Yellowstone in Winter

This vacation, as with most vacations, started long before we actually went on the vacation. This one actually started in the fall of 2009. Pam saw a blurb that the District 214 travel was having a travel show. As with most such travel shows we saw many things that weíd like to do, but the opportunity to go to the Yellowstone area in winter sounded like it was meant for us. While neither us are particularly wild about cold and snow, it doesnít bother us that much. And, at least according the brochures, the winter provided not only unique opportunities to see many species of wild life as well as unparalleled scenes for photographing.

We went ahead and booked the trip for February 2010; however, a couple of days before we were to leave Pamís dad became ill and we had to cancel. Fortunately, we had travel insurance, so, although it was a hassle for Pam, cancelling was not a great financial loss.

As 2010 progressed, we did notice that 214 was offering the trip again; however, since we werenít willing to bet on Pamís dadís health it was a mute point.

Things changed in September when Pamís father passed away. Pam was deeply involved in getting her father's house ready for sale as well as other responsibilities with the estate. So, when I asked whether she was interested in pursuing this trip again, she asked me to check into whether we could get on or not.

Since I'm writing this, it's obvious we were able to, but the drama was not over yet. On Tuesday, February 2 Chicago had the third worst snowstorm it has had in recorded history. As we were digging out our driveway and waiting for the plow to come down our street on Wednesday, neither Pam nor I said it to each other, but we were both thinking this trip was not to be. That afternoon Linda Kerr, head of the 214 CET, called and asked whether we could get out of our driveway. She couldnít but the trip was still on. She asked if we could get to Forest View 15 minutes earlier than planned. We could but I remained doubtful.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

(The following sections in red come directly from the Globus brochure describing what is supposed to be happening that day.) Welcome to the ďWild WestĒ town of Jackson , Wyoming . At 6 pm, meet with your traveling companions for a welcome drink. Your Tour Director will prepare you for your upcoming adventure.

We arrived a couple minutes early at Forest View and most of the people were already there. Some had tales of having difficulty getting there because of other people being stuck and blocking intersections. That was also the theme of the people who arrived after we did. Traffic was bad getting to the airport and I was beginning to get concerned about getting through security in time to make our flight. My concerns were unwarranted. Baggage check-in was done with a skycap and was hassle free and we sailed through security. We got to our gate in plenty of time, especially when we learned that the flight was going to be delayed for an hour to wait for the pilot to get to OíHare from wherever he was. I was still not convinced we were going, but the pilot got there and we took off. The flight was great! They even showed a good movie. (I canít remember the last time we saw a movie on a flight.) Pam had the window seat and raved about how beautiful the approach and landing was. 

At the airport, we were met by our Globus guide Steve and our bus driver Randy. (Our 214 CET guide Gene had already met us at Forest View, made the arrangements for the skycap at OíHare to handle the baggage, and flown with us out to Jackson Hole.) There werenít skycaps at Jackson Hole (or if there were I didnít recognize them), but there wasnít any need. Steve had grabbed a cart and most of the peoples luggage fit on it. The few pieces that didnít were pulled out to the bus by their owners with no problems.

We also found out the 14 of us from CET were the only ones on the tour. Pam and I remembered that last year the CET group met up with other Globus clients and it was a much larger group.

I donít think it was a half hour ride from the Jackson Hole airport to our hotel, but we did stop for a picture opportunity at the sign welcoming us to the Grand Teton National Park .

For we who live in the plains states, the vistas of the mountains in this area are breath taking.

After the photo stop, it was only a few minutes to our hotel. Pam and I were impressed with the accommodations at the Rustic Inn. 

Of course, the views from the hotel didnít hurt the impression.

This shot is looking toward the center of the town of Jackson . Note the white stripes of snow that look like they are coming right into the center of town. Those are ski slopes. We were told that they were the bunny hills for around here, but even though Iím not a skier, I think they were pulling our legs.

Lunch was on our own. Pam and I walked about a block further away from town to a Dairy Queen. After that we walked across the street from the hotel to the Elk Refuge Visitors Center . They had some very nice displays, a very interesting movie, and, of course, a gift shop.

We met for our welcome meeting at 6 PM and had some great hors d'oeuvres. Some of our tour mates went into town for dinner after the meeting. Between the hors díoeuvres and the Diary Queen lunch Pam and I werenít hungry and I think the shoveling from the day before caught up with us. We were asleep by 9 PM.

Friday, February 4, 2011 (B,D)

Begin your day with an included SLEIGH RIDE in Jackson ís National Elk Refuge. Here, as many as 10,000 elk congregate each winter. On occasion, we may be lucky enough to see wolves, eagles, trumpeter swans, and coyotes as well. WE then depart for a tour of GRAND TETON and YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARKS , where some of the majestic peaks ascend over 13,000 feet. At Flag Ranch, board a Bombardier Snow Coach and begin the journey through Yellowstone National Park . Highlights include West Thumb Geyser Basin , Lake Yellowstone , the Continental Divide, and Shoshone Point Overlook. Your journey ends at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge for a relaxing 2-night stay.

Breakfast at the hotel was very tasty and filling. We took a short bus ride to pick up our box lunches in town and then to the elk refuge. The sled ride out to where a group of the elks were was not as cold as I was led to believe. Our driver was Seth and the sled was pulled by two Belgians.

According to the experts the refuge had approximately 7,700 elk this winter. They are certainly beautiful animals.

We were even treated to a sparing match between two young bulls.

Of course, the beauty of the area did help to make the morning a spectacular start to our vacation.

After the sleigh ride, it was onto the bus heading towards the Flag Ranch. We did take a photo stop before getting to our bombardier rides. I thought the stop was worthwhile.

I wasnít exactly sure what a bombardier was until we reached Flag Ranch. I soon found out.

They arenít the most comfortable thing Iíve ridden in, but they certainly can get a number of people around in the snow. We had 8 people to a bombardier plus the driver.

Our first stop on the way to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge was at Lewis Falls . This was a beautiful location. Iím afraid the pictures I took really didnít come close to showing its beauty, but hopefully this one will give an idea.

Another stop was at West Thumb Geyser Basin . It gave us our first opportunity to experience geothermal activity.

If you notice the railing of the board walk, the scene was somewhat different from the other side. We walked on that board walk and the top of the guard rail was about at our ankles.

We also stopped at the first time we passed over the continental divide. (Weíd do this a number of times while in Yellowstone .)

Did I mention they had quite a bit of snow there?

We arrived at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, got settled in our room and then had a great dinner. Pam and I chose bison tenderloin and it was great. As there is no TV at the Lodge, we read briefly before the eyes decided it was time for sleep. (I believe the eyes would have shut about the same time with or without the TV.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011 (B,D)

Wake up this morning to the crisp air of Yellowstone in the winter. After breakfast, enjoy a guided WALKING TOUR of the upper Geyser Basin , the greatest geothermal basin on earth. Here you will view Old Faithful , along with many other geysers in the eruptive state. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Why not participate in a snowshoe excursion or cross-country skiing? Later, relax with a warm drink by the crackling fire.

Once again we had a great breakfast prior to having a guided walk on the Upper Geyser Basin . The walk was a great experience! It started out as an overcast day.

We were on the other side of Old Faithful when it erupted and as can be seen in the picture below due to the cloudy background it did not produce a very dramatic photo. (Since Old Faithful erupts approximately every hour, we had many opportunities to photograph it. Unfortunately each time Pam and I were there the sky was very similar to this time. I will not bore you with more of my failed attempts to capture this beautiful sight.)

As our walk progressed, the snow began to come down harder. I wish Iíd taken a picture of Pamís coat, it was covered with snow. But, as quickly as the mini blizzard came up, it began to subside and we got our first real glimpse of bison. (As you can see it was still snowing when this was taken.)

We walked on a bit further to Castle Geyser. (If youíve got a good imagination it looks like a castle.)

Some of the group had already headed back to the lodge prior to this. I had seen some things I wanted to photograph prior to getting here. Since I didnít want to hold up the group with my hobby, Pam and I decided to head back while some of our group continued on.

Once again my photographic abilities didnít allow me to show the true beauty of the scenes.

The bison were still trying to find grasses to eat.

There was one bull that seemed very interested in Pam and me as we passed. Since we learned there are more Yellowstone visitors gored by bison than attacked by bears, I only paused moment to take his picture.

I do have to wonder whether he smelled the bison tenderloin on our breath from the night before. Since he wasnít talking loud enough for us to hear (thank goodness for telephoto lenses), weíll never know.

The rest of the day was spent trying and failing to get great pictures of Old Faithful and the nearby scenes, going through the Old Faithful visitors center (would you believe Pam found a book store) and generally relaxing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011 (B,L,D)

Travel by Snow Coach today to Mammoth Hot Springs . Weíll make stops to see the famous Fountain Paint Pots as well as Gibbon Falls . At the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone weíll have our box lunches in a warming hut before proceeding to Upper Falls and thundering Lower Falls , which are nearly twice the height of Niagara . Have your cameras ready, as winter is the perfect to spot animals such as bison, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, deer and coyote. We overnight at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where you can enjoy evening talks, ice skating, and outdoor hot tubs.

After another scrumptious breakfast, it was back into the bombardiers for the trip towards the Mammoth Hot Springs. We quickly learned that the bison have discovered that itís easier to travel on packed roads than making their own trails.

We were even treated to a little sparing between a couple of the young bulls. We were told the young bulls were not being too bright because they were supposed to be saving their energy as food was hard to come by for them.

 We did see scads of bison this day, Iíll include a couple of more as the day progresses but, I guarantee they will be only a small percentage of the ones I took.

 Our first stop of the day was at the Painted Pots area. The colors were fascinating.

What really fascinated me was the how the frost would form on everything that wasnít hot.

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It was back in the bombardiers and more spectacular views.

The bombardiers have hatches on the top to enable people to get unobstructed views. When some bison were passing it was decided weíd open them up. The driver opened the front one but was having trouble with the back, I told him Iíd take care of it. I did and the driver said it was the first time heíd ever seen a hatch opened by someone head butting it. (Lobenhofers are noted for being hard headed literally and figuratively so before trying this take that into account.) Youíll have to judge whether the picture was worth the effort.

Our next scenic stop was at the lower falls. It was beautiful but, for me, very hard to photograph.

This area is known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. While we have been to the Grand Canyon , itís hard for me to visualize it with snow.

Then it was a stop to view the Upper Falls .

Next we made another stop at a different viewing point of the Lower Falls .

 

After leaving the bombardiers, we took a short bus ride to the Terraces which were within walking distance of our hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs.

While it was Super Bowl Sunday, we didnít watch the game. Instead we had a nice dinner with some of our new friends and once again were asleep early. I fell asleep knowing I could have spent weeks trying to capture the beauty we saw today in photographs.

Monday, February 7, 2011 (B)

This morning, join our excursion to LAMAR VALLEY . This magical place is known to the locals as the Serengeti of Yellowstone , the perfect place for spotting wildlife Ė especially the gray wolf. We journey to Bozeman before heading south to West Yellowstone, Montana . With your free time this afternoon, why not visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center to learn about and gain a better appreciation of the grizzly bear and gray wolf?

Our trip to Lamar Valley didnít turn out the way it was hoped. As this is known as the Serengeti of Yellowstone, we hoped to see all sorts of wildlife; however, mother nature had different ideas. The picture below is taken from the prime viewing point of Lamar Valley. As can be seen, we could see somewhat more than are hand in front of our face, but not much more. (Pam thought she heard the wolves chuckling as they were curled up sleeping at the tourist trying to find them in such a storm.)

Once we were on the road away from Lamar Valley , the weather improved somewhat. (Go figure) We did get to see many beautiful scenes as we progressed.

We were treated to a view of a magnificent bull elk foraging for food. I think the shots below give an idea of the hard life these animals lead in the wintertime.

We also found a bison showing us why they like to walk on the roads instead of plowing their own trail. Of course, since there is very little vegetation on the roads, plowing their own trail becomes necessary at times.

The official end of our time in Yellowstone was marked by the "Roosevelt Arch." It is the north entrance that was dedicated on Teddy Roosevelt's first visit to Yellowstone .

It was sad to see the sign telling us that we were leaving Yellowstone National Park .

Our spirits rose, however, as a coyote came very close to our bus moments after we passed the sign. We knew our trip wasn't over quite yet.

In fact, it wasn't too long after that we were able to see the only moose that we saw on the trip.

Thanks to Randy's excellent driving through, at times, brutal snow we were able to get to West Yellowstone, Montana in time to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center . I must confess when I was reviewing the agenda for the trip, I was not too excited about this opportunity. When we were in Alaska , we had an opportunity to see a "preserve" that really was a big nothing. With our experiences at Wolf Park in Indiana , I really didn't think this would be much. Was I wrong! While it does not appear to be the research oriented facility that Wolf Park is, the wolves at this facility were absolutely beautiful and they had good sight lines for we who like to think we are photographers.

I don't think the sightlines for the bears were as good as they were for the wolves; however, with my interest in wolves maybe it was that I didn't try hard enough to find the right perspective.

We arrived at the Stage Coach Inn and found that once again we had a very nice room. Everyone in our group walked the block a half to a restaurant for dinner. (This dinner was on our own and I think everyone going to the same place speaks volumes for the goodwill and camaraderie that had been developed in such a short time.)

 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 (B,D)

After breakfast, board your motor coach for a journey through Idaho . On the western side of the Tetons are breathtaking views of the highest peak on the range: Grand Teton itself, which rises to an elevation of 13,777 feet above sea level. Tonight, celebrate your journey with a festive farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

There was a little problem leaving the Stage Coach Inn. It seems that the temperature had dropped unexpectedly the night before.

Instead of getting to about 5į below zero it got to 27į below zero. I'm not sure whether that was the sole factor that led to our bus not starting, but it certainly didn't help. The bus not starting delayed our departure by about three hours. Everyone took it good-naturedly! There was a mall down the street that a number of us went to and ended up helping the local economy. It also gave me the opportunity to take this picture down " Main Street ." Not a bad view!

We did get on the road again about 1 PM and headed back towards Jackson , Wyoming . While the weather had turned colder, the snow fall was gone and we were able to go up and over the Tetons instead of going around.

The bus ride provided us with an opportunity to see some wild swans.

And the views up became more spectacular the higher we went.

 

We got into Jackson with enough time to snap some pictures.

We also helped the local economy by stopping in the "Images of Nature" store and buying a book Mengelson did on the area. Finally, we stopped in the "Million-Dollar Cowboy Bar" for a drink. This bar is famous for having saddles instead of barstools at the bar. We sat at a table.

That evening was the farewell dinner. Very tasty and again great company!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 (B)

After a leisurely breakfast, bid farewell to newfound friends as your vacation comes to an end with an included transfer to the airport.

After another great breakfast, and look out our cabin's window, realizing that isn't what it's going to look like out our window when we get home, it was time for the bus to the airport.

Once again, things went so smoothly with the check-in and baggage at the airport it was almost a pleasure flying again. The plane was on time and early into O'Hare. It seemed by the time we got down to baggage pickup not only wider the bags there but so were the people to get us to the shuttle back to Forest View. The cars had been cleaned off when we got there so it was merely a matter of popping the suitcases in the trunk and we were back home.

Overall Comments

††††††††† General

For me this was an excellent trip! Between Gene from CET and Steve from Globus everything was taken care of flawlessly. The accommodations and food were excellent. The beauty of the area in winter time is something that I will long remember. I really liked the idea of being transported to and from Forest View.

I thought that we were completely prepared for the trip. With the recommendations for clothing etc., I wasn't cold once. In fact, I wore less and less clothes each day. But, I do tend to be warm-blooded.

 With all that, what really made the trip were the excellent fellow travelers that we were fortunate enough to have along with us. I tend to be skeptical of group travel because of the horror stories that I've been told about some travelers. While I have never really experienced personally a terrible one, the people that joined us on this tour were better than any we have experienced before. Not only was everyone on time for everything, but I never heard one complaint about anything that happened.

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Once again I am humbled with my inability to capture the beauty of Godís creation. The white on white of winter scenes was particularly difficult for me. I don't know if there is a book or any articles on taking these types of pictures, but I would certainly look into it before I would do it again.

Taking pictures from the bus was challenging because of the reflections that are prevalent whenever taking through glass. I think this particular bus made it a little more challenging because of the tinted windows.

I think one of the frustrations that I will always have with tour groups such as this is my unwillingness to "hold people up." As my photography has progressed it seems it takes me longer and longer to set up for "THE" shot.

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