Winter in Yellowstone

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I’m just back from a ski trip into Yellowstone National Park, hosted by Yellowstone Expeditions. This park is the oldest in the National Park system, and one of the crown jewels. It shines year-round, but is extraordinary in winter, when there are fewer people around and wildlife in abundance. A group of twelve of us was shuttled into the park in “snow coaches,” which are conventional vans equipped with very unconventional equipment—tracks and skis to travel on the snow. We stayed in small yurts clustered around two big yurts that housed the kitchen and dining area. The yurts are comfortable and warm; we never felt chilled, even though it dropped on 15 degrees below zero (F) one night.

Being situated deep inside the park, near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, allowed us terrific access. We skied each day to a new destination, to be amazed anew each time by the land and the wildlife. There were trumpeter swans on the Yellowstone River, river otters along the banks, foxes hunting for mice in the grasslands, coyotes trotting here and there—and yes, wolves. Half of our group had the good fortune of seeing the Canyon Pack, a group of seven wolves that wanders over a wide area centered on the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. And of course there are bison all over the park, spending their time pushing snow with their great heads to get at the grass below. 

The geothermal activity at the park is also astounding. More than half of the geysers in the world are in Yellowstone, and there are hot springs and thermal vents throughout the park, which surrounds a large caldera (collapsed volcano) whose magma body lies not far beneath the surface of the ground. It’s amazing to come across great steaming caldrons of boiling water in the midst of a winter landscape, with many of the pools colored deep blue and rimmed by red and orange rocks. 

The caldera is reminiscent of our own caldera here, close to home, the Valles Caldera. The Yellowstone caldera measures 45 miles in diameter, while the Valles is “only” 13, but the Valles is more distinct and easier to recognize as a caldera. They are also similar in hosting large herds of grazing animals—elk in the Valles Caldera, bison in Yellowstone. 

One of the rare phenomenon we witnessed in Yellowstone is “sun pillars,” a truly magical apparition that occurs on occasion when conditions are just right in winter in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. They form when light reflects off of large snow crystals, and they’re astounding: golden pillars of light that hover over the depths of the canyon like holograms. There’s a photo above, and I’ll post more soon. 

I’ve posted one photo under “Featured Prints” on my home page, and I’ll be posting more in the coming weeks. This is a place worth visiting, and continuing to protect. Go visit if you can—in winter!

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