Special Ed Hileman and I headed out to Box Canyon hoping to fly our paragliders. Conditions were quite breezy from the southwest when we arrived in the LZ, so we took out time hiking up to the first knoll.
The SW winds were gusting to 22 mph, so there was no need to hike to the top. Ed and I had not flown in a long time, so we lounged about and had a nice visit while taking in the lovely view.
At 3:50PM, thick clouds covered the sun and the SW winds dramatically shut off. It's hard to believe how the winds can go from 22 mph to zero so suddenly. A very light breeze from the NW started flowing up the spine. Ed and I inspected various launch possibilities and checked the winds. We didn't know if the SW flow would kick back in once the clouds had passed, or if the NW flow would build, but we figured we had better get off launch while conditions were good or we would be hiking down. I launched first. The NW winds were smooth and light, the launch area was big and open (relatively speaking), and I had a clean, uneventful, float-off-the-hillside launch. In the air, the winds were right up the spine, so my westward passes were quite slow and my eastward passes were quite fast. It was a bit itchy and scratchy at first, but I slowly worked up the spine. It took me a while to make the hop from the false peak to the steep spine up to the top, but just as I made it to the upper spine, Ed pulled up and stepped off the first knoll.
Ed had the same experience as I and slowly made his way up the spine and eventually joined me a hundred feet or so above the top of Box. Conditions continually improved as the wind direction clocked around to almost due north and the velocity became more constant. We were having no problem ridge soaring and we were both flying with quite a bit of brake, so penetration was not an issue. At some point, the whole bowl in front of Box went off and we could fly almost anywhere in rising air. We both flew way out in front, until we felt the rotor of the ridge on the north side of the bowl, and way back to the peak behind the hang glider launch.
The biggest lift was consistently in front of the rock outcropping, straight into the wind. Ed and I fell into a pattern - from the rock outcropping, fly straight into the wind about halfway across the bowl; hang a left to the false peak, hang another left up the spine to the peak and back to the rock outcropping. The flying was as easy and stress-free as it gets. On one of my passes over the rock outcropping, I looked down and a huge golden eagle was just below me. S/he was uniformly very dark, had a seven foot wing span, very high aspect ratio wings with practically no dihedral. We both flew through the best lift, then s/he went right toward the hang glider launch and I went left. S/he came back and made a pass with Ed as well.
I flew over to the peak behind the hang glider launch and thought to fly north along the spine that leads to the east-west ridge on the north side of the bowl, but found the air to be a bit trashy and sinky, so I headed back into the bowl and climbed all the way back to the rock outcropping.
As the sun was setting, my body was shaking with cold, so I headed to the LZ. Not being current, I opted for a very conservative downwind-base-final approach and had an uneventful landing near the wind sock. Ed followed me in and I clicked a few photos of him with my crummy Blackberry camera.
As we packed up, the sky exploded in the sunset, as it only does in SoAZ.