Tierra Amarilla Airport / El Vado State Park Airport, Tierra Amarilla, NM

A tale of a drug plane and two piles of bones.

I have had a love for aviation for as long as I can remember. I built plastic models as a kid, graduated to flying remote control aircraft and eventually got my pilot’s license as a senior in high school. I even chose aviation as a professional several careers ago. Until I figured out that aviation makes a much better hobby than job, but that is another story for another time.

My love of all things aviation has stuck with me throughout the years and airports have always been a hub for my enthusiasm. So it is no surprise that I hope to visit many airports during my travels. There is just something that draws me to them to this day. They bring out the kid in me and still fuel that aviation fire that burns strongly within me.

During my week long stay at El Vado Lake State Park, I had an interesting airfield experience. The road to the park is 4 miles off of the main road and winds through the Rio Chama Wildlife Area. I looked up a map of the wildlife area to see if there were any trails I could hike, or areas to explore, and was surprised to find a reference to an airstrip right next to the road into the park. So I pulled up the area using the satellite view in Google Maps and discovered that indeed there was an airstrip just a couple hundred yards off the road. Of course I had to explore this!

Turns out this is a dirt strip that was previously used for something at sometime. Yeah, there isn’t much information online about this mystery strip of land. My ABQ friend Brian found a website on abandoned and little known airfields that referenced this airstrip. This website does have images taken in August  2013 that showed something different than what I saw, so some activity has been going on there in the past several months.

Since August 2013 someone has taken great pains to gouge the entire runway to dissuade people from using the field. And they put a large “X” at each end of the runway, which is used to indicate an airport is closed.

I walked the entire length of the runway on two separate occasions. I don’t know the exact length, but it isn’t short. I am guessing it is at least 5000 feet long, with a slight uphill climb in one direction.

I found many indicators of this once being an active airport. I explored a large rectangular area that has several thick cables that appear to have been used to tie down aircraft. I saw the segmented circle that had the windsock in the center of it, giving pilots an indication of the wind speed and direction. I even found a sign on either end of the runway with the elevation marked on them, proving that it wasn’t my imagination that the field was not perfectly level. It is 7237 feet in elevation on one end and 7161 feet on the other. And I found many half-barrels and rock formations used as distance markers down the runway. I am guessing they were spaced every 500 feet or so.

Then there were the bones. I discovered two sets of bones, which definitely added to the eerie feeling I got as I wandered the abandoned airstrip. I posted on Facebook a picture of the second set of bones and there was some speculation that they were human, so naturally I had to go back a second time to see if they really were. Fortunately I found very strong evidence that they weren’t human, but that would have been some story if they were!

Speaking of bones, I found the wreckage of an aircraft off to one side of the field. I almost didn’t see it, but there was a metal strip sticking up that caught my eye. I wandered over to investigate and found a small pile of aircraft parts, some of which were semi-buried in the dirt. And as I looked around, I saw quite a few small pieces of aluminum sheeting and other remnants of an aircraft. Also found was the actual aircraft data plate, which was quite the find. With this information, my good friend Brian once again came to the rescue and found the NTSB crash report on this plane.

Keep in mind that Brian not only found the identity of the airport, but also the crash report, all while I was still on site. Have I mentioned to you lately how cool technology is? And how miraculous it was I actually got a cell signal to send him bits of information so that he could find this info.

Back to the plane. Turns out this twin engined Beech TC-45G (ex-military plane) had a bit of a mishap landing on a snowy runway in January 1976. Probable cause of the wreck was the ever so popular failure to maintain directional control. After striking one of the aforementioned runway marker barrels on landing. In snow. While carrying drugs. And the plane was lit on fire to destroy evidence. How cool is that?

Almost 40 years later I found the remains of this plane, including the data plate (I still shake my head at this discovery) on an overgrown dirt field in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, my first abandoned airfield turned out to be pretty interesting.

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