CREEDE– Recording the current status of America’s third longest river from both the air and the ground is the mission of French-born Jean Francois Chabaud and his team who plan to embark on a 1,400-mile trek in their powered paragliders (PPG).
Converging at the Mineral County Airport on Sept. 18, the pilots and their ground crew hope to start their adventure from the headwaters of the Rio Grande near Stony Pass southwest of here. The group plans to follow the Rio Grande all the way to the Gulf of Mexico recording many stories about the historic river, covering 100 to 150 miles a day at 20-50 mph depending on wind direction.
Stops are planned in Del Norte and Alamosa for refueling before moving on to Taos and beyond. A special flight is also planned over the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve with permission from the U.S. Park Service.
Chabaud said the crew will follow the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway on the way to a stop in Taos.
Tentatively, the PPG pilots and crew plan to prep, organize and fly around the Valley on Sept. 18, flying to the Rio Grande headwaters on the 19th or 20th depending on weather. After a night in Creede, the group will fly to Del Norte and San Luis State Park for a morning flight and will fly the Dunes the evening of the 21st.
Known as the Globetrotter in PPG circles, Chabaud is a seasoned pilot of powered paraglider and will lead a team of up to 14 pilots most of which are expected to complete the 1,400-mile, two-week journey. He drew national attention earlier this year when he completed a 700-mile solo flight from Albuquerque to California’s Salton Sea with no ground crew or chase vehicles.
The pilots will film and do still photos from the air while ground crews document many stories along the Rio.
“We hope to capture multiple stories about the Rio Grande and shine some light on the history and current status of the river,” Chabaud said. “We want to record the effects of the many years of drought.”
The 1,900-mile Rio Grande was the recent subject of an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled “The Rio Grande is Dying. Does Anyone Care?”
Writer Richard Parker, author of “Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America,” wrote “Drained by farmers, divided by treaty, feuded over in courtrooms and neglected when not pumped and drained, the Rio Grande is at once one of America’s most famous rivers and one of its most abused.”
Chabaud said his group hopes to examine the effects of low snow pack and well pumping on the flow of the Rio.
“We will mix adventure with subjects that matter,” he said. “And we will be responsible to not fly over homes and livestock.”
The PPG pilots typically fly at an altitude of 100 to 2,000 feet above ground but are capable of hitting 14,000 feet above sea level.
A pilot, friend and fellow resident of Santa Fe, Stuart Penny, said the “pilots will fly together in a buddy system for safety reasons.” Participants in this month’s adventure are expected to be between 30 and 62 years of age, and both male and female.
Chabaud said plans are in progress to involve the Creede school students while here; meeting the pilots and talking about the Rio Grande project. He is seeking other local sources of information about the river as well.
The entire trip will be updated daily on Facebook and some social media aps. See: www.riograndeadventure.com
Captions: Jean Francois Chabaud, powered paraglider pilot from Santa Fe, provided this photo above the Great Sand Dunes National Park during a test flight in early June.
Powered paraglider pilots Jean Francois Chabaud, right, and Stuart Penny, both of Santa Fe, are shown during a test flight weekend at the Mineral County Airport in Creede this past June. The pair flew the upper Rio Grande and Great Sand Dunes. A group flight is planned to start near Creede around Sept. 19 and concluding at the Gulf of Mexico./Courier photo by Keith R. Cerny
A view of the upper Rio Grande west of Creede is shown taken by a powered paraglider (PPG) pilot in early June. The river is the subject of a two-week long trip planned by a group of PPGs and ground crew to film and document stories related to the history and future of the Rio./Courtesy photo