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!