DAY SIX Old Faithful is spewing forth — high into the sky right on schedule but Miguel isn’t the least bit interested. He just lumbers by.
Probably because Miguel is 2,000-pound bison-named my two daughters sees Old Faithful every day and is more interested in finding something to eat than watching one of the true wonders of the world.
Did you know Yellowstone has more thermal feature than anywhere in the world? And I’d rather visit in winter anytime. The last time we were here in the summer, there were so many people, the kids could barely see Old Faithful. Now we’re hiking in snowshoes around the geyser basin and there’s no one but us and Miguel. Did I mention that on our way in to the park we saw elk, and more bison, and a coyote?
Many people come in to the park to snow mobile… We opt for an old-fashioned snow coach — a kind of bus on tracks that was first built in 1937. Our Old Faithful friendly driver Doug Hilbourn, obligingly stops to point out a bald eagle perched in a tree, a raven. Many people stay at the park in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (www.nps.gov/yell). Sign on for a winter adventure program with www.yellowstoneassociation.org or www.travelyellowstone.com
We see dozens of families snow-mobiling — they came in on tours like we did from the town of West Yellowstone but we’re glad for our snow coach. And when we arrive, we rent snowshoes (you can also cross country ski) and head out on trails around the geyser basin.
We know we’re supposed to stay 25 feet from the wild life but tell that to Gertrude — another bison my daughters named — who is burrowing in the snow a scant 10 feet of the trail. She completely ignores us.
There are trails all over the place — just a few miles or up to 10 or more. But we only pass an occasional hiker. Most of the people we meet are around the geyser basin and have arrived on snowmobiles.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge was built just in 1998, replacing cabins from the late 1920s, when the automobile traffic made Yellowstone more popular . By 1993, 100 million people had visited Yellowstone — but far more in the summer than the winter. They don’t know what they are missing. For one thing, there are no crowds or cars — since cars can only access the road from the North Entrance and a portion of US 191 that passes through the park on the West Side. Old Faithful Snow lodge, which we visit, is only accessible by snow vehicles (call 866-Geyserland).
No matter how long you stay,, you won’t run out of back country trails. It’s incredible to snowshoe past bubbling waters, steamy geysers and elk and bison. We take a trail that up to an observation point where we can see Old Faithful and all of the surrounding area. It’s so pristine and quiet– it’s easy to remember we’re just visiting Miguel and Gertrude’s home turf.
We all wish we had more time to explore the back country trails. I don’t think we’d get bored. But without staying in the park over night, we need to catch our snow coach by mid afternoon. We can’t believe our luck — we see a wolf moseying along the road on the way out of the park.
Stop at Freewheel and Wheel, a local shop in West Yellowstone for mocha or a chai and the latest info on where to go cross country ski or snowshoe. We’d also been told not to skip the Corral and their onion rings that’s about 10 miles south of Big Sky. A lot of skiers go there but it is the perfect stop on the way back from Yellowstone. But if you’ve got vegetarians in the group, they may not like the bison and elk heads, and the rest of the game hanging on the walls and ceilings.
Still, the burgers are the best. And the onion rings didn’t disappoint either. The waitress talks us into some mud pie…We roll out of there.
Good thing we’ve got another day of skiing ahead of us.
END OF MONTANA BLOG