Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Yellowstone in snow

Ever since we started going to Yellowstone, Lindsay has wanted to visit in winter. Fred from Seattle suggested that we look at snow mobile tours. There are a some from the west entrance and two from the north entrance. As we planned to camp in Mammoth campground, we chose the private company Yellowstone Year-Round Safaris as opposed to Xanterra who run all the government campgrounds. They run out of Gardiner and have two tours, one to Old Faithful and one to Canyon, we wanted to go to Canyon  which goes down the right hand side of Yellowstone. The last tour available when we rang was on the 27th February, so we made sure we got there a couple of days beforehand so that we could get over our travelling and therefore enjoy the experience more.

Mammoth Campground
When we arrived into the Mammoth campground, there was no-one else there. Surprise surprise. Only one block of restrooms were open, so we chose a campsite close to them as we had drained our fresh water tank and winterised our pipes so they wouldn't burst. That night snow fell and we had a light sprinkling over everything. Lindsay got up at 7am and wanted to go down to the Lamar Valley straight away. My priorities lay with breakfast, so I sent him on his way. He came back with photos of elk, bison, big horn sheep, a golden eagle and coyotes. Thursday, we both went into the Lamar and saw some wolves which were a bit too far for a photo.

Coyote
Big Horned Sheep
Friday, we had to be in Gardiner by 7am. The temperature had got down to -24ºC/-12ºF overnight. The walls in our trailer were glittering with ice crystals. The bedroom windows were iced too. We had left our catalytic gas heater on 24/7 but it could only warm inside up to 0ºC/32ºF!

It looks so much colder in celsius -24ºC at 2am!
We had four other people on our tour, so five snow mobiles including our guide; a good number. The Xanterra tours had huge numbers which means you would have been always waiting for other people.

our new Ski Doo snowmobiles
They fit you out with a suit, boots, helmet and gloves. Luckily Jerry & Myra had introduced us to hand warmers in Harrison Mills when we were photographing the bald eagles. So we stocked up on foot warmers, hand warmers and body warmers - an absolute saviour. I had body warmers on my thighs, toe warmers on the bottom of my toes (later that morning our guide gave me more and I put them on the top of my toes) and a hand warmer in each gloved hand. They were providing lunch but we didn't know if we had to carry it, so we only took one camera and one lens - the 1D Mk 4 and f/4 300mm lens - perfect for wildlife, not for landscape. I was kicking myself for not taking a landscape lens and camera as we went to Artists Point and the Falls.

Artist's Point

The snow mobile was an amazing trip. Coming from Australia, we never envisaged doing anything like this. It is like riding a three wheeled bike, one at the front, two at the rear. It was great fun to drive for Lindsay and much more comfortable than a motorbike for me. The morning and late afternoon when the sun went in were pretty cold though.

Luke, trying to get back to the "road"
Coyote
Bald Eagle
Red Fox
We were taken down to Canyon Village for hot chocolate (I also got to warm my feet on heat pads!) , then Yellowstone's Upper and Lower Falls, Artists Point, Canyon Village again for lunch, then Hayden Valley. We saw coyotes, a bald eagle, a back and grey wolf, and two red foxes. A tour the day before had seen a grizzly and a beaver, it's a luck of the draw with wildlife. Luke gave us some afternoon entertainment by driving off the road and getting stuck in the soft snow leaning the snow mobile towards the river. We managed to save him though. Admittedly he had driven all night to come on this tour so must have been very tired.

Bison

Going down to the Lamar Valley, Sunrise
Lamar Valley

Elk

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