Fly in California

for Flight Training and Recreation

Fly-in Destination: Columbia O22

Half Moon Bay and Pillar Point from the southColumbia Airport (Oscar-22) is in the Sierra Nevada foothills 100 miles or so east of the San Francisco Bay, and the town of Columbia is an easy 15 minute walk away. The core of the town dates back to the Gold Rush era and is a California State Historic Park. Many of the buildings date back to the 1800s, and the main streets are pedestrian only.

Columbia is a great lunch stop, or day outing with friends. Watch for special events, such as the Father's Day fly-in, the fiddle and bango (yes, bango!) contest, and holiday festivities such as the Lamplighters tour. Stay at one of the historic hotels, or local B&B, and enjoy the atmosphere of this authentic gold-rush town.

Getting There

Flying into Columbia is fun too! The simplest way from the Reid Hillview / San Jose area is to cross the Diablo Range over the Calaveras Reservoir, then pass Livermore Airport (LVK) on your left. After LVK, aim for the Manteca VOR (ECA). As you cross the wide Central Valley, you'll spot Tracy airport (TCY) on your right and soon you'll pass Stockton Airport (SCK) on your left.

The Manteca VOR is less than five miles ESE from SCK. Columbia Airport is 37.7 miles out on the 055 radial from ECA. After Manteca the ground slowly changes from agriculture to pasture and starts rising. A low range of hills hides the huge Melones Reservoir from view until you are almost over it and begin to wonder about your navigation. Once you have spotted the reservoir it is time to check the AWOS and get organized for landing.

This picture is from about 10 miles due South. O22 is almost dead in the centre. The field is 2118' high, but on warm days the density altitude can exceed 5000', so flatlanders beware and check your aircraft performance. The usable runway is just over 4000' long and most small planes will be able to land fine, though the ground speed will be higher than you may be used to. However on takeoff, there is unfriendly terrain in all directions, and the hills rise rapidly towards the East.

For the geology buffs, the snaking feature in the foreground is an ancient lava flow. Lava, being harder than the surrounding sedimentary rocks, has resisted erosion better, and forms a flat topped escarpment several miles long just to the south of the field. More can be seen off the south side of the Melones reservoir.

The Airport

Overhead view - with the airport terminal buildings to the right. The paved runway is 17/35 and the winds typically favour runway 17 but there is usually a crosswind, and there can be turbulence on final approach. I haven't yet landed on 35, every time it has been 17.

The pattern is to the West, 1000' AGL (3118' MSL), right traffic for 17 and left for 35. There is also a turf runway 11/29, 2600' long, looking pretty good. Useful for taildraggers when there's a crosswind on 17/35.

This view is right downwind for runway 17. The turf runway can be clearly seen in the foreground, as can the rising terrain to the east. The terminal is the flat topped building just left of center with a lighter area of tarmac in front of it.

At nighttime there are frequently deer and other animals on the airfield, do take care. Meeting a deer at 50kts or more is unlikely to be a happy encounter for either of you.

Approaching the runway 17: notice the light colored parking area to the left of the displaced threshold. In the summer there are firefighting tankers parked here and they have priority over you!

Once you land on 17, the terminal is to your left and transient parking is to the left of the terminal. The first row is reserved for twins, the rest is for anyone. The FBO, Bald Eagle Aviation, is in the terminal building. They'll refuel your plane if you give them a credit card imprint. They leave the receipt inside a chewing gum packet behind the doorhandle of the plane. (If you are heavy you may want to recheck your aircraft's performance and chose to put less than a full tank of gas in)

If taking visitors you could finish the day off with a tour of the Golden Gate and San Francisco before heading home to RHV. Flying more or less directly due West will take you to the North Bay over the Richmond/Vallejo area and you should see the City and both the Golden Gate and Bay bridges from there.

What's There? Columbia State Historic Park

Even if you only have half an hour, the historic town of Coumbia is well worth a quick visit. Coming out of the terminal exit, bear left across the parking lot towards a sign marked "Nature Trail" and a warning "Have you closed your flight plan" (Have you?).

Follow the trail through low shrubbery for about 5 minutes till you get to the road, and then another five minutes will have you at the "Columbia State Park" sign.

There is much to do and see in Columbia. Just strolling down the main street is fun - it's car-free, only horses and pedestrians allowed! All the shops, restaurants and saloons are outfitted as they might have been a hundred years ago and the staff wear clothes modelled on last century fashions.

The Fallon and City Hotels date back to the 1850s, both beautifully restored and appointed with Victorian furniture and decorations. Fallon Hotel is the first building you will come to as you leave the road past the "No motor vehicles sign". City Hotel is at the other end of town. They are operating hotels and you can even book them online. See the official City Hotel Corporation Web site. City Hotel has the renowned City Hotel Restaurant and the What Cheer Saloon. The Fallon Hotel has the Fallon Theater, where the Sierra Rep performs and a great ice cream parlour, for that last desert on the way to the airport. You can book a package that includes a dinner, play, desert, overnight accommodation and breakfast. Both hotels are also training schools for the Columbia College Hospitality program and you may be part of their exams!

DeCosmos Daguerrean Studio. Have fun dressing up in 19th century costumes and take home a sepia tinted photo souvenir. DeCosmos has been in existence since 1854. The camera they use looks like it also dates from the time of the Gold Rush. At busy times you will need to take a number and come back to check progress. While you are there, don't miss a look into the old pharmacy and dentist's office next door.

The Wells Fargo Express office in Columbia weighed more than half of the gold mined in the Southern Mines. The scales on which the gold was weighed are on display in the building. They are so accurate you can weigh a signature on a piece of paper. In my opinion Wells Fargo Bank have missed an opportunity to install an ATM here! Next door is the Columbia Stage Line and Riding Stable where you can take a stage coach ride or rent horses.

Matelot Gulch is an area at the South end of Main St where hydraulic mining had been used and the ground washed away so bare rocks can be seen. There's gold panning to be done, and you can even buy bits of gold to add to your sand so the kids can find something! Souvenirs of all sorts can also be bought. Just beyond the end of the gold panning there's some old hydraulic mining machinery. It is amazing to think that so much material was washed away from the hills that there was real danger of Sacramento being cut off from the sea as the rivers were silting up. California's ban on hydraulic mining last century was one of the first ecologically driven laws in the country.

You can also buy tours of the Hidden Treasure Gold Mine here. The mine is a 15 minute minivan ride away, along a narrow switchback road descending down the steep side of the Stanislaus River valley. The tour was fascinating. The mine itself has five levels, counting from the top, of which the fourth and fifth levels are still in operation. We toured the fifth level. Our tour guide, decked out in authentic garb and speaking with an accent straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie (at least some of which were filmed here), led the way.

Without forced ventilation there'd be no oxygen in the mine, all the galleries are connected up by vertical chimneys for ventilation and there are pumps to force air into the passages. The gold vein in this hill is several miles long and thousands of feet tall, but very narrow. Its width varied from a few inches to a few feet and appeared as a layer of quartz. In the quartz were embedded gold nuggets (see arrow).

However, the gray dusty material also visible in the quartz is telluride. It was being thrown away in the search for the nuggets of pure gold, until a geologist came to look at the mine and was appalled. It turns out the telluride from this mine contains some 70-80% of gold by weight, as very fine particles, plus other valuable minerals.

The whole trip lasts around an hour and a half, and at the end you receive a fancy certificate so you too can claim to have stock in a gold mine!

Check out the Columbia website for current events, all businesses and much more about this fascinating place!