We flew into Bozeman, MT yesterday and made 88 mile drive to Gardiner, MT in the darkness stopping once in Livingston at a gas station to pick up some hot water to add to our couscous and freeze dried veggie dinner. Its easy to save money on the road unlike most folks think. We also saved some more money by spending the  the night in our rented Subaru crosstrek when we finally reached Gardiner at 10pm.  Today Eric and I drove under the famous Arch and entered my hometown: Yellowstone National Park. At 6:30 am the sky was still dark, but I could still make out the powdery snow that  blanketed the landscape as we drove slowly overly the whitened road toward Mammoth Hot Springs. The Bear Den Ski Shop opened at 7:45. Eric and I rented Madshus skis (60mm with regular edges) and took the free shuttle ride to the Upper Terrace Loop for our first xc ski in Yellowstone. The sun was up by the then and the land around us glistened with snow and ice as began to ski the right side of the loop. The temperature was about 15 degrees… warm for Yellowstone, but as we skied on the track (in summer the trail is actually a side scenic road) we began to take off layers the constant aerobic activity that is XC warmed us up. The trail took us pass several hot springs boiling and steaming and a large Terrace poured layers of rippling boiling water down its smooth beige surface. The loop ended with a  long, smooth ski downhill back to the parking lot. I fell a few times… still used to edging hard on fat skis.

With blue skies and the bright sun shinning, Eric and i headed further up the main road to Canyon. It is closed in the Winter  to wheeled vehicles. It is open however to snowmobiles, skiers and snow-coaches (which look ridiculous). As we glided smoothly along we passed the Hoodoos: rock formations high on the cliffs above that morphed into large boulders beside the road. Eric studied the boulders carefully… he saw routes and problems everywhere, but the boulders were snowing the air to cold to remove our gloves so we pressed on through the canyon passed a frozen waterfall and up to Swan Meadows to the Trailheads of Bunsen Peak and Upper Snow Pass. We pause here for a brief lunch and ventured into the meadows, but cutting trail in such skinny skis is now the most pleasant deal. We would float on top of the snow for several yards and then suddenly plunge down up to our knees. We decided to continue up the road…

To our left we spotted a group on black dots again the white. The dots moves slowly and we immediately recognized then as a herd of bison. The were far off the road and we continued on for several yards before we noticed a still black blob bu itself on the roadside up ahead about 100 yards away. Eric and I paused wondering is the lone blemish was another bison. Too lazy to unpack my binoculars and fished out my camera and zoomed in on the object and snapped a photo. It was a bison… a large bull. He stood up revealing his gigantic mass and looked right at us. Eric and I knew we were a safe distance, but the bison was intimidating regardless. We kept our eyes glued to him in case he should approach. He stared for about 10 minutes before slumping back down returning his gaze to the herd. We turned back knowing better to try and pass him. Besides it was coming up on 2:00pm. The sun was already dipping behind the horizon. We headed back to the Terraces and skiied the loop once more before catching a shuttle back to Mammoth Hot Springs from the nearby warming hut.

Elk were simply everywhere when we returned. Several were licking salt off the steps of the Mammoth Dining Room and several grazed several yard away from our car. Of course I witnessed groups getting too close… the former ranger took hold of me and I began to tell visitors to stay away. I’m not sure if they believed me when i said I was once a ranger there, but I don’t care. I’ve seen way to much working in the park and can;t just keep quiet when people don’t obey rules. After we dropped off our skis we  headed to the main terraces. We we looked back we saw that a few elk decided to cross the road and hang our by our Subaru! We hoped they’d be gone when we returned from the boardwalk path near the springs. We didn’t stay long as the air was getting very cold by then and we were exhausted and ready a hot dinner of couscous and freeze dried veggies. The elk were gone when we returned.  We drove to the Super 8 Motel in Gardiner, pausing once near Rescue Creek to watch a Bighorn Sheep grazing above us on a rocky shelf. The perfect first day.

 

 

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