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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

Remembering Yellowstone and Devil’s Tower while preparing for Canada and celebrating en famille

I am writing this post in Chicago where we took a break and enjoyed being with Carmen and Tobias after visiting a large percentage of US National Parks, the last two being Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

Tobias has been in Chicago since May 9th, indeed his plan was to go to France to get used to his new country of residence but it was not open yet so he rerouted himself to New York and Chicago where he has stayed with friends or with us in our Airbnb. He was with us to celebrate his 18th birthday, April 23rd , a huge milestone for all. He is now officially an adult, ready to embrace his future (except for alcohol in the US for which he will need to wait 3 more years) and we are officially empty nesters, if an airplane can be called a nest 😊

18 years old!

Lunch at "Eadaly"

Celebrating with the Aziza family

Carmen joined us on Tobias’ birthday, stayed a whole week taking classes online at 6 am and shopping for clothes with her brother in the afternoons. Is now back in her apartment in Buenos Aires, after 3 (negative) PCR tests in 10 days. Travel during Covid is possible but you really need to think about it and prepare. That is also what we are finding right now, while planning our passage via Canada to Greenland and Iceland. We would love to meet our friend John Hallward in Quebec but it is difficult to arrange anything since we don’t know if we will need to stay in our hotel during our passage through Canada or can get out. The restrictions combined with weather means that basically we have no idea what will happen and when during the next few weeks. The one thing that is clear is that we are not allowed out of the hotel in the province of Nunavut where our exit point to Greenland- Iqaluit (CYFB)- is. We filled out a health declaration as well as an isolation plan in which we needed to specify the arrangements we had made to get transportation to and from the airport and groceries while at the hotel. From what we saw, the restrictions in Canada might be changed on May 21st but since it is not sure what exactly will happen, we have decided to keep going. So John: if we can’t see you this time around, we will come back in the fall, after Alaska! In addition, I still love Canada and don’t want to miss it. The minimum time we need in Canada is one full day to travel the 1400 Nautical Miles (9 hours) from the US border to Iqaluit, probably with a fuel stop in Goose Bay (CYYR), and 1 night to rest before our 450 NM (3 hours) crossing to Nuuk (BGGH) in Greenland. I am explicitly adding the distances and flight times because on the world map, they look much bigger than they actually are, although we are still a bit nervous about the far North aspects of all of this, especially when we read about the recommended survival equipment! I will report more on that when we are fully stocked but before leaving to Canada, I want to share the latest beauties we came across in the US.

After our stop in Cœur d’Alène– the most Western point of the whole trip so far where we met with the D-IDEE earthrounder crew – we landed in Jackson Hole (KJAC) in Wyoming on April 16th with the goal of visiting Yellowstone National Park. Many Parks in the North are fully or partially closed during the winter and because we knew that, we had checked the website and Yellowstone was supposed to start reopening on April 17th so we thought we were good. But at the hotel reception, we were given a map of the park showing in detail which entrances were already accessible. Bad luck: we were close to the South entrance which was still closed until sometime in May, and the West entrance was 3.5 hours away by car. After our long flying day West and back East, we had no energy to hop into a car for such a trip the next morning so we decided to visit Grand Teton National Park -which entrance is almost in the city center of Jackson Hole- instead, leaving Yellowstone for the day after.

The main feature of Grand Teton are 3 unique and similar looking mountain peaks. They are indeed quite striking, especially because they are in the middle of a very large flat surface which is in fact a volcano crater full of solidified lava (one of those things that happened millions of years ago). Usually mountains are in mountainous areas, here the mountains stand tall over a flat area. There was still a lot of snow on the ground which made us better understand why the roads were closed during the winter. We explored two trails in the snow along frozen lakes, the second of which was through a forest where we were completely alone and therefore started looking for bears and mentally reviewing the actions to take if we did encounter one: make noise, move your arms, walk away backwards slowly and use bear spray (which of course we did not have).

In front of the Tetons (btw, this picture was taken with an iPhone 12 - what a difference compared to my phone.....)

All flat!

Walking on the frozen lake

But we saw no bears, and no humans either by the way, during the two and a half hours of the trail. We did see other animals in the park: a large pack of elk crossing the road, a fox and a black raven at the gas station that had opened that day. While I was chatting with the employees, they explained that the raven’s name was George, that he came to visit every year and that he loved to steal food. Alex was already outside filming the fox and just when I went to tell him about George, he saw the bird flying away with his brand new sandwich, which he had placed on top of one of those special “bear safe” (but clearly not raven safe) trash cans while using his camera. George had lived up to his reputation and the gas station sold an extra sandwich on their 2021 opening day.

Elk in Grand Teton

George the sandwich eater

The next day was finally Yellowstone’s turn. We got up at 5 am to drive the 3.5 hours to the West entrance of the park through Idaho. We considered flying but the Yellowstone airport close to the entrance was still closed for the season. In the same way that I don’t think I’ll ever get completely used to December and January being summer months in Argentina, I wonder how many years it would take until I find it obvious that a whole part of the North-West of the US is closed for the winter. But the drive was worth it: I realize how little knowledge I had of Yellowstone! It is full of hot water springs and active geysers creating a cloud of steam above the park and ruled by bisons who decide whether you can use the road or not.

Riverside geyser in action

Of all the parks we have seen so far, Yellowstone and Bryce are my favorite, in addition to the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands because nowhere else have I seen the ground disappear underneath me in such an impressive fashion.

Due to the lenghthy drive to and fro, Yellowstone became a super long day, especially since a herd of bisons had decided to use the exit road at the same time as the park visitors, creating a huge traffic jam. Along with dozens of other cars, we advanced at bison pace for almost an hour, until the rangers succeeded to nudge them towards a field. Who would have though that Bisons prefer the comfort of paved roads also!

We had planned to leave to Denver to get our new MFD screen installed after these two successful National Park visits but it suddenly started to snow in Jackson and in Denver so we stayed in our hotel for another day and left the next morning. It was very cold and there was no room in the hangar so the plane was sleeping outside. Luckily Joel at Jackson Hole aviation had helped us plug in our new TANIS (installed by Sweet Aviation in Fort Wayne) during the night. TANIS is a device that preheats the motor’s 6 cylinders to prevent their freezing. Even so, once we were able to start the engine, it took almost an hour for them to get warm enough to depart. But we were happy because without the TANIS the engine would probably not have started at all. During our flight to Denver, we realized that one of our doors was not well closed and the cool outside air started pouring in. Luckily our heating system compensated for it and for once we did not have to worry about CO2 poisoning: we had plenty of fresh air. The weather was not very good so we had to fly at 13500 feet to be out of the clouds in order to avoid icing (at which point our fresh outside air was at -19 degrees Celsius!), but when we approached Devil’s Tower, a famous natural rock formation in the Black Hills (also dating from that very long time ago when the sea covered the earth), Alex managed to find a hole in the clouds and dive down to 6500 feet so I could film it.

We then hurried up again to our safe- no ice- altitude. We had also planned to fly over Mount Rushmore but left those sculpted President faces for another time because the weather was really not good enough and we had seen sooo much natural beauty in the past weeks that a man-made formation just didn’t seem worth it. When we landed in Denver it was still cold and the next day we could not leave because of another snow storm, so we took a quick walk through the city, under that snow. We also had the pleasure of dining with Maria, a very good friend of my sister Heleen who is a University professor there. And of course, we got the new MFD screen! No warming the SD-card with terrain data anymore!

Under the bridge and the snow in Denver

With Maria, safely inside at the Hilltop Inn

Speaking of cold, snow and ice, during the planning of our passage via Canada to Greenland and Iceland from the comfort of our Chicago Airbnb, we are having many conversations with pilots who have done this “big crossing” before. We met them via the pilot and FBO community and we can’t thank all the people who have been helping us with their experience and wisdom enough: Bob Reynolds and John Skitone in Chicago, Bert Rose in Iqaluit, Sam Rutherford in Belgium, Gerald Hintermayr in Austria, Amir and Tamra Hyster from Australia and the FBO’s from Iqaluit, Nuuk and Reykjavik. We are not sure what will happen and when in the next few weeks but we are certainly well prepared 😊

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