We didn’t expect to find snow on the ground when we awoke yesterday in Montana.
We also didn’t expect our GPS to misdirect us into the heart of a blinding blizzard with visibility less than a car-length ahead.
We did, however, plan on going to Yellowstone National Park but good ole Ma Nature gave us serious pause as to whether it was safe or wise to make the trip.
After calling the Park to find out which entrances and roads were open, we decided to give it a shot and head for the west entrance.
Oh boy, are we glad we did.
Although the snowstorms and freezing temperatures were a little intimidating, the weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise as you can see from the photos. Driving through the mountains with barely another car in sight, we caught our breath many times as the scenes around us unveiled vistas and panoramas of glistening white snow and lofty mountain peaks in the distance.
Fine white snow covered the boughs of countless cedars that ringed the road, which nestled alongside a cascading river at the foot of the mountain range it followed. Above, the mountains stretched into the snowy air, disappearing like misty giants into the storm that had been settled into the region for several days.
The drive was harrowing at times, but relentlessly rewarding in its vistas and beauty.
Once we reached Yellowstone, the park ranger told us the only road open was from the entrance to Old Faithful – a distance of 30 miles – so we paid our $25 and forged ahead.
Barely 10 minutes from the entrance, we came to a standstill as Skip spotted a couple of wild bison across a snowy field. We stopped to watch them and, within a few moments, noticed a pair of wolves in the same space, slinking around the large beasts. The wildlife seemed oblivious to our presence, but we were fairly beside ourselves at the sheer beauty of such splendid animals in this snowy scene.
As we continued along the road, several times we skidded to a halt to watch more bison, sometimes in herds and sometimes alone, as well as herds of elk wandering across snowy fields. We marveled at the snow-crusted beards of the bison, the accumulation of a days’ work of using their enormous heads to clear snow from grazing pasture.
At one point, we turned a corner and saw a shapes in the middle of the road. I thought it was a couple of people who’d wandered from their cars but it turned out to be two of the huge woolly beasts, meandering along the route. As we neared them, they slowly meandered along, giving us a cursory glance from their huge doe-like eyes as if to say “What are you doing in our space?”
And then there were the smoky plumes billowing up from the geothermal hot springs scattered throughout the Park (which I first mistook to be smoke or low-hanging clouds). At one spot, we got out and walked along the wooden platform between the springs, exposing ourselves to the strong smell of sulphur and oozing landscape which looks as though it belonged in a horror movie.
We became engulfed in the fumes, giving us an eerie glimpse of what it might be like on another planet.
Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park and spans a gigantic area of 3,468 square miles. Approximately 96 percent of the land area is located within the state of Wyoming. Another three percent is within Montana (where we entered) and the remaining one percent in Idaho.
Its enormity is surpassed only by its grandeur, a not-to-be-missed treat, and we were thrilled to have persisted.
Of course, the most famous spot is Old Faithful, which was the first geyser in the park to receive a name. It’s an amazing cone geyser which erupts regularly enough for park rangers to post the eruption times on a board every day.
Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water to a height of 106–185 feet, lasting from 1.5 to 5 minutes. The average height of an eruption is 145 feet and the highest recorded eruption was 185 feet.
We were lucky enough to arrive 20 minutes before the predicted eruption time so we wrapped up in our sweatshirts (while everyone else wore snow gear) and huddled on the platform waiting for the boiling water to emerge.
Sure enough, within no more than 10 minutes after the 4:35pm prediction, we watched as the steam came through faster and with more urgency until, eventually, a stream of water thrust through the earth and soared into the sky before our eyes.
Was it worth braving the weather, driving through a snowstorm and finding most of the roads closed in the Park?
You be the judge.