When winter’s snow comes to Yellowstone Country, the region’s unique climate characteristics combine to create a landscape that is so stunning, that I don’t believe any photographer can ever really do it justice. You must see it for yourself.
In addition to breathtaking winterscapes, when snow comes to Yellowstone Country it marks the beginning of several months of cold-weather outdoor fun that includes fishing, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and even ice climbing. And when you’re an active outdoor adventurer like me, that means it’s time to get out the gear.
These were my thoughts as I drove through the Wapiti Valley the other day, snowshoes carelessly piled atop mid-weight synthetic layers and wool socks on the back seat of my Subaru. This valley west of town leads to Sleeping Giant Ski Area (opening Dec. 16) and some great cross country skiing trails. It’s also the valley that leads to the East Gate to Yellowstone National Park.
I was heading to Pahaska Tepee near the park gate for some early-season snowshoeing on trails that meander behind Buffalo Bill Cody’s hunting lodge. The lodge – where Buffalo Bill hosted and hunted with dignitaries like the Prince of Monaco – has been preserved, and summer-season visitors can view the interior. But in the winter, it stands quiet and majestic. I can imagine Buffalo Bill stomping around on the big front porch telling stories to his guests about how he charmed a queen and mesmerized a continent during his Wild West Show days.
As I drove along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, I allowed my eyes to sweep across the valley in the hopes of spotting wildlife. Moose can often be spotted grazing in the willow flats, and bighorn sheep often lumber along the craggy cliffs. I was rewarded by a bighorn sheep sighting, and I also spotted two eagles and a couple of stealthy foxes on the hunt.
Because it’s been cold the last few days, I ran into a patch of ice fog, the light-reflecting crystals that float in the air and give the illusion of fog when conditions are just right. And along one wind-swept portion of the road there were some elaborate snow sculptures, Mother Nature’s artwork created when powerful winter wind blows our dry snow around like dust and creates drifts, patterns and formations that are unique like a snowflake.
In the trailhead parking lot, I lifted the hatchback and began taking out my gear. It was early, and I was the only skier in the lot. As I sipped the last of my coffee, I heard a slight rustle in some nearby willows and looked up in time to see a bull moose lumbering near a creek about 50 yards from the parking lot. He was an enormous fellow, probably 6 ½ feet tall with a massive rack. I think he was aware of my presence, but he didn’t care. His only concern of the day was consuming the 30-some pounds of plants he would need to get through his day. And he will do that every day during winter with a singular goal of surviving the snowy months.
I strapped on my snowshoes and headed down the trail, happy. Snow, it has begun.
Until next time I’m loving life and dry packed powder here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.