Winter Wonderland in Yellowstone National Park

Tuesday morning dawned bright and cold mind numbingly cold (hey, when you are from the Pacific Northwest where 1/4 ” of snow causes the entire area to basically be shut down, -28F is mind numbingly cold).  We set off to explore the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone via snowcoach, a touring van that has been converted for over snow travel by replacing the wheels with tracks and skis.

One of the many different  types of snowcoach that  transports visitors through Yellowstone National Park in the winter.

One of the many different types of snowcoach that transports visitors through Yellowstone National Park in the winter.

Our first stop was not too far into the park to watch a couple of Tundra swans playing in the waters of the Madison River.  As we made our way further into the park, it wasn’t long before we saw some bison, using their heads to push snow out of the way to get to the grasses underneath, and a couple of elk enjoying some sunshine.

Bison use their heads to "plow" the deep snow out of the way in order to get to the grasses underneath.

Bison use their heads to “plow” the deep snow out of the way in order to get to the grasses underneath.

We made a short stop for some hot chocolate at Madison Junction.  This is where the winter tours split, with groups going to both Old Faithful (which we will experience tomorrow) and the rest headed up toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  After warming up at Madison Junction, we stopped at Gibbon Falls, named after General John Gibbon.  With a drop of approximately 84 feet, Gibbon Falls was first described by William Henry Jackson during the second Hayden geological survey of 1872.

Gibbon Falls drops approximately 84 feet on the Gibbon River.

Gibbon Falls drops approximately 84 feet on the Gibbon River.

After exploring Gibbon Falls, we made a stop at Beryl Hot Springs in the Gibbon Geyser Basin.  In the winter time, the 196 F average water coats the surrounding trees in thick layers of frost giving them the appearance of ghosts.  The wonders of the day kept getting more and more beautiful and we weren’t even to the best part yet…

Averaging 196F, Beryl Spring is one of the hottest springs in Yellowstone National Park.  It was named by the USGS Hague party in 1883.

Averaging 196F, Beryl Spring is one of the hottest springs in Yellowstone National Park. It was named by the USGS Hague party in 1883.

Steam from Beryl Spring covers the surrounding trees in thick layers of frost, giving them the appearance of being ghosts.

Next up, Upper Yellowstone Falls, where, as the Yellowstone River flows out of Yellowstone lake, it leaves Hayden Valley and plunges 109 feet before flowing another 1/4 of a mile downstream before dropping over the 308 feet high Lower Yellowstone Falls (almost twice as high as Niagara Falls).

Smaller than it's famous counterpart, Upper Yellowstone Falls plunges 109 feet down the Yellowstone River.

Smaller than it’s famous counterpart, Upper Yellowstone Falls plunges 109 feet down the Yellowstone River.

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Lower Yellowstone Falls plunges 308 on the Yellowstone River. The dome in front of the falls is ice created from the spray of the falls and will vary in height each year, depending on the amount of snow received and the temperatures.

Before long, it was time to head towards Canyon Village for a lunch break where we watched Jeff Henry clearing the snow off the roofs of the buildings.  Jeff Henry has worked and photographed in and around Yellowstone for years and has had numerous books published with his stunning photography.

John Henry clearing snow from the roofs of the buildings at Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park

John Henry clearing snow from the roofs of the buildings at Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park

After lunch had been consumed and we had watched the snow being cleared from the roofs, it was off to one of the best views of the day – the Norris Geyser Basin.  The hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone National Park, Norris Geyser Basin consists of three main areas – Porcelain Basin, Back Basin, and One Hundred Springs Plain.  The waters of Norris Geyser Basin are acidic (unlike most of the other geyser basins in the park which are alkaline), allowing for a different class of bacterial thermophiles to survive at Norris Geyser Basin, creating a variety of different color patterns in and around the Norris Basin waters.

Norris Geyser Basin

A section of the Norris Geyser Basin area in Yellowstone National Park

After we were done exploring Norris Geyser Basin, it was getting to be time to bring the days’ adventures to a close and head back out of the park for the night.  We did see some more bison (including a young one) and some tundra swans along the bank of the Gibbon River before stopping at The Chocolate Pots on the banks of the Gibbon River.  At a temperature of around 130F, the Chocolate Pots are a unique feature in the park due to their rich, dark-brown, chocolate color and are composed primarily of iron, aluminum, nickel and manganese oxides.

Chocolate Pots along the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park.

Chocolate Pots along the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park.

All in all, it was an exhilarating day exploring America’s first National Park via snowcoach.  There’s definitely something to be said for getting off of the beaten path and visiting the park in the off season.  No cars clogging up the roads, no people getting dangerously close to the wildlife with their cell phone cameras….just the sounds of rivers flowing, wing blowing through the trees, and the sounds of geysers sending their eruptions skyward – a perfect way to spend our first day in the park.

 

Until the next adventure…

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