Jets zip through nar­row Star Wars Canyon, draw­ing vis­i­tors

Not a tourist |

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - SPECIAL REPORT: MORTGAGES - The As­so­cI­ATed press

Si­lence and still­ness set­tled over the deep, sun­baked gorge as a pair of pho­tog­ra­phers sat on a cliff, wait­ing.

Then the rum­bling started. As it grew louder, they scram­bled into po­si­tion.

Within sec­onds, a thun­der­ous roar re­ver­ber­ated from the steep, nar­row canyon as an F-18 fighter jet streaked through it, pass­ing be­neath their feet. It came so close they could see the pi­lots’ ex­pres­sions.

This deaf­en­ing show that was over in a flash is a fairly com­mon sight at Death Val­ley Na­tional Park, 415 kilo­me­tres east of Los An­ge­les, where U.S. and for­eign mil­i­taries train pi­lots and test jets in the gorge nick­named Star Wars Canyon.

Pho­tog­ra­phers — some cap­tur­ing im­ages for work, oth­ers for fun — along with avi­a­tion en­thu­si­asts and oth­ers have been traips­ing to the re­mote 12,142-square-kilo­me­tre park in grow­ing num­bers to see the jets soar­ing be­low the rim of what’s of­fi­cially called Rain­bow Canyon, near the park’s west­ern en­trance.

It earned its nick­name be­cause its min­eral-rich soil and rocky walls in shades of red, grey and pink draw to mind a land­scape in a galaxy far, far away — Ta­tooine, the home planet of Star Wars char­ac­ter Luke Sky­walker.

The un­usu­ally close-up view of mil­i­tary planes zoom­ing through the craggy gorge has be­come so pop­u­lar the Na­tional Park Ser­vice is con­sid­er­ing mak­ing it an at­trac­tion, with in­for­ma­tional signs about the train­ing that dates back to the Sec­ond World War.

On a Fe­bru­ary day, planes ca­reened through Star Wars Canyon 18 times. One pi­lot per­formed bar­rel rolls over the pass.

Jets zip through the gorge at 200 to 300 m.p.h. (322 to 483 km/h) and can fly as low as 200 feet from the canyon floor. But the canyon’s walls are so steep, the air­craft are still sev­eral hun­dred feet be­low the rim.

Train­ing at the canyon doesn’t hap­pen ev­ery day, so the pho­tog­ra­phers who make the trek to see them some­times sit in fold­ing chairs, wait­ing in the heat, and spy no jets at all.

Ja­son Wat­son, who works in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s law school and does free­lance photography, re­cently made his seventh trip to the gorge.

He’s seen as many as 30 pho­tog­ra­phers spread out across the mile-long rim at dif­fer­ent van­tage points.

“You can meet any­one from any­where in the world there,” Wat­son said.

The pho­tog­ra­phers de­velop a ca­ma­raderie as they share in the thrill of stand­ing above the speedy jets.

an F-15e strike ea­gle from sey­mour John­son aFB in north carolina flies out of the so­called star Wars canyon turn­ing to­ward the Panamint range over death val­ley na­tional Park, calif.

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