I’d been planning this trip since a week or so after my husband died in a climbing accident back in September. Eric and I began our journey together on a road trip to Yellowstone and I needed to go back to the place that I have always considered my home town to cleanse myself and begin my journey forward in life. Adam, a friend of both myself and my late husband Eric, agreed to join me on the journey even though he has never set foot in any kind of ski!

Adam and I left Washington at 1:30pm on Thursday, eastbound for Yellowstone National Park. We expected the Journey of 850ish miles would take until Saturday afternoon to complete. We slept in my CRV at a Walmart in Ceour D’Leane, ID on our first night. On Friday we continued east on I-90, pausing in Missoula to check out Freestone Climbing Gym. As it turned out the stop was well warranted after spending too long in the car. Plus the bouldering features at the gym were amazing. We stopped at Big Sky Brewing Company on our way out too. They give free samples!

The going was good on the road even over the passes since snow fall has been light this year. As it turned out we ended up arriving in Gardiner at 8:30pm. Thus we spent the night just outside the gates of Yellowstone curled up in the car. We would get an earlier start than expected.

We drove into Yellowstone just as the light began to touch Mt Everts. We were surprised at how light the snowfall was. In fact there was none until we reached the higher elevation of Mammoth Hot Springs. Even there it was spotty. Luckily, The Upper Terrace Loop was mostly covered with sufficient snow. It should be noted that the lower part of it only has a thin layer. We carried out skies until we reached deeper snow.

As I expected, Adam was a natural at skiing. No surprise since he is a grappler, cycles everywhere and is a lifeguard/swim instructor. He fell only twice on the long downhill potion of the track. I remember falling about ten times there last year!

Next I introduced Adam to snowshoeing on the trail of Golden Gate (accessed via Snowy Pass Trail). The trail was unbroken as usual and I am still uncertain why someone would want to ski it. We saw no wildlife along the way, but plenty of tracks.

We met up with Marc, my former NPS co-worker, at the Mammoth General Store. From there we headed into Gardiner to meet up my former supervisor’s supervisor, Katy, and some new folks I didn’t know. We all took the road to Jardin up into the hills and turned left on the road to Eagle Creek. After some issues with my car getting stuck in the snow, we all XC skied the Eagle Creek Loop which had good snow and excellent views. Adam kept up great with everyone to their surprise!

Marc stayed in town while we headed to his place at the Buffalo Ranch in Lamar Valley to clean up and have dinner. He is the  manager of the Yellowstone In is it I the now and lives in a log cabin that is rustic and beautiful. Marc didn’t return until after 9:30 since he drove his car off the road and down a hill just a mile away from the cabin. Luckily he is safe and the car seems to have faired well. They will be towing it out tomorrow morning.

The famous Rendezvous Ski Trails wind through the forest at the edge of West Yellowstone, MT. The trail system covers 35 km of groomed xc ski trails and a biathlon range (used for Olympic athlete training). The Rendezvous Ski Trails was our first stop of the day. We arrived in dim light as thick snow swirled around us in the high winds. We were uncertain how far we would end up going. We had a vague plan to complete the Rendezvous and Dead Dog Loop which would make a total of 12km… that quickly flew out the window. The trails were so well groomed and we felt so into xc skiing that morning that we decided to do the longest loop possible and cut off the Rendezvous Trail at Windy Ridge turnoff. Windy Ridge (6.5)   “Most Difficult” due to the climbing and up and down terrain. We didn’t find it very difficult though, but then again we’re used to climbing. The trail take you up to a ridge as the name suggests and it was indeed very windy as the name also suggests! On a clear day I am sure there would have been views, but it was the stormiest weather yet. We were happy to dip back into the cover of trees. When we returned to the Rendezvous Trail we backtracked a bit and turned off to complete the Dead Dog Trail (6km) before continuing forward on the Rendezvous Trail. It was still kind of early though so we went ahead and cut off the shorter Rendezvous Trail Loop and to join the part of the Deja View tail making the loop wider. By then we were tired from the wind, cold and snow. We arrived at the TH warming hut at 2:15pm and took a brief lunch break. We’d gone 14.5 miles.

The day was not over yet. We drove to the other side of town to the Riverside Trailhead. In the thick sno we snapped on our xc skis for the final time. The trail is used by both snowshoers and skis. The first mile is amazingly straight and flat leading you into Yellowstone National Park to a junction. Here you can make a choice to do the Upper River Loop or the Lower River Loop. We opted to take the Upper Loop due to the time and weather. Marc gave us a very important tip the night before: “Take the LEFT side of the loop. It is better to climb up this one hill than ski down.” So we took the left side. The trail followed the shoreline of the Madison River. The area is known for Eagles and bison, but there were none today. It was quiet, peaceful and very very white! The trail eventually turns away from the river and into the forest… and we saw how important Marc’s advice had been. This is a very large ann nearly vertical hill. This is back enough, but there’s more. There are only a very narrow passage up the hill since trees are poking up everywhere. Skiing down would require making very sharp turns indeed. Once mistake and you’d slam into a evergreen. We very slowly side stepped up the hill which, though horrible, was much better than risking a crashing going down. The loop rejoined with the straight trail and we headed back to the parking lot.

The snow didn’t let up nor did the wind. After dinner and our final good-byes to Marc Eric and I packed up and drove back up Route 191. We went about 35mph which was good on two counts: the snow was so powdery there was snow dust getting kicked up by other cars and, second, a fox crossed the road in front of us without looking both ways! We watched aboput 8 snow plows on the opposite side of the road pass by. No snow plows ever were on our side of the road! Either way, the going was not so bad and we were able to speed up as we got further north. The snow stopped by the time we reached Bozeman… its time to go back to real life and to enter 2014.

With a fresh tank of gas Eric and I headed out this morning to embark on our final snowmobile journey. Mark suggested we go to the less visited trails along the Gallatin National Forest to Horse Butte and beyond. We followed the Big Sky Trail with crossing highway 191 several times before the junction to the Horse Butte Loop. We followed the Loop along the shoreline of Hebgen Lake. Bison winter in this area, but we didn’t see any. We took the left side of the loop and began to climb up the Horse Butte. There is a short turn off to the Lookout Site at the top. Unfortunately, the trail gets rough and I ran my sled into a ditch. Eric pulled the sled 360 degrees so it was facing out, then pushed while i gunned the throttle. This time I was standing ON the sled, but I still got thrown off terrifying Eric yet again. But at least the sled was free. We headed up to the Lookout Tower on foot. The stair were blocked so we couldn’t climb it. But the view from the Butte was still rather lovely even with the low hanging clouds. We got back on our sleds and completed the loop before joining once more with the Big Sky trail and heading further North.

We crossed the highway a few more times and then across of open meadow near farmland. The trail then went into the woods. This is where some interesting track began. The trail plummeted almost vertically down two freakishly steep hills causing me to back off on the throttle completely. Then it went nearly vertically up a steep hill making me thus gun the throttle to the fullest extent! We wove through the Gallatin Forest at 8,000 feet for well over an hour before coming to a junction with an ungroomed road and a sign warning folks to call the avalanche hotline. We decided to pull over here and snowshoe the ungroomed road.

The road was used by off trail snowmobiles making it relatively packed down and it ended up leading to the Tepee Trailhead. The trail is wide and also used by snowmobiles though it was covered with fresh snow. It was nice only sinking 6-8 inches instead of 3 feet like the day before. We made much better mileage today. It was still cloudy and snowy, but not as harsh the the day before and we enjoyed our time off the sled.

We returned after three hours like yesterday and rode back south. We turned off Big Sky and followed the Madison Arm, a nice wide trail suitable for speed. We rejoined Big Sky and decided to attempt making it out to Lionshead. We were running short on fuel though and halfway there we decided that we didn’t have a enough gas to make it. Instead we took a shorter trail back to town using the Little Snowy and a different section of the Powerline Trail what was both wide and straight. We had out last adventure with speed and powder there. When we returned the Sleds Eric’s fuel was nearly empty!

Today we took a break from XC skiing and tried our hand at snowmobiling. We rented two Polaris 550 SHIFT snowmobiles from Travelers Snowmobiles across the street from the Days Inn complete with full body suits, helmets and boots. We planned on riding the groomed Two Top Trail, part of the Island Park snowmobile trail system. Riding a snowmobile, I quickly learned, was pretty much the same as riding a jet ski. It took a few minutes to get the hang out the clutch, but it was easy enough after that. We headed along the Streets if Wast Yellowstone to the edge of town where the trail began.

The rules of the road are simple… 45mph and as people pass you from the opposite direction hold up a hang to indicte how many folks from your group are behind (including yourself). The final person holds up a fist. Eric led at first. We switched after 15 minutes and I stayed in the lead after that. As it turned out, I was a faster and more bold rider so I made sense. We followed the track for an hour or so before pulling a few yards into the Two Top Divide turnoff. Here we dismounted our sled and strapped on the Atlas snowshoes we rented from Freeheel and Wheel. We weren’t about to spend the entire saying sitting of course!

We followed some old off trail snowmobile tracks to the top of the hill where we met up with Idaho. The border of MT and ID is within Island Park. We also discovered the Continental Divide Trailhead here. We journeyed into the virgin snowing trail… sinking deep into the snow even with the snowshoes. Eric fell in a drift and it took him about 5 minutes to stand up again since the snow was so powdery… plus it was much deeper than our trekking poles (over 4 feet). Heavy cloud cover blanketed the sky and snow fell softly around us. The forest was still and beautiful… and we moved painfully slow! We returned to our sleds three hours later to continue the Two Top Loop… unfortunately we continued amount the very bumpy Two Top Divide Trail and had to make an awkward U-turn when it dead ended. We got back on the real trail though. By then white mist hung above us. The air had the right amount of moisture and chill to cause a thick layer of frost over our face shields even though we lifted them at every stop. We had to ride with them up with the cold air cutting our faces… I had my baklava over most of my face though so it wasn’t too bad. Two Top is known for its views, but we couldn’t see anything int he distance with the low clouds and now heavy snow that fell around us as we drove to the high point. At some place I could barely see the long poles that marked the trail! Eric and I went off trail in some places where other sleds had packed down the snow, though this was not as much my thing. I liked going fast on straight track.

We descended to a bowl on the lower part of the trail and played a bit in the field. Eric got caught in a deep drift… pushing the throttle as be pushed while standing BESIDE the sled as opposed to being ON the sled proved to be a back idea as I got throw a bit, but it ended up freeing his snowmobile. We had time to spare and decided to get off the Two Top Loop and extend the trip by taking the Powerline Trail back to West…. a less used area with rolling hills and fun straight track!

After Marc fixed us eggs and a big bowl of grits, Eric and I drove 20 miles North on 191 to the Bighorn Pass Trailhead in the Gallatin National Forest, part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Marc had given us a topo map and described his latest experience on the route. It seemed that after crossing the Gallatin River folks cut track close to the shoreline over the sage brush… this skiing requiring punching through sage potholes. He suggested he go further inland beside a hill where there were smooth meadows. Marc also mentioned a place further upriver to cross for the return journey making a loop.

The day was cloudy and thick snow fell from the sky. It was the first day of snow since we arrived in Montana. Now it truly felt like a Yellowstone winter! Track was cut and we followed it to the shore of the Gallatin River. The track turned right and followed the shoreline. We saw a sign for a crossing over the frozen river after just under a mile, but the track for the crossing was weaker than the tread that continued to follow the river. Eric suggested we following the deeper track so we journeyed on.

The weather was most indecisive. The sun would break the clouds and warm us only to disappear behind another cloud with a blast of wind and snow. Mist carpeted the Gallatin Range one moment and then lifted the next revealing the majesty of the mountains. Several tracks broke off the track we followed… it seemed folks where just carving their own way instead of staying on an official trail. We stayed beside the river… we were now by a section that was very unfrozen and rippled with life. Clearly we had passed the second crossing point, but it didn’t matter to us. We found some fox tracks  that led to a gaping hole in the snow… a sign of the fox hunting mice beneath the snow.

The trail along the shore turned inland eventually. Eric and I each cut trail along the river for 1/2 hour each before heading back toward the trailhead. By now it was about 1:30pm. The sun had lost it’s battle with the clouds and snow. The wind was blustery and swirled snow around us. Out tracks from only an hour before were partially or, in some areas, fully covered! Luckily the snow beneath was hard packed and we were able to glide quickly. We decided to cross over the ice at the crossing sign we had seen earlier since it was still too early to call it a day. We skied along the opposite shoreline  seeing early what Marc had mentioned about the sagebrush trails.

By the time we returned to our car it was 3:30… it was time to head back to the trailer for a hot shower and hot meal.

 

 

We knew it was going to be a short day since we had to make the drive to West Yellowstone. In the summer it is a 55 mile drive since the park roads are open. In the winter, however, road closures turn the once short journey to a much longer 167 mile drive. We decided to spend the morning in Mammoth Hot Springs. We started out skiing on the steep left side of the Upper Terrace Loop and turned off onto the Snow Pass Trail about .5 miles in. The un-groomed Snow Pass trail had recently be skied on, so a channel had been cut making the going easy for awhile. Of course you can not get to a pass without elevation gain and suddenly the trail went starkly upright an a very steep angle… much steeper than I have ever encountered on skis. The trail is narrow and herring-boning on it was difficult, next to impossible. We ended up removing our skis and walking up the trail though we were careful to remain on the side of the cut trail to preserve it for more experienced skiers. The trail leveled out and we were able to put on our skis again. There were some great views before the trail again began to climb. Eric managed to keep his skis on, but I had to take mine off again and trudge along the side. We did indeed make it to Snow Pass, but there are very few views there. I recall doing the entire loop in the summer two years ago… I think it is much nicer at that time of year. But my opinion may be a been bias as I was particularly exhausted this morning. We slowly descended the narrow trail and skiied Upper Terrace Loop a final time before heading out… just before the arch we spotting a man at the pullout with a large camera lens focusing on a tree across the Gardiner River. We pulled over and discovered he was focusing on a large bald eagle perched on a tree across the river! A beautiful creature to see as we headed to our next adventure.

We Drove back up to Bozeman and South again to West Yellowstone along 191 through the Gallatin National Forest. Luckily it was a sunny day and we made excellent time, arriving at West at 2:30… 2.5 hours earlier than expected! We wandered around for a bit exploring the winter culture. Snowmobiles drive through the street and folks passed us on xc skis. We picked up Rossingnol backcountry xc skis from Freeheel and Wheel at 5:00pm and met Marc at the visitor center. Marc is my former Yellowstone Co-worker and a close friend. He was kind enough to put us up in his trailer during our visit. Eric decided that Marc is basically a taller version of himself…. very similar viewpoints on the world!

We decided to spend the day completing the portion of the Blacktail Plateau trail we missed yesterday by beginning our journey on the lower trailhead. We began in the dim light at 7:15 before the sun appeared over the horizon. It was cold again, but not as bad as the previous day. The car indicated 15 degrees.  We glided carefully over the track studying every rock to make sure it wasn’t a bison disguised by the low light and talking loudly at every corn to avoid startling unseen critters on the other side. We didn’t run into anything though. This end of the trail did not climb as steeply as the upper portion. It gentling wove around the rolling hills as it slowly gained elevation on the climb to the plateau. It was a cloudy day and even went the sun rose it remained frigid. We stopped after three miles for a quick snack. It was at this point that we began to see the wolf tracks again. It was 9:30am and the sun began to peak through the clouds making the snow sparkle. It would end of being morning of both sun and clouds making it impossible to keep ourselves at a comfortable temperature. One minute we were over dressed and the next under-dressed.

The sun and clouds didn’t matter though. What mattered was that as we continued on our journey a sound entered my ears. I stopped and told Eric is stop too. Without the grinding of the snow beneath our skis the distant sound echoed clearly over the Plateau. The wolf pack howls drifted through the air like soft music caressing the landscape. I had never heard wolves howl in the wild before and it took my breathe away. Such beauty in their wild music. Such freedom. There was no way to tell how close they were or how many sung. But it lasted three minutes before the voices disappeared into the cold. I smiled. Hearing the wolves was better than seeing them. And 15 minutes later we heard it again. This time it was one wolf, and he sounded closer. Perhaps the alpha had come to inspect us… we’ll never know.

We saw several elk grazing in the hills wells off the trail before winding around a bend high up on the plateau. A small avalanche from the shelf above the trail cover the groomed track. It had undoubtedly been the avalanche the skier told us about caused by the bison yesterday. The skier had been lucky he wasn’t standing beneath the shelf. It would have buried him.

We came to a vista that my GPS indicated was about where we had stopped the day before and turned back. The ski was downhill for the most part and we glided smoothly along until around a bend Eric nearly ran over a coyote. He seemed as startled and confused as we were. The coyote’s tail was early hairless indicating that he had been infected with mange. He tried to approach us, probably hopeing for a handout, but we waved our poles and yelled at him. He timidly back off, but instead of heading in the opposite direction he seemed fixated and getting around us. He tried to head up the slope beside the trail, but seemed to decide that making a path through deep snow was too much work and he returned to the track. He passed back and forth a bit as we waved our poles some more… then he bolted passed us at a dizzying speed. He watched him trot down the path before continuing on our way. Now it was sunny and we were down to our base layers… well Eric was down to his base layer and I was down to my three base layers. We made it back to the trailhead finishing 12 miles on the Blacktail.

We headed further up the road and stopped at Tower Junction where the road was closed. We snapped our skis back on and glided  uphill toward Tower Falls on the closed road. We were too tired to make it all the way to the falls, but we did make it to Calamite Springs Overlook were steaming hot springs were lined along the edges of the Yellowstone River below. Before skiing back down the road to the car Eric decided that he wanted to make the 1.5 mile journey shirtless. Oddly, he reported that the worst part was the backpack against his skin. It gave him freezer burn.

On the drive back several bison stood in the middle of the road. I watched a safe distance away for them to wander off. The two cars behind me though were impatient and went around me. They drove up to the bison and frightened them off the road even though all wildlife in Yellowstone has the right of way… plus I know of a bison that was near a car, turned around and broke off the rear-view mirror without even trying. Visitor ignorance angers me… but I thought of the wolves and it made me smile.

We were in the car by 5:30am this morning…. driving through the darkness to Lamar Valley which is also Know as the Sergei of Yellowstone National Park. It is in the Northeast Corner of the Park and positively brimming with wildlife, but it is most famous for its wolves. Wolf Watching is especially popular in the Valley in the winter for two reasons: dark wolves are easy to see against white snow and the road from Gardiner to Cooke City which goes through the Valley is the only road in the park maintained for wheeled vehicles in the winter. I hoped to see them again as I had when working in the park.

The temperature, according to our car’s dashboard info, kept dropping the further we journeyed in the park. Near Tower a coyote shuffled along the road looking at us with golden eyes as we drove by. Not a wolf, but I was still happy to see a wild canine. The temperature was -6 Degrees Fahrenheit when we entered the Lamar Valley. It was still dark so we decided to drive along and  search for a good place to ski. Wolf watchers were gathering at the pullouts watching for the sun to rise. We drove 6 miles short of Cooke City before turning around and parking near Soda Butte. We decided that the best option for us would be to  ski along the road. With the temperature still -6 I pulled my buff up to just below my eyes and zipped my jacket up over the other 6 players of clothing I wore on my upper body. We snapped on our skis and headed down the road as the sun began to rise at 7:15am. We passed the wolf watchers, but they hadn’t seen anything this morning. I didn’t mind too much as I know seeing wolves is purely chance and hadn’t gotten my hopes up. Besides, the valley was gorgeous in glowing morning light. We traveled down the road for 2 miles before turning back… taking layers off as the sun’s warmth penetrated our bodies.

Further down the road we stopped again near the Lamar River and skiied the road again. I had seen a snow plow pass on our drive into Lamar Valley, but already there were new tracks on the shoulder of the road… and the tracks belonged to wolves. We had missed them by an and hour or so. I smiled at seeing their mark in the snow though. I am sure they were watching us.

A law enforcement ranger paused as we glided on the shoulder. He was nervous for our safety skiing on a road shared with cars and suggested we ski more inland beside the Lamar River. We knew we were using safe practices stopping and moving far to the side whenever a car came, but we decided to head off the road and cut some trail to the river for the hell of it. It was tough with the thin skis and 3/4 of the way in we decided to turn back to the road, but just as I was about to turn I say the outline of a canine on the high bank of the opposite side of the river. Then it disappeared down the bank. We hurried to the high bank on our side of the Lamar River. I knew the creature would trot along frozen river and out of sight way before we arrived. We ended up getting another glimpse of the critter before it disappeared around a bend when we reached the bank. A line of fresh tracks were imprinted in the snow down the center of the frozen river… but we didn’t dare try to cross the ice. By the size of the canine we think it was a coyote, but we’ll never really know.

We drove back toward Gardiner pausing to look a snowy faced bison from the safety of our vehicle.  We pulled over  just beyond the turn to Petrified Tree. A groomed ski trail (we did not know the name at the time) was just a bit further down the road and we still had a few hours of daylight left. The glided up the trail though forest and open vistas that revealed the distant mountains and prairies of Yellowstone. But greater to me than the the landscape was the groomed trail in from of up made imperfect by not only ski tracks, but dozens of wolf tracks. It was a large pack and they were using the groomed trail as a superhighway. The packed snow allowed them to travel quickly and the overlooks probably made prey easy to locate. Many tracks were large which is to be expected, but one individual, which I assume was the alpha, had prints with a width of about 4.5 inches. Gigantic! We ran into another couple heading back down the trail when we were 2 miles in on a high overlook area. They told us of a bison the trail that had caused a avalanche when he stood up. They also informed us they we were on the portion of the Blacktail Plateau Trail. We didn’t go very far after meeting the pair as it was getting late. We turned a headed back down passed the same couple as they headed back the way they had come searching for the rest of their group that was lagging behind. We glided effortless down the slope at first, but stopped short when we noticed a large male elk with a full rack standing in the center of the trail 30 yards away.

This is what makes Yellowstone such as adventure: wildlife does what it wants and you have to wait. We yelled a bit at him, but after examining us for 5 minutes he went back to grazing. The he disappeared around the corner of the trail and out of sight. Two skate skiers came down the trail along with the couple we had met earlier and their slower comrades. The skate skier and Eric decided to peak around the corner to see if the elk was still there… he was. They promptly retreated. The elk came back into view and the 8 of up yelled and waved our poles. The bull during care… he knew his power and continued grazing. It had now been above 20 minutes. Five minutes later he moved just off the trail into some trees. The skate skiers decided to sprint pass him. Eric and I followed suit stopping only when we 25 yards away to look back (of course the other skiers were way too close to the bull taking photos which bothered me immensely).

We glided down the gentle hill and skied along the road back to our car. It was 4:30pm by then a getting very cold. One of the skiers we met on the trail asked for a lift back to his track at the other end of the Blacktail so we gave him a ride. He was semi-local from Bozeman and told us how much things had changed since he was younger. Bozeman was once more of a town than the big city it is  today. After dropping the gentleman off headed back to Gardiner seeing herds of bison digging through the snow searching from dead grass with almost no nutrition. Such is the life of wildlife here in the winter.

In the fields just inside the North Entrance two pronghorn wandered the snowy landscape. I wondered by they hadn’t migrated… and by the arch grazed a herd of elk. Another great end to a perfect day… oh yeah, and it was Christmas we realized later!

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.