507055°

WARNING: Pilots must have expert launching skills!  Do not attempt to fly this site if you cannot safely launch from a 45-degree sloped postage-stamp!

Introduction

Lee's Lookout continues to be our best west-facing site for flying in the Franklin Mountains State Park.  It is named after local pilot Lee Boone, the discoverer of the site.  It is a vertical (12) minute hike from the Transmountain Pass highway (SR #375).  As pilots will enter the Park, they must be registered and have paid the daily use fee (or have a Texas State Park pass).  Here is the info for registration and passes, go here.

Lee's Lookout should be flown when: 1.) It is too weak to launch from Agave.  2.) Wind direction at Santa Teresa (the National Weather Service location in our region) is west to southwest (PG only).  PG pilots should not launch if winds are northwest – the site is too small to safely inflate a glider with this wind direction.  If winds at the surface are west/southwest and greater than 8-10, launch from Agave is much safer.  HG pilots can launch in any direction.  Lee's Lookout has the advantage of being just above the daily inversion which reaches about 5,000' MSL.  It will have sufficient air to launch when Agave is calm.  Its proximity to the Dragons Mouth (DM) ensures that any west component in the wind will be almost southwest at launch due to the strong vortex at DM which makes launch easier when conditions are weak everywhere else.  Launch is tight (10 yd. x 10 yd.).  If PG pilots walk down the steep slope some ways and lay their wing out near the edge, inflation is easier.  The downside is that the pilot cannot see his lines until the glider comes up – someone helping can scan them.  HG should not have any problems as the launch to north/right has a sheer cliff in front.

PG pilots should always launch to the left (facing almost south) and follow the ridge out.  The stronger the conditions, the more the pilot will ascend immediately after launch.  In weaker conditions, he may have to follow the ridge out and hunt for thermals – there are always plenty of them!  Remember that the geography of Lee's Lookout ensures that winds at launch will be from the south (strong conditions) or southwest (weaker conditions) because of the vortex at DM.  That is, if winds at Santa Teresa are west, the winds at launch will be southwest or south.

The northwest portion of the site can be very thermic due to its dark color and west face, even at the end of the day.  But as the pilot is launching to the south (and left), it is safe to launch during a lull as the thermals moving up the northwest part of the site will not affect the air out in front to the left.  When winds are west to southwest miles out front, the vortex of the DM causes the air to swirl around the ridge and up the northwest part of the launch area triggering thermals in the process.  Accordingly, the air to the south or left will be smooth all the way out if, for example, it is late in the day.  Otherwise, thermal strength out front will be the same as elsewhere in the range.  The weaker the conditions, the less pronounced this effect is.  This has been proven many times by actual flights from the site.

Expectations for student pilots

Students must be advanced in their P3 skills to launch from Lee’s Lookout.

Wind must be 240 degrees.  Wind speed should be between 4-8 mph.

The site should not be flown outside of the normal 1.5 hours on either side of dusk and dawn because of the intense thermals that come roaring up the fingers out front.

Reverse launching is mandatory and the pilot must not turn until the glider is stable overhead for a few seconds.  A blown launch is a serious matter here as there are numerous rocks and obstacles out front and a sheer cliff to the right of the launch area.

After launching, pilots may follow the finger out front all the way to the end.  The end of the finger has house thermals which, at the beginning and end of the day, are relatively weak.  If the pilot is successful in getting up, stay in front of the range and do not drift back.  Always be alert to drifting or flying north at low altitude (same altitude as the Pass).  Once up above the top of the peaks south of the Pass, head north for the Agave Hill LZ.  If in doubt at any time, must head for the bail LZ for Lee’s Lookout.

If the pilot gets below the level of the finger out front, he should head out to the bail LZ in front (see below) and land.  It may be a long walk to a road.

The main hazard of the site is to stay out of the canyon to the left of launch (easy to do) which has power lines coming up.  Directly in front of the range there is also a power line so pilots must not land directly in front.  The bail LZ is huge and easy to land in but there may be bushes which are a nuisance if they encounter a glider.

LZ Info

The main LZ is the area around the Tom Mays Park entrance 2.6 miles NW of launch.  Park a vehicle just outside the entrance gate of Tom Mays Park and drive another to the top of the Pass.  It is somewhat easier for PG pilots to land on the Tom Mays access road east of the gate as they can set up a mile away.  As there are often thermals popping off everywhere around the roads, using the access road east of the gate allows for plenty of margin.  The access road slopes down for a half a mile and is clear on both sides.  HG pilots should land at the normal LZ for Agave Hill which is 6/10ths of a mile NE of the PG LZ.

Lee's Lookout

Landing in the desert is often more complicated than coastal or other inland sites because of the very hot ground at the surface (+140°F in the summer) which causes small but powerful thermals to pop off near the surface.  They can dramatically change where you land. 

The PG LZ near the entrance of Tom Mays Park.  The access road faces SW and is a 1/2-mile-long so pilots can relax and setup without worry if they encounter thermals while landing.

Bail LZ Info

If you do a sled ride from launch, just follow the ridge straight out and then make a 90° turn either direction at the end (left for HG/PG or right for PG only).  If you go left (south), head for the dirt road that goes from the top of the ridge down the canyon to a housing development.  It is plenty long and slopes down at first and then becomes almost level near the housing development.  If you go left, remember that it is at least (40) minute drive one way from the pass to pick you up so you must have a driver.  To get to the HG/PG bail LZ from the Transmountain highway, go west down the hill for about (5) miles and turn left (south) on N. Resler. j Go 3.4 miles, turn left (east) on High Ridge drive and then go 1.9 miles to the end (at the time of this writing, there is some unimproved road at the end).  Make a quick jag right and then left onto Calle Lago for 0.4 miles where there is a gate (it's a gated community).  If it's open, you're in luck.  If not, you will have to walk up and find your pilot somewhere.

If conditions at the DM are not too strong, PG pilots can fly out to the end of the ridge at launch, turn right (north), and cautiously go in front of the DM at low altitude (<5,000' MSL).  Stay well in front of the DM and land on the top of the second finger ridge (past the most northwest of the picnic areas).  It is an easy hike from the PG bail LZ to the highway and then to the top of the Pass.  The second finger ridge has a road going down it so it is easy to spot.  This LZ is nice if the air is dead as it goes downhill the whole way.

The view here is to the west.

Lee's Lookout

Site hazards and risk management

Launching from this site has two dangers.  Be extremely careful of getting sucked into the DM.  It is unlikely to happen if you check the wind velocity at the Pass before you hike up.  If it's blowing more than 18 at the Pass, be extremely careful when launching – go straight out and keep left of the ridge in front.  Better yet, pack up and launch from Agave.  If the air at the Pass is less than 18, you are safe no matter where you fly but note that lift disappears at the DM.  Landing on the highway is not only illegal but dangerous.

The second danger is the presence of power lines that go east – west along the side of the canyon to the south of launch.  They are almost invisible.  Make sure that you get a few hundred over launch before you head south and up.  In general – STAY AWAY FROM THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE CANYON NEXT TO LAUNCH UNLESS YOU ARE HIGHER THAN THE RIDGE BEHIND.  The power lines, fortunately, turn south after leaving the canyon and the poles are easily visible.

View of South Mt. Franklin (Radio Peak) after a successful trip up from Lee's Lookout.  You want to smile, too?  Fly year 'round in the Franklins with us!  From here, this pilot went over 1,000' above the top of the range.

Lee's Lookout

The site's rating (H/P3) is due to the following:  1.)  It is a very tight launch area – less than 10 yd. on each side.  2.)  There is a sheer cliff just north of launch (good for HG).  3.) You can be blown over the back or sucked into the Dragon's Mouth.  4.) There are numerous desert plants in the vicinity of the launch area that can snag the pilot/glider.  (It is a safer HG launch than PG.)  Despite these hazards, the site is the best we have for flying in the Franklins.  Those who successfully launch are virtually guaranteed to get up and out.  The bailout LZ is easily reachable and safe for both HG and PG.  Pilots should not fly this site alone because a minor problem at launch could easily cascade.  A helper can assist with layout, the inflation of the glider, look for any potential problems, and help the pilot in the event of a failed launch.  Expert pilots regularly fail to launch from this site because of its difficulty.

Lee Boone (photo below) is standing about where a PG pilot should launch from.  When launching, follow the top of the ridge out.  At the end, there is plenty of lift with thermals galore popping off the power lines at the base of the mountain.  (The poles can just be seen near the dirt road.)  If you launch at the right time of the cycle, you will get in strong lift right at launch and go straight up.  You should always turn left, bench up the ridge behind launch, and get high enough to safely pass over the power lines.  Follow the ridge south until you get to S. Mt. Franklin and work your way up via thermals and ridge lift.  It's an easy task for most pilots.  Then you are in the magic airspace above the range and can fly for hours in any direction.  Here is info on safely flying in the Franklins once you are above launch.

Below is an image of a typical flight from Lee's Lookout.  Most P/H3 pilots should be able to do this without any trouble.

Lee's Lookout

Pilot Registration

You must register with the Park before entering or flying.  Solo pilots (not recommended) need to notify the Park Police or a Park Ranger before launching.

4. North Mt. Franklin

31.902917° -106.493700° 7,152' MSL
LZ 31.910659° -106.519001° and 31.876146° -106.519084° 3,000’ below launch
Bail LZ's:  PG/HG 31.871923° -106.507787°   PG only 31.882664° -106.507055°

The launch is relatively free from rotor.  The only obstacle that pilots should be careful of is an amateur radio tower that extends about 15' above the flat (graded) peak.  The road visible on the ground to the east is the Patriot Freeway and is the west boundary of the Class C airspace of El Paso International Airport.  Always stay east of this boundary.  The airspace in the Park is all Class E which is good for us up to 18,000'.  Pilots should always keep a lookout for other aircraft.  While launching in an easterly direction is possible in the right conditions, safe and legal LZ's may be hard to reach.  Don't do it!  Note:  Please read the Introduction to Agave Hill for important information concerning the LZ's and sites in the Park.  All pilots MUST be registered to fly any of the sites in Franklin Mountains State Park.

On the way up -- near the summit, facing north.  Photo courtesy of Ken Steiner

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Flyable with winds from the west counterclockwise to the east, according to hang glider pilots.  It is probably flyable with winds from any direction as the summit is unobstructed.  Safest and best conditions are with a SW to NW wind.  If winds are calm or light, pilots can have a 30-minute sled ride.

The summit of N. Mt. Franklin.  The only obstacle is the amateur radio antenna which is about 20' tall.  Jason Tilley is getting ready to launch.

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Site hazards and risk management

Launching from the steep slopes and cliffs in the desert mountains requires good 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 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.

It requires a vigorous 2-hour hike from Tom Mays Park. The requirements to launch from N. Mt. Franklin are the same as for Agave Hill.  (For detailed instructions on registering with the Park, go to the Agave Hill Information site here and read the section on Pilot Registration at the bottom of the page.)

Launch is possible when winds aloft are calm (6k'-9K') because of anabatic flow up the peak which creates a good updraft at launch (about 7 mph measured when winds aloft were calm). Winds at Mundy Gap (the high mountain pass one mile north of the summit) proved to be about the same as at the peak – both are very exposed and Mundy will experience some increase in wind velocity because of a venturi through the gap.

Lee Boone launching his glider to the west.  Photo courtesy of Ken Steiner.

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Winds aloft at 9K are about the same as at launch if the winds are in the same direction at both 6K' and 9K'. This means that the maximum winds aloft at 9K should be 12-16 mph for a safe launch for paragliding.  It is important to launch as far forward as possible at the launch area.  If there is a mishap you want time and distance to stop the glider from flying.  Thankfully all sides of the peak have modest slopes without sheer faces.

BE AWARE THAT BEING BLOWN BACKWARDS OFF LAUNCH COULD BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AS YOU WILL FIND YOURSELF IN ROTOR GETTING DRILLED INTO UNFRIENDLY TERRAIN.  WE DO NOT RECOMMEND THAT PILOTS LAUNCH IN HIGH WINDS.

There may be slight turbulence at launch in calm conditions because of thermal activity. Ideal launch conditions for PG would be when wind is 10 mph at 240° at 9K.

Benching to the top of the Franklins from Agave Hill is often a challenge but it is an easy 15-minute hike to the Agave Hill launch.  However, if conditions are too mild or the wind direction is wrong, you will not be able to bench and will have to do the hike.

Expectations for PG student pilots

A P2 or above rating is required for students of Southwest Airsports.  The main benefit of this site is its altitude and the ease with which pilots can stay up, even at the end of the day or very early in the morning.

Jason Tilley "building a wall" before launching from the summit.

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Wind direction must be from 240 degrees at a speed from 0-10.  Thermal activity should be little or none which means students should not launch past/before the 1.5-hour window of dawn/sunset.

Reverse or forward inflations may be done.

The area in front of launch is a shallow to medium slope for 50 yards with few obstacles.

The area behind launch is similar but is steeper and has many large bushes.  Students should be careful to launch as close to the front edge of launch as possible in order to have plenty of space to recover from a mishap.

The only hazard at launch is a small 20’ tall radio tower southeast of the launch area.

After launching pilots should turn right to experience modest ridge lift and then head west when reaching the main finger that comes up from the Triangle (see the site info for Agave Hill).  There is almost lift of some sort in this area, including weak thermals.

Pilots should stay out of the huge bowl just west of the peak as intense sink is present there.  P3 students can turn left at launch and try their skills in the thermals coming up the spine from Dragon’s Mouth (Transmountain Pass). 

At any time, pilots can head northwest towards the LZ which is easy to reach even in sink.  Setting up for landing in the main LZ is the same as for Agave Hill.

Had Robinson working his way up the south face of N. Mt. Franklin, near Secret Hill.  Photo courtesy of Doak Hoover.

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

5. Magdalena Rim

Doña Ana County, NM

Middle launch 32.482160° -107.135290° 5,555' MSL; 500' AGL in front; 678' AGL Main LZ
South launch 32.47964° W107.13035° 5,615' MSL; 600' AGL in front; 738' AGL Main LZ best for hang gliders
Main LZ  32.478792° -107.119341°, 4,877' MSL

General

Magdalena Rim is a friendly site for paragliding and hang gliding.  In moderate winds, it is easy to get 600' over launch.  The rim faces southwest for much of its length and then it starts to turn south and then SSE at the southerly end.  The best lift is near the southeast end at its highest elevation.  Here is an excellent video made by pilot Steve Crye.

It is an excellent ridge soaring and thermalling site for the following reasons:

1. Launch is easily accessible by paved road almost the entire way.  4-wheel drive is unnecessary.  The main LZ is just a 12-minute trip from the top of the rim.

2. It is our safest site for newer pilots (HG/PG) because the sides and rear of launch are clear for hundreds of yards.  The launch face is not a precipice so side-hill landings for PG are easy to do.  Blown launches (PG) are more forgiving due to the absence of barbed wire fences, trees, buildings, huge rocks, cliffs, etc.  Bailout LZ's are abundant and easy to land in.  Retrieve is possible via a jeep trail out in front of the rim but it takes an hour to get there.

3. The topography behind launch allows top-landings without having to deal with hazardous rotor/turbulence that is present at all our other sites with the exception of Kilbourne Hole maar.  The top landing area is enormous which means pilots can make significant errors in setup and not be exposed to hazards.  It is the only site other than Kilbourne where PG pilots can inflate their glider, move slowly and with control to the launch edge, and be gently lifted up.

4. Easy access, a clear launch area, and the ability to consistently top-land makes Magdalena Rim ideal for tandem and flights by the handicapped.  We are looking forward to making this available to special needs pilots.

5. It is flyable with winds from southeast to west.

6. When thermals are present, the site can be flown in light winds.  The thermals drift in nicely at Middle Launch with a southwest breeze.  Pilots should focus on staying in the thermals rather than fly up and down the ridge.  Jumping to the higher rim 0.6 miles behind has been done by hang glider pilots but not yet by paragliding pilots.  The wide-open range presents few hazards to flying away from launch.  An abundance of roads in the region makes retrieves easy.

7. Camping can be done in the area.

When to fly

When is the best to fly the Rim?  Winds that are 190º -230º will give the best air for soaring.  When winds are less than 190º pilots cannot expect to get as high and there is a slightly greater amount of turbulence along the Rim.  When winds are greater than 230º, there tends to be a lot more turbulence at the site due to the low range to the west.  There is no weather station nearby that can give us real-time data on wind speed and direction so we must rely on other sources of information.  The Deming and Las Cruces airports are some help in indicating what we will experience at Middle Launch.

This means that pilots must know how to check the latest balloon soundings at Santa Teresa (EPZ).  (For a brief introduction on balloon soundings, go to our page on weather explanations.)  Look at the DRCT and SKNOT columns which give the direction and wind speed at a particular altitude (HGHT column), respectively.  If there is any wind direction greater than 240 degrees up to at least 12,000' MSL (4,800m MSL), the conditions at Mag may be poor.  The less the westerly component in the wind direction as altitude increases, the less turbulence.

Here is a sample balloon sounding from Santa Teresa, NM that shows ideal winds aloft.

The problem with the latest balloon sounding is that it may be up to (12) hours old.  This means that it is important to know how to study the OP40 forecast from the National Weather Service.  To learn how to use this important forecast, go to weather explanations and page down to the "OP40 any location" paragraph.  The Mag Rim coordinates are 32.478792, -107.119341.  You may have to reduce the "number of hours" setting to get things to load.  A good value to use is the minimum time necessary to see the forecast when you are planning to fly there.  The forecast is a forecast and can be off per when winds switch directions.  Always keep this in mind!

If you have a subscription to XC Skies, it should also be checked.  Only fly Mag if all forecasts agree unless you want to take a chance wasting your time.  We are continually amazed that if just one forecast shows some radical departure from the others, it is usually the one that is the most accurate.

Wind speeds need to be at least 6 mph in the forecasts at the surface to make Mag soarable.  The wind speed at Middle Launch will always be more than the forecast.  The maximum wind speed forecast should be less than 15 mph if you are in a paraglider.

Subsidence inversions in the region can cause a venturi at Mag Rim.  This means that winds at launch can be in the upper 20's despite everything below being calm or light.

Expectations for PG student pilots

A P1 or above rating is required for students of Southwest Airsports.

Wind direction must be from 180 to 240 degrees at a speed from 0-10 for P2 students and 0-6 for P1 students.  Thermal activity should be little or none which means students should not launch past/before the 1.5-hour window of dawn/sunset.

There is no rotor nor obstacles behind launch so blown launches are harmless other than the nuisance of getting lines in the bushes.

In order to ridge soar Mag Rim, students should turn to the left after launching.  In light winds (less than 7), pilots will not be able to soar.  When there is sufficient lift, the pilot will find the lift band within 50 yards of the Rim and further out as wind speed increases.  Lift always increases when heading south along the Rim.

Once above the Rim students, can easily top land anywhere behind launch.  The instructor will guide the student in this technique.  Because of the size of the Rim and the mesa behind, top landing is no different than landing any LZ.

If P1 pilots miss the lift and get 100' below launch or so, immediately head out.  It is an easy glide to the huge flat mesa that is beyond the arroyo that runs in front of Mag Rim.  P2 and above pilots can attempt to land directly in front of the Rim (on this side of the arroyo).  The instructor will guide all students to the best areas of the huge LZ's that we have at this site.

The greatest hazard at Mag Rim for newer pilots is the deep arroyo out front.  It is landable but there are large bushes and boulders which must be avoided.  It is easy to avoid the arroyo.  Pilots must never fly northwest/north of Middle Launch as lift quickly weakens as the wind speeds up going through the pass.  However, even if pilots are unable to penetrate the higher winds, nearly all of the terrain below is safe to land in but, like the huge mesa out front, will require a long hike to get to a road or back up to launch.

Directions to Launch

The two launch areas are easily accessible from County Highway C009 (Corralitos Road) at I-10 (32.265645° -106.982003°).  If coming from the east take I-10 Exit 132, if from the west, take Exit 127 and get on the north access road.  Follow the pavement for about 20 miles until you see the jeep trail just before some power poles on the southwest side of the road (32.490376° -107.138142°).  Park at the fence.  It is an 8-minute walk to Middle Launch.

Launch Areas

Middle launch is best in most conditions.  The gentler slope in front disturbs the air less coming in at launch.  Paragliders should use this launch.

South launch is about 100' higher than middle launch. It may be used when conditions are light or winds are from the south.  When winds are more than 10, it is too turbulent, especially for paragliders.

On the way up to the Rim, pilots will pass the LZ at the east base of the Rim on the left side of the road.  Be sure to put a wind sock in the LZ as you pass by, in case you need it.  Take the jeep trail to the fence near the edge of the rim.  Please stay on the roads at all times.  Close any gates you go through – the ranchers will greatly appreciate it.  Never disturb livestock, clean up trash that you find, leave the area better than when you came.  Please help preserve our valuable and fragile desert.

Landing Zones

Pilots can do easy top landings the entire length of the Rim.  The main LZ is not visible from launch but is reachable on glide.  Bailout LZ's are abundant in front of launch.  Stay out of the 30' deep arroyo that runs NW to SE along the front of the rim.

Hazards

Pilots must take care not to land in the arroyo that is about 200 yd. out from the base of the Rim.  The arroyo is about 200' wide.  Beyond the arroyo is a flat plain that is accessible by jeep trail.  Just east of the main LZ is a power line that runs along the east side of the road.  Cell service is sketchy in the area.  ATT has full coverage at launch because of new towers on I-10 to the south.  Amateur radio operators will find the NM Mega-Link Las Cruces (147.18 MHz 100Hz tone) and the Caballo (147.26 MHz 100 Hz. tone) repeaters accessible.

Middle launch looking northeast.  The launch slope is just enough for a good hang launch and perfect for PG.  Note the broad clear area behind launch which makes top landing a dream.  Robin Hastings is preparing to launch – the first HG to fly here.

Magdalena Rim

View just below Middle Launch.  In the far distance to the right are the Little Florida Mountains.  There is a shallow arroyo out in front which pilots should stay out of – an easy thing to do.

Magdalena Rim

Flying high above the SSW facing part of the rim (marked by Mountain Junipers).  In the distance to the right are the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces, NM.  The green arrow points to the Main LZ.

Magdalena Rim

6. Nelson's

31.872852° -106.498522°  5,750' MSL

LZ 31.910659° -106.519001° and 31.876146° -106.519084°
Bail LZ's: PG/HG 31.871923° -106.507787° PG only 31.882664° -106.507055°

Steve Crye getting high over the Franklins.  Photo by Steve

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, Texas

Nelson’s is an alternative to Lee’s Launch on days when it is too weak to bench up from Agave. It is primarily a hike and fly site for PG, but if a determined pain-resistant team can get a hang glider up to launch, the terrain is steep enough for HG. A good rule of thumb for PG is to take a wind reading at the top of Transmountain Road from the picnic area – if you measure more than 12 mph there head to Agave.

From the Ron Coleman trailhead at the parking lot, the hike to launch will take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on your level of conditioning.

Trail to Nelson's Launch, Frankling Mountains State Park, TX

Hazards near Nelson's Launch, Franklin Mountains State Park

We suggest that visiting pilots fly the site with a guide because of potential hazards soaring the Franklin Mountains.  Contact us or the RGSA.  All pilots must have a current USHPA membership and must register with the authorities before flying Nelson’s which is located in Franklin Mountains State Park. Record your USHPA number on the entrance form. Take the time to drive to the main entrance at the Tom Mays unit and let the rangers know you will be flying. They are very supportive of our sport and will be glad to hear you plan to fly!

Expectations for student pilots

Students must be well along in their P3 skills to launch from Nelson's.

 Best winds are from 250° - 280° at 8 - 12 mph average.

The site should not be flown outside of the normal 1.5 hours on either side of dusk and dawn because of the intense thermals that come roaring up the fingers out front.

Reverse launching is mandatory and the pilot must not turn until the glider is stable overhead for a few seconds.  A blown launch is a serious matter here as there are numerous rocks and obstacles out front and a sheer cliff to the right of the launch area.

After launching, pilots may follow the finger out front all the way to the end.  The end of the finger has house thermals which, at the beginning and end of the day, are relatively weak.  If the pilot is successful in getting up, stay in front of the range and do not drift back.  Always be alert to drifting or flying north at low altitude (same altitude as the Pass).  Once up above the top of the peaks south of the Pass, head north for the Agave Hill LZ.  If in doubt at any time, must head for the bail LZ for Lee’s Lookout.

If the pilot gets below the level of the finger out front, he should head out to the bail LZ in front (see below) and land.  It may be a long walk to a road.

The main hazard of the site is to stay out of the canyon to the left of launch (easy to do) which has power lines coming up.  Directly in front of the range there is also a power line so pilots must not land directly in front.  The bail LZ is huge and easy to land in but there may be bushes which are a nuisance if they encounter a glider.

Hazards and Cautions

Do not fly this site without a reserve and a functioning speed bar.

There can be considerable hiker traffic, so the pilot must stay focused. So far there has been an audience for every launch, and hikers can arrive at the site from the east with no idea that a launch is about to occur.

Nelson's Launch in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

The terrain out front can present many hazards, due to the convoluted topography.  Pilots must use caution and fly conservatively,  avoid scratching and stay high above the gullies and canyons! When the wind is above 12 mph and  more southerly than  240°, and particularly when thermals are present,  anytime the pilot is at or below launch, there is a very real possibility of encountering turbulence strong enough to cause deflations,  or sudden sink that can force the pilot into contact with terrain. When the wind is more southerly than 240°, do not fly south of launch until well above the ridge to the south, and always we ready to deal with a deflation.

There are power lines to the north, that turn south as they run down the slope to the west.  Stay well away from them – always consider what could happen if you experience a deflation or have  to throw your reserve above power lines.

Although  It is flyable with winds from 220° to 300° (measured from the NWS station at Santa Theresa airport ), keep in mind that winds at launch will appear to be westerly even though they might be more southerly or northerly.  Best winds are from 250° - 280° at 8 - 12 mph average.  

Flying in the Franklin Mountains

The Franklin Mountains present exciting and challenging flying, especially for ridge and thermal soaring.  Because of direct solar exposure to the west and with no other mountain ranges out front, the range has excellent soaring.  On good days, an intermediate pilot can soar over 1,500' higher than the highest peak. However, check the winds aloft and the jet stream forecast; an ideal day has no jet overhead and no more than 20 mph at 8000’.

Below are the tracks of Max Montgomery's record XC flight March 5, 2017 from Nelson's to the Otero County Processing Center (jail) on Hwy 54.  The distance was about 20 miles.  He is the first to get to Anthony's Gap and then go east.  Here is the GE KMZ of the flight.

Max Montgomery's record XC flight from Nelson's Launch

The shopping centers, parking lots, and industrial buildings west of FMSP are a constant source of thermals that drift into the mountains.  These thermals, combined with ridge lift, make FMSP such an amazing place to fly.

Be sure you have a GPS or vario that can show your ground speed  – you must always know your speed over the ground.  At slow speeds you may be going forward or backward – make sure you know which. Altitude at launch, unlike Agave, is usually  above  the top of the daily inversion which covers the Rio Grande valley, but there will still be cycles, so time your launch to take advantage of a cycle. We do not recommend benching up if you must use speedbar to stay out in front.  That is, if winds are forecast >20 mph anywhere below 8,000' MSL, it is best to stay on the ground and not risk being blown over the back.  

Gusting forecasts & Jet Stream Info: It is important to note that overhead disturbances, thermal activity, and the Jet stream can greatly affect our flying in the Franklin mountains.  Thermals and atmospheric disturbances can cause the Jet to mix down to the surface and cause dangerous shear turbulence.  If you see any gusting in the hourly forecasts or the Jet is overhead, our experience advises staying on the ground.

Launch

The wing can come up fast during inflation because the layout area does not see the full strength of the wind. Use caution if you measure anything higher than 12 mph, because that will generate significant rotor just 15 feet back from the point where the layout area transitions to the slope. In strong conditions,  you must stand downhill and position your wing just at the top of the slope, and even then the wing will come up fast and you might be plucked; be ready to check the surge and keep a cool head. We strongly recommend that pilots use Variation 3 (A’s and rear risers) and be prepared to abort the launch at any time prior to turning to face into the wind. Abort  does not mean bury the brakes! De-power your wing with the rear risers. Before flying off, if possible, kite for a few seconds to be certain everything is under control. Please take the time to remove some rocks from the runway slope below the pilot’s stance each time you visit, if we all pitch in we can make it smoother and safer!

Launching in 7 mph wind:

Nelson's Launch in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Immediately after launch fly to the right (north) and work the ridge between launch and the small hill south of the power lines.  At any time you get more than 50' below launch, head out and slightly south.  Do not get caught low in the gully in front of launch! Over the finger to the south of launch, either slightly to the north or south of the finger depending on the wind direction, there are often good thermals.  Pilots have ridden these thermals all the way back up, thousands of feet over the ridge. The fingers north of the power lines are not reliable for saves, and the terrain low to the north is bad for landings.

Nelson's Launch in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Benching up

After you gain a few hundred feet over launch you can extend the your soaring to the north and the south. Stay away from the venturi at the Dragon's Mouth aka Transmountain Pass unless you are at > 7000’ , roughly level with Secret Hill. Crossing to the north of DM will let you access the highest part of the range, just use caution as you cross the DM and be prepared to turn away and  back south toward launch if you encounter turbulence or start to get sucked to the east – that means you are too low and not far enough out in front; re-group to the southwest, gain some altitude and try again. See the information on the Agave Hill page regarding the Dragon’s Mouth (about 3/4's down the page).

On a good day, after the pilot gains 300’ over launch, the lift can be widespread and extend both well out front and slightly east of the ridge.  Here is pilot Steve Crye doing a typical launch and landing from this new site.

View north:

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

View South:

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Pilots enjoying the air near N. Franklin at 8000’ after launching from Nelson's:

paragliding in Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Do not venture into the valley to the east, it is filled with death-air rotor that is almost guaranteed to hurt you badly – not to mention the nearly invisible power lines that run across it. Don’t be tempted to land at the trailhead parking lot! Heading south should also be approached with caution; although it is possible to fly all the way to the southern end of the Franklins and back, the topography is more convoluted than to the north and pilots have experienced deflations in the area to the west of Gunsight Notch aka “The Mammoth.”

Winds Aloft

Check the winds aloft before arriving at launch.  If it's over 20 mph at 8K', do not fly as you could be blown over the top of the range which would be an adventure.  The presence of the Dragon’s Mouth to the north always affects the winds at launch,  causing a SW component even if the winds at Santa Theresa are from the  NW.

If winds aloft are more southerly than ideal (less than 240°) use extra caution to stay away from the lee (north) sides of the ridges.

Remember: This is the desert and air during mid day, especially during the summer months, can be challenging.  Less experienced pilots should stick to the early AM or late PM outside the late fall and winter months.  Laminar air is almost always present late in the day and dreamboat soaring in the Franklins occurs at that time.  Thermals can be gigantic and sharp-edged here, as in the Owens Valley.  Always check the weather or with us before flying.

LZ

LZs are abundant to the west, and if one heads out from about the altitude of launch, it's easy to make it to the edge of the housing developments just north of Hornedo Middle school. The best plan is to fly with someone and leave a vehicle near the LZ.

The Park authorities have graciously permitted us to land anywhere in FMSP including on Park roads, but from Nelson’s there are no roads within the FMSP boundaries. DO NOT land on the city streets! Land either in a clearing, or in the flat, benign desert just to the east of the developments.

Paragliding LZ near Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

If you land just before or after sunset, be cautious of the katabatic flow that comes down the mountains.  It can be just 20' thick going west and the air just above it can be moving east = do NOT land near the mountains if it is late in the day but land on a high spot out in front of the Park.   Be sure to personally check out the LZ's before using them.

Going over the Back

If you go over the back of the range, head northeast or you will fly into the controlled airspace (Class C) of El Paso International Airport that begins at the north/south Patriot Freeway (Hwy 54).  The moment you sense you are going backwards even with full bar, get as high in lift as you can and then once you start descending again (after you are downwind of the range), turn tail and fly at best glide (use your vario and know your wing to determine the ideal amount of bar or brake for the conditions).  If you can, stay out of the controlled airspace.  Land anywhere safe as far away as possible from the mountains.  Your ground crew or other pilots will call the airport if you must land in controlled airspace and notify them of the emergency so don't worry about that – just land safely.  However, this event will never occur if you check winds aloft BEFORE flying!

Miscellaneous

You will not enjoy flying the Franklins if winds aloft are faster than your glider's top speed.  Katabatic flow down the mountains begins at dusk and makes landing more difficult as the pilot will be landing in a weak downwind = higher ground speed with the possibility of air just above going the opposite direction.  Be READY for this if you plan to fly late.  This daily flow is often strong enough to overcome the prevailing wind.  This means that the pilot will find himself flying in air going the opposite direction as he descends below about 300' AGL.  Above this altitude, the winds may still be strong enough to keep the pilot in ridge lift.   When it doubt, fly to, and then land a mile or two west of the mountains as the katabatic flow will be much weaker there.

Pilot Registration

Pilots must have a current USHPA membership and register in order to fly in Franklin Mountains State Park. Record your USHPA number on the entrance form.

7. Anapra Mesa

31.786567° -106.582500° 4,081' MSL  200' AGL
LZ  31.786495° -106.580475°

Introduction

For directions to this site contact us or the RGSA.  You have to go through guarded private property to reach launch unless you come from the east side and then it's a 200' vertical climb through soft sand to reach launch.  Visitors must be escorted and we can meet you at the entrance of the Camino Real Landfill (31.806763° -106.588187°).  Drive up the private road to the weigh station and wait there for us.  We have the kind permission of the Camino Real Landfill people to trespass.  If you want to bring the guards a 6-pack of cold beer/soft-drinks, it would not hurt....

Center launch – view is SE.  Winds were about 7-8, just barely strong enough to stay up out in front of the Mesa.  Below, Lee Boone kites at the middle launch with Matt Hayes observing.

launch

It is only soarable with ENE to SSE winds aloft.  Because of the Pass, winds at launch will always be slightly cross (~20°) to the right.  If they are anything else pilots can expect some turbulence.  Velocity needs to be from 8-14 mph for PG.  How to tell without a wind gauge?  If the tops of the Creosote bushes at the rim edge are swaying less than 3-4", conditions are too weak to stay up.

Located near the US-Mexican border, it is perfect for new pilots as it has few hazards.  The LZ is huge and flat.  The site is almost all soft sand and is forgiving of hard landings and other mistakes.  Warning: the ridge itself is a calcified escarpment that is sharp and will cut glider lines if they are dragged across it.

Hazards

There is significant rotor all along the Mesa close to the rim.  Thankfully, the center launch has an elevated row of non-hostile bushes that you can lay your glider on so that it will elevated about 4'.  This is just enough to get out of the rotor for an easy inflation.

Along the entire rear of the launch area is a 5' tall barbed wire fence.  Only expert pilots should fly the site alone in high winds.  It is always best to have a buddy when flying Anapra.  If you are not an experienced kiter, be sure to have help when launching as you do NOT want to be dragged into the barb-wire fence.

In high winds, pilots might want to lay their gilder out below launch, where winds will steadily decrease as you go down.

paragldier at fence

The south half of Anapra Mesa.  Launch is just behind where this photo was taken.  Skilled pilots can "park" above the mesa.  View here is south.

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If winds are too strong at launch, wait until later in the day or launch early in the AM.  The winds at launch are almost always slightly cross to the south because of the pass and all of the geography out front.  When is a good time to fly?  Check this PowerPoint presentation by Tom Bird of the National Weather Service.  It will help.

The best launch is close to the middle of the mesa where a deep notch comes through.  The notch causes the air to flow more smoothly over this part of the rim so there is less turbulence and rotor at launch.  It is possible to kite here.

View below is looking north.  The barb wire fence behind the launch area is visible.

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In the photo below, pilots can be seen preparing to launch. The far pilot is setting up just below the center launch area (a red bag is just visible).  Spreading out below the rim is ALWAYS the safest because if you have a mishap inflating, you will NOT be blown into the barb wire fence that goes along the east edge of the dirt road.  These pilots had never flown the site which is why the site guide asked them to launch below the rim.  The downside of launching below the rim is that there is more plant debris that can get caught in your glider lines.  Skilled desert pilots will know what to do.

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The south end tends to have more turbulence because of the high border fence.  Launching from the south area of the mesa is fine but you will find there is a lot of rotor because of the sharp cliff.  This makes getting your glider up more difficult.  If you move away from the edge about 15 yards it is usually possible to get out of the rotor enough to inflate.  Once your glider is up, there is no rotor and you can move towards the edge easily.
Pilots can easily top land anywhere. The south end is safer because the barb wire fence is farther away.  If you want to work on your side-hill landing skills, this is the place to do it – it's all soft sand and is very forgiving of major errors.  If your wing goes into a bush, be prepared to spend some time getting it out.

When launching from the middle launch area, turn north (though downwind) and fly to near the north end of the mesa. The best lift is between the middle and the north end of the mesa. If you launch and can't keep level with the mesa, you are probably going to sink out. Turn south and side-hill land anywhere on the hill in the soft sand.

Expectations for PG student pilots

A P2 or above rating is required for students of Southwest Airsports.

It is only soarable with ENE to SSE winds aloft.  Because of the Pass, winds at launch will always be slightly cross (~20°) to the right.  If they are anything else pilots can expect some turbulence.  Velocity needs to be from 8-14 mph for PG.  How to tell without a wind gauge?  If the tops of the Creosote bushes at the rim edge are swaying less than 3-4", conditions are too weak to stay up.

There is significant rotor all along the Mesa close to the rim.  Thankfully, the center launch has an elevated row of non-hostile bushes that you can lay your glider on so that it will be elevated about 4'.  This is just enough to get out of the rotor for an easy inflation.

Students must not fly Anapra without help!  Someone must be at launch to potential snatch the student in case he begins to get dragged towards the barbed wire fence.  THIS IS THE ONLY HAZARD THAT MUST BE CAREFULLY WATCHED!

In order to ridge soar Mag Rim, students should turn to the left after launching.  In light winds (less than 7), pilots will not be able to soar.  When there is sufficient lift, the pilot will find the lift band within 50 yards of the Mesa and further out as wind speed increases.

Once above the Mesa, students can attempt top landings south of launch but MUST have help that has a radio.  If an instructor is present, he can guide the student in this technique.

Alternately, students can turn out and land anywhere out in front.

The Second Wave

Skilled pilots can catch the "Second Wave" and park hundreds of feet over launch. The bench area is about half way between launch and the north end of the mesa.  The challenge:  Positioning yourself in just the right spot in the ridge lift above the Mesa where the standing wave mixes with the ridge lift. You will feel a slight tug and you have to turn in it at just the right moment.  Only a handful of pilots have done it.
Below, Arizona visiting pilot, Gingher Leyendecker, is parked at the bottom of the "Second Wave".  She is the first non-local to get up in it.  Remember this is a mere 200' hill – how do pilots get up there???  See if you can do it.

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The site has a benign LZ out in front. NEVER park your vehicle near the border (keep away at least 50 yd.) – it can be rocked by vandals from Mexico.  Do NOT land in Mexico. It's against Mexican law to land there and you will be jailed and/or fined if you get caught plus your glider and gear may be confiscated.  If you do wind up over there, you can hightail it for the fence, cross, and then go to the nearest border crossing and tell them what happened.  Doing this will keep you lawful and out of trouble with the U.S. authorities.  Crossing the border while soaring is up to you – be careful! If the wind dies, can you glide back to US airspace?

The border fence is visible in the photo below and the broad open area in front that is convenient for enhancing your top landing skills.  It is the safest spot in the region to practice this.  View here is to the south.  The international border is the dark fence.

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8. Mt Riley, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

31.925850° -107.063050° 5,903' MSL
LZ 31.914165° -107.065059°
Bail LZ's are everywhere around the north, south, and east base of the mountain but may require miles of hiking back to a road.

Introduction

Flyable with winds from south to north.

Visiting pilot, Jeroen Kusters, working a weak thermal northeast of the peak in late December.

paragliding at Mt Riley, Dona Ana County, New Mexico 

This is one of the prettiest and benign mountain sites for soaring and XC in the SW. The top is clear and smooth with neither obstructions, vegetation, nor rotor.  Top landings are possible.  Launching is easy and safe as the top is a smooth cone all the way down.  The southeast face has darker rock and is a good thermal generator.  If flying other than with a north to south wind, do not venture into the wind shadows created by Mt. Cox or Mt. No-name.  Launching from Mt. Cox is possible but it is a much longer and more difficult climb as there are no roads near its base.  The top is about as good as Mt. Riley.

Here is a skew-t of a balloon sounding at Santa Teresa which illustrated a day when conditions at Mt Riley were good for soaring. 

Denae Nemanic, the first woman to ever fly from the summit, heads out from the northwest face of Riley into buoyant air (she is already above launch).  Mt. Cox is in the distance.  Winds were NW and light that day which made launching with such a huge object upwind of little concern.

Mt. Riley

The site requires a 45 minute (1,000' vertical) hike to the top from the southwest side.  We plan to find a much lower launch site that will allow benching to the top. Thermals are abundant, of course. XC is easy from here.  Ridge lift will take the pilot well above the summit and "jumps" to the East Potrillo mountains should be easy where ridge soaring in easterly or westerly winds are possible.  The base of Mt. Riley is accessible by 4 wheel drive only.  This is a Federal Wilderness Study Area and open range – be sure to watch for (and respect) the cattle that are here and there.

A guide is recommended for first time visitors.  Contact us or the RGSA for directions.  Visitors can camp anywhere in this region but always respect the fragile desert environment.

Hazards

Mt. Riley is one of the few sites in the world that, basically, has no hazards.  There are no cliffs, big rocks, fences, trees, etc. near launch.  The launch area gradually slopes away so pilots have plenty of time to abort, if necessary.  There are some taller plants and small rock piles that could get in the way of a launch run so plan ahead.

Expectations for PG student pilots

A P2 or above rating is required for students of Southwest Airsports.

Flyable from virtually any direction but SE winds are best for staying up.  Under an instructor's guidance, students may attempt top-landings.  At any time, pilots can turn out and land anywhere out in the desert.  Because of the shallow slope of the mountain, pilots should NOT scratch for lift if there are any thermals present because of the presence of strong turbulence very close to the terrain.

General information

Mt. Riley is the mountain in the middle. Mt. Cox is to the left and Mt. No-name is to the right.  The fence is the northern boundary of a ranch that runs cattle in the area.

Mt. Riley

Launch looking ESE.  The two maars – Hunts (middle) and Kilbourne (middle left) are just visible.  The East Potrillo mountains are just visible to the right.

Mt. Riley

These (2) spots generate a lot of heat when the sun hits them and are among the regular thermal sources of the area.  House thermal #2 is a small hill just 200 yd. wide at the base and 100 ft. high.  Thermals stream up from both of these areas continuously when the sun is directly over them.  #2 works better in the PM.  #1 is good to about noon and then goes into the shadows after that time.  #1 can be a point of air convergence during the afternoon if the wind is from the east so the pilot is flying in both ridge and thermal lift at the same time.

Mt. Riley

Had Robinson preparing to launch from the summit. The view here is south with Mexico in the far background.  Mt. Riley is one of the few mountains that can be flown from any direction.  In good conditions, a pilot can do cross country or go "ridge jumping" as there are other soarable ridges nearby.

Mt. Riley

The road to the base – 4 wheel drive only.  Note:  Cell phone service out here is sporadic but better than years earlier.  Some will work from the summit.

Mt. Riley

vulture