Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Final Chapter

The distant sound of a bull Elk bugling pierces through the cold night air. With a majestic full rack of antlers he strives to solidify his lineage. I cannot see him, but I know that sound well, and I know what he’s up to! From my back porch I watch as my thermometer drops lower and lower as darkness takes over. In the morning the sun finally rises through the misty frost and clouds somewhere around 7:30 am. It shines upon the Absaroka mountains revealing the new snow which has settled upon the alpine peaks. Summer is long gone, autumn is dwindling, and winter…winter sits upon my doorstep.
It has been a little over one year since I arrived to the interior of Yellowstone.  With picturesque dreams of snow gently falling in a faraway land, I moved to Yellowstone with the longing for adventure and truth. And adventure and truth I found.
I spent my year in Yellowstone exploring new trails, learning to identify new flowers, and watching the daily habits of animals both large and small. There were days when I pushed myself to new limits: surviving in -20’F temperatures, watching the persistent and seemingly never ending  snow fall on Memorial Day weekend, snowmobiling during extreme conditions, and  cross country skiing in the backcountry.   Other times I did nothing- a glorious nothing! A “nothing” filled with basking in the sunshine along a remote lake in the backcountry. A “nothing” of just listening to the wind as it blows through the tall Pine trees. Nothing except me and the Greater Powers which fuel the methodical cycles of the natural world; Greater Powers that humble us and remind us of how little we are in the grand spectrum of life on Earth.     
As I begin my second year in Yellowstone I should, in theory, know what to expect, but the truth is I don’t.  Every day in Yellowstone is different- new adventures, new challenges, and new life experiences. It is this lack of monotony that I crave.  I am like a child on the night before Christmas, dreaming and imagining of what is to come next.
I want to personally thank all of you who have taken this “One Year in Yellowstone” journey with me whether it was in body or in spirit. It is truly amazing how a place as magical as Yellowstone has the ability to bring people of all backgrounds and life experiences together. Through this journey I have made new friends and strengthen my relationship with old friends.  I have watched many of you become so inspired by this magical place that you ventured here yourself to experience it. I am so grateful to live and work in place that contains such power.  And long after I am gone I hope that Yellowstone will still be a place that unites people, a place where natural processes continue to persist regardless of what exists outside the boundaries of our park; a place that conjures up the dreams of little boys and girls who seek adventure and truth in a faraway land where the snow gently falls upon the landscape.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A New Addition to Yellowstone's Interior!

It had been a little over 5 days since our family had left from their amazing visit to Yellowstone. Slowly but surely things were starting to get back to normal- laundry was done, house cleaned and it was a fairly calm week at work. Yet, despite the slowed pace of excitement in my life I was still feeling exhausted. I was sleeping nine to ten hours a night, however I was still counting down the minutes till 5 pm at the end of each work day so that I could go home, plop down on the couch and veg out! Guilt would quickly settle into my mind: "It's a beautiful summer evening in Yellowstone National Park, I should be out hiking or wildlife watching", I thought to myself. But guilt never won, because no sooner would the thoughts pass through my mind, I would find myself lightly snoring on the couch. The summer was flying by, and the days of hiking Mount Sheridan and Electric Peak were dwindling. 

I began considering the fact that my exhaustion was not normal...not for me at least. I coupled the exhaustion with anything else that wasn't adding up, like the delicious eggs, biscuits and gravy, that despite my hunger I could not eat for the life of me! All my symptoms were starting to point me in the same direction: Am I pregnant?

With the nearest pharmacy located 2 hours away I wasn't overly eager to jump in the car for a four hour journey. I perused the general store's tiny pharmacy section in hopes of finding a home pregnancy test but to no avail. Apparently they are not a hot commodity for Yellowstone's tourist industry! Then it dawned on me: Yellowstone National Park has three clinics in the Park! And so off to the Lake Clinic I went, a mere 30 minutes from my house. 

In the clinic I found myself surrounded by the usual "case scenarios". A woman who tripped while hiking and fell on her wrist; a man who tumbled while hiking and had several lacerations on his head and face, and another woman who was likely suffering from altitude sickness.  And then there was me: still trying to do the math associated with the famous question "when was my last period?" and "did I really go rafting while potentially pregnant?"

Within 30 minutes I was in and out of the clinic with the happy results that "YES, I am pregnant"!Everything began to make sense: the exhaustion, the irritability and the inconsistent food patterns.  Quickly new questions and thoughts began to form in my mind. "How will I ride a snowmobile while being 7 months pregnant?" and " Can I raise a baby in the interior of Yellowstone". Believe it or not there have been many children born and raised in the interior of Yellowstone over the years, however in most cases the parents were not dual career. Usually either mom or dad no longer works for the park due to the challenges of finding child care in -36'F weather!

On August 28th, 2011 it will make ONE YEAR since I have been back in Yellowstone. I have watched Summer turn to Autumn, Autumn become one of the snowiest Winters in Yellowstone history; and Winter reluctantly give way to Spring. Soon, my one year blog will come to an end as the title suggests. However, it appears that I might have some good material for a future blog, perhaps "Yellowstone Interior with a Baby"!! 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shane & Sabrina plus Six!

"Aunt Sabrina, Aunt Sabrina it's a Bison!" squealed my 8 year old nephew. Adorned with a Junior Ranger vest and hat, his smile was priceless. He had been patiently counting down the days since school finished, for his vacation to visit his Park Ranger Aunt & Uncle in Yellowstone National Park, and now he was here! Accompanying him on his trip were 5 other "first-timers": His Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Brent, and Cousin Hailie. Despite the 50 year gap between the youngest and oldest they all admired the sights with equal enthusiasm and zest, a testament that whether you are 1 or 101 yrs old, Wonderland brings a smile to every one's face.


I can still remember my first time to Wonderland. I was not a child yet I couldn't help but act like one. "A wolf", I exclaimed, my arm nearly knocking out my husband as he attempted to drive through Hayden Valley. A beautiful all white wolf was dashing at rocket speeds through the open sage brush of Hayden Valley.  I would later learn that she was the Alpha female of the Hayden Pack, and that summer (2007), she quickly became my favorite wolf.


But now Shane and I had the opportunity to share the wonders of Yellowstone with our family. We had six days to discover, explore and fall in love with the beauties of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Although Park Rangers have all sorts of favorite "off the beaten path" spots, our travels did not differ from that of which I would recommend to any other visitor. We found ourselves at all the must-see places such as West Thumb, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Fountain Paint Pots, Mammoth Hot Springs, Hayden Valley, Lamar Valley and of course the Iconic Old Faithful.


Arriving at Old Faithful on Friday, I had my Park Ranger uniform in my travel bag because I had been invited to assist with a film permit. America's First National Park regularly receives film permit requests for all sorts of reasons but this time it was for a reality TV show called Kate plus Eight. I was excited to be one of the rangers assisting with this film permit and even more excited that my family would get to see "Ranger Sabrina in Action!"
Old Faithful was predicted to erupted at 6:31pm, +/- 10 minutes and I was scheduled to sit next to the reality TV show family and share with them a little about Old Faithful. Teaching park visitors about Yellowstone is such a rewarding experience whether the visitors are your family or a reality TV show family! As we waited for Old Faithful to erupt  I taught them about the Yellowstone Super volcano and how a  geyser like Old Faithful works. Soon Old Faithful was erupting and simultaneously my family, Kate plus eight, and hundreds of other families watched as the iconic geyser blew- all of us in awe of the wonders of nature and the powerful force of the Yellowstone super volcano.  Watching Old Faithful erupt immediately brings about all sorts of questions to the spectators mind. Happily, I answered a variety of questions about Old Faithful, and soon the reality TV show family smiled and politely thanked me for sharing my knowledge, before they headed off on their next adventure. As I returned to my family, my nephew proudly proclaimed : "Aunt Sabrina, I want to be a ranger like you and teach people about the park". It was the perfect ending to a fabulous day!

But the next day "Shane and Sabrina plus Six" were also on their next adventure. Exiting the Park through the Northeast Entrance we soon found ourselves exploring the Beartooth Mountains. Climbing up higher and higher through granite domes we stopped at every lookout to snap some pictures. I had seen all these mountains before, taken pictures of all these views before; yet I still found myself mesmerized and snapping my camera at every moment. It's hard to ignore beauty even if you've seen it one hundred times. Stopping for lunch at Clay Butte I watched as my niece and nephew played in the snow patches, dipped their feet into the cold waters of Bear Lake and ran through the open meadows that were filled with shooting stars and other wildflowers. And as we drove home on our final day I looked down at my nephew who was curled up in my lap taking a nap. His sun tanned cheeks were a mixture of pink and brown. His shirt was dirty and his little feet were grimy. His completed Junior Ranger Book lie on the floor of the car.  And his face had a smile on it, with the look of a little boy who had just explored, discovered and fallen in love with Wonderland! I closed my eyes as well and soon fell asleep, with pink and brown cheeks, a smile on my face and a happy little boy curled up in my lap.    



   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July Mayhem in Yellowstone

I have heard many year-round Yellowstone Rangers proclaim the same thing " I endure the summer in Yellowstone so that I can experience the Autumn & Winter".  I couldn't understand it at first. That was until July arrived with a heat wave and a monsoon of people, and now I find myself counting down the days till September, when a cool breeze will fill the air and the roads will not be a sea of vehicles.


July is the busiest month in Yellowstone National Park. Visitors from all over the world clutter the roads, fill the boardwalks and crowd into visitor centers. Verbal bets were placed by the staff as to what date Old Faithful Visitor Education Center would surpass 10,000 people in one day.  This is the month that we have all been preparing for both mentally and physically. And although we all knew it was coming, it seems that this July has been one that none of us will readily forget.


Cautions, warnings and park regulations seem to have been thrown out the window for many visitors this July despite to concerted effort of the park staff. Safety information is given to visitors as they enter the park, cautions are given at the visitors centers, and dotting every trail in the park are warning & regulation signs.  But much to my dismay I still find visitors standing along the edge of Black Pool- a hot spring that averages 200'F and can cause 3rd degree burns in just 15 seconds. Just last week I had strategically place "stay on boardwalk" universal signs throughout West Thumb Geyser Basin yet I was amazed to discover that at least 100 or more visitors per day ignore them. While walking the basin recently, I watched as a father told his young teenage daughter to step off the boardwalk and sit along the edge of Black Pool so that he could get the perfect picture. Horrified, I ran down the boardwalk shouting at her to get back on the boardwalk and away from the steaming hot pool. I tried to explain the risk involved in what she had done- carefully pointing out that the area she had been walking on was unstable and constantly changing. Thus, what appeared to be solid ground was not, and potentially she could have cracked the surface crust and fallen into the hot spring. After my well articulated speech, they nodded their heads up and down with big smiles on their face- a clear sign that they were not computing a word I was saying. Maybe I needed to be more blunt: People have died in these hot springs, YOU MUST STAY ON BOARDWALKS AT ALL TIMES. The sudden change in my tone and hand gestures brought forth an "Oh, I am sorry". I walked away in dismay knowing that they will likely do the same thing at the next geyser basin.


Completing my walk around the basin I headed towards the parking lot and noticed a large amount of people congregating along the edge of the meadow. This had been a re-occurring event this past week and I knew it was either a Bear or Elk. As I approached the meadow I looked off a ways to find that some visitors were standing 15 feet away from an Elk with her calf. I asked the visitors to back up immediately. They back up 10 feet and began to snap more pictures. My tone became a little more forceful and I made my request slightly more direct "Folks, I need you to immediately back up to where I am, park regulations mandate that you stay 25 yards away from Elk and other large animals." Before I could even finish my sentence another responsible visitor chimed in. "Is that photo worth risking your life". Then a second, "You guys need to get away from those Elk". When the group had made their way back to where I was they explained that the "Elk seemed friendly, and were not bothered by them at all". I am continually perplexed by this idea that "wild animals seem friendly". Are there not enough reality TV shows where animals routinely attack? Are we so disconnected from nature that we as humans cannot distinguish between a wild setting and a domesticated farm?


Visitors are injured daily in Yellowstone despite all the warnings and signage. In our nightly "ranger discussions" it is amazing what is witnessed in just one day. One ranger watched a man holding his hand painfully through West Thumb- apparently he had decided to stick his whole hand into Black pool to see how hot it was. Well, he quickly discovered that it is hot enough to cause 3rd degree burns in 15 seconds. Another ranger described how she watch a mom and dad put grass into their 5 year old's hand and pushed the child toward an Elk and her calf.


Walking through the campground the other night a mother ran up to me and asked if I knew about the Bear in Mammoth. Not knowing what she was talking about she described how her family had been happily watching a Grizzly Bear meander along the edge of the road. From their car they took pictures and were genuinely elated. That was until a car racing around the corner hit the Bear dead center. The Bear, stunned for a quick second by what happened, suddenly jumped up and ran into the woods. The family wanted to know if the bear survived or if it ran off into the woods and died. The mother explained that her children were upset for the rest of the day over what they had witnessed.


But the lack of responsible drivers doesn't end there. Car accidents occur daily in the Park.This week, in the Grant area, a speeding truck decided to pass someone on a double solid only to come around the corner and smash into the back of another vehicle. At least one person was emergency helicoptered to the nearest ER for cranial damage. Early in the season the sound of the helicopter would startle me since Yellowstone is a normally a NO-FLY zone. But lately the sound of the ambulance, fire truck and helicopter are a re-occurring daily event, and sadly most of the incidents that are occurring are completely due to those who clearly ignore the Park regulations and the continual ranger warnings.


So how do you escape in the Nation's first National Park in July? Well, unlike the winter when I regularly ski and snowmobile throughout the park, I find myself staying closer to home. I avoid the roads at all costs and I try to hike the trails which are close to home.I wake up early in the morning and enjoy the park when most visitors are groggily waking up in the sold out campgrounds and hotels. I don't ever stop at Bear Jams, Wolf Jams or Uinta Ground Squirrel Jams! And I count down the days, because I know that while most Americans are enjoying their beautiful National Park with over 1 million other people in July, I get to enjoy it year-round. It is one of the many benefits of being a Yellowstone Ranger: I can enjoy the park any day...and I'll do that, preferably, during quieter times!  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Caution: Bear Crossing

Looking down at my watch the other day I found that it was 5pm, and for the first time since the winter I did not have a mountain of work on my desk. I has just completed the last project on my neatly formed daily "to do" list and although I knew there were things to do tomorrow, I was done for the day. Lately, I can usually be found diligently working in my office till 6 or 7pm and I thought about diving into the next day's workload, but as I glanced out my window I saw the sun still brightly shining outside. There had been over one week of sunny skies and beautiful temperatures and there was no denying that summer had arrived. Suddenly a big smile came over my face and I said to myself "I am going home!"

I quickly gathered my things, put on my bike helmet and soon I flying down the road with the wind whipping me in my face. I passed the post office, the restuarant, the lodge, and just as I was making the home stretch I looked up to see an indistinct brown blob emerging from the trees just about 100 yards away. "Bison?" I thought. "NO, BEAR!"

There he was, a beautiful chocolate brown Grizzly Bear weighing upwards of 500lbs. As he crossed the street there was no denying the classic hump on the neck that distinguishes the Grizzly from the Black bear. Cars and RV's all came to a halting stop as this magnificent animal crossed over into the thick of the Lodgepole pine forest. Regardless of his impressive size he disappeared the minute he entered the trees, blending in with the brownish hues of the forest. I sat there in awe, and when the awe passed I sat there thinking "What do I do now?" After all I had no idea how far into the woods he had gone...the same woods that I needed to pass on my bicycle in order to get home. 

I glanced around trying to find a new route and quickly found my solution. It turns out my husband Shane was sitting in his truck at the next corner. With radio in hand he was calling in the bear sighting to the other staff. I rode over to Shane, threw my bicycle in the back of his truck and began assisting him with bear management. 

Within a minute we were joined by 2 Law Enforcement Rangers and 2 Resource Management Volunteers. And that's when the fun truly began. Shane indicated that the bear had walked down the power line road and we all knew where this led- straight into housing. Jumping in our vehicles, we drove over to housing where the power lines meet the back of the Quadraplex unit. Just as we arrived, we found Ranger Darlene with her radio in hand. She had been peacefully reading on her porch when she looked up to find the bear trotting down the road just 50 yards away from her deck. 

But the bear paid little attention to the team of six that had now grown to eight! Four of us were technically off duty but when a bear travels through your housing area it's amazing how many people want to be on duty!

We all jumped back into our vehicles with the knowledge that the bear, who continued to follow the power line road, was headed right for the employee RV housing area. Within seconds a stampede of Ranger's ran into Ranger Roy's RV lot.  With the parade of rangers, the bear went down into the ravene which lies behind the RV area. Now although we would never want to disturb a bear's behavior in a wild setting, please keep in mind that when it's in our housing area all bet's are called off! In fact, we regularly haze bears out of housing areas, campgrounds etc., as we do not want them to feel comfortable in these areas. The ultimate goal is to prevent any bad human/bear interactions.

As the bear meandered down the ravine we once again we lost sight of him. Our super-team split up. Two rangers headed towards the campground, two more back to the road and four of us stayed in Ranger Roy's yard! All of us trying to get a visual of the bear to determine it's location and course. 

Within just a few minutes I spotted him again all the way at the bottom of the ravine about 150 yards away. He had picked up the power line road once again but this time was heading away from our housing area. He continued to trot along without a care in the world. His meanderings though, had the visitors, rangers and surrounding wildlife in a tizzy! A herd of female Elk and calves took off over the hillside as soon as they caught the scent of the bear. They were fully aware that although the Bear seemed careless about their existence, he could change his mind in a heartbeat. As they bolted and dashed out of our view Shane quickly realized that those panicked mama Elk were headed in the direction of the main road. We called it in over the radio, and back into the vehicles we all piled, making our way to the main road. 

By the time we arrived there was a lineup of cars, trucks and RV's all over the road. They were watching the Elk unaware that a bear might be ensue. Our team of rangers advised the visitors of the possible bear while also making sure that they understood that we might be asking them to get back into their vehicles should the bear pass through. Together we all waited. And waited. And waited some more. It appeared our Bear was gone, lost from human view within the wild lands of Yellowstone. The visitors began to disperse as did the plethora of Rangers.

Heading home I was filled with excitement and adrenalin. My timing had been perfect and I was overjoyed that I had chosen not to dive into the next day's workload.  That evening we shared stories and pictures with our co-workers of the beautiful Grizzly that we had seen, tracked and admired. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. That Grizzly Bear is just one of many reasons why millions of people flock to Yellowstone every year, for the hope and opportunity to see a truly wild animal in a truly wild landscape. 

   

Friday, June 24, 2011

Welcome Back Summer...

It is 9:30pm, and the sky is a mixture of blue and pink as the sun sets behind the Lodgepole Pines. It's Solstice, the first official day of summer, and for a change the weather actually parallels what that date suggests. Summer has arrived to the interior of Yellowstone. The snow has finally melted in my backyard and our porch railing have been reassembled.  The new deck furniture which Shane built himself out of salvaged wood are accented by our Thai prayer flags. And there is no better way to celebrate the newly arrived sun and warmth than by having a Solstice Party.

By 7pm on June 21st there were 30 people in my backyard. Each brought a dish to share and before I knew it we were all dining on a variety of flavors from homemade Asian wraps to Italian meatballs. Both old friends and new friends were sharing stories, learning from each other, laughing in unison and creating some of their first memories of the summer. A summer spent living and working in Yellowstone is a wonderful example of community. People of all ages and walks of life arrive each day from all over the country. They move into park housing and soon report to their appropriate office- all hoping that their work will have them outside more than inside! They make new friends and are united by a passion to see, experience and protect the Park's Resources. Age, sex, and race seem to matter little.


These past few weeks the human population of Grant Village has grown exponentially while the wildlife also abounds. Elk, which have spent all winter at the Elk Refuge, (south of the interior) slowly made their way back to the Grant Village area. Female Elk sprout up in park housing, the meadows along the main road and in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This annual pilgrimage was not a new sight for the seasoned staff but for those of us experiencing our first Spring in Grant Village, it has been quite the treat!


Opening my front door slowly last week, I poked my head outside and looked both ways. "The coast is clear" I thought to myself. I was being extra careful as news had travelled around that a Mama Elk had just recently dropped a calf in our housing area. Walking slowly with my pup Alice we made sure to use our keen listening and seeing skills. Sure enough, coming around the corner, I found Mama and her calf cuddled in the sparse brush off the side of the road in housing. Quickly, Mama glanced at me and gave me that panicked Mama Elk look. I'd been thoroughly warned about that look! Mama Elk routinely charge humans when they get too close to their babes. Backing up slowly I re-routed our walk to give her a wide breadth of space.I was soon free of her scolding eye however, Mama continued to wreak havoc in housing for the week. If you weren't being extra careful you would find yourself being chased into your car, your home or even your neighbors home with little to no warning!

 But now I want you to imagine having 5-7 protective Mama Elk with calves in the middle of the West Thumb Geyser Basin with over 300 people at any given time. Yep, now, that is chaos!


What was supposed to be my team's first week of leading guided walks through the Geyser Basin ended up being a week of educating and protecting thousands of people about Elk. After several Mama Elk chargings and some VERY close encounters, it was officially decided to shut down West Thumb Geyser Basin to the public! Placing barricades at each entrance, some determined visitors ignored the barricades only to be chased out of the basin by VERY angry Mama's! Each day our barricades got a little bigger and more detailed until finally all visitors got the message that the Basin was indeed, closed. The interpretive staff stood guard at the entrance areas while also using props like skulls, antlers and pictures to educate visitors about our commitment to protecting the park's resources, which included Elk! But just when things seemed to be under control, two bull Elk with small yet growing antlers, decided they would hang out in the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking lot for two days as well! Hello, Chaos! And so, I take my hats off to all of the Grant Village Field Rangers- whether they work for law enforcement, resource management or interpretation, as they all diligently worked together to ensure visitor and resource safety in the Nation's first National Park.   


Although the Mama Elk and their calves have moved out of the Basin, and into the higher surrounding hillsides, this has been merely a prelude to the chaos that lies ahead of us. As children all across the country finish their last day of school it will take just a fraction of time for  families to pile into their cars, SUV's or RV's, and drive to Yellowstone Park. They will flock to the park in army sized numbers with hopes and dreams of seeing Bears, Bison and Elk.  Every campground and every lodge inside the park will be full by 11am, while the roads will be an endless sea of vehicles.  Soon, our community of rangers will experience more than just Solstice Parties. As hoards of people flock to Yellowstone between late June and early September, our community of rangers will be tasked with visitor and resource protection and education for more than 2 million people. They will lead a variety of educational walks, talks and hikes while simultaneously keeping visitors 100 yards from Bears and Wolves and 25 yards from all other large animals. They will respond to wildlife jams, car accidents, domestic violence, injuries and missing persons reports. They will repair boardwalks, pick up trash, clean restrooms, and purify water. They will try their hardest to maintain the delicate balance between preserving wilderness while also providing public enjoyment. A difficult yet rewarding task in the Nation's first National Park. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Yellowstone Lake: Beautiful yet Complex

What was once a frozen Arctic landscape is now a mixture of water and melting ice. Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake above 7000 ft in North America, is slowly melting. It changes by the minute; at times the newly exposed water saturates the ice giving it a crystal blue color, other times, in the early dawn, it looks like a frozen ice cap once again. These changes however are only a mere fraction of the changes that are occurring beneath the surface. As Spring slowly raises the water's temperature it causes the indigo waters of Yellowstone Lake to "turn over". Beyond the view of our eyes the water "flips", causing nutrient rich sediment from the bottom of the Lake to be brought towards the surface- a critical and  important cycle in this Lake's ecology. The churning waters provide rich nutrients for microbes and amphipods to feed upon which in turn provide food for larger critters. Eventually this cascading effect touches the lives of everything living in and around the Lake- including the humans!

For the residents of Grant Village, the Lake's ecological "turn over" process has the ability to deeply impact the survival of the human population within Grant Village. And no one has a more clear understanding of this than my husband Shane.While the Lake turn-over is a prolific, almost joyous time, for microbes and fish, it happens to be a rather unhappy time for the man who runs the Grant Village water treatment facility.


I received a call at 5pm on Wednesday from Shane telling me that he would be home late. By 8 pm he finally walked through the door after being at work since 7am. Over a quick dinner Shane explained that our drinking water in Grant Village comes from Yellowstone Lake, therefore what happens to the Lake greatly impacts our drinking water. It's Shane's job to make sure that the water which comes out of our faucets is ALWAYS in compliance. One aspect of "staying within compliance" is to make sure that the turbidity level of the water never exceeds 0.3ppm. I would soon discover that is not an easy task.


At 10pm Shane said he had to go back to the water plant for about 1 hour in order to make sure that our drinking water was being processed properly but two hours later I awoke to find that he had not returned. Remembering that I couldn't call him since his cell phone had recently died,  I decided that he was probably fine and just running late. But when I awoke at 1am to find that he had still not returned I began to get a little nervous. Tossing and turning I knew that I was not going to get any sleep until I knew he was safe. Throwing a jacket over my pajamas, I jumped into the truck and drove a short 1.5 miles to the water plant. In the cold of the night I knocked on the aluminum door and I was quickly relieved when I saw Shane's face opening the door. Entering the plant I looked around and realized that in nine months of living in Grant I had actually never seen the water plant.

 "Want a tour?" Shane asked. "Why not!" I said. And so at 1:30 am, in the still of the night, I was touring the Park's water treatment facility in my pajamas!


 By 2:00 am I was well versed in how the Lake's ecological processes cause the water's turbidity to increase thus putting our water treatment facility on the brink of being out of compliance. I watched as Shane pressed buttons, tested water and completed mathematical equations in his mini laboratory. He is the "guy behind the scenes" treating water for more than 5000 people a day who will brush their teeth at the lodge, cook their dinner at the campground, and fill up their water bottles at the visitor center. He is the park ranger who is seldom seen but who is entrusted with a great amount of power.

Thirty minutes later we both crawled into bed with the acceptance that tomorrow was going to be a long day. However, when the phone rang at 3:15am it became apparent that it was going to be a REALLY long day for Shane. The call was from the Park's Dispatch office, calling to inform Shane that the turbidity alarm was going off at the plant. It would be another 45 minutes before he crawled back into bed and when the sound of the alarm clock went off at 6:30am Shane was back in his uniform preparing for another day of "Shane versus Lake Yellowstone".

Day 2, did not prove to be much better at the water plant. With limited sleep, Shane somehow managed to work another long day totaling 16 hours. With over 8,000 years of experience, the Lake's natural Spring cycle was giving Shane's a run for his money! The water was turbid, and the only way to keep the drinking water in compliance with the limited technology at the water plant was to have someone managing it around the clock...which Shane did with success. By Day 3, Shane was gaining momentum, and when he arrived at home by 5:30pm I knew the battle had subsided. 

While driving to Fishing Bridge the next day the view of the Lake alternated from rippling open water to frozen stacked up blocks of ice. A family sat and ate their lunch on the shores near Pumice Point while the first fishing boat of the season launched from the marina. Whether we realize it or not, we are all are somehow connected to Yellowstone Lake's ecological cycles.  Water molecules everywhere circum-navigate the globe which means that the water in your community could one day end up swirling around in Yellowstone Lake.  However, I hope that you become connected to the Lake on a more personal level. I hope that one day, you might visit Yellowstone and spend an afternoon fishing for trout on the Lake. Or maybe you'll sit along the shoreline admiring a flock of ducks as they float on the surface.
Perhaps, one day you'll even be lucky enough to photograph an Eagle enviously watching a River Otter who dines on fresh fish. But even if you never visit Yellowstone, you are connected to this Lake in a metaphysical way, because your mind and heart know that somewhere beyond your community lies an enormous alpine lake which is being preserved to ecologically function the same way it has for over 8,000 years. And even if you never get to experience first-hand the beauty  and complexity of Yellowstone Lake perhaps, one day your children, or your children's children, will.  

We do not inherit the land, we borrow it from our children.
 ~ Native American Proverb

Monday, June 6, 2011

Memorial Day Snowstorm

My Grill- Memorial Day Weekend
Hot sun warming my golden skin, kids playing in the backyard with water guns, the smell of charcoal fired grills with burgers and hot dogs simmering; this is what comes to my mind when I think of Memorial Day. It's an American holiday spent with family and friends remembering the past while embracing the newly arrived summer season. But here, in the interior of Yellowstone, Memorial Day  is more like a winter scene from a Christmas holiday card.

De-boarding their tour buses, visitors from all over the world arrived in Yellowstone this Memorial Day weekend to find that they were in the midst of another classic Yellowstone snowstorm. Big fluffy snow flakes tumbled from the sky whilst gusts of wind sent the snow into upward spirals of mini tornadoes. But rather than be upset over the snow, I watched as people both old and young gathered outside the visitor center, whipping snowballs at their brothers and sisters, and catching snow flakes with their tongues. They were in awe of Yellowstone despite it's erratic weather patterns.  
  
Snow fell on the Yellowstone plateau for 48 hours, depositing up to two feet of snow on Craig Pass, which is the road between West Thumb and Old Faithful. A fair amount of snow at high elevations and icy conditions at lower elevations can only result in one thing: Road closures! With the South Entrance still opened, flocks of people arrived to the Park only to find out that they would be stuck at Grant Village Visitor Center each morning until the roads were safe to re-open.

In addition  to the snow and road closures, the newly arrived seasonal park rangers at Grant Village were dealing with a few other "opening" issues. The lights flickered off and on all weekend and eventually the heavy wet snow caused a complete power failure. As the power surged off and on all day it caused the phones to go out, which only added to our technological failure as the computers were already down as well. It looked as if "Yellowstone" was kicking our butts on opening day!

But as you well know, there is no use in getting upset over naturally caused, unpreventable failures. It was just after high noon on opening day when I arrived to the visitor center and the natural light filtered through the large windows and doors providing enough light to make the power failures inconsequential. And as for computers and telephones- well, I personally think they are all over-rated. We have plenty of books to study from and our Park Service communication radios connected us to the greater Yellowstone team while also providing us with the  most up to date weather  forecast. The lack of technology brought me back to my seasonal park service days when I lived in remote Katmai National Park, where the lack of technology created an environment where we seldom knew what was going on outside our little world...nor did we really care! We were in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, just where we wanted to be.

Although, I was ready for spring, or at this point summer, to finally arrive I couldn't help but smile as I walked Alice that evening in the middle of a snowstorm. Thoughts of happiness cluttered my brain: I was truly alive, living in the interior of Yellowstone, experiencing things that other people only read about. And yes, it was snowing on Memorial Day. But it was an entirely new and different experience for me; one that won't readily blend into all the other Memorial Days. For me, this is what life is all about: embracing new experiences, pushing personal boundaries, overcoming new challenges and sometimes, catching snow flakes with my tongue on Memorial Day weekend!   

Within a couple of days the falling snow turned into falling rain, and mother nature whispered in our ears that with a little patience summer would eventually arrive to the interior of Yellowstone, bringing with it sunny skies, rushing rivers and blooming flowers.       

Monday, May 30, 2011

My Fearless Team

The snow is gently falling outside on opening day for the "summer" at the Grant Village and Fishing Bridge Visitor Centers. Instead of being at one of these two buildings I find myself sitting at home in my pajamas sipping coffee. I had every intention of getting up early and heading to work to make sure things went smoothly, however the night prior my team gathered at my house for a dinner party and they informed me that if I tried to leave my house they would lock me inside! It has been a tremendous past three weeks and my team adamantly decided that it was time for me to take a day off! Or at least half a day off!


For the past two weeks I have had seasonal Park Rangers arriving from far and wide to work in either Grant or Fishing Bridge for the summer. They each arrived to find snow on the ground and nighttime temperatures in the 20's and 30's yet they still embraced the "summer season" with open arms. Bundled up in hats, gloves and winter jackets we explored the Park while learning about everything from the Park's resources, how to handle wildlife jams, how to stay safe and how to handle emergency situations. Learning to be a Yellowstone Park Ranger in just two weeks is a challenge all on it's own, however their challenge was increased due to the rubble that Spring had left for us to deal with! Everyday there was something new added to our plates yet each of them patiently and diplomatically dealt with the difficulties that Spring had brought us such as: broken visitor centers, offices with no heat,  computer/internet failures, lack of operational restrooms in our offices and one house with no hot water for over one week!  For every failure I apologized but rather than be upset my amazing crew rolled with the punches that I (nor anyone else) could have prevented. Rather than focusing on the problems we diverted our energy into all the good that surrounded us. After all, we were in Yellowstone, on some sort of pre-destined pathway to a wonderful summer.


Despite overseeing two sub-districts, the never ending spring challenges and the 12 hour workdays, I thoroughly enjoyed seasonal training which came to a successful conclusion on Friday. No, my team didn't know everything. No, the Visitor Center's were not perfectly ready for opening day.  And no, summer weather had not arrived. However, considering our timeline and difficulties we were looking pretty darn good!


Friday evening we gathered at my house for an "end of training" dinner party. The living room and dining room were packed with seasonal park rangers of all ages and backgrounds, unified by the National Park Service mission to protect and preserve. I watched them as they all share stories and laughed in unison. They were a team. Most of them had only known each other for less than two weeks however you would have thought that this was actually an "end of season" party. I sat there feeling quite proud of myself and my team,  but then they decided to take it one step farther! Hushing the group, one of the seasonals delivered a speech expressing gratitude for all the hard work I had done thus far. She thanked me for bring them all together, not only during scheduled training, but also after work through backcountry trips and dinner parties. Presenting me with a card, I opened it slowly, and read the most beautiful and inspiring words written by all who attended the party. I was truly honored. After only two weeks of knowing me they had already adopted me in their hearts as their "fearless" leader. Yet I wonder if they know that in that exact moment I had officially accepted them as my "fearless" team!


And so here I am, on opening day, sitting in my PJ's sipping coffee, with a peaceful mind and full confidence in the people who will be the faces of the Grant Village and Fishing Bridge Visitor Centers this summer: My team!


      

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wilderness Therapy


Dark clouds loomed over head on Saturday morning as I reached the trailhead of Blacktail Creek, located in the northern part of the Park. With the daunting clouds and reports of isolated thunderstorms I was beginning to regret my decision to lead an optional backcountry trip for the seasonal naturalist staff. I had just finished working 11.5 straight days in a row and quite honestly I was exhausted. However I knew I couldn't let my team down, and when I reached the parking lot of the trailhead  and was greeted by the happy and eager faces of my naturalist ranger team, I was instantly excited about the trip! We quickly suited up with our rain gear, gathered around for a safety talk, and soon we are on the trail heading towards the Yellowstone River.


Our destination for the weekend was the Blacktail Creek Patrol Cabin- a short 4 miles from the road system but just far enough to enter the wild lands of Yellowstone National Park. It was my first time since October that I had been able to slip my feet back into my trusted hiking boots. I looked down at my sad boots: Dirty, tattered and worn out. They should have been replaced over a year but emotionally I am just not ready to give them up. These boots have hiked all over the country from California and Alaska to Hawaii and Montana. How can I toss them aside when they've helped me see things I never thought I could? Ignoring the unraveled stitching, I trotted down the trail without a care in the world.


Despite the clouds our team of nine was in no rush and we stopped often to explore the birds, flowers, scat and bones!  Shooting Stars, Pasque Flower and Balsam Root covered the hill slopes while Bald Eagles and Red Tailed Hawks graced us overhead. We stopped to watch a herd of Bison, at least 100 strong, cross over the hillside, making their way toward the Lamar Valley with little orange calves in tow.  With a wide variety of expertise and experience we all taught each other little facts and told each other stories. Nina spoke of geology, Tim identified birds, and Sacha pointed out flowers. Little did we know when we started that this was not only the trail to the cabin, but also the trail to becoming better naturalists.  And those daunting clouds, well, they never did open up and rain on us!


Several hours later we found ourselves down where the Blacktail Creek drains into the Yellowstone River . The waters the both the stream and river were dark brown in color from the sediment which was being churned from the raging waters. With record high snowfalls it is to no surprise that the river was enormous, grand and furious. We dropped off our packs at the cabin and continued to explore the area.

Crossing over the Yellowstone River Suspension Bridge we magically crossed over into a different world. The sun forced it's way through the thick fog, and the clouds began to disperse. The trail meandered along and soon brought us to a open plateau where giant Douglas Fir trees dominated the landscape. We couldn't help but be drawn to the open plateau, away from the trail. Naturally, we seemed to spread out, each person setting out to discover their own piece of wilderness. But soon we were all drawn back together as we looked over the horizon and found a beautiful alpine Lake. The  turquoise colored lake, which was about 200 feet below us, was silently still and seemingly pristine. The hillside which sloped down towards the lake was covered in green grass and speckled with bursts of colorful flowers. It was perfect- plain and simple. Finding our own little spot we each sat down in peace to admire the beauty which lay before us. After taking my moment to admire the scene, I glanced around inquisitively to see the expressions of my newly hired seasonal staff, and it was just as I expected. In a perfect blend of serenity and silence they were immersed in the resource. They looked engaged, content and at ease. But best of all they looked inspired. With a glimmer in each of their eyes I knew in an instant that they had fallen in love with Yellowstone. I knew that this was officially the start of an amazing summer in the Nation's first National Park. 

Before we knew it dusk was upon us. The evening brought forth a perfect sunset and the song of the river sang us all to sleep. Tucked away in a little cabin somewhere in the Northern Rockies nine Park Rangers were sound asleep while the smoke of the woodstove steadily rose from the chimney. 
     

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spring Destruction

Earlier this week I attended a meeting in Mammoth to formally meet the Park's new Superintendent Mr. Dan Wenk. In an effort to get to know the park and his employees better, Dan asked the group to talk about "What keeps us up at night?" With an eager attitude and a big smile I came up with nothing! I could not name one work related item that truly and honestly has me so concerned that it "keeps me awake at night". Of course there are day to day challenges, but nothing so epic that it clutters my thoughts. But, if this meeting had taken place 72 hours later I just might have had a few answers!  


This week, winter has reluctantly been giving way to spring in the interior of Yellowstone, but rather than leaving us with spring flowers it left us with a big old mess! Below freezing temperatures still plagued the night while the warmth of the mid afternoon turned the snow into wet mush. A combination of wet snow, hail and rain fell on the ground each day, adding not a only a heavy moisture content to the existing snow but also provided an element of confusion for the Rangers every morning as we got ready for work. As each day past we would soon learn that it was not only the wildlife who took a hard hit this winter and spring, but the park's building and roads as well. As heavy wet snow sat on top of the buildings it was to no surprise when the first of the "spring damage" reports filtered in.



Among the first reports was that of the Fishing Bridge Service Station. Some time during the last big snowfall the roof could no longer withstand the immense weight of the snow, causing the entire roof to collapse. As it collapsed it tore down the entire face of the store. With caution tape all around, the employees have begun the tedious process of filtering through the rubble to see what can be salvaged.


The following day, after the Fishing Bridge Service Station Disaster, warmer daytime temperatures began melting more snow. Many of the roofs covered in snow began to slide. Among the "slides" was a summer house at the South Entrance. As the massive 3 ft. sheet of snow-ice slid from the roof it hit the pre-existing mountain of snow on the ground which deflected the ice sheet into the side of the meager summer home. The walls of the home buckled inward under the intense pressure. It is still standing but who knows if the walls can withstand the immense pressure. As the days continued more and more reports of sagging roofs and buckled walls were reported, and soon it was apparent that spring was going to be a challenge. 


However, in my little world, things were going according to plan. I had one more week to prepare for the arrival of my seasonal staff and soon I would be setting up both the Fishing Bridge and the Grant Village Visitor Centers. Both Visitor Centers were still tucked away in the snow but it was just a matter of days before Maintenance would plow the road to each of these buildings. My organizational chart was keeping me on track, and despite having a heavy workload I was in great spirits and even reserved time to attend a couple of meetings in Mammoth. But little did I know that my sweet little Grant Village Visitor Center, all tucked away in the snow, had sustained damage and was just waiting to be discovered.

Receiving a phone call on Wednesday I was informed that there had been some damage to the VC. I quickly got a hold of Maintenance and soon we were post-holing to the front door  of the Grant Village Visitor Center. The building was ice cold and dark, but the sound of dripping water was unmistakable. The over sized back doors and windows provided just enough light for us to see water, slowly yet steadily, dripping from the ceiling onto the Visitor Center desk. Suddenly, my eye caught a glimpse of something large on the back porch. As we approached the back doors it quickly became apparent that the large structure lying on the porch was in fact part of the roof. It all began to make sense: The newly constructed A-frame roof was collapsing under the pressure of the snow.  

Walking around the exterior of the building we soon confirmed our assumptions. The weight of the heavy snow bent the roof inward on either side of the A-Frame. Wood beams and supports were cracked and even some of the fire suppression system had broken and was lying on the ground.  As the snow melted it found fissures and cracks in the roof and began leaking into the building. Within 30 minutes my whole perfectly planned agenda was out the window and replaced with one hundred questions like: "Will my visitor center open on May 28 as planned?" and "Where will we present our two Ranger led Patio Talks now that the patio is destroyed?" 

Picture courtesy of NPS- YELL
The next day, while I dealt with my little worldly disaster, reports of an avalanche on Sylvan Pass came in. The East Entrance of the Park was closed as four avalanches brought down heavy, wet snow from the steep escarpments of Sylvan Pass. The road was now covered in an expanse of snow averaging 20 feet in height. Thankfully, no one was injured however there was a Ranger on scene when the avalanche took place. Placing a few phone calls, I sadly informed several of my seasonal staff that they were no longer going to be able to enter through the East Entrance of the Park.

Despite the week's chaos, Thursday morning brought sunny skies to Yellowstone and temperatures in the high 50's. The employees of Grant Vand Lake District were all diligently working. Wearing summer uniforms, we would take a few breathers throughout the day to glance up at the sunshine and let the warm rays of sun provide us with both the physical and emotional nutrients needed to get through these challenging times.   

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Mother in Distress

Sitting on the cold and wet pavement 6.6 miles North of Grant Village sits a young female Bison. There are four foot snow walls that surround her and no food in sight. She's painfully thin; her backside a mere fraction of the size when compared to her enormous head that weighs on average 100 pounds. She was one of many Bison that ventured to Old Faithful this winter in hopes of finding warmer ground and something resembling food. A little over a week ago she, along with a few other Bison journeyed over the harsh, snow covered road called Craig Pass. They were heading back towards Hayden Valley - a 40 mile journey from Old Faithful via the roads. But while her herd has moved on and made it to Hayden, this particular Bison is still 10 miles shy of the others. Surrounded by piles of her own excrement, the reality is, she is likely to never make those last 10 miles.

Most visitor's to Yellowstone will drive all the roads in the park just once. They search for wildlife along their drive and snap some photos, but they never have the chance to really develop a relationship with the wildlife. They don't wake up in the morning thinking "I wonder what happened to that limping Coyote I saw yesterday?" But being a Park Ranger, we often see the same animals throughout the year, sometimes the same individual day after day. We don't necessarily track all the wildlife as some visitors think, but rather we can identify them based on subtle differences in their appearance and behavior.

Last weekend I discovered a small female Bison sitting on the road in Grant District. I found it a little curious that she was sitting in the road, all alone, in the middle of the day. I couldn't help but notice her ribs and hips jutting out and thought to myself  "Boy, she's not looking well at all". But as a trained Ecologist and a Park Ranger who clearly understands the National Park Service's mission to preserve natural cycles, I wrote her off as the likely dinner of Wolves and Bears. But the next day, I found her in the same spot, undiscovered by Wolves or Bears. I informed some of my colleagues and we all agreed that since this particular road in the park is still closed to the public, we would leave her alone. After all, it would only be a short while before a big Old Griz discovered her. 

The next morning rumors circled around Grant Village that she was dead. I was secretly relieved because it meant she was finally put out of her misery. However, we all know never to trust a rumor. It turns out that our near-death, skin and bone Bison actually was not dead. But rather in the early dawn of a cold morning she gave birth, alone, to a calf that she had been carrying throughout the harshest of winters. During the birth a Park employee came upon her, only to find three coyotes tormenting her during the process. Without the safety of a herd, the 3 coyotes intuitively knew that she was defenseless while giving birth. They jumped and snapped at the baby bison's legs as it breathed it's first breath of fresh air. The arrival of the employee scared off the coyotes, and mom was finally able to bring a small orange bundle of joy into the harsh wild world of Yellowstone.  But rather than feel joyous my heart sank even more. Without the safety of a healthy mom or a herd the chances of survival were slim. Things were looking worse and the longer the saga continued the more of a relationship I built with this Bison. 

With a heavy heart I jumped into my truck and headed north to see it with my own eyes. Sure enough, 6.6 miles north of Grant Village lie the pair. Mom was looking worse and babe was cuddled up next her, both lying quietly on the bare pavement. As much as I wanted to do something I knew that I couldn't. This was the harsh reality of the wild animal kingdom and it happens everyday, we just seldom see it with our own eyes. 

The next morning I headed back to the site so that I could see what the dark night brought forth. I could find no tracks, no blood, no sign of the little orange calf- he/she was gone, just like that. I had the sad realization that the last few minutes of the calf's life were probably much the same as the first few minutes. 

The young mom was still alive, in the same place she had been the day prior, but this time there was no orange ball cuddled up next to her. Taking pity on her someone placed hay next to her to feed upon. Feeding the animals in the National Park is, of course,  illegal but I can understand the sympathy and compassion that someone felt. Sadly,  I fear that this gesture will only drag out the inevitable: She will not make the last ten miles of her journey. And so on this Mother's Day weekend, as we celebrate Mother's all across the world, my heart goes out to the young female Bison, who sadly will not be celebrating Mother's Day.  
       
  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Baby Bison and Frozen Waters

May Day is here and if I was still living in my little roundhouse in Flat Rock, North Carolina I would be watching the dogwoods and daffodils bloom in my yard. A pair of America Robins would insist on nesting above the light on my back porch and if lucky, the Mallards would return to nest in our Koi pond. But May Day in the interior of Yellowstone is dramatically different than that of Western North Carolina.


The snow in Grant Village still covers the landscape with average depths of 4.5 feet and early morning temperatures still hovering at around 18'F. I am told by those who have lived in Yellowstone for many years that this winter has been amongst the harshest that they have witnessed in a long time. Although I know Mother Nature is greater than I, I still sometimes think that this "record" winter is partially my fault. I have a long history of irregular weather following me. Throughout my short thirty two years of existence I've experienced the 1997 ice storm of Montreal, severe droughts and extreme high temperatures in the South in 2002, 4 major hurricanes in Florida, a 5.5 magnitude Earthquake in Hawaii, and now this year's record snowfalls and persistent winter in Yellowstone. The weather Gods constantly challenge me. However in light of the irregular weather patterns across the USA this Spring- from tornadoes and floods, I should consider myself fortunate.


But my woeful story of winter weather in Yellowstone is very much exclusive to the interior. This vast park which covers 2.2 million acres of land is extremely diverse in terms of flora & fauna, landscape and weather patterns. That is why this weekend, with little hesitation, Shane and I decided to head to a sunny, less snowy part of the park.


On our way towards Hayden Valley I was surprised to see that winter was still taking it's toll on the wildlife. A lone female Bison sat on the road about 6 miles north of Grant Village. With ribs and pelvis jutting out it was painful to look at how famished she was. Surrounding her were 5 foot walls of snow- no accessible food in sight for another 10 miles. Another 14 miles down the road lie the remains of a Bison Carcass in the snow. I can only imagine that in it's last few days of life it's ribs and pelvis were also jutting out with the tell-tale signs of food deprivation.  A Coyote, an Eagle and some Ravens enjoyed the feast while Hayden Valley still remains a winter wonderland with areas of 20 foot snow walls along the road.

But soon we descended into Mammoth Hot Springs where we watched a Maintenance Ranger grooming the grass and cleaning the roads. No snow in sight except in the high country. Heading towards Lamar Valley there were sporadic patches of snow but it was obvious that Spring had Sprung in this part of the Park.
Newly born baby Bison all covered in orange fur clumsily galloped next to their mothers while new sprouts of vegetation were beginning to poke up from the cold ground. Blending in with the vegetation a wolf trotted along the river's edge off in the distance; And the chirping of Mountain bluebirds and America robins filled the air with the reassurance that Spring had arrived in the Lamar Valley. 

But even though Lamar Valley is indeed part of Yellowstone National Park, it is still a 2.5 hour drive away from Grant Village, which clearly means that the diversity within the Park is extreme. So while Spring has sprung in Lamar, the waters of Lake Yellowstone remain an impenetrable frozen ice cap. As we drove back to Grant that evening we watched our truck's thermometer steadily decline from 54'F to 34'F. The next morning I awoke to find the thermometer reading a balmy high of 12'F. And so I ask all of you, if you are enjoying a warm sunny day please blow some of that warmth to the frozen Interior of Yellowstone!     

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Driving in Yellowstone-Or Not!

Entering the grocery store last week I had a sudden rush of empowerment: I could buy ANYTHING I wanted. I didn't have to limit myself to one cooler or contemplate the survival rate of a pineapple on a snowmobile. I was heading home in my personal truck and the roads were perfectly plowed from West Yellowstone to Grant Village. I strolled through the grocery store without a care in the world; it was just me and aisles and aisles of wonderful food. My cart quickly filled up with fresh spinach, avocados, plantains, an assortment of cheeses, orange juice and an Easter Lily!

Soon I was driving through the gates of Yellowstone's West Entrance, which re-opened to the public on April 15. I passed just a few dozen vehicles filled with happy travellers who had come from all over to see Yellowstone in Spring...which evidently looks a lot like Yellowstone in Winter! A good and proper Bison jam waited for me along the road to Madison and soon it was beginning to feel like a normal day in the Park.   

But as we well know by now, Yellowstone is anything but normal.

Arriving at home that evening Shane and I were both thrilled to look out the window and see our truck parked outside. The next morning, with our new found liberty and freedom, Shane and I decided to venture North through the park and do some shopping in Bozeman, MT. The skies were clear, the sun was bright and Hayden Valley was glowing brilliantly as the rays of sun illuminated the endless valley of snow.

Driving through the park we were amazed at how much snow was still on the ground but the most spectacular was the sheer height of some of the snow walls, some surpassing 15 feet in height, that had been carved and wind blown through Hayden Valley. Arriving in Bozeman we happily purchased everything from plants and potting soil to paint and towels- all of which we needed in order to properly welcome Spring into our home. 

While trying to select the perfect ceramic pots we were instantly startled by the loud boom of a thunderhead followed by lightening. "Rain", we thought," no worries, we'll just wait out the storm".  But as we passed the great big sliding doors of Lowe's we looked up to find that our rain storm was actually a snow storm. Within an hour, several inches of heavy and wet snow covered and smothered Bozeman! Phoning a co-worker in the park, Shane found out what we already predicted- There was no way we were getting back home in this weather!

So much for liberty and freedom! How ironic is it that when I was stuck in Grant a few weeks ago I would have loved to be in Bozeman, but now I was stuck in Bozeman frustrated cause wanted to go home! But alas, I suppose there are worse things than being stuck in Bozeman! We found ourselves a room at the "not-so-trendy" Bozeman Inn and soon we were dining on Americanized Enchiladas while sipping Margerita's and laughing at this crazy thing called "Spring". 
The next morning brought us fresh coffee, sunny skies and miles upon miles of long range views of the Absoroka mountains accompanied with a free ticket back home to the snowy interior of Yellowstone National Park.