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.    

Monday, April 18, 2011

Red Rock Country

Gathering my travel bags on Monday morning it became apparent that the start of my vacation was going to take a little bit of work. I was heading to Salt Lake City to pick up my mom at the airport for our vacation in Southern Utah. The road north and west had been plowed and they had begun working on the road south.  My personal truck was still parked at the South Entrance. The snow removal crew had plowed about 1.5 miles from Grant Village towards the South Entrance and a snowmobile had been left right at that change over. Evidently, it was going to take a little bit of coordination to get to my truck!     

Loading my things into my work truck, Shane drove me to the junction where the snowmobile was parked. Together we removed my suitcase and cooler from the work vehicle and loaded them onto the snowmobile. Using my park radio I called the artillery of heavy equipment that lie ahead me and informed them that I would be passing them on a snowmobile in just a few minutes. Using the nice snow ramp that was made for me I transitioned from the plowed road and was zapped back into Yellowstone's winter wonderland. As I whizzed through the wet snow I realized that this would be my last snowmobile ride for the season. 

Arriving at the South Entrance Gate, I removed all my items from the snowmobile and loaded them into my truck. Soon I was on the road heading south, free at last,  from my snow bound winter life. 

A few days later I would find myself surrounded by red rocks and T-shirt weather. Settling down in Moab, Utah for a few days my mom and I visited Canyonlands, Arches & Mesa Verde National Parks. A never ending array of red monoliths emerged from the ground all around us, while the bright sun left my cheeks pink each evening. Combined with an unlimited supply of bananas, strawberries, milk and salad I was quite the happy camper!   

Departing Moab, our journey would bring us through Capitol Reef NP via Scenic Hwy 12. Ascending through canyons and cliffs the landscape was a never ending view of the wonders in nature. After a perilous drive through the narrow hair pin turns of Hwy 12, we found the most amazing little cafe called Kiva Koffee. Basking in the view we dined on fresh salad, raspberry lemonade and iced mocha's. Our entertainment came in the form of two red tailed hawks that rode the air currents in a perfect display of the artistry of nature. Later that evening, we watched the almost full moon rise above Bryce Canyon and  it was hard to believe that some people in this country would actually say "What's in Utah?"

Kiva Koffee - Hwy 12

With only a few more vacation days remaining, it was time to slow down the pace and no better place to do so than in Springdale, Utah! Arriving at the hotel, we immediately decided to enjoy the 74'F weather by sitting next to the pool which was surrounded by both red rock and lush vegetation. Next we hopped on the free Zion Canyon Shuttle which will take you where ever you want to go. With an assortment of eclectic cafes and shops  and possibilities were endless. We finally decided on a nice little restaurant called Thai Sapa. But the true beauty of Springdale lies in the fact that within 5 minutes one can be in breathtaking Zion National Park. Zion is a place like no other. During an evening walk along the river I looked up to find that I was surrounded by geologic giants. These sandstone wonders have humbly been here long before man arrived and were a small reminder of how grand Earth is. 

Places like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Yellowstone were set aside to preserve this grandeur and beauty. They were set aside so that the American people would ALWAYS have a place where they can free their mind and soul; where they can walk among giants and be humbled. How befitting that our vacation should occur during National Park Week- a time when people all across the country are enjoying their National Parks, freeing themselves of the hustle and bustle of city life; taking refuge in nature's cathedrals.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Updated Snow Fall Graph

Below is the updated Snow Fall Graph for the Grant Village/West Thumb Area of Yellowstone National Park. It's been a wonderful snow year! Enjoy...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Snow Storm + Government Shut Down= Personal Melt Down

It's just after 11pm MST as I begin to write this entry. Tonight I was one of millions of America's glued to the television, patiently waiting for the verdict which would determine the next week, possibly longer, of my life. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a little bit of a control freak when it comes to my life, hence sitting there waiting for Congress to decide my future was painstaking. As you all well know by now the shut down has been averted but my personal melt down was not. This was, in fact, the most difficult week for me personally since arriving to Yellowstone National Park. It all began Thursday morning in a compounding series of events that I just wasn't ready or willing to deal with.

Sitting at my desk on Thursday morning I was filled with an inner turmoil of agitation, nervousness and frustration. I had little desire to work on any of my projects and could not stop myself from filtering through the flood of emails I received, which all somehow related to either the potential government shut down or the current storm advisory we were under. Reading through the emails my mind raced at the speed of light with hundreds of questions that no one had the answers to. It was happening, and there was nothing I could do to stop it; I was getting ready to have my first official "melt down" of the winter season.

My gov't vehicle- NOT my personal car :-(
Just a week prior the sun had been out and the birds were all singing the songs of spring. The plows had been working on clearing out the roads and I was hopeful that I would soon be able to drive my car to Grant Village.  But by Wednesday night a large storm had settled over Yellowstone National Park dropping almost two inches of heavy wet snow per hour for the first 5 hours. I watched the snow fall with utter disdain and disgust. Everything in my line of view was covered in white, yet visions of blue sunny skies filled my brain. The  power continuously flickered throughout the evening and soon we were operating fully off of the backup generator. Thursday morning arrived with 14 inches of new snow and I headed to my dark and dismal office.The other two rangers who share my office had been gone for over a week and I once again found myself alone- just me and my computer. I looked up at the giant windows in my office and cursed the boards that cover them. Plain, dreary plywood covered every square inch of my office windows, which protected the windows from the roof slides in the winter, but also preventing any form of natural light to reach the inner depths of my box. My anger was slowly brewing.

 With the impending government shut down I quickly began to deduce what the consequences would be for me living in the interior. Most employees, including myself, would be laid off. The road South would not get plowed, and even if I wanted to leave the snow storm would prevent me from escaping via snowmobile. My food supply was dwindling, fresh food had long been gone, and I had just polished off my last can of peaches and drank my last gulp of fresh milk. And then came the email which stated that I was not allowed to recreate in my backyard if the shutdown occurred, because after all my backyard is Yellowstone, and Yellowstone would be closed! And so for the first time this winter I was seriously trapped in every way, shape and form!

 To make matters worse the potential shut down was going to ruin my well needed, much anticipated vacation to Southern Utah. On the itinerary starting next Wednesday was a visit to Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde and Zion National Parks, and although I have been there before it would be my mom's first time to these beautiful National Parks. We had been planning this trip for months and the thought of the government stealing away her opportunity to visit HER public lands for the first time was consuming all remnants of my usual  cheerful disposition.

Heading home at the end of my day I kicked at the snow but it did little to suppress the anger which was mounting from my inner magma chamber. I was clearly angry, which doesn't happen to me very often,  and I needed to get rid of the negative emotions before Yellowstone experienced it's fourth historic Super volcanic eruption! Thinking of what to do I realized there was only one solution. In the famous words of my Dad: "I needed to bug out!"

With the music on the highest volume possible, I began an intense Tae- bo session while simultaneously singing my heart out! Next on the "bug out" agenda was cracking open a bottle of wine and cooking Boeuf Bourgignon- a little vino for the Boeuf and a lot of vino for me. As the music continued to drown out my sorrows, I began to see life on the upside once again. There was only one thing left to do: Make Over!

Now, I realize the plethora of contradictions this statement instantly brings to your mind: A Park Ranger in the interior of Yellowstone getting excited over a Girlie Make Over?  And I hope this doesn't diminish your opinion of me...if it does just remember I would be willing to kick your butt on the trail any day! haha!

One pedicure, a face mask, and the re-discovery of the curling iron and I looked like a million bucks! Yet even though I was trapped in the interior of Yellowstone (and even my husband wasn't around to admire my perfectly coiffed hair) something amazing happened: I looked great which made me feel great!  With a full tummy, perfect curls and luscious lashes I crawled into bed with my smile restored.

As dawn arrived on Friday morning little had changed. It was still snowing and the country still had no budget but thankfully my volcanic tendencies were gone and all I needed now was patience. Patience is my virtue. And all good things come to those who wait- the snow ceased and the shutdown was averted.

Mentally this was by far the most difficult week for me since I arrived to Yellowstone. Each of the circumstances individually would not have enough to get to me but when combined their power over the human psyche was incredible. In two days I will head out for my well needed, much anticipated vacation to Utah's National Parks. I will bask in the sunshine, admire the red rocks, smell the spring flowers and indulge in the great conversations and moments that I will have with my mom by my side! It's now early Saturday morning and a ray of sunlight shines brightly through my living room window: Sanity Restored. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Unburying Yellowstone

It felt surreal, as if I had imagined the last 4 months. Snowmobiling, shoveling and the warming hut all a distant memory. I was walking on pavement in Grant Village. No gloves, no hat, my jacket wide open; the sun shining brightly on my warm skin. It's hard to describe the subtle changes that happen when Spring arrives, yet it's unmistakable. The temperature was still only 38'F yet the air felt warm with that undeniable tinge of Spring dampness. The air even smelled different- sweet, like the Glacier Lilies that will soon resurrect from the frozen ground.

All through the night on March 29th the winds howled. The tall Lodgepole Pines swayed back and forth in the wind with such intensity that I feared they would topple over. Another winter storm advisory was in effect but much to my dismay the following morning, there was only 2 inches of new snow...a far cry from the 8 inches that was predicted. The winds continued to howl all through the day sending a clear and distinct message to the residents of Grant Village that something big was about to happen. And then it became clear what the wind was trying to tell us. At 4:30 pm, in a perfectly serendipitous moment, both the Yellowstone Snow Removal Crew and Spring had finally arrived. 

Running outside from my dark boarded up office, I happily watched as several types of heavy machinery made their way up the road. I frantically snapped pictures as they turned into the housing area. I looked at my watch and decided that there was no way I could resume my tedious computer work and miss the action! I ran back inside, sent off a quick email to my boss to share the exciting news and ran back outside. Keeping a safe distance I watched the crew for the next 30 minutes waving to each of the drivers as they passed me by. I ran to my neighbors house to inform her of the excitement and together we walked our dogs and explored our new surroundings!

The next three days were filled with both excitement and torture. I was thrilled to know that the snow removal crew had created a one lane road from Lake to Grant Village, however, due to potential danger and the fact that I had no accessible vehicle, I was not able to drive the road. And so I was stuck. I wanted more than anything to head North to the Hayden Valley so that I could see with my own eyes the giant snow walls standing 45 to 60 inches tall, that the crew had created. I wanted to look for Bears that were surely awake by now and roaming through the great expansive valley in search of a bison carcass to feast upon. I wanted to witness the first moments of Spring, as the snow melt funneled into the Yellowstone River. But alas, I had to accept that all good things come to those who wait.

I switched my attention to the good work being done by the citizens of Grant Village. Although it wasn't the Hayden Valley, I was surprised to see that Grant Village had a wonderful series of 6 foot snow tunnels that had been carved through the snow pack. The roads had been cleared and my dog, Alice, continued to sniff the pavement in obvious confusion. Evidently she must have decided that she is a "Yellowstone Snow Dog" because she jumped and scampered up the six foot wall and we continued our afternoon walk with me on solid ground and her, up high, in the snow!

The Grant Village Maintenance team worked diligently over the next few days cleaning up the mess that winter had left behind. Snow was plowed into giant hills and houses that were buried suddenly sprung from the Earth like blades of tall grasses.  A variety of heavy machinery blasted through the soundscape without end from 8am to 6pm. The sun lent a helping hand melting away one snowflake at a time until finally giant slabs of snow fell from the rooftops exposing the shiny metal roofs. All around Spring was taking over in every size, shape and form; winter was officially over!