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. Read more
There has been quite a bit of excitement here at Old Faithful since yesterday afternoon, when a lucky group of park visitors saw a group of wolves kill an elk in the Firehole River not far north of Biscuit Basin. I was on duty at the visitor center both yesterday and today, and so have not been out to view the kill myself yet. I got to see some dramatic photos taken by snowcoach and snowmobile guides, though, and all I can say is WOW. Read more
Why would anyone come to Yellowstone National Park in the winter? It’s cold! (Lowest temperature so far this season at Old Faithful: -36°F. Lowest temperature ever recorded in the park: -66°F.) The days are short! (Sunrise today was at 7:59 am, with sunset at 4:51 pm.) It’s logistically challenging! (The only ways of getting around involve traveling “over snow,” which at different times may mean riding a snowmobile, sitting in the comparatively cozy microenvironment of an enclosed snowcoach, or going self-propelled on snowshoes or cross-country skis. You cannot drive your vehicle into any part of the park except from the North Entrance across to Cooke City.) Read more
Winter in Yellowstone is a time of magic and mystery. Snow-shrouded conifers are further veiled by persistent geyser fog, lending the landscape an ethereal beauty. I love the winter here, and have come to feel surprisingly at home in the harsh environment. No doubt about it, though, a Yellowstone winter can be hazardous—even deadly—for the unprepared or just plain unlucky. The stark beauty of the place is made all the more poignant by the tinge of healthy respect and fear it inspires.
Sometimes, facing fear is the best thing you can do for yourself. In choosing to come back to Old Faithful, I understood that I was confronting a number of fears, both concrete and abstract. Read more
Yesterday was my first full day home at Old Faithful. After breakfast, I checked the temperature outside—six below zero—and got my things together to head out for a quick ski. I felt it was my moral obligation to take advantage of the knee-deep, powdery snow before I tackled any of my other chores for the day. So then I faced the big decision: what to wear?
The official low temperature this morning at Old Faithful was -36 F. Brr! I was supposed to snowmobile into the park this morning, but we’re still waiting for things to warm up a bit more. So I’m sitting in West Yellowstone, waiting, waiting. I’m anxious to get to Old Faithful, but I also like avoiding frostbite and hypothermia. Luckily, I have these two jolly fellows to keep me company!
The New Year dawned cold in the badlands of South Dakota. Temperatures in the low single digits at sunrise on January 1 warmed to a balmy 30°F by midday. The sunny, calm conditions were perfect for my first hike of 2013. I hadn’t walked fifty feet from the trailhead, however, before the sun glinting off the surface of the snow captured my attention. I commonly see delicate sparkles on the snow in the morning sun, but these were bold flashes coming from platy ice crystals the size of my thumbnail.
I knelt to see better, and exclaimed in delight. Even with my naked eye, I could see fine growth ridges running parallel to the edges of each plate, forming beautiful facets. My first thought was surprise that such big, perfectly hexagonal snowflakes could have persisted since the last snowfall, several days ago. But then I realized that the ice crystals weren’t old snowflakes at all: they were a beautiful example of surface hoar. Read more
The Badlands just disappeared. From where I sit next to my kitchen window, I can usually lean slightly to my right and have a nice view of the formations to the north. They have been fading for some time now, first veiled by fog, then whitened by falling snow. The big flakes, carried nearly horizontally by the prairie winds, are now falling thickly enough that the buttes and spires a quarter of a mile away have vanished.