Business Insider reporter Robert Johnson tried to get a tour of the Alberta tar, err, oil sands operations, but was denied. So instead, he rented a Cessna and took photos from 1,000 feet in the air.

The entire slideshow is a fascinating look at the process of surface mining in Alberta and shows the ugly, not so ugly, and not-as-bad-as-you-thought sides of this unconventional fuel source. I pulled a few pictures from the original post, which you can read here.

Trees being cleared before a shallow layer of topsoil is removed to expose the bitumen (tar/sand mixture):

Huge Tonka trucks carrying scraped up bitumen to be crushed for further processing:

After crushing, the bitumen is mixed with water so the oil can be siphoned off. Tailing ponds contain the remains of the oily, gritty mixture:

If all goes to plan, the land is restored to its near pre-mining condition.

As an engineer, I have an appreciation for the process. Look at how adept we are at manipulating the Earth for resources. We can move dirt, crush it, and extract useful stuff out of it. No other living thing on the planet can do what we do (for better or worse). The rest of me finds the whole process messy and a hassle, thinking that if we're going to all of this trouble for resources, we must be doing something incorrectly.

All photos by Robert Johnson at Business Insider.