Thursday, December 30, 2010

Going No Where Isn't Always a Bad Thing!

The year 2011 is around the corner and people all across the country are contemplating what this new year will hold for them. Resolutions are being made, vacations are being planned and goals are being set. Our society is often driven by the notion that each year must be bigger and better than the year before which can often lead  to the classic cycle of "keeping up with the Jones".

But what if nobody had the last name "Jones" for miles in any direction? What if we stopped to enjoy the simple pleasures of each day as they come and stop the constant cycle of primping, prodding and planning? You might just be least for a brief moment!

One day per week I head to the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut located 21 miles north of Grant Village. On a normal day I jump on my snowmobile and push the maximum speed limit the entire way there. I quickly glance at the lake and trees while zooming past them at rocket speed, giving them a mere second of admiration. More often than not I find myself in this "rush-rush, get-er-down" frame of mind- no doubt a recessive gene dating back from my city-girl days.

 But this week, Gaea was intent on making me slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures around me. No more than 5 miles into my travels I could not help but notice a distorted large, none moving brown thing on the ice of Yellowstone Lake. As I slowed down to see what it was I remembered that the other rangers had mentioned a wolf kill just north of us. Indeed it was. A semi eaten Bison with ribs exposed, lie motionless against the stark cold ice. Wolf tracks encircled the carcass while an Eagle flew overhead ready to stop for a free breakfast.  This was no doubt one of  the bison which belonged to the herd that had recently walked 20 miles South through cold and snow, finally taking refuge in the warmth of Pott's Basin. It's whole existence was spent living from one day to the next with only one goal: Survival.

The sight of the semi consumed Bison  did little to stop my determination in getting to Fishing Bridge in record time. I blasted towards Bridge Bay knowing that my final destination was only 4 miles away when suddenly my machine began to slow down bringing me to an unpleasant stop. I started the engine again only to go a few feet which seemed laborious and tiring for my snowmobile. I knew my machine wasn't happy. With a quick SOS call on my park radio help was the way. However for 30 minutes I was left in complete solitude with no one around. The sun was still rising and the dim light made the sky blend into the frozen lake.  I took a deep breathe of cold, fresh air, opened my travel bag and found my steamy thermos of tea. As I sipped the tea and looked around I began to notice things I hadn't noticed before on my drive; Like how the ice forms swirling shapes on the surface or how such intense quietness can make your ears want to play tricks on you.

Instead of being upset at my misfortunate situation I thought about this beautiful view and morning that I was being forced to enjoy. Yes, I had a broken sled but I also had 30 minutes to myself to appreciate where I was.  I looked around, enjoyed the view and happily accepted that at this rate I wasn't going to get anything done today. But you know what? There is always tomorrow and in the words of the great Bob Marley "everything's gonna be alright!"


I wasn't the only one "not going anywhere" in these recent days leading up to New Years. In fact, the herd of Bison that wandered to the Grant area were also in the same predicament. As I pulled into the West Thumb Geyser Basin the following day I was greeted by a small herd of Bison that decided to sleep on the road which leads to West Thumb. Cold and tired they looked at me in disdain and were reluctant to get up and move. For the next hour they roamed around the parking lot not sure of where to go or what to do. For the next 5 days they continued to wander around the area in constant disarray. They roamed around the housing area and stood their ground at the Grant Village junction. They wandered up Craig Pass and checked out the road leading south. Their gigantic patties littered every section of road in the Grant District. With a cold front moving in and temperatures predicted to be in the minus 20's they finally had some direction as they headed for the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Surely the hot steam will keep them warm these nexy few cold night.

Since moving to Yellowstone I have realized that I have become more in-tune with my personal daily cycles and less consumed with what is happening outside my little world. I have no idea what movies are playing in theaters nor do I have any concept of the hottest new items on the market. Rather than planning ahead (like I usually do) I find myself planning each day as it comes because nothing is predictable in Yellowstone. The benefit is that I  am living in the moment and not in the future. With New Year's Day only hours away my resolution is to not have any resolutions, my goals are to live for the moment and take my blessings as they come and my travel plans are to go where the wind takes me- even if it means I am not going anywhere!            

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas in Wonderland

Every tree across Yellowstone National Park is decorated for Christmas; adorned with snow and frost they each seem to sing Christmas carols in perfect unison. As each day brought us closer and closer to Christmas it was easy to become enamored with the holiday spirit. Visitors arrived to the park from far and wide, all seeking the solice and magic of Christmas in Wonderland. Their holiday adventure surely to be filled with watching Old Faithful, cross country skiing, wildlife watching and of course enjoying fine dining and drinks in the evening whilst they snuggle up close to the fireplace. For many it will be the trip of a lifetime and even though I am not a park visitor I found that I have fallen into the same category of a starry eyed Christmas guest in Yellowstone. 

My Christmas adventure began last week while I unpacked my Christmas boxes filled with decorations, lights, plates, mugs and so on. Before the day was over our home had been transformed into a storybook with Christmas lights strung in the windows for all 15 people living in sleepy Grant Village to admire. The only thing missing was a Christmas tree.

The next morning Shane and I attached our tow sled to our snowmobile and headed for the electric line roads. Trees which grow under the power lines are regularly cut  down by the Park's fire team to prevent damage to the lines. In a National Park where all is preserved cutting down trees is not usually permitted unless they pose some kind of danger. So, only trees on these roads are allowed to be taken as a Christmas tree!  Within 30 minutes Shane and I had found what we thought was the perfect tree! We dug out the snow which had settled around the base of the tree and chopped it down. As a former urbanite this was my first time harvesting my very own tree. I was filled with pride, and once decorated, I was filled with admiration for my beautiful "wild" Yellowstone tree! With everything in place I was ready for the holidays, although it was still looking a little bare under the tree (which was soon to change)! 

Living in the interior means that we only get mail once or twice a week. In fact, all of our mail is received in Mammoth  Hot Springs which is then collected by the Park's courier who neatly packs it on a snowcoach and delivers all the mail to the folks in the interior on Tuesdays and Fridays, weather permitting. On these two "mail days" I find myself glued to the Park radio waiting the hear the voice of Rachel, our courier, saying "heading from Lake to Grant". When I finally hear the transmission, I head to the Grant mailroom excited to see what treasures await me! So far I have yet to be disappointed. Priority mail gift boxes from my mom, sister, brother and friends arrived every mail day for two weeks and soon our tree was surrounded by packages! Patiently, we waited to till Christmas morning to open them!

Christmas Eve soon arrived with the blessings of a beautiful sunny day. I rose early to bake cookies for the courier and doggie cookies for the 4 dogs who live in Grant. By mid afternoon Alice and I began making our rounds delivering Christmas cheer in the shape of gingerbread men and candy canes. It seems I was not alone in "holiday spirit" because several other people in Grant arrived at my door sharing fresh baked cookies, homemade salsa and even homemade soap! However the highlight of the afternoon was once again the courier- but this time it was not because of the gifts she delivered but rather the fact that she was dressed up as an Elf and Santa had joined her! Needless to say Alice was the happiest puppy ever and even got to take her picture with Santa and his Elf!

The beauty of the day was only amplified by a perfectly clear night which graced us with one thousand twinkling stars in the dark cold sky. With extra warm hats and mittens a group of us went for a moonlight ski through Wonderland. Pure silence filled the air and the stars and moon guided us on our Christmas Eve ski. Conservationists John Muir used to say that the mountains and forests were his Christian temple, and on this Christmas Eve I could not agree more. Invigorated by the crisp air my cheeks were a bright red as we finished our moonlight ski  and headed to the Dessert Party. 

With new friends all around I sipped homemade Coquito while my cold cheeks were warmed by the slowly burning fire. But it was my heart that was truly warmed as I looked around and thanked God for the gift of family and friends both near and far, and the opporunity to spend Christmas in Wonderland.    

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Bison Equation

Whenever Yellowstone Wolf Biologist, Doug Smith speaks about the "Mollies" Wolf Pack he always mentions the "Bison Equation". Wolves,which were restored to the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1995, thrive on a healthy diet of  mostly Elk. However the Mollies Pack, which live in Pelican and Hayden Valley consume mostly Bison. Through trial and error they have figured out and mastered the art of taking down a massive powerful beast weighing in at up to 2000 lbs! Now this mastered art does not come without peril, in fact members of the Mollies pack have been kicked, butted, bruised and it some cases killed while trying to take down a Bison. However, by solving the "Bison Equation" they are able to survive in Pelican and Hayden Valley year round- even during the worst of winters. 

While staffing the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut, one of my duties is to check out the near by valleys for wildlife which I can then inform the guides and visitors about. On Sunday morning while heading out to Fishing Bridge I was informed by a co-worker that the Mollies had once again solved the Bison Equation and were presently out in Pelican Valley feeding on the carcass. Shane decided to accompany me for the day with the anticipation of seeing Wolves. As we headed out that morning, the 17 mile journey was fairly quiet- that is until we approached Fishing Bridge Junction.  As we rounded the bend and drove toward the junction I suddenly noticed a large brown blob in the distance. Within seconds I deduced that the blob was a herd of Bison. "No worries", I thought, "they are on the other side of the junction". But suddenly, while driving 35 MPH I realized that I was approaching the Bison quicker than the speed I was going, therefore meaning one thing- The Bison were on the move. The Bison were, in fact, charging down the hill towards the junction that I was charging towards in the opposite direction. Suddenly, both the Bison and I came to slamming halt as we both seemed to notice the impeding head on collision we were about to have! Frustated and aggitated, the Bison sat at the junction staring at us as if to say " I'm bigger, YOU MOVE!"

Assessing the situation, Shane found a small pullout that the groomers had created behind us. We backed up into the pullout and the herd of fifty slowly and menacingly walked by us. With only a snowmobile distance between us and the bison, we sat motionless for fear of angering the herd. As each one passed us by they seemingly glared at us, making my stomach churn. As I sat in the shadow of the last Bison which passed us, I was reminded of how man is nothing against beast without his tools and technology. 

We resumed our course and headed to Fishing Bridge where we started the fire and then headed out to look for wolves. As we passed over Pelican Creek I instantly saw three black figures standing out perfectly against the white snow. WOLVES! For the next 20 minutes we watched a total of six wolves move back and forth across the snowy white landscape as they dined on their Bison breakfast. With sheer strength, resilience and team work the Mollies Pack had taken down the same animal which I could only cower next to on my snowmobile; a true testament to the powers and wonders of nature. The wolf has indeed solved the Bison equation but I myself am still doing the math! 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Opening Day for the Winter Season

Smoke was steadily rising from the chimney of the West Thumb Warming Hut early this morning as the park officially opened for the winter season.West Thumb Warming Hut is a quaint wooden cabin which sits along the edge of a beautiful Geyser Basin overlooking the dark waters of Lake Yellowstone. Throughout the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone Park there exists a few of these warming huts which serve as a place for visitors to warm up, have a snack and chat with a ranger as they tour Yellowstone by snowmobile or snowcoach. Unlike a traditional Yellowstone visitor center, the warming huts are small, rustic and intimate. 

As I arrived this morning on my snowmobile I was warmed by the notion that I was the only one at West Thumb at that exact moment. As a modern day Park Ranger I have been wooed by the stories of early Park Rangers who served in a time when they might be the only ranger for miles in all directions. These "super-rangers" did everything from Maintenance to Enforcement and even Education. But for the most part those times are long gone. Today Park Rangers tend to be specialized and categorized in very specific job duties. However, winter in Yellowstone allows one the small opportunity to experience history. 

So, here I was on opening day in Yellowstone National Park. It had snowed 10 inches over night but the morning brought us clear skies and sunshine. As the sun rose it made every flake of snow glisten and shine. I arrived at the warming hut started the fire and shoveled the entry way. I inspected the snow on the roof and determined that it was not a potential "slide" danger. I posted the weather as well as the next Old Faithful predication time.

 Next, I grabbed my snowshoes and poles and began packing down the West Thumb Geyser Basin boardwalk. The morning was so beautiful that I could not help but stop every 20 feet and admire the view while snapping a few pictures. Steam spiraled upward from every hole in the ground and the lake was still, while the snow capped mountains stood tall in the distance. The only sign of life across the untouched snowscape were the tracks of a coyote, mouse and snowshoe hare.  And each step I took made fresh new human tracks reminding me of how I was the first of the bipeds in the geyser basin this morning. Just me and nature and no one around to take away that relished moment.

Soon the first of the snowmobile guides with visitors arrived; each one making a beeline for the wood stove. Rubbing their hands together they would sudden realize that it would be another 30 minutes on a snowmobile before they would reach the next warming hut. With temperatures in the low 20's, I didn't have the heart to tell them that this was actually a warm day in Yellowstone! Instead  I filled them with positive motivation by exclaiming that today was indeed the most beautiful sunny day to experience Yellowstone in winter. 

By the day's end I had opened and staffed the warming hut, educated visitors, chopped kindling, packed down the trail in the geyser basin, fixed some signs, recorded the temperatures of various hot springs, identified wildlife tracks and even did payroll- making me feel a little like one of those "Super-Rangers" I only read about in history books.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Challenges of Switching to Over-Snow Traffic

Following a heavy snowfall last Friday the folks in Mammoth (headquarters) decided to officially switch over to over-snow traffic, which essentially means snowmobiles, snowcoaches,  Bombardiers and  mat-trax. Most of all the seasonal winter staff had arrived safely in the park already except one- Melanie who is set to live at Grant and work at both the Grant and Lake warming huts this winter. I called Melanie and gave her the inconvenient news that she would not be able to drive into the park and I would have to to meet her at the South Entrance with a snowmobile and a tow sled. Melanie, who is embarking on her fourth winter in Yellowstone, accepted the news with the flexibility of someone who has obviously experienced living in the interior of Yellowstone in the winter! 

When Sunday morning arrived I had exactly 4 hours of snowmobile time under my belt. The road South had been barely groomed and not packed. Regardless, I put on my helmet and headed south with 2 other rangers- Shane and Steve. We plowed down the road, weaving in and out of chunks of frozen snow and keeping our knees loose for jumping the moguls that had formed in the middle of the road! As we made it to the South Entrance I sighed a breathe of relief while simultaneously feeling quite proud of my "Yahama Mama" skills. We neatly placed Melanie's personal belongings onto the tow sled (which looks like an old fashioned sled that is attached to the snowmobile), covered it with a tarp, strapped it down with bungees and headed home "Grinch-style".

Monday morning my new Interpretation team of three met at my house for the first day of seasonal training. Since winter is a little less formal I decided to start our morning by serving pancakes, scones, and bacon to my new team members Darlene and Melanie. We chatted about winter in Yellowstone and laughed about the challenges we had already experience; little did we know a much bigger challenge was on the horizon for Grant folks! 

After breakfast we sat in on a park wide conference call regarding winter road conditions. The Grant team was supposed to be leaving Tuesday via snowmobile to Mammoth for training. The trip would take about 2.5 hours through the park on our machines. However, much to our dismay the conference call revealed that most of the park had not been groomed in addition to the fact that there were many bare patches on the road which could damage our machines. This resulted in a decision that the Interpretation Rangers in Grant could not, and would not, be permitted to drive our snowmobiles north to Mammoth, however we were still expected to attend training! That left only one option- immediately pack and load our stuff on tow sleds, snowmobile 45 minutes to the South Entrance, unload our belongings and put them in a vehicle, them drive 7 hours AROUND the park! And so by 1 pm on Monday, as the snow began to fall some more,  we were loading our machines and making out way to Mammoth. Twenty-four hours later we had arrived at Mammoth where everyone commended us on our ability to make it to training ON TIME regardless of what the situation was, to which I proudly responded "That's the way we roll in Grant!"


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yahama Mama in Training!

There was not one bit of fear in me as I swung my right leg over the seat of the snowmobile. I had carefully read the Yellowstone Winter Operations Guide, I listened attentively during the lecture portion of the training and I had performed mechanical work on my machine which included changing two belts, checking the oil and checking the dropcase.  Now with my helmet tightly fastened I was ready to become a "Yahama Mama"! 

Snowmobile training could not have happened on a more beautiful day. It was a warm 32'F and the snow was falling only as it does in Christmas movies- giant fluffy flakes gently dropping from the sky. The morning was perfect and I was filled with the excited energy that I often feel when something big is on the horizon. As I walked over to the Maintenence shop to get the latest "Yellowstone News" (which is more gossip than anything!) I was informed to "get ready cause snowmobile training starts in 30 minutes". I have fully embraced the idea that if you live in the interior of Yellowstone you must be prepared to fly by the seat of your pants! So back home I went, to put on some more appropriate clothing and to inform others of training.

Frank, our instructor, carefully explained eveything from safety procedures to park policies and snowmobile mechanics. And before we knew it our hands were covered in grease as we changed belts and checked fluids. Needless to say I was filled with "woman-power" pride after changing the belt!

After lunch it was time to get on our sleds and take them for a test run. Surprisingly, I felt calm and in control. I cinched my helmet, swung my leg over the sled and started the engine. During my first few runs I kept my speed at a conservative 20 mph- a great speed to do things like jerk the handles, break suddenly, take sharp turns etc. in order to get a better idea of what your machine is made of. Our two test runs quickly became an excursion on every back road in Grant and we all secretly resisted the clock which was ticking, forcing us to get back to Maintenance. As the day drew to an end I sadly parked my sled and turned the engine off. I felt a little lost about what I was going to do for the rest of the evening because all I wanted to do was ride some more! The fact was I had fully embraced the Yahama Mama persona. However, I am not quite yet a full on Yamaha Mama. I strongly feel that in order to fully be a Yahama Mama  one must ride in -20'F, get stuck in snow and change a belt in the field. Then I will officially a Yamaha Mama. For now, I guess, I will have to settle for being a Yahama Mamacita.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saying Good-Bye to our Truck

The sun was shining at 7 am on Wednesday morning and the high for the day was -10'F with a windchill of -25'F. The "Storm of the Century" had blown over and the hardy folks living in the interior of Yellowstone were left with a debaucle of snow covering every square inch of the park. Our roofs had sky high mounds of snow, our vehicles were buried and the road heading south was so bad that our local maintenance team did not have equipment large enough to get the road open. The meter stick outside the ranger station was reading at just about 54 inches of snow however the high winds left snow drifts of over 60 inches in certain areas. Three feet of snow had fallen in just about 48 hours!

Those of us living at Grant were accutely aware that time was ticking. Only 24 hours to Thanksgiving weekend and everyone had personal and government vehicles that needed to get out of the park before the roads were shut down for the season. Somehow, I just knew on this particular morning that this was going to be "the day", and so by 7:30 am I was armed with my snowsuit, French fur trapper hat, gortex mittens and a shovel. By 8:00 am, as I was unburying the truck, Shane was making the rounds letting everyone know that this afternoon would indeed be the day we get our vehicles out of the park. Usually, we are given 24 hours notice and the decision is made based on some large snow storm that is headed our way. However this year is starting out far from usual! The unpredictable weather  provided us with a 4 hours notice. Thankfully, I had already started shovelling and the truck was already equipped with our emergency pack which contained sleeping bags, extra hats and socks, flashlight, knife, toe/hand warmers, granola bars, water bottles and a first aid kit. In addition to our emergency pack we also had a shovel in the backseat so we can dig out our truck in the middle of winter should we decide to venture to town.

But even with vehicles dug out we were all placed on stand by as the south entrance road had yet to be plowed. In fact, a super-sized wedge plow was on it's way from Mammoth to clear the south entrance road for us. By 11:30 am a group of us had formed at the Grant Village Junction as we all waited in anticipation for the wedge plow to pass by and head south. As the super-sized plow passed the junction I had the uncontrollable urge to jump up and cheer the plow on, much the way spectators jump out of their seats and scream wildly as there favorite athletes zoom by them! With camera in hand I frantically snapped pictures and the smile on my face was that of a child on Christmas morning. However when I looked around I noticed that this event was not nearly as exciting as I thought it was. In fact one person was chatting on the phone and two others were engaged in a full on conversation. Ahh...if only everyone was as easy to please as me!

In no time at all our convoy of one tractor and five vehicles were on the road making our way to the South Entrance where our vehicles will live at Flagg Ranch Resort for the duration of the winter. As the wind continued to blow at a steady 25 miles per hour, the realization that I would not have the sanctity of my warm and cushy truck for the duration of the winter set in. Six days after Thanksgiving I would have my snowmobile and a new chapter in my life at Yellowstone would begin.      

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Storm of the Century

During this afternoon's squad meeting at Headquarters the winter storm, that has been sitting atop us for the last 5 days, has officially been given the name "Storm of the Century". Even Bonnie Hawn, the Grant Maintenance supervisor who has lived here since the 80's says this is among the worst winter storms she has seen! The storm which, rolled in Friday evening, had a winter advisory that was supposedly till Sunday at 5am. And indeed by Sunday at 5am the snow had ceased. The weekend had brought us between 2 to 3 feet of snow. An impressive amount but how foolish we were to think that was it! In fact by Sunday afternoon it was snowing again! 

After battling the weekend storm our friend Jason, who was visiting from Alaska, finally made it to our house on Sunday morning. After a nice warm bowl of chowder Jason and Shane volunteered to assist me in packing down the trail at West Thumb Geyser Basin. One of my duties this winter is to keep a visible trail along the boardwalk for winter visitors. Even though the park does not reopen till December 16th I knew well enough that the weekend snowfall would be covering the Boardwalk. And so the three of us, armed with snowshoes and snowstakes, set out for the boardwalk.
In the summer this boardwalk is a gentle leisurely stroll through the geyser basin however with 2 to 3 feet of light powdery snow on the ground it was going to be a little harder! In fact, our snowshoes did little to keep us above the loose snow and so the three of us took turns blazing the trail whilst we sank to our knees and thighs! We meticulously placed snow stakes along the edge of the boardwalk so that in the future I will know exactly where the boardwalk is regardless of how much snow falls. Although strenuous, the afternoon was enjoyable! We took pictures, laughed and admired the beautiful thermal features surrounded by snow. As we rounded the final corner of the boardwalk the snow began to gently fall once again.

The next day at 8:45 am my phone rings. I figured it was Jason telling me he made it out of the park, however it was quite the opposite. Jason was back at our house! Even with a big Ford F-150, Jason found himself pushing snow with the bumper at which he decided it was probably best to turn back around. Approximately 18 inches had fallen overnight. At the same time I learned that we were once again under a winter storm warning...and this one looked gnarly! Fortunately we were able to get Jason to follow the plow at 11am to the South Entrance where he was then driving onward to our friend Dan's house in Grand Teton NP. Lucky for him he left when he did otherwise he would still be here!

By Monday evening the snow accumulation was becoming more intense and I knew that Tuesday morning was gonna be interesting. And indeed it was!

 At 7:00 Shane and his team were shoveling snow that reached their thighs in order to get the plow out. By 8:15 am, one park vehicle was stuck in the snow at Old Faithful, by 8:30 am Shane was stuck in Grant and by 8:45 am another person was stuck in Lake! Additionally, both Canyon and Lake Districts were out of power. Mother Nature VS. Yellowstone Park = 5 to 0 ! The battle against the snow storm was ruling in favor of mother nature! The park radio was a confusion of statically charged messages ranging from :I'm stuck, Need help, Are you okay, I'm coming you're way" and so on and so forth! 

As the power flickered for the third time in my office, leaving me in complete darkness, I picked up the phone called my boss and said "Can I please work from home today!" She thankfully agreed and by 9:00 am, I was sitting in my thermals working on my laptop from home, monitoring the radio, and watching the snow accumulate and wondering "IS THIS NORMAL?"

The answer is yes, it's normal. But not in November and not so much in such a little span of time. In fact mother nature is early by one week! The park's calendar clearly states that we do not switch to snowmobiles till next week...Can't Mother Nature READ! Our snowmobiles have not even arrived at the park yet therefore we are plowing the roads when we should be grooming them for snowmobiles.Not fun! 

Continued snowfall and high wind of 25-40 miles per hour are predicted to continue through the night. The snow is expected to taper off tomorrow however the numbing cold temperatures are going to take over. Ahhh... yes, temperatures as low as negative 26'F are predicted. I guess I will find out if my -60 F boots truly work!

 It's moments like this that one truly gets to  find out what we are really made of. A chance to step outside our normal routine and persevere in the face of difficulty.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slowly turning into a gear junkie!

It was 55'F when we left Seattle from our vacation and the temperature steadily declined as we drove closer and closer to Yellowstone. After 11 long hours of driving we arrived at the West Yellowstone entrance. It was dark, snowing and the gate barricade was locked but since the roads are currently opened for administrative travel we unlocked the barricade and drove into the park. For some reason I felt like I was doing something wrong- breaking into a National Park!

Our new 4 wheel drive truck is sure coming in handy because although the roads had been plowed the fresh snow was accumulating quickly. The further we drove, the heavier the snow was getting and I began to fear that we would not be able to cross Craig Pass in order to make it home. I began thinking of our options such as breaking into my bosses house in Old Faithful since she was, afterall, on vacation and surely she would approve such a break in! But thankfully as we approached Old Faithful the snow subsided and we crawled up Craig Pass (We were extra safe Mom!). We made it home to Grant to find a winter wonderland. Every tree was dripping with glissening snow whilst the roof tops were drapped with thick white blankets.

It is kinda hard to prepare for Thanksgiving when it feels like Christmas. In fact, Santa did come early this year; 14 boxes of goodies had arrived while we were away! Cabela's, REI, and Sierra Trading Post boxes littered our living room floor and even though it was now midnight Shane and I could not contain ourselves- we just had to open our boxes! And so there we were at Midnight trying on our new Thermal Underwear- Expedition Weight! The next morning I continued to go through our boxes. We had purchased so many things to prepare for winter that we actually forgot what was in the boxes! 

So what sort of gear is needed to spend a winter in the interior of Yellowstone? I learned to not ask this question to the outdoor enthusiasts who have lived in the park awhile because they will say things like "Oh, you'll need at least three different kinds of skis: Crosscountry, Backcountry and Skate Skis! Needless, to say I do not make that much money to buy three sets of skis in my first winter! However it was obvious that winter sports gear was a top priority. As I began searching for what skis to buy I realized that ski shopping is a much grandeur feat than shoe shopping at Dillards where my biggest concern was "should I buy the shiny red one's or the shiny black?" After hours of reading and searching and learning that not only are there numerous kinds of skis but there are an equal number of ski bindings to chose from, I finally found the easy way out: REI's ski package sets! For $300 they would ship me Unisex Rossignol Touring Skis with the compatible bindings, ski poles, and ski boots. Ahhh...problem solved: "I'll take two sets, please!"

Now, that I made my "recreational" purchase it was on to more serious matters such as winter gear to sustain -20F with a snowmobile windchill of -40F. After ample searching I decided on Cabelas Guidewear Gor-Tex Parka and Bibs along with a pair of Winter Range -60'F boots. My Cabelas purchase also included an assortment of soft shell jackets, fleece sweaters and pants in various colors and weights since "layers" are an important part of keeping warm. I also made sure that there was no cotton in my products since "cotton-kills" in wet-cold weather.

Next stop: Sierra Trading Post! One pair of Manzella's warmest weather proof mittens with liners, one red fur trapper hat with a liner, one fleece balaclava (face mask), 1 wool hat, 1 pair of wool mittens, one pair of ski goggles and sunglasses and  90 pairs of toe/hand warmers for the extra cold days! I also imagine myself living in thermal underwear therefore a full set of thermals in each weight: light, mid weight and expedition weight. And the best purchase of the season goes to the calf length down-feather Merrell coat recommended by my friend Laura Goforth who once lived in Grant as well!       

So, although I was officially ready to take on winter in the interior my attention shifted to Alice, my little 38 lbs Beagle-Shepherd mix whose favorite thing to do is lay in the sun! I had no idea the price and variety of winter dog gear! With a little research I decided to play it simple: one fleece jacket, a new warm plush bed and doggles. Yes, you read right: DOGGLES! Goggles for dogs! So now when she rides to town with us on the snowmobile her eyes will be protected.

Thankfully, Shane and I already had snowshoes and a lighter weight snowsuit and the park will provide us with snowmobiles and helmets. This weekend will be the big snow tire purchase and hopefully that will be the end of our purchases for next 5 months! Total expenditures of gear to date: $2800. Luckily the park has paid for $800 of our necessary gear.  

I am quickly learning that winter in the interior is not for wusses or for those who want to save their money! Purchasing Keno's flip flops in Key West was the old Sabrina;  the new Sabrina wears Cabelas Winter Range -60F boots!     

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Last Call for Motorists

As I was driving home from Jackson yesterday the DJ on the radio declared that all roads heading into the interior of the Yellowstone National Park are officially closed to the public starting this Monday. They will reopen for snowmobile traffic starting December 15. The DJ advised the public that this was their last chance to tour the park by car. The weekend weather is calling for sunny skies and high's in the 50's which is pretty incredible considering there was a snowstorm on the 31st! The park's visitation is up by almost 9% and I wonder what this last weekend will have in store for us? Luckily, I do not have to worry about it! My two weeks vacation starts today at 5:00pm!

Although the park roads are closed to the public they will remain open for administrative purposes for the following two weeks. That is to say open for official government business and for the people who live in the interior to make their last few vehicle trips into town to stock up on last minute provisions. It is kind of a special time of year because the crowds of visitors are gone and for 4 whole weeks the only people in the interior of the park are the staff who live here. I often wonder what the wildlife think? Are they relieved to have their home back without people pestering them; without the hoards of tourists snapping cameras while they eat, sleep and poop? They've gotta be thrilled!!

Shane and I are off to Washington State for one week. Our first stop will be North Cascades NP, where we will visit with our friend Andrew who is also a park ranger. Next, we'll hop over to Seattle and stay with our friend Rebecca, followed by a visit to both Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. I don't think Shane and I have taken a vacation in over 8 years that has NOT involved at least one National Park Unit! Even when we travel abroad. But I guess that makes sense since the world's natural beauties and culturally signficiant places are usually preserved within our National Parks!  

Monday, November 1, 2010

How much wood is enough wood?

I once used a chainsaw... And that one time was enough for me to realize that I never want to use one again. Intense vibration, loud noise and the looming idea in the back of my head that I might lope off an arm was all too much for me handle. Now give me an axe...and that's a different story! The rhythm of chopping with an axe combined with the gratification to look at your work and think to yourself "I did that,all on my own!" is quite satisfying!

Believe it or not, part of my college courses involved learning the proper techniques to use both a chainsaw and axe! While studying Ecological Technology at Vanier College I lived at a Field Station about one hour from Montreal. While living there our team of 16 individuals did everything from lake surveys, birding banding, small mammal trapping to chopping down dead trees! I can still remember the shock on the faces of my friends and family when I would return home each weekend and say things like "This week I chopped down trees!" Although I was excited to share my accomplishments I clearly thought that I would NEVER need to use my chopping skills again. That was until I moved to the interior of Yellowstone!

For the last three weeks Shane and I (well, mostly Shane) have been collecting wood. Actually, Shane is collecting TREES and I am collecting TWIGS to give you a size comparison! Our yard has been an ever growing pile of trees and twigs and the bigger it got the more daunting the task of "wood chopping" seemed. But with an storm brewing to the west of us it was evident that this weekend would officially go down in the books as "The Weekend of Wood Chopping"!

Some people might imagine wood chopping as a small task- chopping just enough to make the house feel cozy on snowy nights. For us this was rather a matter of survival. Our goal this winter is to heat our 2 story, 4 bed, 2 bath house solely using our wood stove. Now we do have electric heat should we need it however there is some motivation involved in this story. Rent for our cozy government house includes the cost of an average electric bill. If we use more heat than the average we of course have to pay for it. On the flip side if we do not use the electric heat we will get money back. Now exactly how much money is worth chopping wood ALL weekend? Well, upwards of $1600! That's enough motivation for me!

Having never done this before it is hard to determine just how much wood we'll need. Our neighbors have the exact same house as us however they have enough wood to heat every home in Montana for one year! Such over-achievers.

After two straight days of chainsaws & axes followed by wood stacking we now have three 8 foot by 16 foot walls of neatly stacked wood, along with 5 boxes of kindling. Oh and I almost forgot we]]I also have very sore muscles...from my thighs, to my arms and even my hands!!

By the evening of day two when I was just about "done" with this long tedious weekend the sky turned a bright orangy pink as the sun set behind the Lodgepole Pines trees. The view was amazing and it was a pleasant ending to a long hard weekend. The next day, despite my sore muscles, I proudly admired my well stacked rows of wood as the second winter snow storm of the season blew in.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Importance of Snow Tires!

By Sunday morning there were a couple of centimeters of snow on the ground. "Winter Storm Warning" were the first words in the Park's Morning Weather Report. Well, I thought I better get to Old Faithful now before it gets worse followed by heading straight to Mammoth for training on Monday and Tuesday. I called dispatch to make sure that Craig Pass was still open. "Affirmative" they said. I was soon to find out that "affirmative" actually translates to "Blowing and snowing hard- exude excessive caution- in fact we do not recommend it!"

I looked outside and did the math- it's only 8:30 am, I'll be fine in the 2 wheel drive Impala. The alternative is the Old Jeep which has no holder for my coffee mug and no CD player. Two things which at 8:30 am on a Sunday are essential in my world!

AS I left Grant in the Impala the snow was falling but the roads were clear and so I chugged on to Craig Pass. After passing the first Continental Divide sign (over 8300 ft) I realized that Craig Pass was going to be a challenge. I slowed by speed, put the vehicle in second. The snow and ice were getting thicker and thicker. And if anyone knows me- they know that I have probably about 20 hours experience of snow driving spanned over 10 years! NOT an avid snow driver!

Finally my poor Impala could not take it anymore. I hit the ice and skidding back and forth. The whole event was no longer than 5 seconds and in those 5 seconds I did exactly what I should have done- pumped the breaks, steer gently, don't panic. "Don't panic" for me is difficult and I had to laugh after the event because I realized that during the event I literally talked myself down. Out loud, I was saying "You got this, you're fine, you got this!" Apparently, my brain and my heart have a great friendship and are willing to help each other out emotionally in a time of crisis! It worked great though because as I was saying this I totally felt my confidence restored and did exactly what I was supposed to do! Ten seconds after the event the dispatcher on the park radio came on and said "Craig Pass- now open to snow tires and 4 wheel drive only"! Aggggg!!!!! That message, 30 seconds early would have been AWESOME!

"This is STUPID", I thought to myself. No training or visitor center is more important than ME! So back to Grant I went, driving 15 miles per hour. I got home and Shane awkwardly looked at me "Everything okay?" "

"Yup, just learning why snow tires and 4 wheel drive are so important!" I called Old Faithful and my boss kindly told me that I did not need to be on the road if I was nervous. I thought about it for a second and realized that I needed to do this. I could not let the first snow fall render me hopeless. After all, I should expect this weather for the next 4 to 5 months! I thought about the 20 vehicles that passed me as I drove home and I realized that as long as I had snow tires and 4 wheel drive I would be fine.

So, I got the Jeep, popped it 4 wheel drive, shifted down to 2nd and slowly trekked up Craig Pass. The difference was stupendous and I felt like I had discovered fire! Wow, snow tires and 4 wheel drive are AMAZING! As soon as I crossed Craig Pass and descended into Old Faithful the snow had turned to rain. In fact, it snowed all day in Grant and rained in Old Faithful making me happy that I did get out of Grant when I did.

For next two days it rained in Mammoth and higher up on the Yellowstone Plateau. On both Monday and Tuesday morning I jumped out of bed hoping to find snow on the ground only to be reminded that Mammoth is warmed than Grant. Shane would send me pictures of Grant covered in snow and my heart would sink that I was missing the first big storm of the season. Everyone reminded me that there will be many more but I still was disappointed about missing the FIRST one! Oh well.

Today is Wednesday and I am back in Grant. The thermometer read 16'F this morning and the there is still a few inches of snow of the ground. From the edge of our roof long icicles have formed and as the wind blows small snowflakes spiral around in the air. The sky is cloudy with the impending feeling that it could start to snow again at any moment- of which I happily welcome!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is it winter yet?

Most of the buildings in Grant Village have been deactivated for winter and boards are up on the windows of these buildings. Shane and his team have been busy bleeding all the water lines to make sure there will be no pipes freezing or water leaks. The visitor center is one of the many buildings that has been deactivated for the winter which means that I have to move my office to the Ranger Station until next spring. I thought this would only take a day or so but everytime I get to my new office I remember one more thing I should bring with me! It will be nice in the Ranger Station this winter since I will have the company of the Law Enforcement Rangers. I have been in my new office for one week and the conversations that I over hear are much different but it is a pleasant reminder that I could never be a Law Enforcement Park Ranger- being an Interpretive Park Ranger is just my pace!

I have been going to Old Faithful on Sundays lately to help staff the new visitor education center. It is a pleasant change of pace from my usual office work and allows me to get to know the staff at Old Faithful a little more intimately. I also get the privilage of watching Old Faithful erupt every 60 to 90 minutes! Even by 5 O'Clock, after watching it erupt since 9 am, it doesn't get old! All I have to do is look around at he eager faces who have travelled from all over the world just to watch Old Faithful to remember just what an honor it is to be a Park Ranger at Yellowstone. Last Sunday both Beehive Geyser and Old Faithful erupted at the same time putting on quite the show for everyone in its presence!

Back in Grant I have begun preparing the winter warming hut for the winter as well. The warming hut is located two miles north of Grant Village at West Thumb Geyser Basin. It is a sweet little log cabin with a desk, wood stove, and benches. It will be used by visitors this winter as a place to stop and warm up as they travel through the park via snowmobile or snow coach. Myself and two winter seasonals will staff this warming hut through the winter as well as another warming hut located in the Lake district of the Park. So far the winter educational & safety displays are up on the walls and the wood is neatly stacked. Now we just need some snow!

For the last week there have been dark clouds overhead everyday but still no snow! I keep reminding myself that in no time there will be more snow than I could dream of, but I still cannot help the urge every morning to jump out of bed and peer out the window only to disappointedly say "Still no snow!" There is something magical about that first big winter snowfall; as sun sets the sky becomes a dark navy blue. The night air is cool and still and then it happens- giant snow flakes fall down and glissen in moonlight. Even if you don't like hot cocoa you still want a warm mug of it in your hand while you watch the snow come down forever! And when you go to bed you just can't wait till morning to see just how much snow fell overnight!

And so I impatiently wait for the first big snowfall while fond memories of my childhood dance about in my head. Until then I will just keep stacking the wood that Shane so diligently chops every evening as we prepare for winter.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Yellowstone Gated Community

Hot Springs Village claims to be the largest gated community in America. It boosts 9 golf courses, 7 lakes, 16 tennis courts, 2 country clubs, 20 miles of hiking trails, a library, a performing arts center, fitness center, marina, seven entrance gates, onsite police, fire and EMS and its own sanitation, recycling and water treatment facilities! It is located only 12 miles from Hot Springs National Park.

Shane and I are not so much a fan of the gated community. They appear beautiful on the surface but they come with all sorts of commitments and attachments. Now don't get me wrong when I visit my sister and brother in law in their beautiful gated community I take full advantage: I swim in at least 2 of their 6+ pools, I use the fitness center, run on the immaculately kept sidwalks and so on and so forth. But Shane and I always agreed it was not for us. We want land with no neighbors and the luxury of doing what we want, when we want to!

However, after thinking about it I realized that I have been fooling myself! I actually live in one of the biggest, busiest gated communities in the country! Yellowstone National Park Gated Community boosts 2.2 million acres, biking trails, hiking trails, horseback riding and over 300 waterfalls. There are a variety of lakes, 2 marinas and some of the best fly fishing opportunities. We have a community center, hot springs, several small fitness centers, 3 clinics, 5 post offices, 5 small grocery stores, a daycare, 6 restaurants including the 5-star Old Faithful Inn restaurant (which generally requires reservations), 2 cafeterias, 6 grills and over 6 gift shops. There are 6 museums and the Yellowstone Association offers educational courses year round that include photography, painting, writing, wildlife ecology, geology and botany. We also have onsite police, fire, EMS and our own recycling, sanitation and water treatment facilities. We have our own website which is updated each morning so that residents stay on top of weather and road conditions as well as other important news updates. Housing rates are low and offer a variety of accomodations ranging from studio apartments to 4 bedroom, 2 bath private homes. Homes are generally built to preserve the natural surroundings and offer forest and mountain views. Most homes tend to be 2nd homes used only in the summer. In fact the yearround population is approximately 400+ residents whereas in the summer it can be upwards of 1500+.

Unemployment rate is low as over 95% of the residents are employeed by our gated community. Overall physical and mental health of residents is good as most work and recreate outdoors and daily commutes to work are within .2-4 miles. Sounds good, doesnt it?

Granted our gated community sees approximately 3 million people per year however visitors must pay $25 per vehicle for a seven day access pass. Fees are used to maintain and repair facilities such as picnic areas, trails, roads, restrooms etc. Residents who have friends and family visiting must call the gate to inform the staff of their arrival. Name(s) and arrival times must be provided. Once friends and family pass through the entrance gate it can be confusing for them to get to your house and usually requires them to call you from the gate to get more specific directions to your house! If you have many visitors coming to visit you need not worry about space- Vacant studio apartments can be rented for $20 per day or for higher end visitors you can reserve them a room in the beautiful Old Faithful Inn.

My gated community is so popular that even famous people come to visit. Famous people such as President Barack Obama and his family.

Aside from being one of the biggest gated communities mine is among the oldest. Established in 1872 the first homes were built in the North part of my community known as Mammoth Hot Springs. The homes in that area are historic structures. I used to live in one and enjoyed the fine architecture however because my home was so noteworthy it was often photographed by visitors which infringed on my private space! I now live in a newer home built in the late 80's in a quiter part of this gated community. It is located within 1 mile from the shores of Lake Yellowstone and two miles from the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Within a 1hour drive from the South Entrance you can find yourself in Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, WY. Jackson Hole can be quite expensive- average homes start at 1/2 million dollars. Direct flights to Seattle & Las Vegas depart Jackson Hole, WY regularly if one needs to visit a Metropolis, although you will find that after being in the serenity of Yellowstone National Park Gated Community the desire to be in an urban area decreases dramatically. A one hour drive from the North Entrance brings you to Bozeman, MT, the home of Montana State University. Bozeman is a typical college town with good food, music and microbrews.

One hour from the Northeast Entrance is the Beartooth Mountains Wilderness Area. This drive has been designated as America's most scenic highway, travelling through high alpine country above 10,000 ft.

So although one might think it is very different to live in Yellowstone I am realizing that it actually isn't. I have a Yellowstone Gated Community sticker on my car that tells people "I live here". Sound familar gated community friends?

But after this personal revelation (that at first made me sad cause I DO live in a gated community) I can't help but smile and think "Eat your heart out Hot Springs Village Gated Community, you got nothing on Yellowstone National Park Gated Community!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The doors of the Visitor Center are locked

The doors of the Grant Village Visitor Center are officially closed for the season yet as I turned the key to lock the doors on Thursday evening it seemed wrong. Afterall the day had been sunny with high's in the 70's...not exactly Fall weather in Yellowstone! The visitors seemed utterly confused as I told them "closing for the season!" What they don't realize is that although today might be sunny, tomorrow it could be snowing and it will be much easier to deactive and winterize buildings before the snow begins! But just the same it seemed weird closing for winter and wearing a summer uniform!

Most of the seasonal park rangers have packed their bags and headed off to their wintering grounds. On one level I envy them as they eagerly head off to a new adventure. Watching them pack their vehicles reminds me of the 7 years that I spent being a temporary employee- I was always sad to leave but always eager for the next chapter of life. Eleven different parks/nature centers/eco-camps in 7 years! Yet as I write this my dog comes running up to me and licks my hand reminding me of the adventures that await me as a permanent Park Ranger in Yellowstone. As the employee parking lot empties a little more each day I feel lucky that I get to stay here year round and see a different side of Yellowstone that most people will never see.

In fact as less people visit the park the wildlife seem more apt to show themselves. Yesterday I drove to the north part of the park called Mammoth Hot Springs for training. Mammoth is a two hour drive from my house however this drive is entirely through the park. As I drove t0 Mammoth at 6 am in the dark I was greeted by 1 eagle, 3 coyotes, 1 fox, 2 mule deer and several elk & bison. As the sun began to rise at 6:30am over the Gallatin range and I concluded that I was probably having the best 6 am commute for work EVER! I mean can one really complain about driving at 6am when you're getting paid to drive two hours through Yellowstone National Park!

By the time I got back from training the weather had changed and the new high for day was 20'F lower than the previous day. Who knows there may even be snow tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thinking in pounds!

When my sister and I were children we loved to play "Little House on the Prairie". I always insisted on being Laura and my sister, of course, was Mary. The game eventually got a little out of hand when I boldly decided to give up my identity ( I was about 3 or 4 years old by the way!) and only respond to the name LAURA! My mom, being patient with her spirited daughter played along for a while until she realized that I was pretty serious! I had fully embodied Laura Ingles and there was no turning back! Just like any mother, her patience soon ran out and I was forced to come back to reality and just be me: Sabrina.

Yesterday, my sister reminded me of this because she has come to the conclusion that I am indeed living a pioneer life and from now on she WILL call me Laura! (haha...Victory). But she is indeed right.

This past weekend Shane and I drove 3 hours to get to the town of Bozeman, MT to begin purchasing our winter supplies. There are 2 other towns, Jackson and Cody which are 1.5 hours away however they only have 2 grocery stores and a Walmart or Kmart. Bozeman is the closest town which has stores like: Costco, Home Depot, Target, Michaels and Bed, Bath & Beyond. So, naturally if one needs massive amounts of household goods and food Bozeman is where you're headed.

Stocking up on winter goods is essential because at some point in November Yellowstone will stop plowing the road from our house to the park entrance which translates to a 40 minute snow mobile ride to the south entrance followed by digging out our car and then driving one hour to Jackson. Grant Village, Yellowstone receives about 8 feet of snow with lows in the -40's. So as you can imagine we might be tempted to buy a few items, maybe milk and eggs but full size grocery orders is out the question!

But exactly how does one determine what food you will need for approximately 4 months? As Shane and I started making our shopping list I quickly realized that most of the pre-packaged things we eat are all flour, sugar, water, cornstarch etc. My shopping list begin to change. Items like pancakes, cake mix, bread mix, oatmeal cookies, alfredo sauce were removed from the list and replaced with flour, flour, flour!!! As I began flipping though our stack of cookbooks I realized that most of us are seriously spoiled and seriously ignorant! I never realized just how easy it is to make pancakes because I have ONLY ever bought them from a box!!!

And so my "Little House on the Prairie" thinking cap went on: 50 lbs of flour, 15 lbs of sugar, 8 lbs of masa harina, 8 lbs of chocolate chips, 10 lbs of oatmeal, 25 pounds of rice, a healthy variety of dried beans and so on and so forth!

After twos of shopping in Bozeman our final bill was $2200 dollars of which approximately $1700 was in food. This is in addition to the $700 we spent 3 weeks ago in food. Our kitchen is a mini grocery store! And so when people ask me "What are you going to do this winter?" I confidently reply "I will Cook!" From homemade soups to breads I am officially prepared to cook 5 star meals from scratch this winter. Maybe my "Little House in the Prairie" obsession did me some good afterall.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Walk EXACTLY in my Footsteps

You truly meet some of the most interesting people in a National Park. The staff, both paid and unpaid, reign from all over yet are all united from the love they share for a place like Yellowstone.

Today my orientation to the Grant district of Yellowstone found me with Ralph Taylor a retired engineer and a volunteer in Yellowstone National Park for over 20 years. Each summer Ralph comes to Yellowstone and monitors the thermal features in various geyser basins. Sounds easy right? Think again!

As we pulled up to Potts Basin Ralph gave me his standard safety speech:

"We will follow a game trail down to the basin and then we will find the safest route in and around the features. You need to stay with me at all times and in some cases I will ask you to follow EXACTLY in my footsteps. Pay close attention where you put your feet and never step backwards...always forward."

As we passed the wooden fencing and the "do not enter/danger" signs Ralph and I found ourselves discussing those who have injured themselves in thermal basins and in some cases those who have died a gruesome death from falling into a thermal feature. By far, in my opinion, the worst way one can die. Needless to say as I followed Ralph I developed my own safety strategy: Follow exactly in his footsteps ALL THE TIME but not too closely...that way if he broke through the crust I would have a chance to jump backwards. Now I know that sounds selfish but even Ralph himself told me "If I fall in just push me back in; I would rather die suddenly than be pulled out and die in 12 hours in the hospital". Gruesome but realistic! The first thing you are taught when you become a Park Ranger is to ensure your safety FIRST before helping anyone else. I take this rule VERY seriously in thermal basins!

As I turned around, the road- my safety zone was over 100 yards away. "No going back now", I thought to myself. Suddenly, I found myself questioning Ralph's skills. Poor Ralph, I bombarded him with diplomatically phrased questions to figure out if he was indeed qualified to escort me through Potts Basin!

" How did you become a volunteer? Do you have any geology background? How do you know where to walk? But if there was an earthquake last night couldn't things change dramatically? How hot are some of these features? If I were out here alone would that grassy hill over there be safe? "

Ralph politely answered all my questions sensing my innate fear of Potts Basin! He assured me that in over 20 years of studying this particular Basin he had become extremely familiar with the land and had never lost anyone! Now that may relieve some people but my analytical and realistic mind was not going to accept that! Afterall, the law of averages would indicate that if he hadn't lost anyone yet...well... time's a tickin'!

Three hours later we were still alive and exploring the basin. I watched Ralph as he changed the batteries in his monitoring equipment, downloaded recent information on his computer and logged the changes in the features in his well kept yellow journal. He clearly explained everything he did and gave me ample time to marvel at the features that only a few people get to see. Mudpots, Geysers, Fumeroles and Hot Springs galore! All around me were tie-dye arrangements of colors; sizzles, pops and gurgles; and the faint smell of sulphur. The colorful mats of heat loving bacteria ran off into the cold deep waters of Lake Yellowstone whilst the Lake itself was surrounded by the beautiful snow covered peaks of the Absaroka Mountains.

I realized in that moment that fear is not always a bad emotion. Fear is what makes you marvel at the power of a supervolcano and makes you wonder what lies beneath the frigid cold of Lake Yellowstone. Fear is what evokes in us a sense of respect towards things greater than us. And with respect comes the idea that we must protect these things that are so grand. The idea of conservation and preservation. The National Park Idea.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Settling in

"Well, it says here Yellowstone... but Yellowstone is the size of several East coast states put together!"- Moving truck driver

Needless to say the moving company was not used to delivering to Yellowstone! I tried as best I could to explain to the driver that passing through the steep escarpments of the East Entrance in Yellowstone was gonna take some time with a semi. But by the time he found our little housing area in Grant Village he still looked a little shell shocked!

"I would've got here sooner but there were some Buffalo in the road!"

I chuckled and nodded my head. Our truck driver had NEVER been to Yellowstone and now here he was traveling through the park with a semi, delivering goods to two park rangers! As if the Bison were not enough Yellowstone decided to show the driver how weather patterns can change in an instant. While unloading the truck it rained, sleeted and yes, even snowed. Then the sun came out as if pretending as though nothing had happened!

But Alas, all of our belongings arrived in relatively good condition and within 3 days Shane and I had unpacked everything except a couple boxes of books. Buying furniture for a house you have been seen before is quite a challenge and by about the tenth time of me saying "how about if we put this here" I thought Shane was gonna freak out! However that tenth time was the perfect one! Everything fits quite nicely. Shane had shipped some poplar which he made a coffee table and book shelves with.

We are living in a nice 4 bedroom split level house tucked away in the government housing area about 1/4 mile from Grant Village Visitor Center. In the little time we have been here the bugling Elk and yipping Coyotes already graced us in our new home. We have met most of our neighbors and all are very nice. In about 2 weeks, as summer draws to an end, our neighborhood will go from a population of 40 down to 10-12 individuals. The 10-12 hardy who will bare the winter in the interior of Yellowstone. Oh and let's not forget the 5 dogs who will also stick around- Alice (our dog) being the smallest.

I am not the least bit worried about the winter. In fact I have taken great comfort in knowing that I am living in a National Park surrounded by 2.2 million acres of protected land. This park, that can see up to 3 million visitors a year, is my home; my backyard. And while others only get to see it for a week, maybe two, I have been given the chance to experience Yellowstone year round. A chance to see the snow fall, the elk rut, the wolves hunt, the bison plow through snow covered fields and the first spring flower bloom.