It appears I got your attention – that’s good, mountain flying is serious – and especially so during the summer.
Now, to back it down a notch…
The capability of the aircraft is of great importance to this discussion, obviously. Some aircraft have no business in the mountains. In this case (your O-320 powered RV-6), it has good performance/capability (assuming typical RV).
Mountain west flying is much different than non-mountainous areas. In most non-mountainous areas, one can look out the window and make a reasonably good determination about the suitability for VFR flying. Clouds, visibility and wind is pretty obvious. In most cases, all you need is a couple thousand feet to get from A to B.
In the southwest, 365 days a year are flyable VFR (pessimistically, 363 days). The clouds that occur are almost always high, thunderstorms are very obvious (from 50 miles away) and visibility is nearly always 50-100 miles. Depending on your location, the wind may be calm/minimal (especially in the morning). However; the mountains really mess with the APPARENT conditions. You will likely need to climb to 10,000’ to get from point A to B. Wind at altitude is like a mixing machine and causes all sorts of “movement” close to the surface. It also “directs” the wind so you can get very high canyon wind at point A while point B (a couple miles away) is calm. They (mountains) also cause very uneven heating & thus thermals. These two things (winds aloft and heating) can make for a VERY rough ride. I know a guy that destroyed a C-210 flying over the mountains on the wrong day. He never touched the ground but landed with an airframe so bent/twisted that it was unrepairable. Morning flying generally avoids the heating/thermal affect. The only thing you can do about winds aloft is watch the forecast (https://aviationweather.gov/windtemp/plot) for the day and time that you will be airborne (Windy.com is another excellent tool). Rarely do significant moisture systems (clouds) move thru at an altitude low enough to be of concern. When they do, they are obvious/visible from a long ways away and easily avoided.
You can certainly fly in the afternoon on a summer day. One can “plan” well in advance but it is impossible to make a decision about that plan more than a couple of days in advance. This is largely due to the winds aloft forecast. I have the advantage of flying a lot and being very familiar with the entire southwest and I don’t plan more than a day or two out.
While I don’t like hearing about unprepared people flying the mountains, I also don’t like to see people unnecessarily avoiding the mountains. IMO, that flying is about as beautiful as it gets and so many folks miss out on it.
If I were flying SAN -> TCS and weather/winds aloft acceptable, I would be airborne at the crack of dawn and fly SAN -> AZ06 -> CGZ (fuel stop) -> TCS. I would divert slightly north of course to view Coolidge Dam (cause it is really cool). Not sure about the -6 but, in the -4, this is possible without a fuel stop if wind is favorable. I like having options so would make the one fuel stop - CGZ appears to have the cheapest fuel in the area. If I got REALLY hungry and not in a hurry; I might stop at P13 (San Carlos Apache – no services), walk across the street to the casinos, and have a big casino breakfast (not sure if they are open in these Covid times). If you like adding ‘places I’ve landed’ to your logbook; Eloy (E60 – where Viking Aircraft once existed with the Dragonfly (though can be a busy place)) and Kearny (E67 – very pretty little spot) are neat options. This route will take you over the Gila Wilderness area (beautiful) and MeOwn (1NM0) which is one of our backcountry airstrips that I visit often.
I gave Alan this same speech a couple years ago (more northern route over FLG). It would be interesting to hear his perspective on it now that he has flown it the last couple years.
Will the winds be ok at 6pm? How about noon? Ask me the day before the flight.
Yes, the southern half of the restricted airspace around White Sands requires flying the narrow corridor that is basically highway 54 (to get to ALM).
Yes, I can haul a “reasonably sized” bag or two.
If anyone is tired of this discussion, please speak up and we’ll swap to private messages.
Thanks, Bruce and Jon. So, planning to meet up with Jon in TCS and flight of 2 from there. That means I need to be in TCS some time Wednesday. Jon is advising that mornings good, afternoons bad! If I tried to drop into TCS Wednesday pm the temps would still likely be in the 90s but hopefully the winds would calm down toward 6:00 pm maybe? I might feel alright about that if weather permits. Otherwise I will launch out early Wednesday and get in to TCS around 10:00 am. I’m afraid Jon is going to give me a talking to.
Another thought to ponder - if I fly out solo I might be able to pick up John Hoxie at ALM. Do folks fly up hwy 54 from ELP to ALM along that corridor between restricted areas?