Yellowstone in January? Brrr…

Our good friends Katherine and Michael had heard that the National Park is well worth visiting at the depth of the “off-season”, and that led to a little group trip at the end of January. They went by plane, and we by land.

Mitchel did the lion’s share of the driving, Interstate 80 across most of Nevada and then up to 84 across southeastern Idaho and then into Jackson, Wyoming. We punctuated the twelve-hour trip, door-to-door, with little background reports on our passage through Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Elko, Wells, Jackpot, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls.

Access to the Park is by tracked vehicle only, so we left the car at the Flagg Ranch Resort, which is shuttered for the winter. The folks operating the Park concessions (Xanterra, which somehow isn’t as poetic to my ears as the name “Fred Harvey” the former, long-term concessionaire) came to fetch us with one of their fleet of R-12 “snow coaches”. The run to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge took about two hours, counting stops at various points of interest and for breaks at the warming huts that are sprinkled through the Park.

Lots of snow – when we walked over various footbridges, the bridge handrails were usually barely visible and level with our boot soles – and sharp but dry cold (20 degrees F). Kathryn and Mitchel put in two full days of snowmobiling, chasing down wildlife sightings toward the West Entrance and on the grand loop to Madison, Canyon Village, Bridge Bay and West Thumb. I confined myself to a full day tour via snow coach, with the good luck of a spectacular, crystal-clear day.

The most abundantly visible wildlife were the Bison, but Elk, Coyote, and Swans also made it onto the checklist.

We found the Snow Lodge to be attractive and comfortable, staffed mostly by young and enthusiastic employees, many of which are pursuing their interests in subjects such as zoology, geology, and environmental science. Although the antiquated reservations and accounting system caused some head-scratching analysis at check-out, the experience was highly rewarding, and gave us a lot to talk about during the return drive.

Snow gang Adventure Time!

The Creek

Checking out the Firehole River. We crossed the Continental Divide three times as the road meandered back and forth across the ridges.

The Swans

Swimming the chilly Madison River.

Taking the Photos

Shutterbug Stop for Bison Shots.

The ridge

Mitchel snowmobiles to the top.

The Hollands

Michael and Katherine pondering the view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.


Placid Bison covered with rime frost.We learned that Bison are a different species from Buffalo.


Known as "Bombs", these Bombardier R-12 snowcoaches were built in Canada from the 1940s until 1979. Steering the skis without power assist is quite a challenge.