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!"


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