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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

REVIEW - Columbia Airport, Columbia California

A picturesque historic gold mining town with an airport campground on a paved and a grass strip runway. What better place to land an antique aircraft for a stay?

Maybe the most fun you can have in an airplane is in a low and slow antique tailwheel aircraft, like an Aeronca Chief. The Chief is an excellent way to explore the countryside from the air.

In Northern California, in the Sierra Nevada foothills where Steinbeck once roamed, lies the small gold mining town of Columbia. The airport has a paved and lit runway and a dirt strip. Most interestingly, there is an aviation campground on the strip.

Once I landed my restored tan and blue Aeronca Chief and set up camp for the night. Just before sunset, a perfectly restored red Taylorcraft floated across the sky, and the pilot, looking down and seeing my yellow and blue antique Aeronca, decided to land, and taxied over next to me and shut down. I introduced myself. He was returning home to another state after winning the best of show in an antique aircraft contest in Watsonville.

We stayed up talking late, two modern pilots with restored antique aircraft sitting in a campground next to our tailwheel planes with a crackling wood fire and stars overhead in the black sky. It was a magical moment. The next morning he left early, but the Cessna 182 on the other side had a family, with two kids. I was impressed at how neat they were and how happy they were as they cleaned up their site, loaded up their airplane and took off while I was packing. This was a magical special place, I thought as I lifted off and headed south.

The town of Columbia itself is within walking distance of the airport. Head to the northern end of the paved runway and pick up the trail and walk through old gold mining country for perhaps a mile. On the way, steep canyons with deep crevices reveal what happened to the ground when the gold was extracted with water cannons long ago.

The town itself is a destination, with an old time store, restaurant, and other tourist attractions of the gold rush days and the California west. In the middle of town is a small white cottage, that in the 1980's had one resident, the last regular resident of Columbia. Her husband had known a California governor and was instrumental in getting Columbia preserved as a historic district, and creating an agreement for his wife to live there for the rest of her life.

The outside of the house will be familiar to you if you have ever seen the western movie 'High Noon' with Gary Cooper. It is the house he goes to seeking help, and Frank Morgan, who went on to star in M*A*S*H hides inside while his wife says he is not home. The movie people knew the lady who owned the home and spent some time there. Inside her house, were years of photographs showing the house and areas were often frequented by the Hollywood movie industry.

For sheer fun, romance, history, challenging flying, good services, food and choices between nearby hotels or camping, Columbia rates a solid 10 on my scale of good destinations for pilots.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce site is a good place to start, at
and the airport itself can be found, with photos and pilot data, at

Onward & Upward! ~ rfb

1 comment:

Rob Bremmer said...

The 'Columia Gazette,' the local paper for the Columbia area, has posted this article on their page supporting the Father's Day fly in upcoming in 2007. It's at:

If you are looking for a place to fly for Father's Day this woudl be a good destination for a day or an overnight stay, either at the campground or in the town. ~ rfb