My Winter in Yellowstone

April 04, 2015  •  8 Comments

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.

RoadblockRoadblock

Bison in the Road

Fresh Snow in Norris Geyser BasinFresh Snow in Norris Geyser Basin

Winter light in Norris

Norris Geyser Basin ReflectionsNorris Geyser Basin Reflections

Norris Geyser Reflections

Ghost TreesGhost Trees

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.

Front Porch SunriseFront Porch Sunrise

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 - Haliaeetus leucocephalusBald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Bald Eagle along the River

Canary Spring PanoramaCanary Spring Panorama

Canary Springs in Mammoth

Upper TerracesUpper Terraces

More of Mammoth Hot Springs

Undine FallsUndine Falls

Undine Falls slowly freezing over

Bull Elk in Blacktail FlatsBull Elk in Blacktail Flats

Bull Elk on Blacktail Deer Plateau

Lone Tree in YellowstoneLone Tree in Yellowstone

Nice Views in the Park

Home on the RangeHome on the Range

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. 

Lava Creek Trail SunriseLava Creek Trail Sunrise

Sunrise from the Lava Creek Trail.

Sheep Mountain Sunrise PanoramaSheep Mountain Sunrise Panorama

Changing colors

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.

My Favorite Band (of Coyotes)My Favorite Band (of Coyotes)

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.

Natural Black and WhiteNatural Black and White

On the side of the road on the way to Norris

Crepuscular Rays in YellowstoneCrepuscular Rays in Yellowstone

Morning Light through the trees

Overlooking Norris Geyser BasinOverlooking Norris Geyser Basin

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 MadisonTrumpeter Swans on the Madison

Trumpeter swans on the Madison

Coyote on the RoadCoyote on the Road

Coyote in the Road

Coyote Near 7-mile BridgeCoyote Near 7-mile Bridge

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.

The Long Road HomeThe Long Road Home

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.

Yellowstone's Deadliest PredatorYellowstone's Deadliest Predator

Wolf Kill on the way to Rose Creek pen site.

Coyote Tracks in LamarCoyote Tracks in Lamar

Views from the trail

Snowshoeing in Lamar ValleySnowshoeing in Lamar Valley

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.

Predawn at the ConfluencePredawn at the Confluence

Near the confluence in Lamar Valley

Hoarfrosted TreesHoarfrosted Trees

Hoar Frosted Cottonwoods

Rams on the RidgeRams on the Ridge

Bighorn Sheep above the Confluence

And one even came down a little bit closer to say good morning.

Through the FrostThrough the Frost

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.

Sunny Day at Soda ButteSunny Day at Soda Butte

Fresh snow near Soda Butte

A lone TreeA lone Tree

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. 

Afternoon in Lamar Valley PanoramaAfternoon in Lamar Valley Panorama

Last light in the valley

Sunset in Lamar ValleySunset in Lamar 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. 

King of the BirdsKing of the Birds

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.

Historic Wolf DenHistoric Wolf Den

Wolf den

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.

Napping on a RockNapping on a Rock

 

Lone Wolf (2)Lone Wolf (2)

 

Shaking off the SnowShaking off the Snow

 

Lone WolfLone Wolf

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. 

Foggy SunriseFoggy Sunrise

Sun rising through the fog

Summit Soda at Calcite SpringsSummit Soda at Calcite Springs

Enjoying a cold one overlooking Calcite Springs

Tower Fall SkierTower Fall Skier

Skiing Tower Road

Nature ProvidesNature Provides

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. 

Norris Geyser BasinNorris Geyser Basin

Overlooking Norris Geyser Basin

View from Lookout PointView from Lookout Point

Lower Falls

Grand Canyon of the YellowstoneGrand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls from Artist PointLower Falls from Artist Point

Lower Falls from Artist Point

MeanderingMeandering

Meanders in Hayden Valley

Swans through the TreesSwans through the Trees

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.

Snowy Gibbon FallsSnowy Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls after a fresh snowfall

Beautiful Ride in YellowstoneBeautiful Ride in Yellowstone

Riding back north from OldFaithful

Sunset RideSunset Ride

Love that Sunset Ride

Beaver Lake SunsetBeaver Lake Sunset

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 BisonLone Bison

Lone Bison in the road

Bison on the FireholeBison on the Firehole

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.

Ice CaveIce Cave

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. 

Full Moon over Thunderer in YellowstoneFull Moon over Thunderer in Yellowstone

Moon Rise over The Thunderer 

As a cherry on top we got some nice color at sunset as well.

Alpenglow in Lamar ValleyAlpenglow in Lamar Valley

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.

Lake McDonald ShorelineLake McDonald Shoreline

Lake McDonald

Crashing Waves on Lake McDonaldCrashing Waves on Lake McDonald

Windy Day at the Lake

Lake McDonald Shoreline SunsetLake McDonald Shoreline Sunset

Shoreline Sunset

Lake McDonald Valley - March28, 2015Lake McDonald Valley - March28, 2015

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!

 

-Jake


Comments

8.Jeff Stamer(non-registered)
Hello Frank,
I'm going to be visiting Glacier with my son from Aug 14-17. Any tips for a obsessive photographer that you would like to share based upon your residence there this year?
7.Vicky Dickens(non-registered)
What a treat - thanks so much for sharing with all of us. Your stunning photos really capture the beauty and transport me right back to Lamar Valley and our wolf adventures! How lucky we were to have you in our group. Looking forward to photos of Glacier next.
6.Fred Engel(non-registered)
Jake, fantabulous photos!! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with in Glacier!
5.Jackie Wilson(non-registered)
I loved our time in January at Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Your photography is magnificent! My friends and I were so very fortunate you were part of the group and that you so generously shared your pictures. Good luck in Glacier!
4.Janet(non-registered)
Stunning photography! Thanks for posting
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