A New Year in Yellowstone
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.
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.