Grand Prismatic

Flying over Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Spring

"Kodiak to control, are you in the tower?"
"Negative, I'm at home in my recliner."
"Are we clear for takeoff?"
"One minute, Kodiak, let me look out the window...Yep, air is clear for takeoff."
"Kodiak to control, we are ready for soon as we can taxi a herd of elk off your runway."

With this exchange, we rolled down the Gardiner, Montana airstrip and lifted into the skies above Yellowstone.

Flight path for our maiden voyage

After lots of finagling over insurance policies, consultations with pilots, and doubts about the reliability of weather conditions in March in the Northern Rockies, we pulled the trigger and included a couple of scenic flyovers into our March Natural Habitat Adventures/World Wildlife Fund programs.

Full disclosure: Many a time I've sat on the benches watching Old Faithful erupt while being thoroughly annoyed by the little private single-props buzzing and circling high above the geyser. People come to the park to experience wildness and wilderness and solitude. Old Faithful is not the place to find peace and quiet in the summer, but a swarm of small aircraft overhead is my nail in the coffin. I hate those things.

Typically, scenic flights are not allowed over the parks, precisely because of the visual and aural upset they cause to those on the ground. A couple years ago, someone figured out that there is a legal loophole allowing private flights to operate as long as photography is the goal. If someone on board has a camera, the whole flight can be green-lit as a photography mission. I imagine this is a loophole that will be closed in coming years.

Fortunately for us, we were actually on a 8-day photography expedition in northern Yellowstone, so there was no denying that our goal was to take pretty pictures. And fortunately for my conscience, the interior of the park is closed to all visitors in mid-March, so our plane would not disturb a single person once we left the northern range.

The flight was spectacular. We traveled from Gardiner all the way to Jackson Hole, admiring the Tetons, the Gros Ventre Valley, the remote Thorofare region of Yellowstone, the Pelican Valley, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and more. We saw bison eking out a cold, snowy life along the shores of Yellowstone Lake. We saw wolf-killed carcasses behind knolls that had blocked our view from the roads all week. It was an opportunity to really appreciate the size and scale of the wild lands out here. I hope you enjoy these photographs of the highlights.

Taking off in Gardiner, MT

We came across many remote geyser basins in areas inaccessible without a multi-day backpacking trip

Grand Teton
U-shaped valleys, cirques, glacial lakes, and a terminal moraine! TSS' Field Ed team would probably love this image :-)
The Red Hills in the Gros Ventre river valley

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone

Yellowstone River meandering through the Hayden Valley

Burn mosaic from the 1988 forest fires. Light green are areas that burned.

Grand Prismatic and Excelsior Geyser

The guinea pigs pioneers of our first flyover program! Thanks guys!