GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

All posts in Winter

Winter season opens in Yellowstone

Categories: News, Trip planning, Winter
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[December 16: The snow cover at Old Faithful looks even better on the webcam than it did yesterday, as you can see in this late afternoon screen shot. I need to make a slight correction to yesterday’s post—]

OFG_Webcam_12_16_15

Starting today, December 15, 2015, three of Yellowstone’s entrances are open to over-snow vehicles, park officials announced. A fresh snowfall assured that the planned opening day can take effect, and snowcoaches and snowmobiles can enter through the West, South, and North Entrances. However, over-snow vehicles really take over at Mammoth Hot Springs, which is five miles from the North Entrance. Starting next Tuesday, December 22, the East Entrance will be open.

The road from the North Entrance to the Northeast Entrance is open year-round to wheeled vehicles, meaning the roads are plowed. Still, you might be wise to use all-season tires or carry chains.

If you’d like to read about my winter experiences in the park as well as about the wolf-watching trip taken by my friend Rita Reining last year and excerpts from a historical account of skiing through the park long ago, select “Winter” from this website’s “Categories” box.

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Nature cooperates with Yellowstone!

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Just this morning I’ve found for the first time this fall that the National Park Service webcam at Old Faithful is showing snow covering the Old Faithful / Upper Geyser Basin area. It is interesting to notice where the black sinter-covered ground still shows—these are areas where the subsurface is warm enough to melt snow no matter what the air temperature may be.
UGB_Webcam_11_4_15am

This is nicely coordinated with the closing of all Yellowstone roads to wheeled traffic, except for the all-season road between Gardiner and the Northeast Entrance near Silver Gate and Cooke City.

There are seven webcams of different parts of the park accessible at the NPS webcams page.

If your winter Yellowstone visit reservations are not yet made, call concessioner Xanterra at: 307-344-7311 NOW!

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Planning for a Winter Trip to Yellowstone?

Categories: History, Through Early Yellowstone, Trip planning, Winter
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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.

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Guest Post by Rita Reining, a nature lover and outdoor enthusiast. She can often be found hiking the hills around her home in Oakland, CA and serves as a docent in the Natural Sciences Gallery of the Oakland Museum of California.

When my friend Ellen and I decided to sign up for Wolf Week—a five-day course presented by the Yellowstone Association at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch the last week in March—I had no idea of the adventure that was in store.

After dinner on our first evening the instructors gave out a picture and a short bio of a wolf living on the North Range of the park to each pair of participants. Each couple presented their wolf information to the group. We learned about the 11 different packs in the park, but we concentrated on the eight packs that currently call the North Range home. The specific wolves we learned about all have radio collars. The wolves generally don’t have names but are known by their number. Also, we learned a little of the genealogy of the wolves, many of whom are descendants of the Druid pack which were the original wolves introduced to Yellowstone in 1995. We felt a bit better acquainted with specific wolves and the packs that we might encounter.

The next morning (and for the following two mornings) we were up at 5 AM in order to be on the bus to start looking for the wolves before sun-up. We drove to the Little America area where we came upon a group of people with spotting scopes focused on the Junction Butte (JB) pack about one-half mile away up the hillside enjoying the remains of an elk brought down a couple of days earlier. We quickly set up our scopes to observe our first wild wolves of this trip. It was so exciting!

As we watched them, I was surprised that their behavior was quite sociable. When we arrived, the big gray alpha male, 911M, was eating. A bit later the alpha female, 970F, and then two other females settled in to feed. No snarling or fighting such as I had expected. When it seemed that all had had their fill, the pack began to howl. First one, then another, then everyone. Each wolf has its own tone and voice. It was an exhilarating chorus. From across the way, more howling was heard. This was by the Prospect Peak pack (PP). The JBs evidently did not want to interact with the PPs and they ran up the hill and disappeared over the ridge.
Wolf March 2015 by Rita Reining
There are several groups of dedicated wolf watchers. First there are those who are associated with The Wolf Project, consisting of teams who follow all the packs in the park. Then there are the rangers, photographers, bloggers, and local residents who are out every day recording and reporting what they see. All seem to be connected by radio, and we relied on this communication every day in order to follow the wolves.

Thus, we learned that there was wolf activity in the Lamar Valley. This time we watched a gray pup of the Lamar Canyon (LC) pack busy at an old bison carcass. Soon the black alpha female, 926F, walked by, stopped for a moment by the carcass and continued on her way, followed by another black pup.

We followed 926F and her six pups’ activities during our wolf week. The picture above was taken by Jane Morse, a fellow participant, and this wolf looks very much like 926F. The stories about 926F made our observations all the more interesting.

About ten days before we arrived in Yellowstone, the LC alpha male was killed by the PPs. (The highest cause of wolf deaths is by other wolves.) The larger PP pack encountered the smaller LC pack. The reason for the PP aggression is unknown, but as they were advancing on the LCs, all the LCs ran away except the alpha male. He stood his ground as the PPs edged closer, and then he turned and ran away in the opposite direction from the rest of his pack. Unfortunately the PPs caught and attacked him, leaving him for dead. 926F came back and lay by him as he died.

Now 926F had become the leader of the LC pack, consisting only of a pregnant 926F and her six yearling pups. She was solely responsible for getting food for herself and her pups. Wolves only begin to learn to hunt after their first year. 926F will need a new mate. All the wolf watchers were concerned for the future of the LC pack. 926F would be denning soon to have her new pups. Mother wolves do not leave the den until the pups can be left without her for a short time. Usually the alpha male stays near her, and he and other members of the pack bring her food. The LC wolves were in danger of starving, since the yearling pups were useless as hunters.

The next morning we saw a deer carcass in the ditch by the road. It had been hit by a car the night before. Here was a free meal, and 926F walked right by a small herd of bighorn sheep to get to the carcass. But she ran off when the rangers came to move the carcass away from the road for the safety of the wolves as well as to avoid a traffic jam. As soon as the rangers left, a golden eagle, some magpies, and a coyote returned to the carcass. But, 926F wasn’t going to let the lesser beings take food away from her and her pups, so about noon she came and dragged the carcass into the woods.

On the final morning in the field we went back to where we had last seen 926F. We had only just left the bus when we heard her howling. Shortly, her pups joined in. The howling had the bighorn sheep across the road on high alert, but we couldn’t spot any of the wolves. About a half hour later, we saw them crossing the ridge under a cliff. A lone bull elk was standing at attention on an outcropping as they passed by him within 100 yards. The pack seemed to ignore him. Two elk were on top of the cliff, on alert, scanning in opposite directions. Just then we saw one of the pups approaching the elk. Both elk turned and faced the wolf. The wolf got to about 50 feet from the elk, stopped, backed up a couple of paces and gave the elk a wide berth as he walked around them. Then we saw him walking toward the elk from uphill. He more or less repeated his previous approach from below, then walked away. Maybe he was just practicing for future hunts. This was the closest we came to seeing any real drama on this trip.

The pack was moving west, so we went west to the other side of the ridge. We spotted the pack bedded down at the edge of the woods. After a while they began to move around. I watched as one of the pups laid on his back in the snow rolling back and forth, just like my dog does. Making wolf “angels”?

Then 926F must have given some signal. She started moving west again at a determined pace with the pups following. We watched until they were out of sight.

All too soon our week at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch ended. We left Yellowstone hoping to sign up in the future for another exciting and interesting course with the Yellowstone Association. Also, I was wondering what the future would be for 926F.

Post script for 926F: Shortly after my visit, four adult males from another pack joined the LCs. The wolf watchers were optimistic that 926F would choose her alpha male from one of them and, with the yearling pups, have a sustainable pack. It was not to be. As of a month after I left Yellowstone, I learned that 926F was now alone. Her yearlings were gone and so were all four of the males. The last I heard, 926F had not yet gone to den. She is very lean but has managed so far to survive on her own. Her saga continues.

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Yellowstone Park Opens to Over-snow Vehicles Today—But Wait . . .

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Today, December 15, is when the winter season officially begins in Yellowstone. This means you should be able to travel in snowcoaches or with commercially guided snowmobile groups starting now.

But the snow cover is so limited between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful, that the National Park Service is allowing “only commercial snowcoaches with rubber tracks or large oversnow tires” on that stretch of park road, according to today’s Jackson Hole News and Guide.

If I were so lucky as to be going to the park this winter, I would make my plans for mid January through the end of February, when snow conditions are much more likely to be good. Here’s where you can read about my unforgettable January 2012 luxury winter trip.

Of course, you can also make all the arrangements yourself through Xanterra (307-344-7311) or a private concessionaire.

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Roads closing for winter break in Yellowstone

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All Yellowstone Park roads except the all-weather road between Gardiner and Cooke City in the northern part of the park will close Monday, November 3, 2014, at 8:00 am. And just in time, too: On Sunday and Monday, October 26 and 27, there was up to one foot of snow in some places and a few drivers were stranded until snowplows could reach them. A dusting of snow remained at Old Faithful in late afternoon on Tuesday (10/28), as I just saw on the Old Faithful streaming webcam.

December 15th will be the day most roads will be ready for snowcoaches and snowmobiles.

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You could ski in Yellowstone Park this winter!

Categories: Through Early Yellowstone, Trip planning, Winter
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As the leaves begin to turn and we begin to think ahead to the holidays, it’s also time to plan that Yellowstone winter trip you’ve been hoping to take. Having been lucky enough to visit four times in the winter, I can tell you there is nothing like it in the world!

To whet your appetite, here’s a paragraph from a historic winter wonderland story that dates back to the bitterly cold February of 1887, when there was no hotel at Old Faithful. The story tells of Yellowstone Park guide and intrepid skier Billy Hofer’s experiences in the Old Faithful area as he skied around the park on a wildlife-counting tour for Forest and Stream magazine. What Hofer calls “shoes” are the 9-foot-long skis he made for himself.

Hofer wrote: “The morning of the 21st [of February] . . . I visited the whole of the Upper Geyser Basin, going out past the Castle to Iron Creek, which was open, crossing it twice on a snow bridge without getting off our shoes. Along this stream down to the Specimen Lake and Black Sand Geyser there were many bare spots with bright green grasses, and several water plants growing in the warm water and earth, some even showing flower buds. The bright green mosses and plants looked doubly green beside the white snow. All along this creek was to be seen the usual number of ice forms. One in particular was very life-like. It looked like an Esquimau, dressed in white bear robes, with a bundle of sticks in his arms. He had a woe-begone expression on his face, as though in trouble because he had so little wood.”

Happy skiing (or snowshoeing)!
On snowshoes by the Firehole River

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Updated Yellowstone snowmobile regulations now include a lottery

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This winter for the first time snowmobilers can enter a lottery for unguided tours of the park. This is the time to enter the lottery. The National Park Service has announced that the “Non-Commercially Guide Snowmobile Access Program will allow up to four non-commercial ‘transportation events’ of up to five snowmobiles each to enter the park daily—one ‘event’ per day per over-snow entrance into the park.” This quote comes from the Snowgoer website.

If this is something you’ve always wanted to do—and it has not been allowed for the past several years—you’ll find all the details of entering the lottery at the NPS website.

There are other ways to enjoy the beauties of Yellowstone’s winter landscape: in guided snowmobile tours or in heated ten-passenger snow coaches. For my winter adventures in years past, see Winter in Yellowstone.

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What it’s like when plowing Yellowstone’s roads

Categories: On the Web, Transportation, Winter
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I’m a big fan of Brett French’s writings in the Billings Gazette. Today I want to share his simile of what the snow-plowing crew experiences each spring while clearing the roads.

“About 7 miles north of West Thumb along the shore [lies] still-frozen Yellowstone Lake. That’s about an hour’s drive south from the plow crew’s headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo. Although the sun is shining intensely, the entire landscape at this elevation of about 7,700 feet is still buried under several feet of sound-stifling snow, like a huge cotton ball stuffed inside Yellowstone’s volcanic caldera ear [italics mine]. And even though today is warm and sunny, the crew has frequently suffered through days with temperatures bottoming out at 20-below zero or colder, or had storms or wind blow snow back on top of just-cleared pavement.”

The whole article is at “Yellowstone plow crews labor to open park for spring visitors.”

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Fresh snow at Old Faithful

Categories: Geysers, News, On the Web, Winter
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snowfall Old Faithful

Finally! A real snow cover at Old Faithful Village.

Yesterday was the last day of March, and at last we have a lot of snow on the ground at Old Faithful Village. From a screen shot I took yesterday morning, you can see that the snow now comes to the top of the post holding the Old Faithful Geyser sign. With no wind at all the trees were gorgeous, and seeing this takes me back to magical winter visits to the park.

You can see this for yourself at: www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm.

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