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McAfee abandoned yoga instruction—"It became a job," he says—to fly around the Southwest with Kemmeries and a former guided missile engineer named Neil Bungard, also with us on the playa. In the wisdom of traditional aviation, height equals safety, but the three men were intrigued by the daredevil possibilities of ultralow-level flight. Flying a few feet over the mountainous terrain, they learned how to run through tight canyons, sneak up on hunting coyotes, and sluice down mountainsides like airborne skiers.

They founded a club called the Sky Gypsies and, with a growing band of followers, began flying around the desert, landing wherever they pleased and discovering hidden caves and ancient ruins. There are rumors—unconfirmed—of under-the-radar dashes into Mexico and landings on interstate highways.

McAfee sold his ranch in Colorado, and he and Irwin moved to Tucson to be closer to the sport's U.S. epicenter, the dry, wide open Southwest. McAfee wanted to push ever farther into the backcountry, but the expeditions were restricted by the small planes' limited range. To solve that problem, he decided to develop an 1,100-mile wilderness circuit. He and Irwin scouted for six months by air and off-road vehicle, then he bought land and built a network of eight air bases stretching in a half circle from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to Oro Valley, Arizona.

The Sky Gypsies' home base is in Rodeo, New Mexico. Seventy miles from a supermarket and in the middle of the most sparsely populated county in the lower 48, the complex includes a coffee shop, a yoga center, an Internet lounge, an organic food market, a 35-seat movie theater, and four air-conditioned hangars. For visitors, McAfee has rolled in 12 restored vintage trailers—including a Spartan that was owned by Howard Hughes—and a dozen classic cars.

Pilots-in-training can enjoy the facilities at a subsidized price of $45 a night, not including lessons. "I'm not trying to turn a profit," he says. "I want to provide an environment where anyone who has the spirit of adventure can come out and participate." So far, he has spent about $12 million on the hobby he believes is the greatest thing on Earth.

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  • Hey, that was interesting, Your so lucky, i could only dream of doing this, Thanks for writing abo…
  • Hey, that was interesting, Your so lucky, i could only dream of doing this, Thanks for writing abo…
  • I have been reading about Mr McAfee living in New Mexico. I am from New Mexico, now I live in Oregon…
  • incredible - and beautiful = we should all be so lucky to live life and enjoy it.
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