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Winter in Yellowstone: A Place of Exquisite Beauty

Bison Grazing in a Snowstorm

  • Last week, along with a dozen other photographers, I made a trip to Yellowstone National Park. I found winter in Yellowstone to be a unique experience: it was cold, harsh, snowing. Temperatures ranged from -15°F to +20°F – even colder with a whipping wind – but it was also serene, starkly beautiful and unspoiled. No bustling tourists that you see in summer, just you and the sounds and sights of nature in hibernation or survival mode.

    The park is closed to all cars in winter. We traveled by a Snow Coach, a vehicle with a tractor drive, specially chartered for the purpose. Along with snowmobiles it is the only way to access the icy, snowed-in park roads. It trudges along at 15-20 MPH and provides ample time to soak in the winter beauty of the Yellowstone plateau which rises 6000 to 11000 feet above sea level.

    Yellowstone is the first National Park in the U. S. It was so designated in 1872 by President Ulysses Grant. The concept of a National Park was mandated for the first time – a wilderness and biosphere reserve to be maintained in unspoiled form for the enjoyment of the people. It is also huge, encompassing more than 2 million acres or about 3500 square miles (larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined).

    It boasts the largest caldera of a volcano on earth, and while the volcano has not erupted full bore since 640,000 BC, simmering volcanic activity is still very much evident, as the hot spot just below a thin crust of earth sends up plumes of gurgling steam, erupting geysers and boiling mudpots. In winter the icy landscape is covered with a steamy vapor from all the hydrothermal activity that dominates the lava dome in the huge caldera.

    (A musical collage of slides and video clips capturing the sights and sounds of Yellowstone in Winter is available for your viewing at  http://ayecapitalist.com/yellowstone-in-winter-video/)

    Yellowstone has some 10,000 hydrothermal features, about two thirds of all such features in the world! The most famous, of course is the Old Faithful geyser which has been erupting faithfully every 93 minutes, year in and year out. See slideshow from trip.

    Near this famous geyser is the origin of the Firehole river, which is fed by hundreds of hydrothermals creating a steaming, vaporous, fuming river, which never freezes as it runs through an icy landscape in temperatures sometimes as low as -60°F.

    The Yellowstone River also originates in the park and flows into Montana and eventually into the Missouri river. It is huge – bigger than the Missouri and, had it been discovered before the Missouri, the biggest river system in the U. S. would properly have been called the Yellowstone river instead of the Missouri/Mississippi.

    The Yellowstone River forms a magnificent canyon – known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – flanked by the majestic lower canyon falls. The Grand Canyon runs for 26 miles and is more than a quarter mile deep encompassing a sharp icy drop to the river from the towering mountains of the Yellowstone plateau.

    You see many animals wintering in the park. There are bison, their shags all covered with snow, rooting in the snow for the soggy grasses beneath. You also see the beautiful red fox, elk, coyote, trumpeter swans and, if you’re lucky, wolves.

    Lots of beautiful pictures to share from this memorable trip. Please check out a slide/video show here.

    It was a great week at Yellowstone National Park. My toes are still thawing out but it was well worth the discomfort. The mind was feasted with a landscape displaying its stark beauty and a bioscape of ethereal charm.

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