2021 Red Rocks Fly-in, Monroe UT

The Red Rocks annual Fly-In (Monroe, UT) is North America's largest PG and HG flying event, last year it was around 350 pilots and this year it was capped at 325!  I had flown Monroe during the US Nationals in 2011, loved it then, and have been wanting to get back ever since.  It represents some of the most awesome big-desert flying with the strong season being July and August, with conditions mellowing in September and October.  XC is possible all spring and into fall, and flights of 200+ km (mostly to the E or NE) are possible.  Cloudbase can be upwards of 23,000', bring O2 if you plan to get high (and stay below 18,000')!

Glenwood Mountain overlooking Monroe in southern Utah. 
The LZ is on the edge of town on the far right.

I had been on the waitlist for the 2021 event since June, and got the notification that 2 spots had opened up for me and Alex if we wanted them; this happened mid-September, not much time to plan!

Over the valley looking at Monroe Peak.

With Covid still keeping the land border between Canada and the US closed, the only way for Canadians to enter the US is via air, so that meant buying plane tickets (either SLC or LAS will work) and renting a car.  And of course the US needed a negative antigen test to get in, and Canada required a negative PCR test to get back, and double vax to avoid quarantine upon return.

However once taking care of the logistical hurdles, we were in Vegas and driving up to Monroe Utah!  Heads up that despite it being hot (30+ C) in Vegas, it can be quite cool in Monroe (especially in the mornings) since you are driving up to 5300', snow is possible in the mountains, and at cloudbase it can be below freezing, so you need to bring clothes for both hot and cold!

The organization for the event is fantastic!  Stacy Whitmore, Jonathan Leusden, and Jef Andersen are the primary organizers, along with an army of assistants.  They have daily weather briefings in the morning at the Monroe LZ, regular shuttles to 3 flying sites (with a 4th unofficial site often being used as well), bathrooms with running water and electricity at the LZ, grass (!) to pack up on, and a fantastic coupon book with free/discounted meals at the local restaurants which pretty much covers the event's entry fee.  Plus they have 2x daily (once in the afternoon, once at night) presentations on a variety of subjects suitable for all skill levels.  They have several Telegram groups set up, with one of them being a dedicated retrieve channel if you land out within a certain radius of Monroe: they will come get you!

Driving through the canyon enroute to Monroe Peak is stunning.

There are 3 main launches the locals use.  Cove Peak is the most-often used launch at around 8700', and has S, W, and N launches.  From there you can bench up to Glenwood Mountain (Signal Peak) and have access to the entire W-facing mountains from Bryce Canyon to Salt Lake City, with a few gaps to make things interesting.  Cove launch itself is rocky but with carpeting, and once you get high enough, are treated to the Aspen trees turning to a gold color, a beautiful contrast to the evergreens, rocks, and snow.

Cove launch with the main S and W launches, and a smaller N launch close to the antennas.

Cove's north launch with the west-facing cliffs in the background.

Monroe Peak is a very high launch around 11,200', and has S and W launches.  The S launch is rarely used (it's a bit line-grabby with sharp rocks) and most go to the W side where the rocks are more pebbly and less line grabby, plus it's a huge area and toplandable if you wanted.  

Monroe west launch is huge!

Mount Edna is a morning site and is at ~11,700', Utah's highest vehicle-accessible takeoff.  There is a chance of snow on launch, so bring your boots!  In fact you probably want boots for all the launches...the rocks are big enough on all launches that you want the extra protection and ankle support, especially since you are launching at altitude so need to run that little bit harder/longer!

Junction launch is an easy 2WD and a short 5-minute hike from the hairpin turn parking lot.
  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

In addition to these 3 official sites, there is also Junction (same weblink as Edna, scroll to the very bottom), which is south of Monroe, close-ish to Edna, and a morning site with E and NE launches.  Many XC pilots use this launch since it offers a morning start to an XC route and has easy access via 2WD.  During the event we had XC flights from here on almost a daily basis.  My first day I flew from here and flew ~100km, getting to 17,700' and landing at Salina!

Junction launch with the Aspens changing color.

There are many other smaller sites, such as Poverty just south of Monroe Peak, a N-facing ridge soaring site (similar to POTM North side) when it's too windy up high.  On several of the north-wind days, pilots went there for a change of pace.

While the XC flying potential is fantastic even in late September, there is also plenty of local flying and many pilots will fly multiple laps from Edna/Monroe/Cove all day.  And in between flights, you can hang out at the LZ where food trucks are parked so you don't even have to leave for lunch/dinner before going back up for a glassoff flight.

Flying north from Junction to Salina ~100 km, I stopped at 17,700' and cloudbase was higher still!

And the glassoffs are great too...Cove is flyable pretty much every evening until dark in light ridge/thermal conditions, and the valley bottom will start releasing at dusk as well, so you can fly over the town and easily stay up...many times we watched pilots flying after the sun had set and into civil twilight.

Falls colors in full swing

Lots of places to stay as well!  You can go all fancy in a hotel or AirBnB in Richfield (about 15 minutes drive away) or camp at the local RV park, or Van-life it on the abundant National Forest land (free), or stay at Peter Reimer's if you prefer to tent.  He is a local who loves having pilots stay in his front yard.  Simply park in his parking lot and put your tent up on his lawn across the driveway.  He has Porta Potties, running water, picnic tables, and a few extension cords for charging your instruments.  He'll also open up his workshop for coffee/put the TV on if you want to just hang out.  Note: due to the Elk Farm next door, you may want earplugs...the male Elk in rutting season can be quite noisy with their mating calls ;)  Peter's property is available throughout the year, and he has a donation box set up so you can drop in a $5 or $10 per night to express your appreciation of his hospitality.

Cove is reliable pretty much every afternoon and evening.

Peter is not the only one welcoming pilots.  Pretty much the entire town of Monroe loves having us and were so friendly!  We would have random people come up to us and thank us for visiting, saying how beautiful the PG's and HG's look in the air over town, would show up at the LZ with the family and a picnic blanket and chairs to watch the landings...it's a big deal for this town!

The first snow of the season!

New for 2021, the Fly-in was also overlapping with the first X-Red Rocks hike-n-fly competition.  In this 3-day comp pilots would get a daily task: some of the TPs could be acquired via the traditional method of overflying them, other TPs could only be captured via hiking to their coordinates.  And of course the pilots would have to hike to launch in the first place.  Doing all this at altitude adds an extra element of difficulty, especially for those coming from sea level.  Canada actually had 1 pilot entered in this comp, James Elliot, and he came in 7th place overall despite coming from sea level and flying with no supplemental oxygen.  Congratulations James on a splendid achievement!

James ready to go on Day 1!

Oh yeah, there are free hotsprings nearby!  You *can* visit the fancy Mystic Hot Springs, but they are pay-only, and the locals go to the free ones called Red Hills Hotsprings.

The upper, *very* hot spring at Red Hills.  The "regular-hot" pools are below.

Monroe has turned these hotsprings into a small park with a changeroom/bathroom and trash bins which are cleaned regularly!  Plus the locals will come by to clean up the hotsprings of stray trash, adjust the heating/cooling, re-build up the walls separating the pools, etc.  A great place to soak after a hot dusty day of flying!

If you are interested in some really interesting hotsprings, check out Meadow Hot Springs, about 1 hour drive away.  These (also free) hotsprings are on private property so please be respectful of the landowner.  It features 3 pools connected in a giant loop.  The hottest one has a 30' deep cenote-like hole you can dive down into (there is a "pull rope" to haul yourself down and guide you back up).  Just make sure not to bang your head on the overhanging ledges when ascending.  Bring goggles for the best underwater views!

One of the pools at Meadow Hot Springs has fish!

Plus there's oodles of National Forest, State Parks, and National Parks close by.  Bryce Canyon is the closest, but there's also Zion, Grand Staircase, Capital Reef, and Grand Canyon not too far away.

If you have the time and want to do a western desert road trip, definitely keep this event in mind; we flew 7 out of 7 days!  It's usually the last week of September and fills up quickly.  Keep up to date by visiting the CUASA website.  I believe they will open registration for 2022 in a month or so.

Hiking in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, just outside St. George, UT