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Hurray! Public transportation is coming to Yellowstone

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While today was opening day for Yellowstone’s major season, and tomorrow is the beginning of National Park Week, during which entrance fees will be waived, there is more good news.

From June 15th to September 30th this year [2012], visitors and park employees who want to or need to come to the park without a car can make connections between neighboring communities and points within Yellowstone on a system called LINX. This is not a tour company and is not government sponsored, but it surely answers a long-time need and makes a good start toward reducing traffic in the park.

You can buy a pass for one day for $20 or five days for $80. You can also connect from as far away as Salt Lake City, UT or simply between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone, for example, with vehicles running in each direction around the northern Grand Loop Road twice a day. For all the details, see their easily navigable website: http://www.linx.coop or call 877-454-5469.

My hope has been for several years to see a shuttle system in the most congested western part of this loop. Although I applaud the LINX system, it does not really solve the need to get from place to place within the park without a car. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about my ideas for park shuttles and even managed to sound off about it when I met Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk during my January Tauck Tour in the park.

If you’d like to read what my long-term scheme for such a system might comprise, I posted about transportation in 2009 and 2011 on this blog. Of course, there are problems with any plan one might come up with, not the least of which is finding the money for it, but I feel there ought to be an ongoing dialog about Yellowstone shuttles.

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My ideas for a Yellowstone shuttle system

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Yellowstone Park needs a shuttle system!

Although I know that the National Park Service has in the past considered inaugurating shuttle service in Yellowstone to alleviate road congestion and cut down on carbon emissions, perhaps the following plan has not yet been broached. I suggest that only the west side of this vast park could be well served by such a system. Here is my plan for a way we could accomplish this.

I believe that providing a convenient shuttle service would greatly relieve summer congestion and would be used willingly by many visitors. Shuttle usage would be voluntary, and private vehicles and tour buses would continue to be allowed on the roads along with the shuttles. If the shuttle service were to be modeled after those at Yosemite, Bryce, and particularly Zion National Parks, it would be free. Having recently visited Zion and Bryce, I enquired how the system is paid for and was told that the equipment is owned by the National Park Service but operated by a concessionaire (at Bryce it is McDonald Transit Associates). Park entrance fees cover the expenses of running the shuttles.

Shuttle particulars proposed for Yellowstone

Shuttles could serve visitors along the roads between Mammoth in the north of the park and Old Faithful in the south central part. On this route are the majority of interesting hydrothermal features, as well as many other features of interest and hiking trailheads. All visitors who come in private cars, if they stay more than a day or two, usually want to visit much if not all of this region.

My plan would serve visitors who leave their vehicles overnight or for several nights at Mammoth, West Yellowstone, or Old Faithful, or in the campgrounds at Norris or Madison. New parking areas might be required in some of these areas and could charge a reasonable fee for their use, something on the order of five to ten dollars per day. This parking fee could help to cover the cost of the shuttle system. The shuttle itself would be free and useable by any visitors or staff. Thus, people could go into and out of the park on the same day or, if staying in the park, could take belongings with them on the shuttle for several days’ use while staying in park facilities.

Since no travelers who come from far away would want to carry all their belongings around while touring by shuttle, shuttle travel would have to be coordinated with the concessionaires at Mammoth and Old Faithful and with the management of private lodgings in West Yellowstone. In other words, visitors would leave most of their belongings at one of the three locations, in hotel/motel rooms if staying in the same place for several nights. Or if, for example, they wanted to stay one night in Mammoth or West Yellowstone and then stay a night or more at Old Faithful and return for their cars, baggage storage rooms could be provided at the motels and some space on the shuttles could be used for smaller baggage.

Ideally, simple lunch rooms would be built by the NPS and run by the park concessionaire at Norris and Madison, utilizing part of the already-disturbed land in the present large parking lots.

To make this plan work, I would propose that shuttles run at least every twenty minutes and for twelve hours per day between the end points, maybe from 9 am to 9 pm seven days a week. They should operate from mid June through mid September. A fleet of at least thirty electric, hybrid, or propane shuttles would be needed. There should be two round-trip routes: Mammoth campground to and from Madison Junction and West Yellowstone to and from Old Faithful Village, with correspondence at Madison. This system would require several dozen drivers. The shuttles would be large vans holding twelve to fifteen passengers. They would stop at every point along the roads that has something of general interest. Granted, this would mean a lot of stops, but the stops would mostly be very brief. Lesser-known features along the roads, such as the panoramic view at Swan Lake above Mammoth or the Chocolate Pots south of Norris Junction, should be included in the stops made by the shuttles.

Most people would want to spend an hour or two at the major geyser basins but could easily time their visits to have a minimal wait for the next van, if they were spaced twenty minutes apart. Covered shelters with some seating would be needed at shuttle stops.
Here is an example of potential pick-up/drop-off points between Mammoth and Norris:
Mammoth Campground
Mammoth Hotel
Upper Terrace Drive
Bunsen Peak and other trailheads near Rustic Falls
Swan Lake Flat panorama
Sheepeater Cliffs side road
Indian Creek Campground
Apollinaris Spring and picnic area
Obsidian Cliff
Mount Holmes trailhead
Solfatara trailhead
Grizzly Lake trailhead
Clearwater Springs
Roaring Mountain
Norris Campground
Norris Geyser Basin

A similar list of stopping points would be set up between other major places of interest or village areas with campgrounds or accommodations, where cars would be left. A total of 30 to 35 stops might be made between Mammoth and Old Faithful. In addition to the regular shuttles that make many stops, express shuttles would ferry staff and visitors to and from their vehicles at the end points three or four times a day.

This system might eliminate more than half of the cars that use the roads between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone and Mammoth, saving fuel and cutting congestion on the roads, and improving the air quality and the overall Yellowstone experience.

2011

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A shuttle system for Yellowstone?

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[2011] In a week or so I’ll be going on my first-ever visit to Zion National Park. Besides wanting to see the incredible scenery and geology, I am interested in finding out just how the shuttle system they have there works.

I’ve felt for some time that Yellowstone could profit by having its own such system, but on a limited basis, since the park is so much larger than Zion—or Yosemite, which also uses shuttles. Yellowstone has a much more complicated array of roads than does either Zion or Yosemite, and most of Yellowstone’s roads are closed in winter, so a shuttle there needs to be limited to the most-traveled western section of the park and to the summer season.

I plan to post here about my idea for a workable shuttle in Yellowstone, when I return in mid May. Almost two years ago I wrote a post about ideas then being tossed about for something similar. Major changes like this do not come quickly.

This time, as gas prices and environmental concerns escalate, maybe I’ll send a letter about my plan and the need for action on creating a shuttle alternative, to the management of Xanterra, the park concessionaire, and to the new superintendent, Dan Wenk, who promises to be a decidedly forward-looking leader for Yellowstone. But I know he has a few other things on his plate!

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Winter travel in Yellowstone is almost over

Categories: Transportation, Trip planning, Winter
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[March 2011] Wanting to keep my readers informed, I’ll pass on the fact that you have only six more days this season to enjoy going through Yellowstone by snowcoach or snowmobile. All such travel ends at 9 pm next Tuesday, March 15, and plowing the roads will begin when conditions make it feasible, readying the roads for their gradual opening to cars and buses, beginning on April 15.

Hotels and cabins are already closed at Old Faithful and Mammoth; they are the only in-park winter accommodations.

The long-term plan for oversnow travel should be coming out in Draft Environmental Impact Statement form in a few weeks, followed by a sixty-day comment period. The National Park Service intends to finish the plan and issue any new winter use regulations before the start of the 2011-2012 winter season. I’m very interested to see what they decide upon and will keep you informed when decisions are made. 


Plans for my own summer visit have been made for some time already and will include an all-day book-signing in Old Faithful Inn on Sunday, July third.

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Snow bikes

Categories: On the Web, Transportation, Winter
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Behold! Another mode of transportation I didn’t know existed: a snow bicycle, in particular one made by Surly Bikes. This is not a commercial, and I know very little about bikes, but it seems like an interesting idea to me. Here’s what I read about it:

Recently, 53-year-old Rick Buchanan was turned away when he tried to lead a group of snow cyclists into Yellowstone National Park.
Tim Reid, Yellowstone’s chief ranger, told Buchanan that the bike is not an approved means of winter travel, therefore, the group could not ride in the park. Under Yellowstone’s winter management plan, one can only enter the park by approved snowmobiles, snowcoaches, cross-country skis, or snowshoes. But the snow bike has actually been gaining popularity in the past 5 years.

My hope is that the park authorities will get in step with this new possibility and begin allowing them into the park during the winter season.
For more details, see “Snow Cyclists in Yellowstone.”

2011

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Park roads open today

Categories: Geysers, News, Transportation
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Hurray! From today until early March you can travel over Yellowstone’s snowy roads by snowcoach, snowmobile, skis, or snowshoes. Seeing the park in winter is a not-to-be-missed experience.

And those of us not able to visit this winter will be consoled now that facilities at Old Faithful are open again by watching the Old Faithful webcam for OFG eruption times and other happenings in Upper Geyser Basin.

2010

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Park closes for pre-season break

Categories: Transportation, Winter
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As of this morning all interior Yellowstone roads are closed, with the exception of the lowest elevation road—the one between the North and Northeast Entrances, which is kept open all winter for the convenience of residents of Gardiner and Cooke City. Not incidentally, it also gives access to wolf watchers and Mammoth terrace observers. The park is always open to non-motorized travel, but there are no accommodations, stores, or restaurants. Only the Mammoth campground remains available all year.

The park’s outlying communities, especially West Yellowstone, can now get ready for the winter season, which begins on December 15th. The same quota for snowmobiles (318 per day) will be in effect this coming season as last, and 78 snowcoaches may enter daily. For an informative and well-written article about the past, present, and future of winter travel in Yellowstone, see:
http://www.newwest.net/snow_blog/article/snowmobiling_in_yellowstone_past_and_present/C458/L41.

The article has one small error that I can’t resist pointing out. It implies that you could not reach Yellowstone by train until 1908. The writer, who seems to be a resident of West Yellowstone, means that trains did not reach there until then. Actually, the Northern Pacific Railroad reached to within a few miles of the park’s North Entrance in 1883.

How about this for winter fun? Take a train to Gardiner, then a cog railroad to lift you the thousand feet or so to Mammoth Hot Springs, and then see some of the park at your pleasure: choose snowshoes, skis, snowcoach, or snowmobile. I’m a dreamer. Passenger trains quit running, even as close to the North Entrance as Livingston, in the 1970s.

For updated information on road conditions and closures, the park recommends you call (307) 344-2117.

2010

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A few personal notes

Categories: Bio, Transportation, Trip planning, Wildlife
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12 Sept. 2010: Back from Yellowstone for a week now, I have lots of things to write about and will start with a few personal experiences and observations, some of which might be instructive to other visitors.

This year we opted to drive from our home in California rather than flying and renting a car. It’s always nice to have your own car in the park, but, besides not having to cope with the expense and hassle of flying, it’s pleasant to see how our 2004 Camry loves to go 75 and 80 miles per hour on those Nevada and Idaho highways—we got over 37 miles per gallon on one tank of gas!

For me, having spent my first eighteen years in Billings and environs, going back to that part of the country is a great opportunity to enjoy old friends as well as the places I love. I met two of them at Lake Hotel and participated in a joint birthday party for seven who graduated from Billings Senior High School in the Class of ’53, with a luncheon held at Red Lodge. At East Rosebud Lake in the Beartooth Mountains, I took part in a rededication ceremony, unveiling in its new location the 1929 plaque that named Mt. Inabnit for my maternal grandfather.

During my two weeks in the park, I saw no bears this year, but at Old Faithful Village I had a near-adventure with a herd of bison. In the late afternoon one day, eight or ten of them were browsing near the lower general store as I returned from walking in the Upper Geyser Basin. A rain-and-lightning storm was just starting, as a law-enforcement ranger was making an attempt to deflect the bison from the path. The ranger had driven his patrol car part way up the paved path toward Castle Geyser. He suggested that those of us walking back toward the Inn should make a big detour across the meadow and take the outer path toward the gas station. Fortunately, the bison did not come that way, so meeting them head-on was averted. Another routine day’s work for the ranger. . . not so routine for me.

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Good news for bicycle riders at Old Faithful

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For those of us who live too far from Yellowstone to make it practical to take bikes along when we visit, there are now bikes for rent in Old Faithful Village. The concessionaire Xanterra announces that “the bike shop at Old Faithful Snow Lodge offers hybrid bikes for rent to help make your Yellowstone bike riding even more pleasant. Helmets, racks, bike trains, trailers, jackets, gloves, hip packs, are available for rent as well. Call the Bike Shop number for details.” Phone is: (307)545-4825.

What I’ve been wanting to do ever since walking five or six miles each day to see geysers has become more of a chore than a pleasure is to rent a bike to cover the distance from the settled part of Old Faithful out past predictable Castle, Daisy, and Riverside geysers to Fan and Mortar (which is erupting every few days so far this summer). Now it’s a possibility even if you arrive in an airplane or don’t want to put bikes on your car for a long road trip.
Here are some details: Every day between June 1st and September 30th this summer [2010] you can rent adult bikes for $8.00 an hour, $25.00 for a half day, or $35.00 for a full day, and child bikes for less. There are several pleasant places to bike from Old Faithful besides the Geyser Route Two that I write about in Yellowstone Treasures (pages 98-102). However, some rides would require putting bikes on a bike rack on your car unless you ride on the Grand Loop Road—which I don’t really recommend.

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Yellowstone driving: stuck behind the old guy

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I read this recently on an anonymous blog and was reminded of the only time in over fifty years of driving that I’ve ever been stopped for speeding. It was where park employees have a cross-walk from Old Faithful Village to their dorms. I was going 25 or 30 and it is marked down well below that. I was really embarrassed to be stopped, since I should certainly know better, but the law enforcement ranger let me go without a ticket. Here’s the full story from the blog.

As we were making our way out of the park, I ended up getting stuck behind an elderly gentlemen driving an old Land Rover. I’m not sure if was the man’s age or limitations of his vehicle but he was averaging 30-35 mph the whole way. The roads in parts of Yellowstone are narrow, curving passes (read: no passing lanes or clear views to pass for long stretches). I wanted to get back to the cabin in time for sunset so I was getting really frustrated that this guy was impeding my progress.
I finally had the opportunity to pass him and wanted to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, a park ranger passed me and clocked me going a wee bit over the speed limit. I saw him flip around and knew I’d been caught. I’ve never been pulled over for speeding before. I wondered if tickets cost more in national parks. The cop approached my car and I started apologizing profusely. Apparently, I’d been doing 58 in a 45. Doh!
I told him that I knew that I was speeding and explained that I’d been stuck behind the old guy for miles. He laughed and thanked me for my honesty. He took my license, registration, and proof of insurance back to his vehicle.
I don’t know if he can tell that I’ve never had a speeding ticket or been pulled over before. Or maybe he’d been stuck behind the old guy earlier in the day. But, either way, he came back to my car, handed me my stuff and told me to slow down. Pretty lucky, don’t you think?

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