Below Zero in Yellowstone: A Photo Essay

This last week we've experienced below zero temperatures in Yellowstone. While I certainly vote for warmer weather, the intense cold emboldens the landscape and paints it a glistening color that vibrates with life. Below are some photos from Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner.

Yellowstone Winter (Of My Discontent!)

Please Don't Make Me Go Outside!I am quite possibly the only person in the entire Yellowstone area not happy about the recent development in the weather (see below for the horror filled forecast). You can take the girl out of California, but you can't take....

Last week the press coverage centered around how Yellowstone's winter season lacked enough snow in areas for even skiing. Perhaps Mother Nature likes a last minute challenge as this weekend's storm should remedy the situation. Please pay special attention to the windchill forecast for this evening (yes--that's 20 to 30F below zero).

As I write, the temperature outside registers at a balmy 6F compared with the predicted low. Just for fun, I've bundled up in my long underwear and Patagonia parka for a stroll outdoors. Why not? I need to embrace the horror.

Oh, the Weather Outside Is FrightfulWinter Storm Warning
Statement as of 10:54 AM MST on December 13, 2008

...Winter Storm Warning remains in effect until 11 PM MST this evening...

A Winter Storm Warning for heavy snow and blowing snow remains in effect until 11 PM MST this evening.

Snow...blowing snow...and dangerously cold wind chills will occur today through this evening. Snow will continue...heavy at times...through early this evening with total snow accumulations of 4 to 6 inches. However...6 to 11 inches of snow can be expected over and near area mountains. Northerly winds of 15 to 30 mph with gusts to 40 mph today will decrease this evening. The strong winds will combine with the falling snow and snow on the ground to create occasional whiteout conditions with near zero visibility into the evening. With temperatures falling to near zero this afternoon the gusty winds also create wind chills of 20 to 30 degrees below zero by late this afternoon.

A Winter Storm Warning means significant amounts of snow are expected. Strong winds...blowing snow...and bitterly cold conditions will occur as well. This will make travel very hazardous or impossible. Those with vulnerable livestock should take precautions to protect them from the bitter cold.

Driving Chief Joseph’s Highway in a Blizzard (With Cows)

Dude, Where's My Car?Our conference in Red Lodge ended this afternoon, yet before we could begin our trip back home to Yellowstone I had to shovel my buried car out from under two feet of snow. Even more impressive, the snowdrift covering the back of my vehicle rose to over three feet in height. 

The first storm of the season wanted to make a good impression and it certainly succeeded. Snow has fallen steadily since Thursday afternoon and has no intention of stopping.

Embracing the Horror of WinterShowing my usual good judgment, I decided to drive back to Yellowstone instead of staying an extra night in Red Lodge. I reasoned that my Subaru could handle the conditions—once I was able to unbury it—and the resulting boost in morale at escaping from ground zero of the snowstorm would certainly outweigh the dangers of travel.

What I didn’t factor into my thinking is that Montana and Wyoming consider plowed roads unnecessary and cowardly. What’s a mere two feet of snow to drive through since everyone here owns half ton trucks and snowmobiles?

Our Bovine GuidesI did not, however, lose all of my good sense. Despite venturing into the unknown, we took good winter travel precautions—before leaving we secured a pizza from Bogart’s and ensured the iPod was fully charged.

Chief Joseph’s Highway, named for the famous Nez Perce Indian Chief, runs 46 miles from Wyoming to the northeast corner of Yellowstone. It’s also known as Sunlight Basin Road, although I saw scant evidence of sun during our journey. Dead Indian Pass, which marks the highest point on the route, rises to 8,060 feet. And on this day, a blanket of snow covered the entire 46 miles of road.

Unlike the wet, heavy snow I was accustomed to in the Sierra Nevada, the light, powdery snow in the mountain west drifts across the land like “white smoke.” The wind, partnering with the snow, can transform the landscape into a blank white screen. Needless to say, this doesn’t make for ideal driving conditions. Yet the mighty power of the Subaru (and our pizza slices) propelled us over the pass, along with some friendly cows wandering the terrain, who acted as bovine cairns marking our route.

I surely do love winter!

Pilot and Index Peaks from Chief Joseph Highway

Snow Gone Wild

My car is slowly being consumed by snow--we're going to attempt to drive back to Yellowstone this afternoon. I regret not bringing my skis as it would be easier to ski than drive through the Beartooths.

The Subaru Gets Buried

Beth's Sense of Snow (She's A California Wimp)


Help! The Snow Is Attacking!Yellowstone and the surrounding area is under siege from winter. The storm attacked last night, banishing 50 and 60 degree pleasant fall weather with billions of white snowflake soldiers. By Sunday, the landscape will be vanquished with up to four feet of white. 

Despite my attempts to surrender and negotiate a few more weeks of fall, the storm continues to assault us. Today, I'm teaching at a conference on green business in Red Lodge, at the center of the battle, and the snow just keeps on falling. Luckily we have plenty of cookies and hot chocolate, so I don't anticipate any Donner-like scenarios.