Some time ago Bree and I ran across a documentary on Yellowstone during the winter. Upon further inspection, we learned that Yellowstone National Park actually has great cross country skiing – not to mention improved wildlife viewing since the animals descend from the snowy mountains to the valleys where food is still available.
Since Bee had use-it-or-lose-it vacation to burn, we took a couple days off to head to the allegedly snowy, frozen plateau to try out classic skiing on some more forgiving terrain (our last attempt was up an icy Millcreek Canyon) and to spend a few days out of Salt Lake City’s nasty air quality.
After staying a night in West Yellowstone, we made the drive up through Bozeman and down to Mammoth Springs, where we would stay the following two nights. While West Yellowstone had roads completely covered in snow, we were a little surprised to see how little there was in Yellowstone. We also couldn’t help but notice the thermometer at the hotel – hovering at a balmy 37 degrees. With January nearly here, we’d expected it to be much, much colder. This was not the Yellowstone we had seen in the documentary or read about online.
Regardless, we set out to explore the springs and do some wildlife spotting. Mammoth Springs is quite beautiful in the snow, though it is sometimes hard to tell exactly what you are looking at. Ice, mineral deposits, snow blowing in the wind, and steam all mix together in one place.
After checking out the springs, we spent the rest of the daylight skiing on some of the trails in the area. Once we figured it out, classic skiing is awesome! While skate skiing will give you a serious workout and keep you panting the whole way, the slower and more rhythmic pace of classic skiing feels much more like cycling. I think classic skiing is here to stay.
With the daylight nearly spent, we spent the last of it on a quick wildlife safari. Not expecting too much, I was really surprised when within 20 minutes we had already spotted bison and elk alongside the road.
On our way back, we found a group of cars alongside the road, with many people outside in the cold sitting in front of their spotting scopes. We would learn over the next day that this was a sure sign of a pack of wolves.
Getting out to talk to one of the men at the scopes, he informed us that “if you’re looking for wolves, you’re outta’ luck.” It turns out they had found some coyotes there the day before, and were hoping they would come out in the evening light. As we sat with the group and looked out into the patches of grass, a dark shape shot out and bolted across the field. As it came closer we could see that it was actually a wolf – a member of the Blacktail pack that had temporarily separated from the pack.
We had borrowed Kirk’s 400mm lens, and Bree was able to snap a frantic shot of the wolf as he booked it across the field. It was seriously amazing how fast he moved.
On subsequent outings we would spot the rest of the Blacktail pack as well as the Mollys. The spotters who came to Yellowstone for the sole purpose of watching the wolves through their scope were so excited to see them – though they are only distinguishable through the scope. I’m not sure whether or not seeing a wolf at that range was a rare occurrence, but we felt very privileged to have seen him.