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

All posts tagged snow

Only in America: Business comes to the rescue in Yellowstone

Categories: Transportation, Winter
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Every spring Yellowstone is faced with a big job: plowing the hundreds of miles of roads that have been closed since November while many feet of snow piles up. The goal is to open the entrance roads gradually, starting in mid April, so the park spends more than a month and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the roads ready.

However, this year’s sequestration budget cuts [2013] threaten to disrupt this pattern, and Superintendent Dan Wenk of Yellowstone decided that opening two weeks later than usual would be one of his needed cutbacks. But business owners and their organizations in the Wyoming gateway towns of Jackson and Cody are not going to sit back and let this happen. By yesterday, Jackson groups had raised the funds to pay for plowing near the south gate, while those in Cody, Wyoming, have met almost half their goal to open the east gate. The state of Wyoming is providing equipment and personnel to help plow park roads, and business groups will pay back the transportation department for whatever it costs the agency to use its own workers on the federal roads.

There is no word yet as to just when the roads will be ready for auto traffic, but we’ll no doubt be learning about that soon.

Hooray for private business looking out for not just their own interests but those of the many folks who have planned early spring vacations in America’s first and greatest national park!

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It’s been an unusual winter at Old Faithful Village

Categories: Winter
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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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Snowpack and Bison

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Much has been written in the past few weeks [2011] about Yellowstone’s bison and their brucellosis problem. I will not go into details here, which are much too complicated to be dealt with effectively in a guidebook writer’s post, but I will send along the URL of the best summary of the situation I have come across lately. It’s in today’s East Oregonian and written by Samantha Tipler.

Much of this year’s bison dilemma stems from an excellent snowpack in the park, which is hard on all the animals while being great for human visitors’ enjoyment of this beautiful place. The February snowpack map of the Rocky Mountain states and Alaska shows western Yellowstone with 110% to 129% of “normal”—taken as the average snowpack from 1971 to 2000—and eastern Yellowstone (where most of the mountains are) as 90% to 109% of normal. You can look at a snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

How I wish I could go back this winter! But it is not to be. I do have the delightful memories of three winter trips there: in 1988, before that summer’s devastating fires; in 1990, when I first got to see Lower Falls with its fabulous ice-cone; and most recently in 2006.

You have only a couple more weeks before the park closes for its annual early spring road plowing and readying the facilities for the summer season. All roads close to oversnow travel by March 15. Then the various roads and accommodations gradually reopen, beginning April 15. Details about the facilities are at the NPS Opening & Closing Dates for Facilities page. But beware, this year almost all accommodations are already booked through most of the summer.

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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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A quick reminder

Categories: Trip planning
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Tomorrow, April 16 [2010], the park opens to wheeled vehicles now that the roads have been (at least mostly) plowed. Better yet, if you go this weekend the $25 entrance fee is waived. Wish I could be there!

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Time to get back to Yellowstone

Categories: Trip planning
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Just as the park is about to open for what is optimistically called the summer season, nature has dumped what looks like about a foot of snow on the Old Faithful area. Winter was relatively dry this year [2009-2010]. Snow plows have been busy for several weeks clearing the roads of what little snow they had. Nevertheless, I’m sure many of the roads and some facilities will open on April 16th as planned (after re-plowing).

For people lucky enough to be visiting a national park this month, note that all 392 national parks will waive their entrance fees from April 17 to 25, 2010. In Yellowstone, though, you’ll need to be aware that the Gibbon Canyon road (between Madison and Norris Junctions) will be under construction—all summer—and will cause 30-minute delays during the days and be closed totally from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m,, except during the Memorial Day and 4th of July weekends. See further details about the roads on the
National Park Service road closures page, or call 307-344-2117.

I’ve been unable to blog for a month due to the stresses of moving to a new address, but now that the park is about to open, I expect to have plenty to say about my favorite place.

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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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