Sunrise is a good news/bad news scenario in wintry Yellowstone. The bad news is that it is extra cold before the sun comes up and winters in Yellowstone can be colder than -40° although -25° might be more usual. Still, that is pretty cold! So the good news? Well, the sun doesn’t come up until about 7:40am unlike summer when it rises at 5am! OK, later start time, colder weather–not a bad trade off since we can add layers. Let’s bundle up and head out. We’ll have breakfast when we get back.
Thirty minutes before sunrise, as the sky begins to brighten, we have gorgeous muted colors all along the western horizon. Be sure to keep your skin covered, it’s cold out here!
The North Entrance Road, which goes through Lamar Valley, is open all year because it is the only auto access Cooke City, Montana, residents have to the rest of the world in winter. It is a 75-mile snowmobile trip to Cody, Wyoming, but that’s not too practical for grocery shopping at the very least. Since this road though Yellowstone must remain open, we have auto access to the Norther Tier of the park all winter, but the roads can be snowy and icy. However, the sunrise is absolutely gorgeous across a frozen landscape and with no crowds and few autos, we can walk the roads safely avoiding hip-deep snow as we explore the early morning. Today we’ll just walk the road until someone breaks trail into the valley.
Breaking trail is arduous work. Breaking through the snow until enough snow is packed under your snowshoes to stop you from sinking deeper. Then break through with next foot, etc., etc. Trying it without snowshoes results in postholing. Imagine the hole needed to sink a fencepost–a narrow, straight, deep hole. Now image taking a step onto snow with your boot only to sink straight down into it. You may find yourself up to your waist and it could be difficult getting back on solid ground. Snowshoes are safer.
I have a better idea. Let others break the trail today, it will freeze overnight, and tomorrow morning we have a hard-packed trail we can follow into Lamar Valley with only our hiking boots outfitted with ice-gripping cleats. Might be wimpy, but I’m good with that since all the aerobic trail breaking is too intense for me.
Here’s the trail from yesterday. Thanks guys for breaking and packing down the trail for us. Let’s head down toward the Lamar River.
The sun is peeking over the smaller mountains and lighting up the tops of the southwestern hillsides.
Although we have clouds, here comes the sun! Let’s wait a minute before we head down the 12 foot drop to reach Lamar Valley’s iconic cottonwood trees and watch the sun come over the mountains.
Wait for it, wait for it, we only have about one minute to capture a photo as the sun peeks over the mountaintop. Shadows and highlights across the valley floor; yellow-orange eastern sky. Takes my breath away, how about you?
The cottonwood trees cast long shadows as the sun gets a bit higher in the sky. Let’s just enjoy this gorgeous view a few minutes.
Getting hungry? Let’s head back and have some breakfast. The trail ends ahead at the road for an easy walk back. The sun rises quickly taking the oranges and yellows with it. Back to white snow, but the shadows being cast do create drama. It will take a few more hours for it to actually feel a bit warmer out here, but it may still be below zero.
The sun is rising fast now and what a lovely view northwest of the front of the Bunk House were breakfast awaits.
What a gorgeous sunrise this morning. Stay warm and see you next time . . .