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A New Year in Yellowstone

West Thumb warming hut with snow

Could there be any better way to start a new year than by spending January first in Yellowstone?

I worked today at the West Thumb warming hut.  My usual duty station is at Old Faithful, but this winter I’m covering lieu days for the regular West Thumb ranger once every week or two.  This involves taking a snowmobile over Craig Pass, crossing the Continental Divide twice on each seventeen-mile trip.  I hadn’t realized how much I would enjoy working at the little wood cabin on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Part of the appeal is straightforward: West Thumb is a beautiful spot, with views across frozen Yellowstone Lake to the snowy peaks of the Absaroka Mountains.  Much as I love Old Faithful, it’s nice to get a change of scenery every now and again.

ranger in front of West Thumb warming hut

Have I mentioned lately that I love my job?

The bigger surprise, though, is how much I enjoy the nature of the work there at West Thumb.  It feels like being an old-time ranger: I arrive in the morning, check the wood stove, shovel the walk, and check the restrooms.  Then I walk the boardwalks of the geyser basin in snowshoes to pack down new-fallen snow, making the walking easier for visitors.  Around 10 a.m., the first guided groups of the day stop by, and I come out to chat with visitors and check in with the guides.  I tend to people with cold toes, pass on news of wildlife sightings, and show kids of all ages the animal skulls and pelts that we keep in the warming hut.  I add wood to the stove as needed, chase after those who have left mittens behind, and sweep up stray crumbs from visitor lunches.  I do everything that needs doing.  I’m on my feet all day until it’s time to hop on the snowmobile and head home to Old Faithful.

People are happy.  The guides love their work.  I greet everyone with a smile—and, today, a cheery “Happy New Year!”  Nope, not a bad start to 2014, not at all.

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. J Blanche #

    Reblogged this on Information Blast!! thanks Joe.

    January 1, 2014
  2. Thanks for the reblog!

    January 1, 2014
  3. Nice to have found you. I worked three seasons in the park back in the late 80′s. Roosevelt Lodge, Lake Hotel and Snow Lodge. You bring back some wonderful memories. Thanks!

    January 1, 2014
    • That’s a great assortment of locations. How did you like the old Snow Lodge? Have you been to the park since 1998 to see the new one?

      I love meeting people who worked in the park in the past. I’ve talked to women who came out by themselves in the 1950s and folks who were around when the road into the Old Faithful area was relocated in 1972. I love the connection to place that we all share.

      January 1, 2014
      • I worked the first season in 1989. My first post was a busboy at Snowlodge. I quickly got promoted to waiter and moved to Roosevelt lodge. Loved the wranglers and the chuck wagon. I remember seeing the mosaic burn patterns on the hills after the fires. I wintered in the Everglades National Park. Talk about extremes! I worked at the Flamingo Restaurant. It’s no longer there. I went back and worked at Lake hotel. Oh how I loved it when all of the campers at Fishing Bridge got rained on and they would all show up for dinner at Lake Hotel. Those were long nights. :-)
        I loved to fish down at Lewis Lake down at the South Entrance just up from Flag Ranch. The water was crystal clear….and very cold. The first time and the only time I ever saw a Bald Eagle fishing was while sitting on the picnic bench just out the rear entrance facing the Lake at Lake hotel. It was the door that connects to the Sun room. He just swooped down about 30 yards from where I was sitting and plucked a good 12 inch trout right out of the water. Wow!

        Some of the best times of my life were spent in the parks. It was quite a soap opera living in the employee dorms. There was a guy named Paige who used to play his Ukulele to his guests at Lake hotel. And one of the best cooks around named Cruz. He had already been there many years when I met him.

        To see an entire column of cars backed up to take a picture of a whistle pig was priceless. Thanks so much for jogging these memories.

        January 1, 2014
  4. Thanks for the glimpse of what a winter day at Yellowstone is like. I’ve visited the park more than 10 times, but never during winter months. It is good to read about someone who loves their job.

    January 1, 2014
    • Winter is a wonderful time of year in Yellowstone, but it’s also difficult for many people to come to the park in the snowy months. Part of the reason I’m blogging about my winter season here is to try to share the experience with those who can’t be here. I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

      January 1, 2014
  5. Sounds like heaven Cathy, thanks for sharing and happy new year :)

    January 2, 2014
  6. Shaina Niehans #

    Love the old time ranger part! I get those feelings every now and then and hope digital rangering doesn’t fully take over. Definitely sounds like a fun duty station!

    January 2, 2014
  7. that sounds like a lot of work, and a lot of fun too! Thanks for sharing – I kind of lived it for a while! Regards.

    January 3, 2014

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