Yellowstone in Winter

This was going to be our first Christmas without either of our sons. Tom, our eldest, is overseas, and Taylor, our youngest, was spending Christmas with his new wife’s family in California. We wanted a trip to Antarctica (seriously), but it was too late in the year to get a reservation. However, Pam found a Winter Wonderland trip to Yellowstone National Park that sounded perfect.

This trip we had to do without the Roamer. We flew into Bozeman, MT and shuttled down to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone NP. We boarded our snow coach and headed deep into the park for some winter adventures. We had visited the park this fall, but it’s a much better place in the winter. The geological wonders of the park are blanketed in snow and there are almost no people around.

Our Yellowstone Forever naturalist guide, Chelsea and our snow coach driver Brandon made the time there a blast. While it was cold there, the hot geysers and steam vents that flow into the rivers keep them from freezing.

Luckily, they had some snow, but not the deep winter snow that would have made hiking and skiing more challenging.

We saw a lot of geese, ducks and trumpeter swans in the rivers. Here a cygnet, a baby trumpeter swan, was resting along the river bank.

The trip was an active, learning experience where our days were filled with talks on the geology of the area, the men and women that discovered and played into its history, and some outdoor adventures in the snow. Here we took off into the woods on snowshoes to track and identify the animals living in the winter wonderland.

The hike took us through some beautiful forest places, where lodgepole pines are the dominant species of tree.

We tracked this guy to his no-so-hidden lunch spot.

We had visited the park in the winter before, about a decade ago. At that time we took the rear-tracked vehicle shown on the right. They were noisy, diesel-smelling and uncomfortable, but at the time the necessary evil to view the beauty of the park in wintertime. Several years ago, the park tried a new winter vehicle, a modified E-350 van with 50-inch tall, 22-inch wide low-pressure tires, and now they are the vehicle of choice.

We stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which was a beautiful place near the Old Faithful geyser.

Every morning and evening our adventures ended near Old Faithful. It erupts roughly every 90 minutes, so we saw many eruptions while we were there. The water is so hot coming out of the geyser, roughly 170 degrees, that the eruptions generate a huge steam cloud. Here is the tail end of one eruption.

We hiked the geysers all along the Firehole River. The heat from the water keeps the snow from accumulating near the beautiful blue geysers.

At one geyser along the cross-country trail, Groto Geyser, I pulled out our new travel buddy, a small stuffed Pronghorn we received after “adopting” a pronghorn (donating to the Arizona Antelope Foundation). You may see more shots of him on our future journeys – lol.

Skiing through the park was incredible. We packed our lunches and headed out along the many tracks that are available through the park.

Bison also like the geyser areas because the snow does not build up near the heated wonders, and since the geysers dump into the Firehole River, it does not freeze so drinking water is available year round.

Occasionally you will see the snowmobile groups out of West Yellowstone along the paths. However, the number of snowmobiles allowed into the park have been reduced dramatically over the years, along with where they can ride.

We were there during the shortest days of the year so the sun was always nearly gone on our way back home.

One of the days we had heavy snowfall as we explored West Thumb and the Yellowstone Lake area.

Luckily, we had all the cold weather gear we needed to enjoy this beautiful place this time of year. Pam was enjoying the snowfall near Yellowstone Lake.

We skied through the forest and came out along the rim of Yellowstone Canyon, where a snow drift was all that was between us and the Yellowstone River far below.

The lower falls were beautiful as the snow came down.

Yellowstone NP is just beautiful, from the natural wonders that abound there, to the animals that make it their home during the winter.

One bison was not full yet and was digging for some more grass under the snow.

His two buddies nearby decided to rest in the snowpack while more snow fell all around.

Here is our snow coach, complete with skis on the back. The tires only run at 10 psi so they have a pretty big footprint to help get through the snow.

The geysers are biologically interesting as well as beautiful. The deep blue is the hot water zone where no life can live. Around the edges where the water cools, the reds, orange and yellows are microbes that have adapted to hotter climates. Yellowstone is a living laboratory supporting many different scientific studies.

The geysers change too, due to volcanic and earthquake forces. New runoff paths kill trees due to the heat and water, creating some gorgeous pictures at daybreak.

We caught the first light on the distant mountain on our last day there.

Also, this lonesome coyote made his way across the geyser basin in the early morning.

Yellowstone has many different types of geological features. This one is near Mammoth Hot Springs and is similar to the calcium carbonate tiers that we found near Thermopolis, WY.

It was tough to leave this place. Given its 4 million visitors a year, it was very special to see the park with just a handful of folks and no other cars within 100 miles.

We headed back to Bozeman and explored there for a couple days before our flight home. We hit the Museum of the Rockies, which is noted for its “Hall of Horns and Teeth”.

The last time we visited the museum a couple of years ago, the visiting exhibit was on Vesuvius and its last days prior to the eruption. The link being that Bozeman would be in a similar situation if the Yellowstone caldera ever blows.

This time the visiting exhibits were polar photos by Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer that took some amazing shots as he travelled to both poles. His stories posted among the photos made the photos even more precious.

The other exhibit were incredible paintings by Canadian Cory Trepanier of the remote landscapes of northern Canada. A film of his treks with his family to these remote areas to get each painting made us really want to revisit Alaska and the Yukon again – soon.

What a great trip and while a quieter than normal Christmas for us, it was still an awesome adventure.

Hwy 89B in Central Arizona

Not all of our adventures are ”no work and all play”. The rig allows us to do volunteer work away from home while having our “home” with us. We headed to The Orme School, where Pam is on the Board of Trustees, to help with a refurbishing project on one of the old ranch homes.

The house was acquired by the school from the ranch and is in need of some upgrades before it can be used as a future faculty home. We broke out the chainsaw and made easy work of the trees and bushes that had overgrown near the house.

We also removed all the drywall to redo the electrical, plumbing and ducting for the place. It has some nice wooden floors that we’ll fix up and use to keep the old feel of the place. New windows, doors, kitchen and bathrooms are also on the list of upgrades. This should keep us busy into next spring.

After a couple of days of work and getting the place to a good stopping point, we took off to camp for the night off of Hwy 89B between Cottonwood and Sedona. The road used to be FS 525C but has been renamed 89B. It’s a nice dispersed area that gets a lot of use. Luckily, we found a pretty spot where you could see the beautiful rock formations of Sedona in the distance.

The colors at sunset were also something the behold.

The next day we made our way home again, stopping in at the Roadrunner in New River for a nice bite of food. Sometimes the short getaways are just what you need.


Owning an Earthroamer is a joy and takes us on great adventures, but occasionally you need to deal with the frustration of a mechanical issue. On the last leg of our summer trip the front passenger shock attach-bolt broke and departed the rig, leaving the front shock dangling from its upper mount. We were alerted to the problem by the loud squeaking noise…. we sounded like a wounded whale. A quick call to the ER service rep and we had a plan for the repair.

Earthroamer has an outstanding customer support team, headed up by Spencer, and they will either talk you through the fix (if you want to tackle it yourself), or help you find a local repair shop and coordinate details so the process goes smoothly. Spencer tied us up with Sierra Expeditions in Mesa, AZ. Will and his guys at Sierra had helped us out before replacing a broken winch gear, so we were confident they could handle our broken shock. Seeing that our rig has nearly 90,000 miles now we decided to rebuild all the shocks, getting new shims and some spares for future failures that might occur away from civilization. In the process of our shock overhaul we found a crack in the frame that would have been a huge issue in the future, but it had just started so we caught it in time. His guys welded the crack, rebuilt the shocks and Pam and I were itchin’ to travel again.

Our friends, Clark and Jill had just purchased a Sprinter van to start their backroads exploration, so we decided on a nice extended weekend trip to southeast Arizona. We met up at Whitewater Draw, south of Elfrida, AZ to check out the birds.

Whitewater Draw is the winter home to thousands of sandhill cranes. The bird habitat is tucked in between thousands of acres of corn fields that the birds visit daily. Only a few hundred cranes were at the Draw this early in the winter migration, but there are always interesting raptors and other water birds. Camping at WWD is free, which is always a bonus.

There were a host of other birds also there in the ponds and grasses.

A Northern Harrier Hawk was also sunning himself in the fields.

The hay barn at the Draw has a bat house that exploded with hundreds of bats at sunset. While the white-nose virus that killed thousands of bats across the country is still an issue, we’ve seen bats nearly ever evening camping, which is a great thing since they do an incredible job keeping the mosquito and other insect populations in check. Plus, they are pretty cool when they swoop in and out of the glow of the campfire.

The next day we drove into Chiricahua National Monument to hike the trails. The rock formations at Chiricahua are spectacular and provide a beautiful backdrop for a very enjoyable hike.

We did one of the shorter loops, only about 4 miles, that wraps in and through the rocks.

It was a beautiful day and the views were gorgeous.

We had lunch at the visitor center and were greeted by the local Arizona white tail deer. They are a very small deer, only about 100 pounds or less, but their huge ears make them a joy to see.

We camped the night in the forest off Pinery Canyon Road. We cooked up a nice dinner and had smores over the fire for dessert. Who said kids have to be present to enjoy smores?

The next morning we explored the wine region that is booming south of Wilcox, AZ. We caught a few hundred Sandhill Cranes in the air making their way to a local field for breakfast. We headed instead to the Zarpara Vineyard for some wine tasting, which was very good.

We then took off to the north side of the mountain range to hike to Ft Bowie National Monument. It’s one of the few National Monuments where you park on a dirt road and hike in about 1.5 miles to get to the place. It used to be along the stage coach trail between El Paso and Tucson due to the spring near the Fort, but now no roads run next to the place. It was also the command center for the Indian Wars that took place in the area against the Apache Indians following the Civil War.

After our hike back out we were parched so we made our way to another of the local wineries, Bodega Pierce Vineyards. We caught the tail end of a wine tasting event and ended up closing the place after tasting many good wines while discussing cooking, politics, grapes and life.
As the sun set we made our way to CattleRest RV Park & Saloon just outside Wilcox. The saloon did not serve food so we cooked up dinner in the parking lot and enjoyed great burgers while Clark and Jill attempted to teach us Pinochle. We made our way back home the next morning.

Another great trip to southeast Arizona and hopefully the first of many with Clark and Jill.