AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Yellowstone National Park
and Grand Teton National Park

Product Information
Publisher: Georender
Description:  Photoreal scenery enhancement of the Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
Download Size:
Yellowstone=286 MB
Grand Teton=168 MB
Format:
See Review
Simulation Type:
FS2004 and FSX
Reviewed by: Brian Fletcher AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - December 24, 2006

Introduction

Today I am inviting the Avsim community to join me as I vacation to one of the most spectacular and visually impressive locations in the FS9 and FSX virtual world thanks to the addition of Georender’s first two releases of their new National Parks series. Combining Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, we will be exploring these parks the way that they should be seen in Flight Simulator, as opposed to the dull and uneventful default scenery of these otherwise majestic landscapes.

Yellowstone National Park, located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, is the world’s first and oldest national park. Yellowstone spans across over 2.2 million acres, most of which resides in Wyoming, and is home to nearly 10,000 hot springs and geysers, which totals 62% of the world’s hot springs and geysers. Named from its location at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, the park sits mostly on a plateau of some 8,000 feet above sea level and hosts a number of mountain ranges peaking at 10,000 to 14,500 feet.

Included in Yellowstone park is the Gallatin, Madison, Teton, Beartooth, Absaroka, and Wind River mountain ranges, as well as Mount Washburn, which overseas the park at 10,243 feet. Roaming the mountains of Yellowstone National Park are Buffalo, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Moose, Mule Deer, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, and Mountain Lions among others. The streams and lakes in Yellowstone are also active with a variety of fish, perhaps the most famous in this region being the Cutthroat Trout.

Yellowstone’s main claim to fame is the Old Faithful geyser, which rests in the Upper Geyser Basin, as well as the Steamboat Geyser, which adorns the Norris Geyser Basin as the world’s largest active geyser. It is also notable that the Continental Divide runs through the southwest portion of the park, and that Yellowstone is home to over 650 varieties of trees and plants, as well as a vast array of archaeological treasures discovered over the years.

South of Yellowstone lays Grand Teton National Park, which is named after the highest mountain in the range at 13,770 feet, and the second highest in the state of Wyoming, Grand Teton. This park covers 309,995 acres, much of which is made up of the Teton Range. A 40 mile long chain of the Rocky Mountains, and the Jackson Hole valley, and the 55 mile long by 6 to 13 mile wide Graten Valley. Grand Teton National Park also includes the Cathedral Group, which is a series of 7 mountain peaks between the Avalanche and Cascade Canyons.

Grand Teton, which is closest to the city of Jackson, Wyoming, has over 200 miles of trails that wind through an excellent view of 12 mountain peaks exceeding 12,000 feet, and over 100 lakes. The most famous of which is the Jackson Lake, a 25,400 acre lake with a maximum depth of nearly 440 feet. And though Grand Teton does not quite see the same 2.8 million visitors annually that Yellowstone does, it is still one of the most visited national parks in the country.

By default, the Yellowstone National Park area is less than impressive, at least from my point of view. I first noticed how bland this area was in FS 2002 during a group flight following the Continental Divide, and was not taken away by the improvements in FS9. But now, thanks to the team at Georender who have also provide the Flight Sim community with the stunning Alaska Cinematic series, simmers now have the opportunity to explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton in style in both FS9 and FSX. Let’s go check it out.

Installation

After downloading the massive 286 MB Yellowstone and 168 MB Grand Teton auto-install files, you will need to have your key code handy that you received during purchase, and enter it prior to selecting the default FS9 or FSX directory. Those of you who install the scenery for FS9 only can later add it to FSX without needing to reinstall the program. More information about this can be found in the manual or through Georender’s website.

Once you install the Yellowstone and/or Grand Teton scenery add-ons, you will need to manually add the scenery in the FS “settings” menu. Click on the applicable file, restart the sim, and you are ready to enjoy your new scenery. If you already have one or the other installed, you will not need to add the second scenery manually. For more information on the installation process you can consult either of the related manuals that will be added to the FS9 main directories new “Georender” folder during installation.

The documentation with both scenery add-ons is fairly inclusive, including maps, charts, historical information related to the parks, installation procedures, and tips to help you get the best performance and most satisfying visuals from these scenery enhancements. You will also find information advising you of the best starting locations for exploring the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

After you install Yellowstone and Grand Teton, you may wish to take a quick flight over to Georender’s website to download the three additional files related to these add-ons. One of these files adds scenery objects to the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone, another updates the terrain mesh for both parks, and the third includes an autogen update that corrects a problem with a few trees that are in the water. All three of these updates are installed on my system and will be included in this review.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone sectional chart A very detailed map of the area

Georender’s Yellowstone scenery covers more than 8,000 sq. kilometers of the FS9 and FSX virtual world with photoreal scenery and a variety of autogen objects. Some of the areas covered include sections of the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges, Yellowstone Canyon, the Norris Geyser basin, Yellowstone lake and Shoshone lake, among others. Scenery enhancements include trees, buildings, geysers, vents, fumaroles, the Mammoth hot springs, more accurate terrain coloring, and of course, Old Faithful.

My first experience with Georender’s Yellowstone scenery enhancement began at West Yellowstone airport (KWYS), the recommended starting location for touring the park. I immediately noticed three major improvements over the default scenery, including the more defined landscape, better ground textures, and relevant scenery objects, such as the geysers. I also noticed several effects that would otherwise not exist, such as the hot springs, geysers (when active), chimney smoke from the lodge, and more.

The new terrain at the Upper Geyser Basin Defined undulation spans the park The scenery effects are abundant

The highlight of Yellowstone, at least in my opinion, is the Old Faithful area. This includes a number of buildings, vehicles, bleachers for watching the geyser, a herd of buffalo, and of course, Old Faithful itself. From this area you can pan around and get a good look at other areas of the park as well, such as the hot springs to the southeast, countless lakes, rivers, canyons, and mountains, and geysers galore. For the best view of the park, and to find Old Faithful, you can depart West Yellowstone airport and head northwest for 20 miles or so…you can’t miss it.

The old faithful lodge Other surrounding objects And Old Faithful

The biggest addition to Yellowstone is not the autogen objects that have caught my eye, but the landscape itself. In most cases the improvements are dramatic, though I have discovered a few areas that need improvement, such as a handful of lakes that are not very flat in the middle, almost like an inverted waterfall. But these discrepancies are rare, and do not overpower the dramatic increase in realism compared to the default scenery. One of those improvements is the ground textures, which look much more like the grass, dirt, rocks and so forth that they represent than what was there before.

As you can see from the screenshots, there are quite a few buildings in the Yellowstone National Park, my favorite being the lodge at the Old Faithful area. The vast majority of these buildings are very well crafted, though I have run across a few with textures replacing modeling, such as the building next to the lodge with the stair cases textured to the walls. This is only an eye sore if you choose to go in for a close-up view, but from tree top level it looks pretty good to me.

West Yellowstone airport En route to the geysers

When touring Yellowstone National Park you might considering setting up base camp at West Yellowstone airport (KWYS), which is the only facility in the general area with an asphalt runway and fuel. This airport is surrounded by a majestic mountain range and several small lakes and streams that make for a gorgeous approach. KWYS is within the boundaries of the new mesh and retextured terrain, and does have an Instrument Landing System for the 6,644 ft runway. The airport is at 8,394 ft MSL and within 20 miles or so of the Old Faithful area and hundreds of hot springs and geysers.

If you really want to rough it, you may also want to test your luck at landing in any of the several open areas within the park that can accommodate most light aircraft. After nearly 75 flights around the park thus far, I have found upwards of 100 locations where you should have no problems landing, many of which are relatively close to some of the scenic geothermal features. Of course, a great deal of caution is required as Yellowstone has several cliffs and other areas that suddenly drop off that are sometimes difficult to see on approach.

There is so much more to be discussed about Georender’s Yellowstone National Park, including scenic points of interest, the dynamic effects, and the performance, among other things. Later in this review I am going to invite you on a scenic flight over the Yellowstone and Grand Teton areas where I will point out some of these features, but first let’s take a look at the other product under review today; The Grand Teton National Park scenery add-on.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton sectional chart And another detailed map

The Grand Teton National Park scenery has the same types of enhancements with the mesh and terrain textures that Yellowstone has, but is focused even more so on these features and less on the geothermal objects, buildings, and effects than Yellowstone. Many of the features of Grand Teton listed in the introduction to this review are included in Georender’s version, but undoubtedly the grandfather of them all is the Grand Teton mountain range itself, which is leaps and bounds above the default scenery with its towering defined peaks and jagged terrain.

Also covered is the town of Jackson, Wyoming, where you will find the Jackson Hole airport (KJAC). At 6,447 ft MSL, KJAC invites all aircraft capable of landing on its 6,300 ft asphalt runway, and offers the beautiful surroundings of the town of Jackson on approach. You might also consider taking a different angle into Grand Teton by visiting the Driggs-Reed Memorial airport (U59) located in the northwest portion of the covered area, which provides you with over 7,000 ft of asphalt runway at 6,228 ft MSL. More detailed buildings, autogen trees, and scenic landscape can be found near Driggs-Reed, and just like Jackson Hole, an ILS is available.

Jackson Hole Part of the Grand Teton Range Into Idaho

There are many other areas of Grand Teton that are mostly covered in this add-on, including a large portion of the Tanghee Range, the Washakie wilderness, and the Teton National forest. These areas, along with the National elk refuge and Gros Ventre Range, combine to make up the majority of the Grand Teton National Park, and are all as crisply detailed as the Grand Teton Range. All of these areas connect seamlessly to one another, and are filled with trees, lakes, streams, detailed valleys, and the same defined mountain textures as the rest of the park.

With enough daylight at your back, you should also have no problems finding numerous places to land in the wide open valleys and grasslands throughout Grand Teton. One such area is located just a touch northwest of Grand Teton mountain and provides a fantastic view of the twin peaked mountain and surrounding lakes. Much of the Teton valley is wide open for landing, which gives you great access to a scenic view of the Avalanche and Cascade canyons, the Cathedral Group, and endless grassy terrain.

The National Elk Refuge The north entrance to the park Along Absaroka

There will be more to come on the Grand Teton National Park scenery add-on when we take our flight nearing the end of this review. I have chosen a route that should give us the best view of the park heading south from Yellowstone. But before doing so, there are two other things that I want to address, including the less than impressive features, and the performance. Let’s start with the latter.

Test System

Compaq Presario SR1232
AMD Athlon 2.2 GHz
2 GB Ram
NVIDIA Ge Force FX5500
StarLogic 21” Flat Panel Monitor @ 1024 X 768
CH USB Flight Yoke
CH USB Rudder Pedals
Saitek X52 Flight Control System
FTP 290 Throttle Quadrant
Bose 5:1 Surround Sound

Laptop

Toshiba Satellite
1.6 GHz Intel Celeron M
512 MB DDR2 SD Ram
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900

Flying Time:
144 hours

Performance

One of the many impressive features of Georender’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton scenery add-ons is that you do not need to have your scenery settings maxed out in order to enjoy enhanced realism. In fact, it is recommended that you do not push the sliders too hard in order to prevent excessive loading times and a case of the stutters, plus the scenery receives only minimal improvements by doing so, as compared to the frame rates you will save by using Georender’s recommended settings. While I realize that there is much debate about which settings are best for the optimum marriage of performance and graphics, the following guidelines from Georender have helped me to improve these add-ons.

Georender recommends that you do not change your view frequently. Doing so did not have a major adverse affect on my system, but not doing so can and most likely will, improve your performance. I would recommend finding a view you like and sticking with it, but don’t be afraid to pan around for a better look. It is also suggested that you tour these add-ons at or below 120 KIAS. This may not be easy for some of you, it certainly wasn’t for me, but I do agree that keeping your speed down helps to prevent the “blurries” and will help the terrain to load more efficiently. On the other hand, a quick pass in an SR-71 does make for a nice screenshot.

The manual suggests assigning a key for the scenery refresh feature. I gave this a shot, but I am not convinced that it does much good unless the scenery is really backed up. It took longer for the scenery to refresh than if I just let it go by itself. As always, your findings might be different. So go ahead and give it a shot. 50 is the recommended mesh setting, though I’m sure that many of you will not agree. Increasing this number will make nominal improvements to the mesh terrain, but it will also increase the load time and invite the stutters on a modest system.

The extended textures setting should be turned off according to the manual, and from experience I can say that it does help. The same goes for reducing the density of the clouds, which I’m sure you all know can be a frame rate hog. Speaking of frame rates, it is highly recommended that you set the target frame rates to unlimited, or as an absolute minimum to 100. I experimented with this several times changing it from my normal lock of 40 FPS to unlimited. I did notice a very sharp increase in texture loading and a minimal increase in my FPS by going with unlimited frame rates. While set to 40 I regularly ran into FPS around 30-33, this was improved to 35 on average with unlimited settings…not bad for my system.

The biggest changes I made were in my FS9.cfg file, which led to an increase in performance, a reduction in stuttering, and much faster loading times. Georender has provided a table of suggestions for configuring the FS9.cfg file to find the best relationship between performance and visuals, but just as the manual says, these are just a starting point and are by no means intended to be an all-inclusive silver bullet for your system. Keep in mind that this is directly from the manual and is given only as a suggestion.

[DISPLAY]
UPPER_FRAMERATE_LIMIT=0
TEXTURE_BANDWIDTH_MULT=800
WarnBadSecondary=0
[TERRAIN]
TERRAIN_ERROR_FACTOR=45.000000
TERRAIN_MIN_DEM_AREA=45.000000
TERRAIN_MAX_DEM_AREA=100.000000
TERRAIN_MAX_VERTEX_LEVEL=19
TERRAIN_AUTOGEN_DENSITY=5
TERRAIN_USE_GRADIENT_MAP=1
TERRAIN_EXTENDED_TEXTURES=0
TERRAIN_DEFAULT_RADIUS=40.000000
TERRAIN_EXTENDED_RADIUS=60.000000
TERRAIN_EXTENDED_LEVELS=4.0
TERRAIN_TEXTURE_SIZE_EXP=8

Since this example is only one of many available options, I would like to ask any of you who have these add-ons to share your experience in the Avsim forums and perhaps provide suggestions of your own of what you feel are the best settings. Personally, I have found all of the above recommendations to have a nominal affect by themselves, but combined they have made a major positive impact on my simming experience with and without the Yellowstone and Grand Teton add-ons. Of course, I should note that I never really had much of a need to worry about performance…just the loading times.

Touring the Parks Part 1 (Yellowstone)

Both the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are entirely surrounded by several National forests, which the covered scenery does extend to in most places. Flying to the outer boundaries of the parks yields a scenic view of exhilarating landscape, but also brings you into the reality of the surrounding default scenery, which is nothing short of an eye sore compared to these add-ons. In order to help us explore some of the more interesting aspects of these add-ons while avoiding the inferior default terrain, I have arranged a flight in both FS9 and FSX that will take us on a zigzag pattern through Yellowstone, down to Grand Teton, and back up along the Snake River.

Heading towards Mammoth Springs The Eastern border of the park

Departing Gardiner, Montana, just north of the Mammoth Hot Springs near Mount Everts, I got my first look at the great scenery effects Georender has provided for the geothermal features throughout the park. Having started in an area bordering default scenery, it was virtually impossible not to recognize the northern boundary of the covered area of Yellowstone. I worked my way south past Swan Lake and then headed due east towards Pebble Creek along the Montana and Wyoming Border, keeping an eye out for the occasional geyser and hot spring.

Once again turning south, I came across a number of creeks along the Shoshone National Forest and nearing Yellowstone Lake. According to the charts, heading west from Dot Island in Yellowstone Lake should take me to the Upper Geyser Basin, the home of Old Faithful. Nearing the Basin I noticed another large lake to the south, which I later determined to be the Shoshone Lake, as well as the canyons and valleys that accompany the Continental Divide from Grant Village to the Lone Star Geyser off the Firehole River.

Finally reaching the Upper Geyer Basin, I started looking for a place to land so that I could get an up close and personal look at Old Faithful. I managed to find an open area just east of the Black Sand Basin where I landed and taxied all the way over to the Old Faithful lodge. En route I crossed the path of a herd of grazing buffalo and got my first look at the steamy hot springs on the border of the Basin. Perhaps the most exciting part of my taxi towards the lodge was not so much the scenery objects, but the incredibly difficult to manage terrain and much improved textures throughout the basin.

Bedded down for the night At it again the next day

Once I got to the lodge, I dropped the chocks and settled down for awhile watching the effects of the Old Faithful geyser come and go right on schedule. Looking around the basin occupied a lot of time and before long the sun began to set, which is where I chose to save my flight until the next day. The following afternoon I loaded up my flight at dawn and got ready for round two. One thought that had crossed my mind while running through the pre-flight checklist was that I had spent nearly three hours working my way to Old Faithful, and had only seen a very small portion of the park.

I got airborne once again and worked my way southeast over the Shoshone Lake towards Lewis Lake, past the Red mountains, and east into Absaroka. Along the way I encountered a number of geysers, some hot springs, and wonderfully produced ground textures as far as my eyes could see. Turning southwest in Absaroka, I headed back over the southern portion of the Pitchstone plateau and southwest to where the Yellowstone scenery meets up with Grand Teton, passing countless streams along the way.

Before entering Grand Teton, I pulled out my charts and annotated the route I had taken thus far. It is interesting to note that after crossing the park from Gardiner back and forth from east to west and south to the Grand Teton entrance, I had only covered what I calculated to be somewhere around 20% of the covered area. After several hours at 120 KIAS, I still have 4/5 of the park to see. But that will have to come another time, because now it’s time for Grand Teton.

Touring the Parks Part 2 (Grand Teton)

Soon after entering the Grand Teton National Park I found a good spot along the northern end of the Snake River to land. The sun may not have been going down in Flight Simulator, but it had been long gone here in Jacksonville, Florida, and I decided to park for the night and start planning my trip through Grand Teton. Looking at the map I found several areas that I wanted to visit, including the Teton Range of course, so I plotted my path, got some shut eye, and got back at it the following afternoon.

Taking off from some fairly rugged terrain, I set a course for the northern end of Jackson Lake, which is the largest lake in the park. The Snake River runs directly into the lake from the north, and back out again in the south. Along the way, I saw a multitude of rivers winding through the undulated terrain and the occasional smaller lake here and there. This area is not quite as mountainous as where were going, but the mountains that are here are very defined, and look spectacular, even more so in FSX if your system can handle the necessary settings

Less undulate sections of Cotter Canyon Jackson Lake

Once I got to Jackson Lake, I followed the western border of the lake around the southern end of Elk Island and back up towards the Two Ocean and Emma Matilda lakes in the eastern portion of the park. This route has taken me right along the border of the Teton forest, which wraps around the southern portion of the park, into the National Elk Refuge, and back out towards the Teton Range. The area from the twin lakes down through the refuge is filled with an endless supply of creeks, canyons, valleys, groups of trees, and some scenery objects here and there, one of those being a shack that I went in for a tree top level look at.

After a while I made it down to the southern end of the park where the town of Jackson is located, which houses the Jackson Hole airport. This is where I decided to land, refuel, rest up, and get ready for the next day. Despite having already seen a lot of the park, and a good portion of Yellowstone, I was still impressed with the visual approach into Jackson Hole, which is surrounded by mountains, rivers, lakes, and some scenery objects. This is one of three airports in the covered scenery that I found to be especially scenic on approach.

South end of the Grand Teton range North towards Moose Basin

The following day had me heading east from Jackson over the Phelps Lake and into the Teton Range. This mountain range is simply spectacular and contains some of

the most defined and visually enhanced mountains that I have seen in Flight Simulator. The range runs all the way up the west side of the park, and contains the Grand Teton mountain and Cathedral Group among other notable areas. I followed the range from the beginning of the covered area all the way north to Moose Basin, which is where I found another relatively flat area to land.

One day later I was back at it again, this time heading south over Leigh Lake, around Jenny Lake, and back up north along the west side of Jackson Lake. What I thought was going to be a less adventurous flight was actually very thrilling, especially with the wonderfully crafted ground textures that do not disappoint in the otherwise bare valley floors along the way. I worked my way up towards Cotter Canyon and once again back to where the Snake River meets Jackson Lake. With the well defined landscape, I now knew my way back to Yellowstone even without the map.

I headed north through the south entrance to Yellowstone, made one more pass over the Pitchstone Plateau and towards West Yellowstone airport, just south of the Upper Geyser Basin. One more quick tour of Old Faithful and I was ready for the scenic approach in KWYS. After landing, I recounted my journey and updated my logbook. Reviewing the flight, I came to the realization that despite having traveled every afternoon for the better part of a week, there were still thousands upon thousands of acres that I had yet to explore…my hats off to Georender.

The sun setting over the Targhee National Forest A final trip over the Upper Geyser Basin On final at West Yellowstone

Conclusion

These first two offerings from Georender’s U.S. Parks Series have certainly lived up to my expectations and then some. The improvement over the default scenery is massive, especially with the geothermal effects throughout the parks, the tremendously improved terrain textures, and the increased definition in the mesh. The countless autogen and various scenery objects, most of which are very well detailed, also add to my satisfaction for both of these products, as does the fact that the area covered is large enough to keep me busy hunting for more treasures for a while to come.

I believe that many, if not most simmers, will find favor with these products. I am confident that those isolated to flying high and fast will not have much use for scenery that requires low and slow flights to be fully appreciated. Prior to installing these products, I was only flying the commercial flights working towards an FS Passengers promotion, and I can tell you from experience that flying over Yellowstone and Grand Teton at FL300 is not worth the cost of these add-ons, at least not in my opinion. But Yellowstone and Grand Teton are great for the GA birds, helicopters, gliders, and especially float planes.

I have made no effort to hide my enthusiasm for these add-ons, and though there is always going to be room for debate, I believe that many simmers will find the same favor for these well crafted scenery enhancements that I have. I have used the Alaska Cinematic series from Georender as well, and I find Yellowstone and Grand Teton to be just as, if not more, impressive. The visuals are fantastic, the performance is good, probably great on any high-end system, and the price is…oops, I haven’t mentioned the price yet, have I?

Yellowstone National Park goes for 19.95 EUR, at Sim Market which, correct me if I’m wrong, is somewhere close to 26.08 USD. Grand Teton National Park will run you 17.34 EUR, or in the vicinity of 22.67 USD. Combined, that totals 37.29 EUR (48.75 USD) which may not seem as reasonable to some as others. Even though I absolutely love these products, I’m not so sure that it wouldn’t be wise to wait a while and see if the price tag comes down just a touch, but then again, I’m still waiting on a lot of products to do that.

Before I close out this review, there is one more very important point to make. This review has included Mpeg screenshots from both FS9 and FSX in lower resolution than what a lot of you are using. They are a good indication of what these scenery add-ons have to offer, but do not tell the whole story. Also, I have not yet set up my new system for FSX, and my regular review system can not handle the new sim very well past greatly reduced settings. Therefore, I would encourage you to visit Georender’s website to see the screenshots they have posted, keeping in mind that they might be a tad better than what a lot of simmers can achieve in FSX right now.

Also, feel free to browse through the Avsim forums and find out what others are saying, especially those with systems comparable to your own. It is virtually impossible for me to have examined every square inch of these add-ons in a timely manner, so you might want to ask what other points of interest exist, and if there are any glaring issues that I have not encountered. All in all, I am very pleased with these products and have had a great time reviewing them, but it is always wise to get a second opinion.

 

What I Like About Georender’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
  • The new terrain textures are a huge improvement over the default scenery
  • The same goes for the new mesh
  • The animated geysers add a nice touch of authenticity
  • As do the hot springs
  • The performance was good on my system, and the “blurries” were limited
  • The documentation, charts, and maps are all quite useful
  • The area covered is rather large and can keep you busy for a long time

 
What I Don't Like About Georender’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
  • I found a few irregularities in the terrain that I would like to see remedied…nothing overly outrageous however.
  • Some of the buildings could use more modeling in place of the textures despite the frame rate hit that may occur.
  • I felt that both parks lacked enough trees. Again, this weighs against good performance, but nevertheless…

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