The day after Christmas my family, Dusty and I headed to Yellowstone National Park. We stayed at the Days Inn in West Yellowstone, just a few blocks from the Park boundary. The rooms were comfortable and the pool area (complete with water slide and hot tubs) was a welcome treat after a long day of hiking/exploring in the Park.
The following morning we picked up a snow-coach ride through the geyser areas in the southwest corner of Yellowstone. The weather was cold, but winds were calm and the sky was perfectly clear, except whenever we passed by a cloud seeding steam vent or springs. I've been to Yellowstone about a dozen times, but never had I seen it as such a pristine, wintery wonderland.
All the places we visited on the snow-couch tour we'd seen a couple summers before, when the ground was mostly free of snow and quite a bit warmer. Seeing the entire landscape blanketed in white, perforated by columns of steam was just stunning.
We stopped off at Old Faithful to watch an eruption and snack on food. By the time lunch was over, the temperature had warmed up nicely, and it was much easier to see eruptions.
There were comparatively very few visitors in the winter. The Park is only open to guided tours (snow-coach or snowmobile) and we never felt crowded on the boardwalks and visitor areas.
In some springs, the water is warm enough to sustain bacteria mats year-round. These incredible colonys were spotted in the runoff from one of Paint Pots' pools.
In other areas, the ground was superheated enough to melt the snowpack and expose fertle soil. In these areas we often found grasses and small clovered plants growing in abundance. Our tourguide told us that in Summer these same patches dry up and die. So it was common to see niche micro-environments at the border between ice and vegitation.
Of course with fewer vehicles and visitors disturbing the scenery, we saw far greater numbers of coyote, buffalo, deer, elk and other wildlife. Dusty was hoping to see a moose and a wolf, but neither were spotted on our trip.
These bison were nibbling on grasses along the river banks. The geysers produce enough hot water to raise the entire river's temperature by 7 degrees. This is an oasis for fish and wildlife seeking shelter in the Park from the harsh Wyoming winters.
The following morning Dusty and I strapped on our snowshoes and set out for an early hike. As soon as we stepped outside the hotel we felt the extreme cold on our faces, but we were have warm gear for just such occasions. After about an hour, we came to the river and stopped off the enjoy the view. On our way back to town, we passed some cross-country skiers. They were VERY surprised to see anyone else out that morning. One man told us it was -10F when they left their car a few minutes prior. When we got back to the hotel, my dad said it was down to -26F when we left that morning. That's a new low for us!
We leave in less than two weeks for the Caribbean!! The thought of that warm, crystal clear water is about the only think keeping us sane throught this rainy and overcast time of the year. A little sun and fun would do us both a world of good. :) We'll keep you updated!