Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reflections on my First Winter in Yellowstone

Dark clouds furiously blew in over the south part of the park this week, and as the trees swayed back and forth in the wind the snow began to fall in the same proportions as it has since November. As three interpretive Park Rangers skied the Storm Point trail, it became obvious that the sunny skies were not coming back, at least not on that day!Another winter storm warning was in effect and I quickly realized that Mother nature, once again, was going to blatantly ignore our Park calendar.

The interior of the park officially closes for the winter season on March 15. The northern road, which is plowed all winter, will of course remain open.  However, the roads which have been groomed for over-snow vehicles will shut down as the Park prepares for summer traffic. During the next two months giant plows will work on carving out the densely snow-packed roads that have quite literally turned into slabs of ice. Although this hard work has already started in the northern part of the park, they will not reach Grant Village, in the south, for at least another month. Grant Village and the road south is the last place to get plowed out, which means that while everyone else in the park is driving their cars the hardy folks at Grant will still be riding snowmobiles!

While most are rejoicing in the onset of Spring I find myself feeling a little sad that winter is coming to an end. I know that my workload and daily job duties are about to change dramatically. I will no longer have the luxury of arriving to a quiet warming hut, with my thermos of tea in hand, where my early mornings are spent in solitude- immersed in the resource. The rhythmic daily cycle of shoveling, chopping kindling and packing down the trail will soon be replaced will summer chaos.

Most people assume that winter in the interior must be dreadfully lonely, and for some this might be true. But not for me! The truth is, that in light of this solitude it seems that everyone pulls together and suddenly your circle of friends triples.  Each morning as visitors arrive at the warming hut I grab my hat and walk out to the parking lot to greet the newly arrived faces. The guides, who have all become my friends, give me a big wave as they shout to their visitors "This is Ranger Sabrina, everyone". Their is always a few minutes to chat with each of the guides while the visitors run to the restroom, and it is within these few minutes that we quickly exchange stories, learning a little more about each other as the days go by. The relationships change as the season progresses and soon the guides begin to ask if there is anything I need from town. My favorite day this winter was when one of the guides pulled out a tangerine from his pocket and said "this is for you".  A sure indication that I had been officially "accepted" into Yellowstone's Guide circle!

Now it is the end of the winter season and I exchange hugs and words of good luck to all the guides as I know it may be some time before I see them again. I remind them to visit me in the summer and I thank each of them for making my first winter in the interior truly memorable. But the memories of my first winter in the interior will include more than the relationships built. My memories will include watching otters, tracking wolves, counting swans, and the terrify feeling of passing bison on a snowmobile for the first time. My memories will include the look of remorse on a man's face when he admitted to me that he accidentally  drove his snowmobile off the road into Lewis Canyon, where his sled was now sitting in the river, a 400 foot drop down from the road's edge. Nor will I forget laughing with one of the guides as we duct-taped the broken hood of his visitor's sled- broken because the visitor neglected to stop and smashed into the back of his guide- hence our laughs were actually the laughs of pure astonishment! But most of all I will always remember the faces of bliss, happiness, amazement, fear, shock, wonder and curiosity, as each visitor arrives at the warming hut, responding in their own way to their winter adventure through Yellowstone Park...much in the same manner as how I have responded to my first winter in Yellowstone.



  1. Hey, Ranger! I've finally had time to read your blog from the beginning. This has been a fun read. My husband was offered a winterkeeper job in 1964, but he ended up back home in Ohio (he had been a gear jammer in a yellow bus~~yeah, the old kind~~that summer). Ever since then we've been hooked on stories like yours.

  2. My memories will include the look of remorse on a man's face when he admitted to me that he accidentally drove his snowmobile off the road into Lewis Canyon, where his sled was now sitting in the river, a 400 foot drop down from the road's edge.

    Ahaha. Wow. I'm guessing he didn't go down with it? :p

  3. I am so glad you are sharing these experiences what an amazing opportunity!

  4. Thanks all, for reading my blog! I really appreciate your positive feedback. And as for the guy who's sled is in the canyon- well, him and his wife jumped off about 25 feet down. And the snowmobile had to be removed by helicopter!