Hey everyone, sorry for waiting so long to post but I have been fairly busy moving and I don't have internet these days. I just arrived to my new job in Glacier National Park and I figure it would be a great time to recap my winter in Yellowstone. So grab a snack and get comfy because it's gonna be a long one...
Well it came and went pretty fast, and I'm not really sure I would call it a winter. It resembled winter at times, but most of February was over 50ºF everyday. It even rained so hard one day that I thought I had been transplanted back to Florida. Regardless, it was a very cool experience and I got to see and do some pretty spectacular things. The first and most obvious is the wildlife. I saw loads of bison, elk, deer, coyotes, wolves, pronghorn, a few foxes, some new birds, a even a few weasels. Yellowstone is the only place where I have ever been able to use the old, "Sorry I'm late. I couldn't leave my house because there was a bison in the way" line and people don't even bat an eyelash. The park receives over 3.5 Million people per year and only about 120,000 visit in the winter. I have now spent so much more time in the park during the winter that I don't even remember what it looks like in the summer. If you've never been in the winter, I would say this is a pretty accurate representation what you could see in a few days, or in a few hours if you are the lucky type.
Bison in the front yard
I arrived the first week of November and I was very excited about the fact that I was going to be in the park all winter. I had visited the park the previous winter and had a spectacular time. It was already fairly cold, about -10ºF, but not very much snow on the ground. Our first foray into the park was a drive with some friends down to Norris Geyser Basin just before the road closed to wheeled traffic for the winter. It was awesome to say the least.
Bison in the Road
Winter light in Norris
Norris Geyser Reflections
Ghost Trees - Hoar Frosted
Then I started work for the park at the Albright visitor center in Mammoth. I mainly just sat at a desk for 35 hours a week, which was pretty soul-crushing. But I just if I had to be at a desk I might as well be at one where I can watch elk and bison from it. My place was some of the better housing Yellowstone has to offer and the view wasn't the worst.
Sunrise from the Front Porch
Most of my free time was spent trying to get further in the park since I didn't get in there for work. When we did go we usually saw some pretty awesome things.
Bald Eagle along the River
Canary Springs in Mammoth
More of Mammoth Hot Springs
Undine Falls slowly freezing over
Bull Elk on Blacktail Deer Plateau
Nice Views in the Park
Lots of Bison in the Park
My first attempt to find some wolves came one morning after a visitor had told me they found a wolf kill in the river near my house. By the time I had got off work it was already too dark to try and see it so I decided to wake up before sunrise and head down the the river. I was greeted with a pretty spectacular sunrise. You can also notice the lack of snow.
Sunrise from the Lava Creek Trail.
When I eventually found the kill site it was almost completely stripped clean. We arrived to ravens and magpies feasting and a lone eagle soaring overhead. Eventually we had some other visitors drop by to check out what all the commotion was about.
Band of coyotes near the kill site
Then we finally started to get some snow . Not heaps, but enough that the park was able to open up the road for oversnow travel for the season. Once that happened I made sure to get my snowmobile training so I would be able to drive a snowmobile into the park for work purposes. One of the projects that the park was working on was to create a video about the new non-commercial program where people are allowed access to the park without the need for hiring a guide. Since it's brand new they were looking to film b-roll for future video and I was happy to offer my services as an actor. When we woke up that morning it was -35ºF in West Yellowstone, which is where we were heading for the day. It was extremely cold. But when it's cold in Yellowstone, I think it's the most beautiful. Especially near the thermals.
On the side of the road on the way to Norris
Morning Light through the trees
Our trusty steeds
On the way out to West Yellowstone the weather was SPECTACULAR. The Madison was teeming with waterfowl and even though it was extremely cold, the sun kept you just warm enough that you weren't uncomfortable. That and the huge snowmobile suits and heated seats.
Trumpeter swans on the Madison
Coyote in the Road
His buddy exploring the area
As the sun started to set it was apparent that we needed to get home because the temperature was falling fast and we still had over 30 miles before we made it home. It was a super cold ride, but we were lucky to have great views.
Alpenglow on Electric Peak
Then the new year rolled around and we got the first real snow of the winter season. A few dumps that totaled over 2 feet over the course of the week and it was starting to look like winter. Also, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend a few days out in Lamar Valley at the Buffalo Ranch for a program on Wolves. The coolest thing I learned was about the history and reintroduction of wolves into the Park. Only a week before this program was the 20th anniversary of the reintroduction and little did I know I would be snowshoeing out to the original pen site where the wolves were kept back in 1995. On the trip it was obvious that we were in wolf territory because of all the recent tracks just behind my cabin.
Wolf Kill on the way to Rose Creek pen site.
Views from the trail
More views overlooking Lamar Valley
The next morning we woke up before the sun and headed deeper into the park to look for wolves. We heard howls at a distance and eventually found wolves, but they were extremely far away. Even though I couldn't see wolves close enough to shoot them (with a camera), it was still a beautiful morning in the valley at -15ºF.
Near the confluence in Lamar Valley
Hoar Frosted Cottonwoods
Bighorn Sheep above the Confluence
And one even came down a little bit closer to say good morning.
Through the hoar frosted vegetation
The day eventually turned out to be a spectacular day for scenery. Especially near Soda Butte, which is one of my favorite places in the northern part of the park.
Fresh snow near Soda Butte
Big Sky Country in Wyoming too
Winter Light in Yellowstone is pretty awesome, especially in Lamar. The light changes so quickly and you shot can change from minute to minute. These two shots were only takes about 15 minutes apart.
Last light in the valley
Lovely Light on the Lenticulars
It was a great ending to a great day. The next morning we got up early again and headed out to look for wolves. We heard there had been a kill overnight and the wolves were spotted heading south of the road. When we arrived to the scene, we had missed the wolves again but got to see some very cool birds and coyotes pick at the scraps. The pecking order is that the wolves kill, the coyotes scavenge, followed by eagles, ravens, and magpies. We missed the wolves but got to see the rest.
Eagle showing it's dominance over the ravens
After leaving the kill site we hiked out to a historic den site where we were able to get a first hand view of what a wolf den site looked like. When we arrived back at the road a passing visitor informed us that there was a "wolf" on the side of the road a few miles back. Now it's not that I don't believe people when they say they see wolves, but because they said it so nonchalantly, I assumed that it must have been a coyote. The person informed us that they had a photo and was happy to show us. Sure enough it was a wolf, so we all piled back into the vehicle and made our way in that direction.
When we arrived we were greeted with this lone wolf that hung out for a minute or two before deciding he was bored and leaving the scene.
I think it was probably my wildlife highlight of the winter. After that weekend the weather started to change. We stopped getting snow, but it also started to warm drastically. It was getting above freezing as a high everyday so if you wanted to ski, you needed to go early before the snow turned to mashed potatoes. So the best day of skiing we had came on a trip out to Tower Fall. We headed into the park and into the inversion.
Sun rising through the fog
Enjoying a cold one overlooking Calcite Springs
Skiing Tower Road
Chickadee scavenging an elk carcass
My next big trip into the park was getting the opportunity to head over to Hayden Valley. It was another beautiful day outside and even though the snow in Mammoth was mostly gone, Canyon and Hayden receive much more snow and are usually much colder temps also. So when we started out on our trip the snow conditions were pretty bad, but got better by the time we were halfway to Norris.
Overlooking Norris Geyser Basin
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Lower Falls from Artist Point
Meanders in Hayden Valley
Trumpeter Swans through the trees
Not long after our trip down to Hayden I attended a training down at Old Faithful for the day. Even though we were inside most of the day we had a great ride down in the morning and a beautiful sunset on the way back in the evening.
Gibbon Falls after a fresh snowfall
Riding back north from OldFaithful
Love that Sunset Ride
Beaver Ponds Sunset
For our last snowmobile trip of the season we were able to go down to Old Faithful and spend the night with some friends in the interior. The weather was pretty overcast which didn't fare well for scenic shots, but I was able to get a couple keepers.
Lone Bison in the road
Bison along the Firehole RIver
My last ranger-led snowshoe hike of the season only had one person show up so we decided to go a little faster than normal and try and find a cave I had heard about. We did end up finding it and we were not disappointed.
Stygian Cave Iced over
The last weekend I was in the park before I would be leaving would be the full moon. So as a goodbye trip we decided to grab some beers, drive out into Lamar Valley, and look for a good place to watch the moon rise. We weren't really sure where it was going to happen but right as we made our way past Pebble Creek campground the moon popped over the ridge. We had to wait a few minutes for the clouds to clear, but when they did we were able to grab some great shots.
Moon Rise over The Thunderer
As a cherry on top we got some nice color at sunset as well.
Lamar Valley Sunset
There were things about the winter that could have definitely been better, but most of those things were out of my control. The weather being the main one. I was really hoping for a chance to get out and ski often, but it seemed to snow during the week when I was working, and melt by the time the weekend rolled around. Despite the weather and being chained to a desk most days, it was really an overall great experience and it reminded me how spectacular a place Yellowstone is. I really need to get back to the park again during the summer so I can see the park away from the road corridors. Who knows, maybe I work there again sometime in the future.
As for now, I am getting excited about the possibility of what this summer brings now that I am in Glacier. I am still having a hard time finding a place to live, but I have to find something in the next month before I have to leave park housing. In the mean time I am going to keep taking advantage of views like this.
Windy Day at the Lake
Lake McDonald Valley
Once I find a place to live and settle down I hope to be able to send regular updates. But until then I will keep getting out and shooting whenever I can. I hope this finds you all well and hope to hear from you soon!