With things beginning to shut down and weather growing more wintry in the park, maybe it’s time to think about a trip there. It can be glorious to see everything covered in ice and snow, icicles glittering from the tree branches, frozen waterfalls, and everything cushioned with quiet.
In my post last October 24th, I quoted a snippet of winter description to whet your appetite for such a Yellowstone winter trip. From the same author, I’ve chosen some longer excerpts, the most eloquent descriptions of the Yellowstone winter scene I’ve ever read. T. Elwood (“Billy”) Hofer was guide to tourists, scientists, and hunters and an all-round capable outdoorsman. He was one of the first people to traverse the world’s first national park on cross-country skis (which he called snowshoes). He was there in the fierce winter of 1887.
Next year you’ll be able to read the whole amazing story in my historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis, to be available by early summer to coincide with the National Park Service centennial. With twenty-first century climate warming, you may not see quite what he saw—but maybe you will.
From Hofer’s “Winter in Wonderland”
On February 16 I visited Norris Geyser Basin. A heavy fog hung over the country, with a light snow. As I approached the Basin, I was startled by the resemblances to men and animals the ice-laden trees showed, as, standing sentinel duty on each side of the road, they appeared to be watching our approach. Everything was loaded down with the steam frozen as it had drifted from the geysers. There were fantastic forms of men and women looking into the pools. Up the road were seen hogs, rabbits, mules, elephants, leopards, tigers, cats and dogs; animals of all kinds and shapes, creatures that outside of the Park nothing but a disordered mind could conjure up. All were in white, but often with dark eyes, ears and mouth, or limbs or faces, where the deep green of the pines showed through the white ice. Now and then a bough free from frost projected through the ice to form the plume of a soldier or the ears of a mule or rabbit. Again there appeared the form of a woman holding a child, bending over it as if to protect it from the wintry blasts. . . .
Wandering around among the pools in the mystery of the fog, alone in the world—like one at sea on a raft without a sail in sight—I could not see the ghostly goblin band over the hill I had left behind, but I could feel their presence; and now and again I would suddenly come in sight of more of them as I approached the timber either on my right or left. I found ice and snow everywhere in the valley. I could travel on my snowshoes on snow and ice 8 ft. deep, by the side of streams of hot water, while snow was falling on me, and white rabbits were mysteriously disappearing from sight among the snow-laden trees on my left. Flies were seen on the surface of the stream, and where the water was collected in shallow pools a water insect like a worm could be seen on the bottom moving sluggishly about. Most of the colors of the rainbow lined the bottom of the stream, though the shades were pale. I followed down the stream of the waters running from Constant, Black Growler, Ink Geyser, and the pools in the northern part of the Basin, until it was joined by the waters from the Monarch, New Crater, Vixen, Spiteful, Coral and the other beautiful pools, springs and geysers in the main basin. . . .
As I approached Coral Spring I was almost tempted to shoot at a large polar bear; he was ten feet up a dead tree near the spring; he had climbed up the tree and was looking back at the hot water as if afraid of it; I could have believed him to be alive as I first saw him through the fog and falling snow. He was only ice, however, and had grown right there where he was, as the frozen steam had added to his bulk. He was at least ten feet long; and as he grasped the tree with all his legs, one foreleg thrown over a dead limb, he was a perfect picture of a great white bear. If carved from a block of ice by an artist he could not have looked more natural. . . .
Further east I came to another steam escape, somewhat sheltered from the wind. Near this was an ice-covered tree, which had taken the form of a woman, her garments covered with the most delicate frost work lace, fringes and tassels, more delicate than the finest silk, and that a breath of wind would disturb and break; a gossamer-like bridal veil of frost hung over all, looped and gathered into folds. It was the most delicate frost work I have yet seen. With one beam of sunlight all would have disappeared. The whole fabric was so fine that parts were continually breaking off and falling on the snow below, making a train for the dress. . . .
I had now been in the Basin several hours, had seen boiling water and solid ice within less than a foot of each other, and little mounds of green and blue tinted ice, where the spray from the small geyser jets fell; and I had stepped across running streams of hot water, with my snowshoes elevated above the stream by two or three feet of snow and ice. In summer no such extremes meet; nothing so beautiful and delicate as the frostwork is then to be seen. Before I left the Basin the fog lifted; the wind began to blow, swaying the trees about, rattling their icy garments; the ghosts and goblins were going through a weird dance, bowing and swaying to each other, accompanied by the mournful music of the wind as it sighed and moaned through the pines. . . .
The clouds lifting showed Mt. Holmes in the northwest. This beautiful peak with its snow-capped summit rose from the dark masses of green timber. In places the trees were so laden with snow as to give the whole forest a white appearance; the last snow had covered every limb and bough, and one could call it a forest of silver trees. In a few places the wind had blown the snow off, revealing a dark green and giving to the landscape the appearance of shadows of passing clouds.
Call the concessionaire Xanterra at 307-344-7311 for room and snowcoach reservations—or contact one of the private concessionaires, if you’d rather drive a snowmobile. And keep your fingers crossed for snow!
See my report on a winter trip to the park.