Friday, January 25, 2008

Florida Yokels in Yellowstone Winter

Click on the square thumbnails to see full images...then Back button to read on.

We had the good fortune to visit Yellowstone National Park over New Years... quite a treat for a couple of snow-naive adventurous Floridians. The flights were problematic, but we finally got to Gardiner, MT about 3 am... only a few hours before our scheduled 4 hour snow coach ride into the heart of the park.

The snowcoach is a van with tracks instead of wheels. With our daughter, her boyfriend, and his Wyoming family (who had invited us along), we piled into the coach in pre-dawn darkness and sub-zero temperatures. I was honored with 'shotgun'. A gentle mist and occasional snow flurries shrouded the land, but within half an hour, we spotted 5 wolves close to a bison carcass maybe 50 yards from the road. Our knowledgeable guide, Big Dave, graciously stopped and allowed us to get out for a better view. While the visibility wasn't great, the wolves, in their misty blue landscape, thrilled us all. It was an auspicious beginning.

The rest of the ride was remarkable in many ways, but I'll share just one more story, well, maybe two. While stopped to view some of the first bison we saw (later, they surrounded our coach as we slowly followed a herd along the road), we saw an eagle fly in and land on the ground nearby. On closer look, there was a pair of eagles who were contentedly tearing into a recently killed trumpeter swan. Exciting enough! However, a minute later, one of the bison broke from the herd and ambled toward the eagles. As he drew near, his tail lifted. Uh oh! We had learned that this meant one of two things - he was about to take a dump OR he was pissed and ready to charge. As he picked up speed, the eagles scattered... but only to land a few yards away. The bison stopped when he arrived at the dead swan, sniffed it, licked it, and then stood there, as if to guard it. The eagles were distraught. This image shows them pacing and flapping their wings about, as if to say, "Hey, how dare you?! Get away from our breakfast". But the bison was steadfast and soon joined by the rest of the herd, surrounding the dead swan as though it was a recently deceased calf. We had to leave while this standoff continued. Bison appear to stay the course.

At another stop at Gibbon Falls, our daughter and Flo (a high school exchange student from Belgium) traded dares and both slid down a steep snowy hillside. While fun in theory, a good bit of the flying snow found its way inside their jackets and other layers . In my passion to get a good image at the bottom of the hill, I too caught a full spray of wetter-than-expected snow in my face and camera. What did I expect? How much more fun was in store in the days ahead!

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