Friday, May 26, 2017

February 2016: Yellowstone in Winter

Bison on the Madison River

I had always heard how neat Yellowstone was in the winter time, but I had never been.  I had been in the spring, when there was still a lot of snow on the ground, but I had never been on a snowcoach tour.  For one reason or another, I had always thought, "Oh, it's too expensive,"  or, "I can't afford the time."  One excuse after another.  Funny thing was, I really wanted to do it but I didn't really think it was feasible.

One of my childhood best friends, Jeff ended up being a snowcoach driver.  I thought, "If I ever went on a snowcoach tour, I'd like Jeff to be the tourguide."  One day I finally looked into it for real.  One of the Hot Chick's friends and her husband both said they wanted to go on a snowcoach trip, so we just decided to do it.  Thing was, it isn't all that expensive.  The value of the trip was well worth the price we paid.  It ended up being $120.00 per person plus a nice tip for the driver.

The Hot Chick and I made a pact that we would not exchange gifts for Christmas that year, we would, instead put whatever money we would have spent on each other into our snowcoach fund.  We also told our children not to buy us things.  We already have enough things.  If they wanted to give us a gift for Christmas, they should donate to our snowcoach fund.  Just doing that got us most of the way there.  Then it wasn't a hardship coming up with the rest.

We headed up on a Friday night in the middle of February, after work, ate at the Three Bear Restaurant and stayed at the Stagecoach Inn.  The Stagecoach is one of the older hotels in West Yellowstone, and it has a colorful history as a speakeasy, a brothel, an underground casino etc...  It also has a really cool grand staircase made of knotty pine and surrounded by taxidermy animals.  The staircase goes up halfway, splits into two staircases each going opposite directions.  I had wanted to stay in that hotel for many years.

Sadly, I didn't get any photos of the interior of the Stagecoach (this time...  We did go again the following year and I got photos that time.  You'll have to wait for the next blog post to see that.)

After breakfast, we boarded the snowcoach with Jeff as our driver and headed into Yellowstone National Park.  At first I was a little disappointed because I had always envisioned going in in a tracked vehicle with skis on the front.  This was a large 12 passenger van that had giant balloon tires on it.  They call it an 'over the snow vehicle.'  Jeff told us that the balloon tires were way more quiet than the tracked vehicles and vans with this kind of wheel got fifteen or twenty miles per gallon of fuel as opposed to the tracked vehicles which got about three miles to the gallon.   Over the road wheeled vehicle it was.

There were two trips we could take into Yellowstone in the winter, Old Faithful or Canyon.  We chose Old Faithful for this year (2016) and said if it was as cool as we hoped it was, we'd do Canyon the next year.  The Park Service only allows a certain number of people a day into Yellowstone in the winter.  If you wish to go on a snowcoach tour, you have to book it a few weeks in advance, and you need to either have a park pass or pay for admittance at the gate.  I always buy an all parks pass each year for eighty dollars.  After three trips into Yellowstone or any other national park, the pass is paid for.  I don't mind because all of the pass fees go directly to the National Park Service.  It doesn't go into the general fund.

We headed off toward Old Faithful and began seeing animals just a few miles into the park.  We saw bison, swans, a wolf and a coyote.

Small herd near Madison Junction

Three trumpeter swans, two adults and one adolescent 

Two more swans

The grey dot, according to the spotting scope we looked through is a wolf.  This is why I need a 400 mm lens

Wolf's little brother, coyote
On the Old Faithful tour, the snowcoach stops at several of the geyser basins.  Our first stop was at Biscuit Basin.  There are several geysers and pools at Biscuit Basin.  We were able to see a couple of them erupt.  Unfortunately, I don't know the names of the ones we saw.

Bacterial mat at Biscuit Basin

Primordial sludge

Geyser whose name escapes me

Continuing eruption

Getting serious


On the boardwalk with water in many different forms.  Liquid, solid and gas

Our friends on the boardwalk

The Hot Chick and our tourguide (and longtime friend), Jeff

I like texture

Slimy stuff

Don't think this is edible

I think I photograph this every time I go there

More goo

So many varieties.  Jeff said that microbes from one of the pools in the park was the foundation for all DNA research.  Yellowstone is a very cool place

The ground is hot here, the snow (or sneg as my Russian friends would say) only collects in the grasses above the dirt

After Biscuit Basin, we headed over to Old Faithful.  First we checked the time of the eruption, then we decided we had enough time to go and eat at the diner in the lodge.  I don't remember what I had, but I think it was good.  Then we headed over to Old Faithful to see the eruption before heading back aboard our snowcoach.  We arrived mid-eruption and by the time I got into position and got the camera ready it was basically over.  We had to content ourselves with selfies and pictures of chipmunks.  I have seen Old Faithful erupt ten hundred million billion times, though so it was okay.  Next time I go in the winter I'll be more vigilant.

 Us with Jeff

Alan and Anita, me and the Hot Chick

Cousin kevin

Uncle Ernie

We got back on the road and had to share it with a small herd of bison.  They think they own the place.  After that, we went to Midway Geyser Basin.  Midway is the home of Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the true rockstars of Yellowstone National Park.  A few summers ago, a tourist was climbing a hill overlooking Grand Prismatic Spring.  It was a social trail, not an officially recognized trail.  When he got to the top, he didn't think the view was grand enough, so he climbed a dead tree.  Naturally, the tree collapsed with his weight and as he came down with it, a branch impaled his temple and he died.  Naturally, the Park Service closed the social trails under penalty of a fine.  Last summer, as I was driving by, I noticed that the main trail (Fairy Falls Trail) was closed.  Then I noticed that there was some construction on top of the hill where the man fell.  I looked into it and discovered that the Park Service basically said, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."  That makes me very happy, because the only way to truly witness the majesty of Grand Prismatic Spring is from above.

Bison in the road

This one stared us down for a long time

Midway Geyser Basin

See where the hot water meets the cold?  We used to skinny dip there late at night in the 1970's.  I no longer skinny dip.  I no longer qualify

These are thermal kames.  Locally known as the Marilyn Monroe Mountains

Under the steam is Grand Prismatic Spring.  As you can tell, it's hard to see in the winter.  I hope the overlook is open in wintertime.

Here's a pool or geyser whose name I don't know

More of Midway Geyser Basin's beauty

The steam cools when it hits the trees and turns to a liquid and then a solid.  Part of the unique beauty of Yellowstone

From Midway Geyser Basin we headed over to Fountain Paint Pots.  I love the paint pots, and they are especially cool in winter.  It was pretty cold, however so we didn't stay long.

Fountain Paint Pots


Red Spouter

And another one

Jeff and our trusty steed

We headed back, as we had to be out of the park by 4:30.  I would have liked to stay even longer, but rules being what they are...  We stopped at Firehole Falls to see what it looked like in winter, then we headed for home.  On our way out of the park, we encountered a young bull elk that was unwilling to share the road with snowmobiles and snowcoaches.  The snowmobile drivers would try to get past him and he would charge them, which meant the driver had to vacate the snowmobile.  Then the elk would back off and he'd get back on.  The elk would charge again.  Over and over and over.  No one could pass.  Finally, the elk ran off into the river and we could pass.

Anne Elk, Miss Anne Elk

Firehole Falls

We often have our photo taken at this spot.  First time in the winter, though

Hanging out with a coyote

None shall pass

Ran off into the river

We really enjoyed Yellowstone in the winter.  So much so that when we drove home, our friends said, "So, next year when we go to Canyon..."

***Spoiler Alert***
We went to Canyon the next year, or last winter.  That trip will be featured in the next blog post.  The Hot Chick and I and our friends believe this will become an annual trip for the next several years.  I certainly hope so.  I loved it and loved having my dear friend as a tourguide.  The company is called, Buffalo Bus.  Be sure to give a generous tip to your driver.

Dinner at the Three Bear Restaurant:   $40.00
Night in the Stagecoach Inn:  $60.00
Snowcoach tour with Jeff:  $240.00
Lunch at Old Faithful:  $20.00
Memories:  Priceless

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