JACKSON — A New York photographer is under fire after sharing an aerial image of Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring on his Instagram page, where he has 717,000 followers.

Photographer Timothy McGurr, who’s better known by the online persona 13thWitness, told followers that he didn’t know drones were illegal in national parks.

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

The photo, posted Nov. 6, included a caption about the hours leading up to its capture and is now the subject of a federal investigation.

“I landed at the Billings, Montana, airport around midnight,” McGurr wrote in the now-deleted post. “I opted to drive straight to Yellowstone National Park through the night for four hours to catch PRISMATIC at sunrise.”

In the caption McGurr told followers he arrived at the West Entrance at 6:45 a.m. and “somehow managed to drive right into the park despite the seasonal winter closure” that he said he didn’t know about.

“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.” After receiving online criticism for ignoring National Park Service rules, McGurr removed the photo.

“I’ve never had to remove a post over some bulls–t before,” McGurr wrote. “I’m one part livid, two parts amazed by the hate people can project towards me for putting up a photo I basically traveled 24 hours straight for and that I’d been wanting to get for a few weeks.”

Drones were banned from national parks in 2014, according to the National Park Service.

“Drones are not allowed in the park,” a Yellowstone spokesperson told the News&Guide in a brief email. “We are aware of this, and rangers are looking into it.” Other aerial photos of Grand Prismatic have been taken from airplanes, but critics of McGurr said he admitted to using a drone when he told his over 700,000 followers that he had the park to himself.

“Ignorance of the law is not a defense,” said Deby Dixon, a Gardiner, Montana, resident and wildlife photographer.

Dixon said she is in the park photographing almost daily, and she has noticed laws being ignored more often lately with the rise of visual-driven social media.


By Emily Mieure

Jackson Hole News&Guide Via Wyoming News Exchange