Ride~About: Winter Gray on Gray

How exciting to be traveling into Yellowstone via snowcoach on this winter day, although a very gray winter day. Our trip has been planned for about a month. It is totally overcast, snowing occasionally, but not too cold–in the mid 20’s. Since we are all photographers, we hope the weather will improve, but ya pay for ya ride and take ya chances!

We left West Yellowstone traveling through the West Entrance. We will be driving to Madison Junction then to Old Faithful, with stops all along the way at the various thermal basins. As we drive along the Madison River, we are hoping to see a bobcat or the pair that have been hunting in the river over the last few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed. We’ll also hope for some sun as the day progresses, then again, there is never a bad day in Yellowstone!

snowcoach gray view


There are about six snowcoaches pulled over up ahead and lots of photographers with long lenses on tripods. Let’s stop and see what they are photographing. Here’s our snowcoach, a Bombardier and the newest edition to the fleet–Clyde it “his” name.

Oh my! I just turned around and the coyote everyone was watching is walking right toward me. I backed to the edge of the road as he walked down the other side, then headed in the woods. Handsome winter coat. Many animals walk the roads in the winter, and why not? Why should they be up to their bellies in snow when they can walk our plowed roads. No dummies here.

Let’s take a two-mile side trip to Firehole Falls. What a winter wonderland!

Back along the river on the main road, we see lone bull bison here and there “shoveling” with their heads to find greens beneath the snow. Since the river collects lots of thermal runoff on its journey to join the Madison River, the warm water promotes new green growth all year long. Doesn’t look too promising where he is digging, but it is hard to tell.

Stopping at Fountain Paint Pots, we see Silex Pool, just as beautiful in winter as other times of years.

Still boiling water, still thermophiles that cause the beautiful colors, but steam in the freezing air makes for ice and frost sculptures only seen in winter.

Fountain Paint Pot itself has greens on its edges as the ice and snow recedes from the heat.

Even the dead trees take on a beautiful abstract look with ice and snow.

Stopping at Biscuit Basin, we see its thermal features draining into the Firehole River.

We have to wait to get to the coach. A large female bison is deciding whether to walk up the trail toward us, down the trail toward the other half of us, or step off the trail into the thermal field. Luckily she chose the latter and we don’t have to worry about running to a safer area out of her way. Let’s just give her another minute to walk a bit further away. All looks safe now, so let’s return to Clyde and head to Old Faithful.

Now this is seriously gray on gray. Old Faithful’s eruption is barely visible against the same color sky.  Quite a different picture in winter’s gray landscape.

The Old Faithful Inn stands in hibernation during winter. The Snow Lodge, however, is open for winter visitors. One of the newest lodges in the park, it was constructed in 1998-1999. Even so, nothing is quite as beautiful as the Inn, even closed tight waiting for spring.

After lunch and a stroll around the Upper Geyser Basin, we visit Kepler Cascades just a few miles south of the Old Faithful area. Kepler Cascades is along the Firehole River and about 10 miles north of the river’s headwaters (beginning). Yes, this river runs south to north. The Continental Divide courses 115 miles through Yellowstone and impacts many rivers and stream. Those to the south of the Divide run to the Pacific Ocean, on the north to the Atlantic Ocean, those on the Divide have a choice.

Heading north again, we’ll take a walk around Black Sand Basin. Opalescent Pool stands in stark contrast to the grays and white of the landscape.

Beautiful runoff from Sunset Lake into the Firehole River.

Well, we were going to walk around the basin, however to get to the walkway we were sinking to our knees in snow and on the walkways the snow is to the top of the railings. Hmmmmmm . . .  Personally, I think it safer if we skip this walk. Lose your balance and all your layers of clothes cannot protect you from that boiling water! Everyone agreed. Nice visit, few good pictures, let’s head back.

What’s going on? There are many snowcoaches and snowmobile groups stopped up ahead along the Madison River. WOW! The bobcat is there and we will get see her!

There she is, do you see her? Tucked into that hollow in the dead tree? Bobcats hunt ducks and a good hiding place is very helpful. See her black ear tufts and side whiskers? She sure does blend!

It is about 3pm right now and the fella I just spoke with has been here since 11:30am. The bobcat has barely moved. I’ll be honest. I don’t have lots of patience for waiting around hoping for wildlife to show up and do something. I’ll never be a great wildlife photographer, I’d rather get a few shots and move on to the beautiful landscapes I love.  But today, how can we resist spending a little time with this pretty cat.

This is the FIRST TIME EVER I’ve seen a wild bobcat! Everyone kept calling her a she but no one seems quite sure of its sex. The male of this pair is much larger than the female, but looking at only one, who knows which is which. Guess we’ll never know–male or female–but I’ll take the word of the people who have been here for over three hours now. It’s the least I can do 😉 .

It’s starting to snow and the flakes are getting bigger. I spent my 45 minutes with “kitty”, time to move on as my colleagues continue the waiting vigil.

With my short attention span, I stowed my big lens and gear in the snowcoach, grabbed my waterproof bag with smaller lens, and headed up the road then down the road as it started snowing harder with huge flakes. This fella would have been easy to overlook in all the snow, but walking rather than driving allows you to notice things you might otherwise miss. I have no clue what this young bull elk is doing in the river?!

It is now an hour later, snowing very hard, and my colleagues are calling it a day. The bobcat has not moved at all and now appears to be sleeping. As all the gear is safely packed on the snowcoach, let’s take one more look at the Madison River on this snowy late afternoon. Beautiful!

We are all tired at this point and enjoying the ride back to West Yellowstone. Nine hours in Yellowstone’s winter. Gray or not, what a marvelous experience!

Until next time . . .

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