The Breakfast Club
An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn


The Knife & Fork

Breakfast Club Visits Blythe/Catalina Island


17 May 08
by Warren McIlvoy

The May Breakfast Club event was one of our duel semi annual events that included an over night stay at some really neat location; Or, in this case, a two night stay. Our fly-in started with a breakfast stop in Blythe and a visit to the truck stop. In the past, our group would park just off the taxiway at the departure end of runway 26 and then walk the 100-yards through the desert to the café. Our flight from the Phoenix area to Blythe was quite smooth as it usually is early in the morning and from our chatter on the radio, it appeared that I would be the recipient of the "tail end turtle" award for the day. So you can only imagine my shock when I landed and taxied to "our" parking place and did not see any other aircraft. I was pretty sure that I had landed at Blythe but had no clue as to the where-abouts of the rest of the Breakfast Club group.

After backing our aircraft off the taxiway, we headed to the truck stop get some "trucker food". We entered through the convenient store side of the building and then into the café. Much to our surprise, there was the Breakfast Club group all seated at a single table. It seems that the intrepid Breakfast Club gang broke tradition and parked on the ramp in front of Wolfe Aviation, the FBO at Blythe, where they were given the use of a pickup truck for the ride to the café (no adventurous spirit in that group).

Our meals were promptly delivered and everyone had the traditional breakfast fare but I really wanted the biscuits and gravy. I was quickly informed that they were out of biscuits. Can you imagine a truck stop café not having biscuits and gravy?. Anyway, after our meal, we discussed our route to Catalina Island that would take us to French Valley and then direct to the island. This would keep us out of any controlled airspace and we could continue talking to each other.

From our crossing point just south of Dana Point, it was 34-miles across the channel to the island and the "airport in the sky". Halfway across the channel and at 8500', I tuned-in the unicom frequency at the Avalon Airport. It was a Saturday afternoon and as one would expect, the pattern was busy with arrivals and departures. The normal procedure was to cross over the departure end of runway 24 and enter a right downwind. It has probably been close to 20-years since I last landed on this intimidating runway as the approach end abruptly drops-off towards the ocean so coming-in short could ruin your entire day. Landing long is not really a great idea either as the runway is only 3000' long. After touching down in the appropriate location, the mid field turn-off was easily attainable. The runway has a "crown" in the middle and it gives one the illusion that youy are about to reach the end sooner than you would like thus explaining the huge amount of tire marks in the middle of the runway. Parking was at a premium as we parked at the west end of the ramp next to Lance's aircraft. Jerry Grout and his entourage shoe-horned his aircraft between mine and the next in line.

The Avalon Airport (AVX) is the only airport that I have ever been to that charges a landing fee. The island, with the exception of the city of Avalon and another place called Two Harbors, is wholly owned by the Catalina Island Conservancy. The charges amounted to: $20 landing fee, $20 for two nights parking, and $42 for two round trip tickets for the shuttle into town, for a total of $82.00. The shuttle was not due for departure for almost an hour so it was time to break-out a couple of bottle of chilled water and to find a shady spot. I did one of those as taking some photos of our event took priority over the shady spot.

The shuttle ride into town took almost 45-minutes over a paved road that was at least 20-years overdue for replacement; It had more patches than a granny quilt. Along the way, the driver would point-out items of interest as well as locations where the wild fire started that canceled our trip last year and areas that were burned by it.  It was almost shocking to see just how close it came to entering the edges of the city.

The shuttle bus parked about 2-blocks from the hotel MacRae as there is no motorized traffic on the street that borders the beach area. So it was a case of dragging and toting two bags and a cooler to the hotel and up the stairs to the 2nd floor of the hotel building. There are few if any hotels along this strip that have entries at the street level as every available square foot of space is devoted the tourist trade. The one thing that you must understand about Avalon is that, with very few exceptions, all of the hotels are fairly dated. I would venture a guess that most were built in the late 1940's or 50's. This is not to say that they were in bad shape as they have all been updated and remodeled at one time or another. It is just that you will not find any "5-Star" hotels there. The MacRae was nice but the rooms are fairly small but well maintained and clean and it is located right in the heart of all the tourist activities. At $135 total per night, you could find nicer hotels in other locations but, then again, those are not on Catalina or in Avalon.

The rooms are situated on either side of a large patio that is adorned with lounge chairs, tables, and a few umbrellas. Check-in was pretty straightforward and in short order, we had our gear in our room and we promptly flopped down on the bed to get a few minutes of rest. But rest is not what a 3-day/2-night vacation is about. Since we only had one full day for fun activities, and the balance of Saturday afternoon for exploring the possibilities, we decided that rest could come later. The first order of business was to make dinner reservations and since we were not familiar with what was available to us, we asked Leslie in the hotel office, if she could recommend a good place. Leslie suggested that if we liked sea food, that Armstrongs Sea Food Restaurant was a pretty good bet. Sounded good to us so we had her give tham a call to lock us in for 1800. Now it was time for exploring.

The last time that we were here, one of the attractions was a little ice cream vendor that made sundaes in a waffle cone. This does not sound to exotic but, remember, this was in the 80's and this was the first time that we saw the use of waffle cones. The ice cream was laid in on its side and then all the goodies were slathered over it and then eaten with a spoon. So it was that it piqued our interest to see if Big Olafs was still there. Much to our surprise it was still there but it was now located in a building rather than a mobile cart. It was not a large store by any means but the line began outside the store which might tell you something. We could not resist the lure of trying something that we had experienced so long ago.

We were joined by Richard and Marcia as we continued our stroll towards the Casino (not really a casino) that housed a maritime museum, ballroom, movie theater, and art gallery. To our dismay, the maritime museum was closed due to some special event later that evening. Rather disappointing! We continued our stroll around the building until we reached a place that was a "scuba-diving park". It is a portion of the island coast that is solely dedicated to the sport of scuba. As it was a Saturday, the scuba activity was in full blossom. Divers were coming and going from the ramp that leads to the dive park. We met two girls from central California that had just gotten out of their dive gear and were wrapped in blankets. One of the girls was almost blue from the chill of the icy cold water. They said that the water temperature near the bottom of the dive park was only 48-degrees and the surface temperature was only about 58-degrees. I told them that I don't even drink water that is that cold. 48-degrees! Burrrrrrrrrrrrr.

We returned to the hotel to find some of our group sitting on the patio along with a couple of other hotel guests. We grabbed some bottles of water and joined them and relaxed under the deck umbrellas and sharing in the conversation. It did not take long for the days festivities to catch-up with me and decided to head to our room and take a quick shower, stretch out on the bed and enjoy the cool air from the air conditioner and ceiling fan. We had arranged to have everybody meet in front of the hotel by 1750 for the 5-minute walk to the restaurant. Our large circular table was waiting for us out on the deck where we could enjoy the ocean breeze and observe the boating activities.

Another interesting event that evening was the "Prom Walk". This local tradition involves all of the prom goers to assemble at a staging area and then proceed down the street to the pier for formal picture taking. The local folks and a large contingent of visitors lined both sides of the streets to cheer the kids on. Following this ceremony, they are escorted to the Casino for prom night.


Sunday morning was clear with temperatures in the low 60's. The hotel served a Continental breakfast consisting of mini muffins, and bagels, Danish, coffee, and orange juice. I sat at one of the tables on the patio doing my morning crossword puzzle and enjoying the hotel amenities. It was at least an hour before I saw any of the
Breakfast Club group. About 2-hours later everyone was up and about and heading to an eatery about a block up the street for breakfast. Since I had already eaten, I went along for some coffee. There were no set plans for the day as there is so much to do. After breakfast, some of us decided to ride the trolley around the town and up to the Wrigley Memorial. From there the trolley would backtrack so we got off at the Nature Center and waited for another trolley that would return to the starting point but by a different route that would take us just past the Casino. I had suggested that we rent one of the four place golf carts and visit the Wrigley Memorial as we had been there before.

With Richard and Marcia and Jeri and I, we found one of the many rental outlets for the carts and, following their directions and map, we returned to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. The small guide card says that:

"In 1935, Ada Wrigley, wife of William Wrigley Jr., commissioned Pasadena horticulturalist Albert Conrad to plant the garden today known as the Desert Plant Collection. In 1969, the Garden was expanded and reconfigured to emphasize plants of the Channel Islands and those that are endemic to Catalina Island, meaning they grow here and nowhere else in the world.

The Wrigley Memorial honors the memory of William Wrigley Jr., who lived from 1861 to 1932. Although best known as the owner of the largest chewing gum company in the world, he also played an instrumental role in the history of Catalina Island".

Santa Catalina Island, a brief history from "Wikipedia".

Santa Catalina Island, often called Catalina Island, or just Catalina, is a rocky island off the coast of the U.S. state of California. The island is 22 miles (35 km) long and eight miles (13 km) across at its greatest width. The island is located about 22 miles (35 km) south-southwest of Los Angeles, California. The highest point on the island is Mt. Orizaba (648 m), at 33°22'29.7?N, 118°25'11.6?W.

Part of the Channel Islands of California archipelago, Catalina falls under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. Most of the island is owned by the Catalina Island Conservancy.

The total population as of the 2000 census was 3,696 persons, with almost 85 percent living in its only city of Avalon (pop. 3,127, with another 195 south of the city outside of the city limits). The second center of population is the unincorporated town of Two Harbors, in the north, with a population of 298. Development occurs also at the smaller settlements Rancho Escondido and Middle Ranch. The remaining population is scattered over the island between the two population centers. The island has an overall population density of 49.29/mi² (19.03/km²).

Prior to the modern era the island was inhabited by people of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe, who, having had villages near present day San Pedro and Playa del Rey, regularly traveled back and forth to Catalina for trade. The Tongva called the island Pimu or Pimungna. The Gabrielino/Tongva are renowned for their mining, working and trade of soapstone which was found in great quantities and varieties on the island. This material was in great demand and was traded along the California coast.

The island experienced a brief gold rush in 1860s, but very little gold was actually found. In 1864, the federal government, fearing attempts to outfit privateers by Confederate sympathizers in the American Civil War, put an end to the mining by ordering everyone off the island. A small garrison of Union troops were stationed at the Isthmus on the island's west end for about nine months. Their barracks stand as the oldest structure on the island and is currently the home of the Isthmus Yacht Club.

By the end of 19th century, the island was almost uninhabited except for a few cattle herders. At that time, its location just 20 miles (30 km) from Los Angeles--the city that had reached the population of 50,000 in 1890 and was undergoing the period of enormous growth--was a major factor that contributed to the development of the island into a vacation destination.

William Wrigley, Jr., bought controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company in 1919 and devoted himself to preserving and promoting it, investing millions in needed infrastructure and attractions. In 1921 he sold lots for building in the town of Avalon.

In the 1920,s in an effort to generate tourism towards Catalina, Wrigley tried to convince Gertrude Ederle, who had just become famous as first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926, to swim from Catalina to the mainland which was roughly the same distance. She declined, so he launched the 1927 Wrigley Ocean Marathon offering $25,000 to the first person to cross the channel, with $15,000 for the first finisher of "the fair sex." Out of a field of 102, only one man finished, Canadian swimmer George Young, finishing 15 hours and 44 minutes after the start. The two women who came the closest were awarded $2,500 each.[6]

The tourism industry was encouraged by the construction of a beautiful Art Deco dance hall, called the Casino, in 1929. The Casino was 140 feet (43 m) high when it was built and was the tallest building in Los Angeles County at the time. Surrounded by sea on three sides, the circular Art Deco structure stands the equivalent of 12 stories tall.

Avalon Theater, on the first level, shows first-run movies nightly, and the theater's original Page Organ still plays before the show. The circular domed ceiling has remarkable acoustics studied by experts from around the world. The upper level houses the world's largest circular ballroom with a 180-foot (55 m) diameter dance floor. French doors encircle the room, and balcony views are spectacular.

The gorgeous Catalina Island Casino is a two million dollar "Palace of Pleasure" located midway between Hotel St. Catherine and the town of Avalon. It is the only building of its size in the world erected on a full circular plan. A mammoth motion picture theater is on the ground floor and, above, the world's largest circular ballroom.
Wrigley put in ramps instead of stairs, an idea taken from his Chicago Cubs stadium. The ramps allowed the large numbers of people using the ballroom to quickly move to and from their destinations without accident or injury.

The upstairs dance floor has a capacity of over 6,000 dancers, and sits above the glamorous Avalon Theater, which seats 1,150 and is the first ever designed specifically for sound movies. The upstairs dance floor is also used by the local high school basketball team making it one of the plushest and most expensive basketball courts ever.

The theater is so well-insulated that theater patrons cannot hear the band playing or the 6,000+ partying dancers on the floor above, yet the excellent acoustics are so good that a speaker on the theater stage can speak in a normal voice without a microphone and be heard clearly by everyone in the theater, including those in the back rows.

While the theater shows movies almost exclusively, it has the capabilities to host theatrical productions as well. The Casino's name derives from a more traditional Italian definition of casino, meaning social gathering place; the building has never served as a gambling establishment and for many years did not even serve alcoholic beverages.

In 1975, Philip Wrigley deeded the Wrigley shares in the Santa Catalina Island Company to the Catalina Island Conservancy that he had helped create. The Conservancy now stewards 88 percent of the island. The mission of the Catalina Island Conservancy is to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation. So far, the successes include the opening of California's first permanent desalination plant in 1991.

From 1927 through 1937, pottery and tile were made on the island at the Catalina Clay Products Company, and these items are now highly sought-after collectibles

The Chicago Cubs, also owned by Wrigley, used the island for the team's spring training from 1921-1951, absent the war years of 1942-45

After hopping aboard the cart, I asked Richard if he would like to act as "chauffeur" for our city tour while I took pictures of interesting sites along our route. Our first stop was at the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden. The trek from the entry gate to the memorial is maybe a half mile and is all up hill. But because this is a botanical garden, there are many exhibits of flora to be found along the path. This is truly a great inspiration for stopping to "smell the roses" even though there is not a rose within a mile of the place.

"With its commanding view of Avalon Bay, The Wrigley Memorial is the centerpiece of the Botanical Garden. It was built in 1933-34 with the goal of using as much Catalina materials as possible. Quarried Catalina stones can be seen in the reinforced concrete construction -- the facade having been sandblasted to hide the cement and highlight the native crushed stones.

The blue flagstone rock on the ramps and terraces comes from Little Harbor, on Catalina's "back" side. And the red roof tiles and all the colorful handmade glazed tiles used for finishings came from the Catalina Pottery plant, which was in operation from 1927 to 1937. The marble inside the tower was quarried in Georgia"

William Wrigley Jr., died in 1932 at his newly constructed mansion in Phoenix, AZ and was buried on Catalina Island. Following the completion of the Wrigley Memorial on the island, his remains were later interred at the memorial but subsequently moved to Chicago, Ill.

The hike down the hill to our cart was a whole lot easier and Richard continued with his driving duties while I took photos. The route back into the heart of the city took us on twisting, winding route that overlooked the City of Avalon and the plush hillside homes that clung to the sloping canyon walls. We also witnessed the burned areas that literally came right up to the edge of the road.

After we had returned the golf cart, we decided to have a light lunch at a place called Luau Larry's. I had the clam chowder and a half sandwich that was pretty good but still left a little room for a "Big Olafs". After all, I feel that after all that sightseeing, I deserved a little treat and besides, it was a good excuse to scan many of the sunbathers on the nearby beach and on the boats that dominated the harbor. After all that exercise, we returned to the hotel for some more loafing on the patio with the required "hangar flying" and just plain relaxing. By Sunday afternoon, the weekend crowds had departed and the lack of crowded conditions out on the street, were almost eerie.

For dinner that evening, we walked to the south on Crescent Street to a place called "The Pancake Cottage". The name might suggest that having breakfast would be more appropriate but we had a rather pleasant meal as we were served by a couple of folks who were dedicated to our group. After a little more strolling along the beach front, it was back to the hotel for more patio lounging and good ole conversation. We also coordinated our meet up time in the morning for the shuttle ride to the airport.


Monday morning was pretty much like Sunday morning with cool temperatures that were just right for enjoying some hot coffee and bagels on the patio. Some of the other folks opted for a more formal breakfast at a nearby eatery. At about 0900 all of us gathered our gear and headed to the rendevous location where all of the shuttles and tour vans pick-up their loads. Since it was Monday morning the number of folks returning to the airport was considerably less and our group was short one person. Lance Thomas elected to stay until Wednesday as he wanted to take the glass bottom boat tour and one of the inland nature tours.

At the airport, we quickly loaded our gear into our aircraft and completed our preflight inspections. One more trip to the "facilities" was required and the flight back to the valley was a tad over two hours. Our route home was a "back-track" of the route on Saturday without the stop in Blythe. When we landed at the Deer Valley Airport, the early afternoon temperatures were already over 110 degrees. I remarked to my wife that I believed that we had made a terrible mistake. Such is summertime flying in Arizona.

To summarize, we had a wonderful weekend with some really great people to a place that we have been to in almost 20-years. What more could one ask for?

The Blythe/Catalina Group

  • Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy in 93MB, BC-1 & 1.5
  • Richard & Marcia Azimov in6864Q, BC-2 & 2.5
  • Lance Thomas in 3180R
  • Austin Erwin and Patrick Frowley in 6693M, BC-86
  •  Jerry & Nancy Grout and Mike & Debbie Billum in 1129T

What's Next?

Our June
Breakfast Club event will see us heading to the northeast to Holbrook and the World famous Denny's Restaurant on old Route 66. In July, we will be keeping it close with a trip to Globe and the Apache Gold Casino. That's all for now but remember, fly safe.


Click on the Catalina link to view photos of this fly-in.