Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yellowstone in March

In early March I flew to Montana to enjoy Yellowstone in winter. It was hardly winter. While El Nino bombarded much of North America with storms this year, precipitation was light in the northern Rockies. I didn't get to do some of the photography I had hoped to do, but I enjoyed the park, seeing many of my friends\co-workers who drive snowcoaches, wait tables, haul luggage, and other jobs which go on during the winter season in the park. Unless there is a lot of late season precipitation, it will be a dry year in Yellowstone.

It felt like "old home week" seeing everyone. I took a class on the history of wolves at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, a program presented by the Yellowstone Insitute as part of the educational, non-profit fundraising Yellowstone Association. Besides the history of wolves in Yellowstone, the instructor, Nathan Varley, PhD in Wildlife Management, talked about the mythology, the lore, the love-hate relationship humans have had with wolves throughout our history. We saw three wolf packs and a lone wolf and watched territorial behaviors, feeding on a kill, heard them howl, and watched them travel through the Lamar Valley.
One of the enjoyments of going in winter is the quiet. I watched Old Faithful erupt with less than a dozen people. I walked around the geyser basin by myself.
Several people helped make this a great experience. Rob and Mike set me up with rides on the snowcoaches so I could get from Mammoth to Old Faithful and then take a tour around the park to Yellowstone Lake and the Lower and Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. (photo left: ice and falling water on the Lower Falls). Ricky and Joe and others reserved dorm rooms for me, saving a whole lot over hotel room costs. Rachel, Doug and Vic were great snowcoach drivers. Erika and I had dinner together in the Snow Lodge Dining Room. Erika was my room mate in the cabin I spend two nights a week in last summer. Although she was not serving our table, Carrie, my neighbor last year stopped by to say hello.
Before I flew north, Doug shipped his 80-400 zoom lensto me. He said I could use it for the trip and then decide if I wanted to buy it. He wasn't totally happy with it, and it does have some limitations. However, I decided to keep it, use it until I decide what I want to do for a long lens. The price was right, but loaning it let me try it out and get used to it before heading to Yellowstone. He also lent me a tripod so I didn't have to pack one. Thanks Doug.....and to you and Sandra for dinner and a night's lodging.

Left: me with Lower Falls in background. Above, a solitary visitor at Yellowstone Lake

The snowcoaches had a rough time as there wasn't enough snow on the roads. While I was there, pavement was showing through in many areas. People on snowmobile tours had to be "ferried" by coaches to starting points with enough snow. This Bombardier took me on the trip to the Lake and Falls, but rubber tread coaches were necessary to make the trip out from Old Faithful to Mammoth.

Boardwalk and steam at West Thumb Geyster basin

Imprint of a bird in the snow

Lone wolf resting by a rock.

One of the things that makes winter fun, is seeing all the animal activity that goes on when we are not watching

Left and below: Lamar Buffalo Ranch. When the bison were almost extinct, animals from some large ranches were brought into the park and kept here. Eventually they bred with the remaining wild bison and were set free.

Small, comfortable cabins house students in the Yellowstone Institute classes. We had a communal kitchen, shower house, and area for meeting space.
A variety of smaller wildlife.

Ondine Falls--part of it it frozen, part runs throughout the winter. But you can see how little snow is on the ground here.