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

All posts in Winter

Yellowstone closing for the autumn break, 2011

Categories: Trip planning, Winter
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As Hallowe’en excitement draws to a close, I’ll pass on to any of you thinking of visiting Yellowstone soon that you have only one more week before almost all the roads close for the autumn break. From 8 am Monday, November 7, until December 15, the roads will be closed except for the one across northern Yellowstone from Gardiner to Cooke City, Montana.

The winter season, when the Mammoth Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge reopen and many roads will be prepared for snowcoaches and commercially guided snowmobiles, stretches from December 15 through March 15. This is a good time to make travel and accommodation reservations for the winter experience of a lifetime.

The National Park Service limits allowing 78 snowcoaches and 318 snowmobiles per day to enter the park will continue in effect this season.

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It’s been an unusual winter at Old Faithful Village

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[2011] Carolyn Loren, a Yellowstone Park interpretive ranger who keeps excellent tabs on the geysers and is spending this break at Old Faithful—when almost nobody is there and the roads have not yet been plowed—posted this today, answering questions others had asked her.

The benches at Grand, Riverside and other spots are completely covered as of now. It’s March 24, though, and it’s getting above freezing most days. I should also say that bison walking on snow then walked on two Riverside benches, crushing them. They’re the two directly opposite Riverside. They’re toast. As for carcasses, I don’t see how the Geyser Hill carcass can go anywhere; the ones near the outbound road should be mostly eaten by opening [day (April 15)], but there will be more between now and then. Law enforcement will probably open and close as they feel they need to. There should be plenty of grizzly food lots of places in the park, though.

For those readers who have not yet had a chance to visit Old Faithful’s Upper Geyser Basin and see the geysers erupt, I’ll explain her post a bit. Grand and Riverside Geysers are two of the wonderful predictable geysers in the area, where people often sit for an hour or more waiting for eruptions. I’ve personally waited for Grand for an hour and a half or more in sub-freezing temperatures or blistering sun, but it’s always worth the wait.

Carolyn had recently reported as many as nine carcasses of animals that died of starvation near Old Faithful this winter, up from seven, as I mentioned in my March 16th post. She is pointing out that the law enforcement rangers will keep people away from the relevant areas, if the carcasses are not consumed by scavengers before the park reopens.

It’s a wild place. Natural processes are allowed to run their course whenever possible here.

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Yellowstone roads close for early spring break

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Winter
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I find it ironic that on the very first day of road closure, the most snow I’ve seen on the Old Faithful Webcam all winter has piled up around the Old Faithful Geyser sign, and it’s still coming down in mid afternoon!

If you use a PC rather than a Mac, you should be able to see the Old Faithful Webcam yourself at:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/yellowstonelive.htm. For the link I use on my Mac, write me at janet@yellowstonetreasures, and I’ll send it to you.

This has been a spectacular winter for snow cover in the park. I wonder what it will mean when it all melts—lots of flooding? many animal carcasses showing they didn’t make it through the winter? A ranger has reported that there are at least seven bison carcasses in the Old Faithful area right now. Time will tell what spring will be like.

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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 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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Bears out already

Categories: Wildlife, Winter
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I just read today that both blacks and grizzlies are coming out of their dens a little early this year [2010]. It’s not really surprising, since the snow pack is way below normal, and it has been relatively warm in Yellowstone. Tracks and bears have been sighted in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone, starting in early February, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

It saddens me to look at the Old Faithful Webcam—which I do nearly every day—because the viewing benches should be deep in snow this time of the year, but they usually haven’t been. And this can mean increased fire danger and hardship for all the animals, unless the next few months reverse the trend.

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Yellowstone news of early winter: report on skiing and wildlife

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning, Wildlife, Winter
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Things are off to a slow start this year [2009], with snow cover just sufficient to open the roads to over-snow vehicles on December 15. As of Dec. 27, Old Faithful and the West Entrance had 15 inches of snow on the ground, the East Entrance had 14, and Mammoth only 3. The new official (but temporary) plan allows 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches to enter Yellowstone per day.

Jim Holstein, a Yellowstone tour guide, reports that although skiing at Big Sky north of Yellowstone is great, he is anticipating a very slow January in the park itself. Even the wildlife are staying in the upper elevations, and it “has been the slowest start for wildlife that we have had in the Northern Range in the 19 years I have been guiding.”

Just outside the East Entrance, one of the oldest downhill ski centers in the U.S., dating from the 1930s, has re-opened after having been closed since 2004. There’s where you can catch the lift at the Sleeping Giant Ski Area, or you might go across the road to use the cross-country trails at Buffalo Bill’s summer home, Pahaska Tepee.

Inside the park, visitors can now cross Sylvan Pass. As of December 22, after rangers used howitzers to help prevent avalanches from blocking the 8500-foot (2600 m) pass, it was opened to over-snow vehicles and ambitious skiers. Winter use of this entrance has created controversy for years due to the high cost of keeping it open for relatively few visitors.

Here is good winter news for Yellowstone’s beleaguered bison: Horse Butte near Hebgen Lake just west of the park will be permanently closed to cattle grazing. In recent winters “bison have been needlessly hazed from Horse Butte back into the park with helicopters, horses, ATVs, and snowmobiles. A lot of time, resources and your taxpayer dollars are unnecessarily wasted along the way,” according to Matt Skoglund in his “Guest Opinion: Gallatin National Forest presents gift to Yellowstone bison.”

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Countdown to Yellowstone’s winter season

Categories: Geysers, Winter
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There’s not much snow yet [in December 2009], but the southern part of the park could get three to six inches this weekend, and visitors who want to enter on snowcoaches or snowmobiles on opening day, December 15th, may be in luck. Or they may have to go the only way allowed, if there’s not enough snow——by commercial wheeled vehicle, that is, buses.

You can check out what Old Faithful looks like in daylight hours at the Old Faithful Webcam and judge for yourself whether the snow is getting deep by checking out whether or not the viewing benches are covered. Then starting Tuesday, the predicted time of the geyser’s next eruption will be posted.

Meanwhile, if you just want to enjoy ice-skating in a swinging western town, you can visit the newly revamped skating rink in West Yellowstone, Montana. According to a local news source:

The new and improved ice rink will make the process of making and maintaining a smoother surface easier and more efficient by keeping the water in place while freezing. In years past, the ground would have to be completely frozen and then saturated with a fine mist, a process that could take weeks to accomplish. This year, the ice rink was erected and flooded in two days.

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