My Typical Yellowstone Weekend: A Photo Essay

When I am not traveling, I usually include a hike up Old Gardiner Road in my weekend plans. On Saturday, the pronghorn were in abundance during my walk--indeed, I had to stop and wait a few times as the animals crossed the road so as not to disturb them.

Under a blue sky and the much longed for sunshine, I took a ski on Sunday morning up the Mammoth Road to below Bunsen Peak.

And while the rest of the world watched the Superbowl in the afternoon, I tested my new digiscoping equipment in my front yard. Here are two of my first amateur efforts:

Winter Ecology

dr. james halfpenny.jpg.jpgToday I played hooky from work--with the approval of my boss--and attended a Yellowstone Association class, Skis Across Yellowstone. Dr. James Halfpenny (Jim) taught the class and literally wrote the book on our subject matter--his Winter: An Ecological Handbook is one of the definitive works on winter ecology.

An amazing naturalist and educator with over a thirty-year history in Yellowstone and a global travel log to be envied, he also runs an ecology education center and museum in Gardiner that offers field courses in Yellowstone and around the world. I'm saving my pennies so I can attend his Polar Bears of the Arctic trip.

lamar buffalo ranch.jpg.jpgThe class returned me to my second favorite place on earth (Tuolumne Meadows being my first)--Lamar Valley. After a cozy night in my cabin, I arose early and joined the faithful wolf watching crew (with Rick and his yellow Xterra) at Slough Creek campground. I gazed at members of the Druid pack while they frolicked on Specimen Ridge. One wolf played with what appeared to be a discarded radio collar; another bantered with ravens. Before they trotted off into the forest the pack provided us with a farewell group howl. (Sorry-still no wolf photos--my scope adaptor for my camera is still on order).

After breakfast, Jim led the class on a delightful ski along the base of Barronette peak. We dug snowpits, took temperature and density measurements, and learned terms like depth hoar. I also enthusiastically volunteered to help with counting animal tracks using a really cool GPS device. We observed the tracks of multiple snowshoe hares, grouse, martens, coyotes, moose, and one snowshoer.

big horn sheep near roosevelt.jpg.jpgOn my return trip home I navigated several bison jams and stopped once more at Slough Creek to watch wolves. Near Roosevelt, I turned a corner and suddenly beheld a bighorn sheep not five feet from the road. My failed quest over the weekend had been suddenly realized. I parked the car and got my camera ready. He munched away, and considered me for only a moment before resuming his meal. With my naked eye I could count the ridges on his horns. I was mesmerized and sat on a rock for a half an hour simply watching him nibble forage.

Skiing on the Blacktail Plateau Trail

some mountain.jpgYellowstone is truly a cross country skier's paradise. I glided on soft powder from last night's snowstorm while relishing the expansive views of the surrounding basin. I have no idea what peak is pictured at left--my guess from the topo map is Bunsen or Sepulcher.

The clouds rising over the white hills looked like the snow trying to escape into the sky. The rolling terrain appeared endless--the scale of the Yellowstone area is somewhat daunting as Yellowstone is almost three times the size as Yosemite.

fawn.jpgDuring my ski, I waved as I passed several napping bison, and stopped to examine some coyote tracks. The sunshine and blue skies were welcome after the constant snowstorms we've been experiencing. I am also happy to report that after this trip I have officially adjusted to the cold. Even at 18F today, I skied in only my base layer with long underwear, and no hat--and I was hot!

When I arrived home, three mule deer greeted me in my driveway. Apparently the Ungulate Festival has not finished yet.

And here's the sunset over Electric Peak from my front porch tonight.

Skiing on Superbowl Sunday

tower falls.jpgA typical day cross country skiing in Yellowstone: bull elk resting in the snow, bison wandering down the ski trail, wolf tracks and scat scattered on the terrain, and water running under the translucent blue ice of a frozen waterfall.

My co-worker, Marti, and I took an afternoon ski to Tower Falls—a rather small fall by Yosemite standards at 132 feet, but beautiful nonetheless. Watching the water flow beneath the waterfall’s frozen coating was mesmerizing. I also learned the best strategy for dealing with the appearance of a bison herd in your ski path—make a wide berth around! Of course as soon as we had broke trail through the powder and arrived at the other side, the bison had removed themselves. I think they just like watching skiers do extra work.

lone bull elk.jpgAfter the ski, my neighbors of about 20 feet away invited me to a superbowl party. I dined on elk, moose, and mule deer, along with homemade enchiladas and sushi—all well earned after my ski excursion. I’m glad I went as most attendees were Giants fans, and New England needed a representative. I didn’t have any Patriots gear, so I wore my Red Sox hat.

bison napping.jpg I realized how old I am when one of the teenagers at the party asked me who the creepy old guy was singing at half time. My friend Michelle and I have a strong opinion that rock stars should not be allowed to play after 50, which this teenager further vindicated. I'm not a football fan, but how can the Pats lose after a perfect season? Actually, I am glad. Us New Englanders like being the losers and underdogs; our teams have been winning too frequently of late. Let's give it another 80 years before the next national victory-it builds character.