Yellowstone 2024

23 Mar 2024 9:09 PM | Laura Seaver (Administrator)

Commentaries from trip participants, including a Haiku:

Snowy, magical
Views! Geysers, wildlife, skiers...
Yellowstone winter

It was a great experience visiting the park on skis.  The animals and geysers did not disappoint!  We were very fortunate to have our own knowledgeable guide to point out facts regarding the geography, animals, plants, etc.

The Yellowstone trip totally exceeded my expectations. George's expertise of the area's flora & fauna, geology & more made it fascinating & educational. The trip length could have been a day or two longer but as I understand, it was CONC's first "exploratory" trip to Yellowstone. I particularly liked the wintry, dramatic feel of the scenery & the animal encounters. The winter scenes (even driving in a blizzard) were magical and other worldly. The group seemed to work well together & there was a certain esprit de corps.

A major highlight was three thundering herds of bison on our final day of skiing. It’s a treat to spot wildlife from the car when traveling through Yellowstone. It’s even more exciting running into wildlife a mile or two up the trail when there’s nothing between you and them. Group leader George was explaining one of Yellowstone’s wonders when suddenly a herd of bison came charging out of the woods toward us from maybe 200 to 300 yards away. They eventually saw us, slowed down to ponder their next move, then veered off to their right and rumbled by maybe 75 yards away. Then in the next half hour, this happened again with two more herds. We couldn’t help but wonder what had them on the run. It certainly added to the adventure.

More of the story:

The 2024 CONC trip to Yellowstone was a rousing success.  The wildlife and landscapes more than outweighed the long drive and record low snowfall.  Club member George Wuerthner served as guide to the ten other club members.  His long history with and comprehensive knowledge of Yellowstone National Park was invaluable, both in sharing knowledge and devising ski outings that made the most of each day's conditions.

The adventure started Sunday afternoon when George took those who had arrived in Gardiner on a wildlife tour nearby to see bighorn sheep and elk.  The full group gathered Monday morning for a briefing, where George talked about the wildlife, geography, geology, and history of Yellowstone.  Then our small caravan of Subarus headed in to the park.  It was a snowy, blowy day, and we were headed towards Cooke City, 2500 feet higher than Gardiner, with the plan of finding a sheltered place to ski.  But first, we had to stop for some bison crossing the road.  And one, who generously posed right by the side of the road. 

Even our pit stop at Tower Junction included a wildlife show, as a dusky grouse made its way through the sagebrush and snow right by the parking area.  If you ever need to show the young people in your life what a phone booth is, there is a working one at Tower Junction!

We opted to go all the way to Cooke City, which is where the snowplowing ends, for a coffee and treat.  On the way, one car reported a moose sighting!  After our tour of downtown Cooke City, we headed for the Bannock ski trail, mostly sheltered from the wind.  It was a lovely ski, with a little added drama of a footbridge crossing.  And we saw a moose!  It skedaddled quickly away from us, but not before getting caught on camera.  We skied to the boundary of the park, which served as our turnaround point.

As we were driving the 50 miles back to Gardiner, we saw a clump of people, some with spotting scopes, along the edge of the road.  When they said, "Wolves!" we found a place to park and joined them.  We got to watch the Shrimp Lake pack for a while, close enough to see by eye alone but also enjoyed through the binoculars getting handed around.  Wow!  We all counted ourselves lucky to have seen wolves.  The remainder of the drive back was slow going, as the snowfall increased greatly and darkness fell.  By the time we got back to the lodge, everyone was tired, especially the drivers.

Tuesday started leisurely with most of the group heading out for breakfast.  After the storm the night before, the day dawned crystal clear and about 5 degrees F at 9 am.  Beautiful views of Electric Peak over Gardiner.  The plan for the day was a snowcoach trip to Norris Geyser Basin.  We had a walking tour through part of the geyser basin.  With the cold temperatures, the steam was impressive.  We even caught some residual activity at the Steamboat Geyser, one of the largest in the world. 

Then we had a lovely ski.  Our snowcoach driver and guide dropped us at one end of the Victoria Cascades road, where we had a lovely ski down along the creek, by the waterfall, and along a gorge.  This was our coldest day, peaking at about 12*F, but with no wind and some sunshine in places, it was nice to have the cold temps to preserve the new snow. 

Back in the snowcoach to return to Mammoth Hot Springs.  But first, wolves on the road!  Three wolves were loping along the road in front of us.  It was a bit uncomfortable to be following them, but it was exciting to see them and eventually, they turned off the road so we could get by.  Wolves two days in a row!  George had warned us that we would be lucky to see wolves at all, so this was certainly special.  Once back in town, we gathered at a local restaurant to rehash the adventures of the day.

Wednesday was a two ski day.  We started out with a ski tour around Mammoth Hot Springs.  Then, as we drove to our second ski site, we stopped to watch wolves, again alerted by the wolf watchers along the side of the road.  This was the Wapiti Pack, which we think includes the three wolves we saw from the snowcoach yesterday.  Super cool!  Our second ski of the day was along the Blacktail Plateau Road.  We didn't see any Blacktail deer, but we did see a bunch of bison, not too far off the road.  They were pretty chill, but we stayed together as a group and skied past them relatively quickly.  We climbed a couple of miles up the road, enjoying a great ski.  On the way back, we were sure to regroup before passing the bison again.  As we were regrouping, we saw one bison on the other side of the road, slowly heading towards the road in front of us.  We took advantage of the downhill grade to ski through the scene quickly and as a group.  The bison weren't that close to the road, but it was still exciting, as they are much, much bigger that xc skiers!

Another part of our Wednesday adventures was a visit to the Chico Hot Springs, about halfway between Gardiner and Livingston.  It's a cool old resort, and we enjoyed a soak in the hot pool before having dinner in the saloon and exploring the hotel.

By Thursday, we were all wondering if we could possibly be so lucky as to see wolves four days in a row.  We stopped again at Tower Junction and saw a bit of a commotion on the road.  We got closer and had to wait for a herd of bison crossing the road.  But that didn't explain the flashing lights we'd seen on park service vehicles.  Turns out, there had been a wolf kill very near the road, which the park authorities had moved to protect the animals from the hazards of motor vehicles.  We didn't see any wolves, but we did get to watch three coyotes, including one that posed quite nicely for us. 

Our ski that day was the road to the Slough Creek Campground.  By now, the fresh snow from Monday night was merely a memory, and we were skiing on some pretty hard crust.  The upside of the crust was it was a great record of the animals that had passed by.  We saw some wolf tracks but no wolves.  Once again, bison provided the excitement for the day.  A group of bison appeared cantering down the road towards us, although they turned off the road before they got to near.  Then another group appeared, cantering in the same direction.  And a third group.  We never did figure out whether they were agitated by something or just moving out in to the valley.  We took advantage of the campground picnic tables for our lunch before skiing back to the cars.  We had a great dinner that night, celebrating a wonderful winter tour of Yellowstone.  

The Central Oregon Nordic Club, PO Box 744, Bend, OR 97709, is chapter of the Oregon Nordic Club, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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