Panoramic views of the deserts north of Canyonlands National Park are now available from the air.
Ben Black of Pinnacle Helicopters offers 20-minute, 30-minute and customs tours that begin at Canyonlands Field Airport, 15 miles north of Moab.
On the Buttes and Spires tour, which last 20-minutes, passengers can view Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, Lone Mesa and Hell Roaring Canyon. While Black doesn’t fly over Canyonlands National Park itself, passengers can see views of both the Island in the Sky and Needles districts of the park.
“It’s spectacular there, just gorgeous,” Black said. “You have a view from Needles from Hell Roaring Canyon.”
He said that the flight also goes near Rainbow Butte.
“It’s not really a butte, but red rock outcropping with beautiful colors in it,” Black said.
The 30-minute Bowknot Bend tour does the same, but the added ten minutes allows for flight over the Green River to view Bowknot Bend and Spring Canyon.
Black flies an R44 Raven helicopter that seats three passengers weighing up to 300 pounds a piece. Each seat has large windows to view the landscape. The air-conditioned cab provides comfort while flying over Moab’s deserts.
“It’s a pretty ship,” he said.
Pinnacle Helicopters also provides flights in the Las Vegas area. As business grows, Black hopes to bring a larger helicopter from the Las Vegas base.
“If this works out, we’ll bring the bigger one out,” Black said.
Black chose the desert north of Moab and Canyonlands for a few reasons.
Number 1 was the location near the airport. Pinnacle can take-off and land only at Canyonlands Field, and can fly within a 25-mile radius of the airport, according to the FAA.
But knowing that Moab attracts a variety of visitors enjoying the landscape in a variety of ways, he wanted to be considerate to those that may be recreating on the landscape below.
“These are the tours that worked the best for the least amount of impact to people on the ground,” Black said.
If he sees climbers on one of the popular climbing buttes in the area, he’ll give more distance for safety and respect.
Black met with Jennifer Jones from the Bureau of Land Management Moab Field Office in January in order to mitigate potential conflicts before beginning the flights. She said that they pulled out maps and talked at length. They discussed concerns regarding sensitive areas, such as where bighorn sheep may be lambing, high recreational areas and the river corridor.
“They’ve been receptive to our management concerns and have been willing to listen,” Jones said. “He seemed receptive, very much so.”
Black said that they fly 700 feet above the ground, which includes remaining 700 feet above the rim of canyons in the area.
“It’s higher than we thought we’d do it. It’s even quieter on ground than we expected to be,” Black said. “We’re not going to fly over wilderness. We have no desire to fly within the canyons.”
Black is now working with Moab Jett to provide a four-hour combo tour that begins with a jet boat tour on the Colorado River.
“It’s pretty neat because you get two different perspectives,” said Cassidy Blank, co-owner of Moab Jett. “You see it by air and by river.”
Moab Jett boats passengers downstream of Moab to Caveman Ranch, which has a little airstrip near the river.
“Then I do a tour from there along the edge of Canyonlands,” Black said. “It’s a pretty spectacular flight with views of Needles, Island in the Sky and Dead Horse Point.”
After the helicopter flight, passengers then board the Moab Jett boat for an exciting ride upstream.
Black said that a family of four recently took the tour.
“They loved it, they absolutely loved it.”
Blank said the combo-tour is unique, as no one else is doing something like it in the area.
“It’s great for people who don’t have a lot of time to see canyon country,” Blank said. “We cover quite a bit of area in a short amount of time.”