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.

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