Tucked in the western edge of Death Valley National Park, Rainbow Canyon – or Star Wars Canyon, as some call it – is an aviation geek mecca.
Known as the Jedi Transition to the military, the canyon – which was carved by an ancient lava flow – sits in the vicinity of China Lake Naval Weapons Station and Edwards Air Force Base, deep in the California desert. The area has been used for low altitude flight training since World War II, with the narrow rock walls too alluring for fighter pilots to pass up. This creates the side benefit of giving observers and photographers the unique ability to look down on the jets as they scream by, afterburners lit. It’s like getting your own tower buzz.
The airspace around Star Wars Canyon, which got its nickname due to the reddish, rocky terrain that resembles the planet Tatooine from the film series, is reserved for military aircraft. But the canyon is in the National Park and accessible to the public. In fact, anyone can park at a site called Father Crowley Point (about a four hour drive east of Los Angeles) and take in the spectacle. There are even restrooms at the point. But be warned: Flight schedules are not posted and you could be there all day and not see a thing in the air but the occasional red-tailed hawk, which is cool but may not satisfy your need for speed.
Also, the extreme heat in the summer months can limit flights because hot air is less dense, which means less lift. But if you’re lucky, in just the space of an hour or so, you can get some amazing views of these powerful fighter jets turning and burning.
If you can quote most of the best lines from “Top Gun” or you follow the Farnborough Airshow on Instagram, it’s definitely worth the trek.