There's nothing unusual about tourists being hauled around in small amphibious aircraft. Anglers, to name one traveling niche, routinely splash down among loons and above startled muskies.
But splashdowns in the desert?
"It's one of the most unique adventures you're ever going to go on," insists Carl Zink, a third-generation Alaska bush pilot who, during the Arizona springtime, lifts the mildly adventurous from Scottsdale Airport, buzzes rugged sections of the Sonoran Desert, then lands them on Roosevelt Lake for an outfit called Desert Splash Adventures ($199, 877-588-8819, desertsplashadventures.com).
Roosevelt Lake, about 80 miles east of Phoenix, is the largest of four man-made lakes strung along the Salt River (the others: Saguaro, Canyon, Apache). The 75-minute flight aboard the nine-passenger Cessna Caravan soars over all of them, and along the McDowell Mountains and the Superstitions, home of the still-lost Lost Dutchman mine.
He flies us close enough to the cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument to confirm their existence but keeps far enough away to allow us to appreciate the impossible terrain that's helped preserve them for 700 years.
The highlight for most is the soft glide onto the lake, whooshes of water extending from the floats as — on this trip anyway — the Eagles sing of a "peaceful, easy feeling" through our headphones.
Then, bobbing on the camou-green water, we're a boat, though the pontoons do have retractable wheels. Zink climbs back from the open cockpit and mingles with his guests.
"The sensation of going from air to sea is, for me, normal," he says. "For anyone else — I mean, we're floating around in a $2 million airplane right now. We should all be drinkin' beer and fishin', you know?"
Which, for this company only in its second season, might someday be a lure.