Bryce, Yosemite, Yellowstone - 5,4,3,2,1

June 2015

With school out for summer, it was time to enjoy a flying trip again.  We generally don't go anywhere HOT in the summer, so sometimes that limits our options, and we tend to stay home and do more boating at this time of year, but this one ended up working out just perfectly!  We dubbed it the 5,4,3,2,1 trip because we did 5 days, 4 nights, in 3 National Parks, with 2 rental cars, and 1 shower. This was our first good sized trip with all the new camping gear from this other write-up of our 2014 Glacier N.P. trip.  It all worked real well, and fit in the plane, as we used compression sacks for all of our clothes.  The only thing we could use improvement on is getting Andrea's and my sleeping bags downsized to something that compresses smaller.

On with the pictures.  The sorting is a little wonky and I don't want to waste the time to fix it. It's because the iphone pictures update the timezone but the Canon ones don't, so the timestamps aren't in sync.

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Right out of the gate the trip got fun, as we tried our FlyQ and WingX ipad apps with the NavWorX ADS-B, and climbed up over top of MSP's class Bravo airspace and let them route airplanes around us.  We saw quite a few, but only took a couple of hte above pictures.  Enroute we were VFR-on-Top for a while, but I didn't file this time, because our fuel range would definitely take us to areas that the satellite showed clear of clouds.  It's nice to get a flight where you have clouds when the below terrain isn't worth looking at.  It wasn't long though and we were at KGUR, Guernsey, WY, for a fuel and food stop.  We ate at a pretty cool little Western themed cafe in town and had some great food, using their courtesy car.  Then it was time to pile in for the second and more interesting leg of the trip.  Our original goal was to put in about 9 hours and fly to Yosemite NP (Mammoth airport).

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When planning the flight we were very lucky.  The weather was forecast to have very few isobars for the whole 5 days, anywhere in the part of the country that we'd be traveling, so winds would be at least not on the strong side, and no rain was forecast.  We decided to explore an area that we hadn't flown on any previous trips, which is the back (West) side of the rockies.  We usually head all the way to SLC and then fly places, but this trip we wanted to fly down the mountains and at least stay next to them, but preferably fly down a valley and get to see them even closer.  It ended up working about right to fly down to KGJT (Grand Junction, CO) and then turn West towards KBCE (Bryce Canyon) and then on to KMMH (Mammoth / Yosemite).  Our intent was to overfly Bryce on the way and get some photos. 

As we flew along it was remarkable the variation in terrain.  The rockies were green or grey with some rolling hills and some sharp peaks.  Then as we turned West out of Grand Junction, we hit terrain that although I've flown over similar, was an area completely unfamiliar to me.  We kept this flight higher in altitude, and had 2-3,000' added on top of that for a hot day with high density altitudes as well, so we were well LOP traveling over this area.  Nearing Moab, UT, it started to look a lot like a cross between the Grand Cayon and Monument Valley, and was very interesting.

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There was getting to be a bit of foggy haze in the skies from California fires, and the day was wearing on, and we decided that rather than try to make Mammoth that we'd see if we could stay at Bryce, and with the help of Lenny, who we texted while traveling, he assured us that at KBCE we could land and get a free shuttle to the campground.  That was enough to talk us into it.

What we ended up with was quite a surprise.  The airport is very nice, and the local hotel/campground has a free pickup service.  "Ruby's" is the big area that is almost like it's own town, as you get near Bryce Canyon, and they have hotels, and a campground and supplies and restaurant, and there is a National Park shuttle that picks up right there too.  So we were in great position to have a super stay-over.  The campground had showers, so although this was our first night, we got to shower in the a.m. and start out fresh again.  The shuttles into the park ran early enough in the a.m. that we got breakfast, and headed in for some hiking, and got back in time for a noon departure so that we'd get into Yosemite at a reasonable time too.  Bryce isn't a huge park, so it's a great place for a shorter stopover.  Words wouldn't do it justice to show the park though, so check out some of the pictures below.

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Heading out of Bryce at noon, the density altitude was already getting high, and ground elevation is about 7,500' so we slowly climbed over all the higher peaks to the West and made our way to Yosemite.  In between the 2 areas, we got flight following for a short time because there is a lot of Restricted and MOA space there, and I wanted to at least see if it was hot. Turns out it was, and they offered flight following right away.  In no time we started seeing a fleet of C-17's doing all sorts of higher and lower level maneuvering around the mountains, obviously flying some sort of training patterns...sometimes very low to the ground or mountain peaks.  It was real cool to watch as we flew along.

Mammoth (KMMH) is also a little over 7,000' of elevation, and was another nice airport to fly into.  I heard Bishop, a little south, is far cheaper, but they don't offer rental cars on weekends, so we had to go to Mammoth.  As it turned out though, I was very happy with it.  The FBO people were very nice, they got us the info for getting a rental car, and we were on our way!  Mammoth has LOTS of campgrounds around, so we weren't too concerned with getting a place to stay.  It wasn't too bad of a drive and we were all the way to the Yosemite park entrance, where we heard camping was full within the park, but only 1mile or less from the gate we found a state campground, at 9,760' of elevation.  It was a beautiful setting, with a lake high in the mountains.  No facilities other than bathrooms and hand-pump water, but it was plenty good for us.  We had food and supplies and didn't require much.  The temperatures at these altitudes was also PERFECT despite being in the 90's and 100's in the low elevations around the US.  So with that, we started our 2nd overnight stay for the trip.

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The next day we got up and headed right into the park.  I really wasn't sure what I'd think of the park.  On one hand I've been to many mountains, and I've seen many valleys and just plain been lots of places, and didn't know if this was "Just another National Park", or something special.  I'm actually very proud of our country for one thing, and that's the fact that we have National Parks with great land set aside.  There are so many things these days I can't stand about our country, especially the way it's run by a corrupt government, and now even my home state is turning into a hot bed of corruption.  But the federal National Parks are the exception, and a National treasure.  John Muir was an early supporter of Yosemite, and I quickly learned why he had a passion for this place.  It really isn't just another range of mountains or valley within them.  There are granite peaks unlike anyplace I've ever seen!  It is completely beautiful to drive through, and to hike around in, and has a wide variety of types of terrain and land to see within it.  There are animals of all sorts too.  From the Granite face of Half Dome, to the Mariposa Sequoia area, it is all just amazing.  Well worth the quick trip and now we'll have to go back and spend more time!  We got a great taste of it though, by being efficient with our time, and saw many of the most major attractions.

Take a look below as you scroll through the pictures. Late in the day there were some lenticular clouds building over the tops of a couple of the mountains.  We watched these for a long time, from many angles, and it was amazing to see.  After a full day in the park, we headed back to Mammoth to camp for the night so that the next day we could start making tracks Eastward, hoping to cut our home leg travel day into two pieces by stopping at Yellowstone Park.

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After we woke up, we headed right for the FBO and dropped off our rental car and took off.  On the ground I was on the phone making rental car arrangements at KWYS (West Yellowstone) and got a car set up for that stay.  Once we departed we headed right for altitude, now being much more acclimated than before, to keep us above the turbulence that would build throughout the day. It was smooth much of the time except when crossing mountain ridges.  It's always hard for me to know when it's going to be a pleasant or not pleasant experience as you cross over mountains.  With winds just over 20kts I wasn't so sure how this would go.  In the end, we did get a couple of rough patches, downwind of mountains, but it wasn't too bad overall, and in a little over 3 hours we were landing in West Yellowstone.  KWYS has another real nice FBO that I'd highly recommend.

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Arriving a little after lunchtime and staying the next day until 2:00 or so, gave us a great opportunity to see the highlights of Yellowstone.  Yellowstone was one of the very first places we had taken the kids with N104CD, and so they had much fuzzier memories of this place.  As we went in the gate, I asked the lady, showing her my Yosemite receipt, if the receipt was good for anything.  She explained that she could credit the cost towards an annual National Park pass if I wanted.  I wish I'd have shown her our Bryce one too, but I didn't have it handy.  So we traded it in and purchased an annual from here on out all National Park entrance fees are paid through June 2016!  We drove down the geyser and spring basin to the south, stopping at many places including Old Faithful, continued past Yellowstone lake, and then since the park was full for camping, we headed out the East gate for some more state campgrounds.  Interestingly, the scenery outside of the East gate rivals some of the scenery inside the park!  It was beautiful, and we once again stayed at a campground with nothing but water and toilets.  The next day we got up and headed West for a tour of Yellowstone falls, and the terraced springs towards the North.  As we got further into the park, we ran across a Buffalo right near some houses. It was really cool to run into one so close and unexpected.  With lots of little side hiking stops, we took in as much as we could before heading out.

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Time to depart after 2pm, we knew we'd face some afternoon bumps if we were down low, so we did a quick pass over the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowtone, and Old Faithful, and then headed East through the mountains towards Cody.  Flying over Yellowstone lake, we spotted a bubbling hot spring right in the water of the lake...and we often pondered exactly what would happen if the giant Caldera supervolcano that is Yellowstone happened to explode.  It really is a cool and amazing place.  Getting higher once clear of the Rockies, we decided to keep climbing to 13,500 and hop right over the mountain ridge West of Sheidan, WY, which put us up above all of the turbulence and gave us a very economical 8.5gph fuel burn and smooth ride.  We had intended to find a cheap gas stop somewhere along the way, but with some of the S.D. gas prices not so low, and our low fuel burn, we decided to just push on.  The flight was something over 825nm, and we had a little tailwind helping, so we pressed on, knowing we'd land with extra fuel.  After 5.0 on the hobbs had passed, we touched down at home with something like 14-16 gallons remaining...enough to get us another 200-300nm if need be!  It was a great ending to a great trip!

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