Drone over Rainbow Bridge gets tourist in trouble


SAN JUAN COUNTY — A tourist hoping to get a very special view of one of Utah’s natural wonders recently ran into a bit of trouble with the National Park Service. As it turned out, the drone he used for an aerial view put him on the wrong side of the law.

It just so happened I was there to see it.

Like most visitors, I was admiring the awesome scenery at Rainbow Bridge National Monument. As park ranger Sylvia Arvizu was identifying some points of interest, we suddenly heard what sounded like a killer bee attack.

“Whoa! That’s a drone,” Arvizu said. “We’ve gotta get ’em out of here.”

Soon, we saw it — smaller than an aircraft, bigger than a bee — the drone was buzzing high above us in the air.

Nationally, the rules on flying drones are confusing and complicated; and they’re currently being rewritten. But in areas controlled by the National Park Service, it’s simple: there’s a flat-out ban.

“Yes, it’s against the rules,” said Jeff Altman, a tourist visiting from Los Angeles who was piloting the drone. “We didn’t know. There’s no signs saying that it’s against the rules.”

As it was, Altman picked a bad day to fly his drone at Rainbow Bridge. Not only was his transgression recorded for television, he also got a friendly-but-firm “chewing out” from Arvizu.

The problem, Arvizu said, is “the disturbance of nature, disturbance of people’s privacy and … the noise.”

In other situations, the National Park Service has also expressed concern about drone pilots harassing wildlife.

“I mean, it isn’t really doing any harm in my eyes,” Altman said, “but I see how it could.”

He promised to follow the rules. But when he showed me his drone, I could see how cool it was — and why it probably won’t be the last time a beauty-loving tourist violates National Park Service air space.

“It’s just a different angle, different perspective,” Altman said. “It’s kind of the up-and-coming thing to do: have aerial footage of your vacations.”


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