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Ousel Falls Wander

Well, it is that time of year. Not really winter, not really spring. Ice on the trails, lots of brown popping through the dirty-looking snow that’s left. The evergreens are not their beautiful greens, more like a yellow-green and pale. So to make up for this “it’s so much better any other time of year” feeling, we are going to Ousel Falls outside the town of Big Sky, Montana.  A short walk down and up, switchbacks across, through a canyon, and then rewarded with a beautiful waterfall. With all this ice, though, be sure to put on your ice cleats. It is mostly overcast today, but the sun is peeking through a bit and it is supposed to reach 52°.  That’s warm without wind, but we’ll see if the predicted wind changes things. Have those cleats on? Let’s go!

Watch your step . . .

Thoreau saying

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

 

Here we go!

Thoreau saying

SNAP*Shot: Winter’s Sunrise

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!


No slouching, let’s get out there . . .

Thoreau saying

Rose Creek in Winter White

Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is  a sparkling winter wonderland, and the Lamar Buffalo Ranch is an ideal mid-valley location with a bit of civilized warmth from the frigid winter surrounds. The ranch was instrumental in saving bison from extinction in this country in the early 1900’s. Today, although not open to the public,  the ranch hosts educational opportunities through the Yellowstone Forever Institute and the National Park Service’s Expedition Yellowstone.

Let’s walk up to where Rose Creek splits into three separate creeks as it races down into the valley to join the Lamar River. The trail is hard packed, but let’s put ice-traction cleats on our boots for safety. It is a little after 10am and about 8 degrees, but with no wind, it feels much warmer.  What a beautiful day! Don’t forget your sunglasses.

Let’s go . . .

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Winter Wayfaring at -12 Degrees

It dropped to -22° last night, but with the crystal-clear blue sky this morning, the sun is warming up the landscape. At -12° and not a breath of wind, it’s time for a winter wayfaring experience near home. It is just so beautiful. The sparkling snow clings to everything it fell on over the last 24 hours. Be sure to dress warm though, it is still very cold outside and we don’t want any frostbite on fingers, toes, or nose. It is so nice to still have farmland within our city limits. Wintertime aspens, long piles of hay, and the Bridger Mountains that define our eastern edge, all covered in sparkling white.

Bridgers frame aspens

Wayfaring with me . . .

Thoreau saying

SNAP*Shot: Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans, beautiful and majestic, are North America’s largest waterfowl and heaviest flying bird. This dark, windy winter day is brightened by this white beauty keeping an eye on us as she guards her family. Females are called a pens; males are called cobs.

adult trumpeter swan

Trumpeter Swans are a native species to North America. Most Trumpeters weigh 21-30 pounds, although large males can reach 35 pounds. Standing on the ground, an adult male can stand four feet high. With a wingspan over seven feet carrying that heavy body, Trumpeters need at least 100 yard “runway” of open water; running hard and fast across the surface of the water in order to generate enough speed for take off. What a sight!

Beginning in the late 1800s, Trumpeter’s were hunted to near extinction for their feathers to adorn fashionable hats, skin for face powder puffs, and long flight feathers coveted for writing quills. Aggressive conservation efforts helped the species recover by the early 2000’s. Since they generally build their nests atop beaver or muskrat dens, overhunting of these rodents diminished breeding habitat for Trumpeters. As the rodent populations recovered, the swan numbers improved. One of these years you’d think we’d recognize that this world is a system with each part relying on the others, including animals, bugs, birds, plants and people, hopefully helping preserve the balance. Sigh . . . but we did good with the Trumpeters since in most of their range there are healthy populations that continue to increase.

Nests are sometimes built on large floating mats of vegetation. Their nest can be 11 feet across and 3 feet high and is often used by the same pair year after year. The young swans, called cygnets, turn white at about 1-1/2 years old. There are usually four to six eggs in a swan’s clutch. Trumpeters have an unusual way of incubating their eggs: they warm the eggs by covering them with their webbed feet. Once hatched in June, the cygnets can swim and feed within 24 hours. By 15 weeks they will have gained over a pound a week reaching up to 20 lbs. and will now be able to fly.

young trumpeter swans

It is assumed that Trumpeters mate for life, but it appears that they change mates a number of times over their normal  lifetimes of more than 20 years. Cygnets stay with the parents over their first winter, but the parents chase them away in the spring as they begin planning for their next family. The young swans stay in sibling groups until about two years old when they themselves start the search for a mate and a new life in a remote open-water area.

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SNAP-Shot: Winter at the Lower Falls

Yellowstone in the white wrapping of winter is a stunning wonderland. Winter at the Lower Falls is magical with blue ice growing ever thick and wide in this frigid season. An ice cone forms at the base of the falls from splash, mist, and snowfall until it is over half as tall as the falls itself. The water, thick with cold, crashes down 308 feet sending mist into the air taller than the falls. The roar of the falls from Lookout Point is muffled this time of year from all the constraints in it’s path, but once at the bottom, the Yellowstone River flows downhill and north, free of the ice cover it struggled through before the falls. The beauty of this place just begs for us to linger. As the wind picks up, we don’t have enough layers to keep the freezing chill at bay, so time to return to the warmth of the snowcoach and smile at the beauty of this special place.

Lower Falls in Winter

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White Porcelain

Yellowstone in winter is truly a wonderland. A quiet solitude, the result of few park visitors and the muffling effect of deep snow. Vast sparkling snow landscapes that feel disorienting and measuring snow depth in feet defines winter here. Last autumn we visited Porcelain Basin, one of two basins at Norris Geyser Basin. Today we will marvel at the basin in its winter glory–White Porcelain this time of year! Welcome to Yellowstone’s most acidic and hottest hydrothermal area and one of the most active earthquake areas in Yellowstone.

Porcelain Basin

 

Bundle up and let’s go

Thoreau saying

Ride~About: Winter Wonderland

Walks and hikes are great, but sometimes the road trip getting there is spectacular as well. Even in the car we can slow down and look around enjoying the landscapes, critters in the meadows, and features unique to the drive. We had six inches of snow overnight at Lamar Buffalo Ranch and the clouds are closing in as flurries begin to fall. A gorgeous winter wonderland, just in time for Christmas!

Lamar-

Continue our ride