Thursday, December 30, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
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
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!
Saturday, December 11, 2010
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
Sunday, November 28, 2010
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
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!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
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!
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!
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.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
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
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.