"There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of this great human principle." Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sun shining on the Blacktail Plateau
 With another beautiful morning I went for a drive to Lamar again.  I had to capture the moment of the sun shining on the plateau.  The wind had smoothed the snow in areas and some patches reminded me of lakes because of the waves of snow. 
Herd of bison on the Blacktail Plateau

Snowplows working to keep the roads clear of snow
 The road maintenance crews are working very hard on keeping the roads clear of the never ending blowing snow.  Though the mornings are relatively calm the wind seems to start to blow around 11:00 each morning.  Here the plows are cutting the snow on the sides of the road. 
Lamar Valley
 I only saw 3 bison in Lamar Valley until I got to the hitching posts.  There I saw a small herd.  Two of the rams were grazing across from the hitching posts.  A group of photographers had congregated in the parking area so I just took a quick glance and drove on.
Loader moving snow 
Loaders are being used in areas where are no places to push the snow.  This loader was clearing an area where the road met with the base of a hill on one side.  Loaders are also being used on the Blacktail at times so that the snow can be picked up and moved to areas where there are not huge drifts.

I only have 6 more weeks left in Mammoth.  Then I will be off to the Adventure Store for the 2011 summer season.  I am rather excited about it since we have been planning on some changes with the store.  It was decided that we would keep our small food service area open the entire season.  The previous couple of years it was only open in the spring and fall when Canyon General was closed.  We have been taste testing numerous new soups that we will be serving as well as discussing some new grocery items and outdoor gear.  Jack and Lee will be returning this year but the rest of the crew at the Adventure Store will be new.  It should be a great summer.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Battle

And the winter drags on.  Us at the YGS have come to the conclusion that it will snow forever.  Every day the clouds drops white flakes down upon us and the wind blows.  We haven't seen much sunshine in weeks.  Andrea and I went to Bozeman yesterday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised when our question was answered:  the sun does shine elsewhere, just not in Yellowstone recently.  So you can imagine my sweet surprise this morning when I saw the sun and blue sky.  The air was calm, but cold.  So I follow my instincts and decided to participate in this sunny day and take a drive to Lamar.
The snow and wind continuously smooths out the snow on the ground.  Occasionally it is interrupted by  tracks of wildlife that had wandered by.  The prints crisscross the snow with areas of snow cleared to the ground, it was obvious that bison had been in numerous areas plowing their massive heads through the snow but I actually only saw bison on the Blacktail Plateau and a couple small herds by the hitching posts in Lamar and further on by Soda Butte.

My first wildlife sighting of the day, besides bison, were these four rams soaking in the suns rays.
With the hard winter we are preparing for a large die-off this spring.  The story of this hard winter is written all over the wildlife.  I've seen bison and elk that may not survive until the vegetation is exposed this spring.  Nature can be cruel at times but I would not be human if I didn't admit that I hate to see the suffering of anything.  The cold temps (-18 at Pebble Creek when I was there at 9:30 this morning) and the deep snows are causing the animals to battle for their very lives.

This bison by Lamar Valley shows how difficult this winter has been on him.

A lone tree on a hillside on a pristine snow covered hill in Lamar Valley.
The piles of snow are extremely deep next to areas of the road.  These 3 bison were crossing the road and decided to leap up the snow.

Snow whips into a frenzy as the last bison leaps into the snow.  The other two sink up to their chests in the deep snow as they struggle to move forward.

On the Blacktail Plateau the drifts are so high next to the road that it is like driving through a snow corridor.  The drifts are higher than my car in areas.  This little coyote crossed in front of my car right before the Gardner River bridge on my way back to Mammoth.  It would occasionally drop to its chest in the snow.  

The day started off sunny and still but eventually it turned to the recent norm:  snowy and windy.  The mornings have been below zero these past few days but it has now warmed up to a balmy 15+ degrees.   And I still have another 3 months of this to look forward to.  All in all, I still like the snow.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Andrea and Bridge Bay

It is time for all to know that Andrea has been promoted to management!!  She will be the new manager at Bridge Bay General Store this coming summer.  She started out with YGS as my Floor Supervisor at the Adventure Store during the summer of 2010 then headed up to Mammoth with me to work the winter here.   I'm going to miss her not being at the Adventure Store this summer but when great opportunities arise one must grab them with both hands.  Congratulations Andrea!!

Bridge Bay Marina on February 19, 2011
This morning photographer Tom Murphy stopped in to drop off some of his books.  He is the author of numerous photography books on Yellowstone as well as DVD's.  He has had numerous PBS shows about Yellowstone as well.  I have met him a couple times before but this was the one time I was able to get my camera and pose with him for a picture.  He is a very talented man and his photographs are spectacular.  He gives photography courses through the Yellowstone Institute and people flock to get photography tips from him.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Views of the Interior

On Saturday I spent most of the day on the back of a snowmobile. Patrick had to check out a smelly freezer situation at his Lake apartment. Patrick has spent the past 10 years living year-round in the interior. He started off at Grant for one year and then moved to Lake. He has worked nearly 30 years for the NPS in positions that include site manager (Castle Clinton and Federal Hall in New York City), Law Enforcement Ranger (New York City) and a Regional Ranger at Big Thicket in Texas. He then moved to resource management (Colorado National Monument and Yellowstone). He currently is a Resource Management Biologist and for his first time in Yellowstone he is wintering in Mammoth. He still has an apartment at Lake and when situations need to be addressed a snowmobile is the only way to get there in the winter.

Bison on Swan Lake Flats

Nymph Lake

Roaring Mountain

Woodchips on the road near Nymph Lake

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Beryl Spring

Bison feeding on exposed vegetation by Madison Junction

These two elk were grazing on aquatic vegetation in the Firehole River

A very ordinary site when snowmobiling, bison lumbering down the road

A thermal feature draining into the Firehole River

The new Old Faithful Visitor Center

Snowmobiles lined up at Old Faithful

A snow-covered building at Grant

Lake Hotel

We saw two foxes on our travels, both were in the Lake Area. This fox was wandering around by the Lake Hotel. He would occasionally stop, cock his head and then dive face first into the snow. We never saw him actually catch anything.

We spotted these two coyotes sitting atop a hill in Hayden Valley. There was a 3rd coyote wandering around by the Yellowstone River and these two were watching it.
We always take a swing through Canyon Village so I can see the Adventure Store. Snow removal from the roof of both stores has been taking place. This picture shows how the snow is cut in blocks and then pushed off from the roof. I estimated the snow to be 5 to 6 feet deep in some places on the roof.

Being in the interior during the winter months gives a person a whole new perspective on the Park. The snow is very deep in many areas. We were met with only a few flakes but driving through Hayden Valley it was sometimes difficult to tell where a snowy hill ended and a cloudy sky began. It all seemed to blur together in places. Animals are easy to spot. I saw what appeared to be an otter on the snow on Yellowstone Lake and I'm not so sure I would of been able to have seen one of the foxes in the distance if it hadn't been for the red on white contrast. I also appreciate how difficult it is for the wildlife to move snow so that they can reach the grass hidden underneath. I was able to spot Shoshone Lake more easily from the Shoshone Overlook and thermal features hidden by trees where more easily to spot because of the puffs of steam that rose from them.

And as glorious as a Yellowstone winter scene can be it can also be a bit of a pain for some. I talked with one of the snowplow drivers who says that she can spend an entire day trying to keep the road free of drifting snow on the Blacktail Plateau. With so much snow this year it can be difficult to find places to put it all. There are large piles of snow throughout Mammoth. The constant snow and wind sometimes leaves the front door of the store drifted in. Betty had to shovel her way to the door the other morning just to get in. I am having to lift my snow filled shovels higher and higher each time I shovel the steps and walkway in front of the store. On Tuesday Judy had a hair-raising experience driving back down to Gardiner after movie night with Andrea and I. With white-out conditions she was having difficulty navigating the road and ended up sideswiping the snow drift on the wrong side of the road. That was a much better alternative than to drive off the side of the road and down an embankment. Going 'down the hill' can definitely be a long difficult drive.

International Market

Friday night was the last of the special during the winter months. Previously we had taken in the Specialty Chocolate Buffet and on Friday Judy, Andrea and I went to the International Market. It was a diners delight with Asian, Mediterranean and South of the Border stations. Our palates were delighted with an all-you-can-eat extravaganza that included sushi, flank steak, mussels, lamb kabobs, etc.

After finishing our plates from one station we would head to the next to fill up on the next geographical delights. It was a night of seeing and be seen. Numerous NPS employees that we knew were taking in the evening dinner.

I hit the Asian station twice. I could not get enough of the sushi. This was only the second time I had sushi, the first being sushi from a convenience store which could have turned into a gastric nightmare. And of course Andrea and I could not pass up the opportunity to try out our chopstick using dexterity. Andrea got right to the point by just stabbing her sushi with hers.

I never made it to the South of the Border station as I had filled up on Asian food and the lamb kabobs. It was a great night to share with Andrea and Judy. We are quite the Three Amigos (or the Three Stooges depending on who you are talking to). Great food, great friends and a great evening.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Drifting Snow

I decided to start off my Saturday morning with a jaunt to Lamar. I first had to tackle some tough going through the Blacktail Plateau. There were high winds all night which continued into the morning, and eventually through the rest of the day. Snow removal crews are having a difficult time keeping the road open because of the drifting snow and at this time the road between Mammoth and Cooke City may be closed later this afternoon or this evening. The drifts on either side of the road here are quite high and the wind blew the snow across the road. Quite a few people lined up across the Plateau as we followed a ranger who eventually stopped and grabbed a shovel to lend a hand to a snowplow driver who was digging snow away from his plow.

Though the roads were drifted and snowpacked the rest of my drive toward Lamar was uneventful. Right before entering Lamar I came across a bull elk who had decided to take a rest right on the side of the road. He was completely unimpressed by the cars that slowly crept by with humans with their cameras aimed at him. He lazily chewed his cud.

I managed to spot a bighorn off in the distance across from the hitching posts. And later by pebble creek I saw a coyote mousing. Of course there was also the obligatory bison and elk herds scattered through the Park with quite a few congregating by the Lava Creek area.

On my return toward Mammoth I was careful to slow down in case the elk was still laying on the side of the road. I came around the corner to find a ranger with his lights on right by him. He had managed to stand up but was now contently nibbling on the branches of a tree that was next to the road. He would stretch his long neck over the pile of snow to do his nibbling.

The temps have drastically improved over the week. We started off with subzero temps and they have risen into the 30's today. The bitter temps gnaw at a person and it is hard to escape that constant chill. The snow is deep and is constantly being whipped up by the wind. A small herd of elk walked past the store this afternoon and stopped to pick at some grass that has been exposed because of the wind. They were in fairly decent shape though one seemed to have a rather cavernous belly area and her hips were a bit bony. The elk and bison have been grazing lately by the lower terraces as the heat from the thermal area had melted off a good area of snow and had exposed some vegetation. I have also seen the bison in the government housing area as well as a large group of elk that had grazed for a few days at the Chinese Garden. They mow down one area and move to another to find their winter food.

Monday, February 7, 2011


So what do the YGS employees do for entertainment after hours? We head to the Gardiner Community Center for a concert given by the Singing Sons of Beaches. It was just one of the acts that are a series of entertainment in the area over the winter months. Andrea, Judy and I started Friday night off at the Two Bit and then moved across the street to take in their singing and comedy act. A great way to kick back and relax and have a few chuckles. Afterwards Andrea and I headed to the Rusty Rail so that Andrea could continue to be Scurvy Free (an inside joke).

That was not the end of my weekend entertainment. On Saturday Patrick and I went to Bozeman for some necessity shopping. Our day ended with watching a performance of the Bozeman Symphony. It was an incredible experience, much like dessert for the ears.

And Sunday was more entertainment: Super Bowl at the Two Bit. Andrea, Judy and I once again found ourselves in the Two Bit to watch the Super Bowl. It ended up with the three of us talking and laughing only to stop and watch a couple commercials. We left before the game ended.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Ruffians

Robyn, Andrea & Judy
In Our New Taco Tuesday Aprons and Hats

After a 14 hour drive from Minnesota I finally made it back to Yellowstone on Sunday evening. I had a challenging drive through North Dakota and made the decision that I would take 3 feet of Yellowstone snow over 3 inches of blowing North Dakota snow. My only other driving challenge came just north of Gardiner when I was met by a ranger stopping traffic by Corwin Springs. They were herding a herd of bison north so that they could cross the bridge and be back on the west side of the river. I decided not to wait so I took the back way into Gardiner, a dirt road west of the river. I passed numerous bison along the way: a couple young ones tussling and pushing each other, a cow who was at a strong sprint trying to catch up with a group of bison, as well as some that just lumbered north.

A total of 300 bison were rounded up into a fenced area at Stephens Creek the next day after numerous attempts to get them back into the Park failed. Harsh winter conditions are causing a larger number of the bison to leave the Park in search of food. Those testing positive for exposure to brucellosis will be sent to slaughter. What is the fate of the young ruffians that I saw? or the running cow? A long lingering death by starvation in the Park? or a kill box and a rifle? It has been no secret that I love and admire the bison and either ending is heartbreaking. Until they can reach those greener pastures north of the Park this will be the story every harsh winter.

Yes, the winter has been harsh. There has been so much snow and now it is the cold. It has been -18 degrees in the mornings lately (-40 in West Yellowstone, -35 at Lake, and -32 near Tower). I have been dealing with frozen water pipes and a frozen drain. Connie had her pipes freeze last night and found her bedroom full of water when she awoke. We've been keeping the fire stoked here at the store and we find ourselves warming by it throughout the day. It is a cold that we just can't seem to shake. The next couple of days are to be warmer (NOAA is forecasting snow/rain for Saturday!) but the temps will plummet again Sunday. I'm beginning to long for summer. I have to admit that the terraces are beautiful with all of the snow. The cold temps really make them steam.