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Drone photo of Yellowstone Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring under investigation

A photographer from New York is under federal investigation after sharing a drone photo of Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring with his 717,000 Instagram followers. The photographer’s name is Timothy McGurr, but on Instagram he’s better known as 13thwitness. After some followers commented that it was illegal to fly drones in national parks, McGurr removed the photo from his account.

No drones allowed in Yellowstone National Park

According to the Casper Star Tribune, McGurr said:

“Unless I see specific signage or am told I can’t fly you better believe I will or I’ll certainly try to. I removed the post, something I’ve never done in my life.”

A ban on flying drones in Yellowstone National Park was not the only rule that McGurr was ignorant off. Reportedly on Instagram, he shared how he “somehow managed to drive right into the park despite the seasonal winter closure.”

“Once inside I essentially had the entire YNP to myself,” McGurr said. “When exiting the park from the same entrance I entered I was greeted with a padlock and essentially locked in. I eventually found a way out.”

Drones have been officially banned from National Parks since 2014 according to the National Park Service. McGurr removed the drone photo of Yellowstone Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring from Instagram after various people had made him aware of his illegal photo.

A spokesperson of Yellowstone National Park said “drones are not allowed in the park,” and that they “are aware of this, and rangers are looking into it.” Drones are banned in national parks around the country because they potentially harass wildlife, crash into park features and generally form a nuisance to other park visitors.

“Due to serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft can have for safety of visitors, staff and wildlife, they have been restricted in all but a few parks,” the Park Service said.

Dutch tourist Theodorus van Vliet crashed his drone into Yellowstone Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring back in 2014 and was fined more than $3,000. Illegally flying your drone in a national park is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

Reportedly, McGurr responded to one of his Instagram followers by saying:

“NPS just wants money. If I would have offered them 5K to fly for a photo, they would have certainly found a way to make it happen for me. I assume any and all risk/responsibility for my actions when trying to get photos should anything unfortunate happen as a result of it. That’s what real photographers do.”

In a last comment, he said, “I’ve made foolish decisions, and this probably wasn’t one I’m particularly proud of but it happened and it’s over. Lesson learned.” However, now with the federal investigation that has been launched in to his photo of Yellowstone Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring, it seems that it is not quite over yet.

Last year, landmarks such as Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty were also added to the list of no-fly zones for drones. Recently officials from National Park Crater Lake had also said that they will step up enforcement of the drone ban.


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Photo: Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette



Avatar for Haye Kesteloo Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at DroneDJ, where he covers all drone related news and writes product reviews. He also contributes to the other sites in the 9to5Mac group such as; 9to5Mac, 9to5Google, 9to5Toys and Electrek. Haye can be reached at or @hayekesteloo