Sunday, July 30, 2017

Summer Vacation 2017 - The Flight We've All Been Waiting For

This was it.  The day had finally come. We had a great time in and around the Black Hills, but all the dreaming and planning was for this day. We're flying through the Rocky Mountains to visit Yellowstone National Park!  The family did great once again getting up before dawn so we could be at the airport and taking off around sunrise.  The field elevation at Spearfish is close to 4,000 feet and the density altitude was already around 4,500 feet.  This would be my first real Density Altitude (DA) takeoff with the family.  With our preflight checks and run-up complete, we lifted off in to the cool morning air heading west.  Having an engine monitor makes things a lot easier since I knew that constantly leaning the fuel mixture to keep my EGTs between 1250°-1300° F would provide best power and this was easily confirmed by the engine sounds, airspeed indicator, and vertical speed indicator.

We climbed to 8,500 feet and settled into cruise flight for Yellowstone Regional Airport (KCOD) in Cody, WY. Off to the north we could barely see Devils Tower in the haze as we passed by. We couldn't fly direct because of the Bighorn Mountains.  We altered our route a little south to give us better terrain clearance and also climbed to 10,500 feet just before we crossed the range.  And with this crossing, we finally saw snow, but we hadn't seen anything yet!  Safely on the west side of the Bighorns, we made a slow descent for Cody.  Even though Cody, WY is a great jumping off point for many to visit Yellowstone, we were pressing on.  Our plans were to base even closer by staying in West Yellowstone, MT!

Quickly filled with the minimum amount of fuel I was willing to carry around the mountains, we departed Cody which now had a density altitude of 6,000 feet.  We took off fine, but I could definitely feel the difference in the plane's overall performance and handling as we ventured in and out of these higher elevation fields.  Planning, and most of all patience, is a must.  We slowly climbed up the wide valley west of Cody that also serves as the east entrance driving route into Yellowstone National Park.

I use the app Foreflight in an iPad mini and even though I enjoy all it's amazing features on all my flights, finally being around terrain and using the Hazard Advisor feature sure made my flying easier.  Not only did it validate my pre-planned route, I could glance at it at anytime and know immediately if my altitude was safe in comparison to the beautiful, yet unforgiving terrain all around us.  This was really the only part of the entire trip that I was occasionally out of ADS-B reception.  The nice thing though is that since more and more planes are equipped now, I still was able to receive some traffic indications around me through the passes.

We climbed to just over 11,000 feet and and enjoyed the amazing scenery as we aimed for the Yellowstone Valley.  The original plan was to just follow the same valleys that the park entrance road uses below with the final portion using Sylvan Pass, but as we reached that point it was obvious we had plenty of terrain clearance and just flew straight into the valley clearing the last snow covered ridge with ease.

Not only had our early morning timing worked out perfectly, but so did the weather.  We had mostly clear skies and very little winds aloft making the ride all that more enjoyable by being smooth!  Once over the valley, we turned south to do some flight-seeing before finally landing at the West Yellowstone Airport (KWYS).

We flew south until arriving over Jackson Hole, WY and then turned back north towards Yellowstone NP.  This little detour afforded us some amazing views of the Teton Mountain Range.  We cruised along them slowly and were just in awe of their beauty.

Once we crossed back over the Yellowstone National Park boundary, we came upon the snow capped Pitchstone Plateau.  Abby asked if we could just land there now and go play in the snow!  I remarked that definitely would be fun if we could and then looked at Mary who apparently had succumbed to "Scenery Overload".

With two more spots pre-planned in our route before landing, we took the opportunity to first fly over the area of the park with Old Faithful.  There is not much to see of the geyser from the air necessarily, but you definitely got a good feel for the vast area around it and how diverse the entire place really is.

The next overflight was the Grand Prismatic Spring.  This was awesome.  We knew we'd enjoy it as well once on the ground, but I also knew we were truly fortunate to admire it from the vantage point we had in the plane.  Luckily Mary was awake again from her short nap and was taking pictures of her own as we made multiple passes over the area.  Abby also got some great shots too!

Photo By: Abby Nelson
Knowing what I know now, I wish we had flown over a few other places before we landed, but I am still so happy with what we got to see and do.  Flight time from Cody to West Yellowstone ,which included our big detour south, was only a hour and a half.  As I made my base to final call for Runway 19 on the radio, the folks at Yellowstone Aviation replied and asked if we were staying overnight.  I excitedly answered we'd be there for 3 nights and have a car reserved with Avis.  He asked for the name and said he'd meet us on the ramp as soon as we landed!  Safely on the ground and into our rental car, we cleared our arrival at the FBO with Sir Skye The Snowhunter and headed off for our adventures in Yellowstone!

Photo By: Abby Nelson
Photo by: Abby Nelson
Hard to believe we were only half way into our first week of vacation at this point.  So much already done and still so much to do!!!!

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