Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter wonderlands of Yellowstone National Park

You might recall that I'm not a big fan of winter.
Sub-zero temperatures have me yearning for white sand beaches. But winter adventures do have their good points. Take my recent trip to the winter wonderlands of Yellowstone National Park staying at Xanterra Parks & Resorts, followed by a quick ski trip to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort unpacking again at Hotel Terra. To begin a trip in sub zero weather is a true test of character -- and how well you packed.

After a minor delay from Denver, we landed at Jackson Hole Airport, were quickly transported to Flagg Ranch and then picked up by a Xanterra snowcoach. We bundled in the classic transportation in the below freezing temperatures, layering clothes and tucking blankets around us. Our adventure included a frozen throttle, not a fun experience on ice and snow packed backroads. Our driver and guide Zack referred to it as a "winter cruise control."

All was forgiven once we checked into Xanterra's 100-room Old Faithful Snow Lodge, a comfortable lodge perfect for the Yellowstone winter adventure. The homey lobby included crackling logs in a welcome fireplace. I admit I was impressed by their dining room menu, including many sustainable foods found close by such as bison.

The next day we piled into another Xanterra snowcat headed toward Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Along the way, again in the sub zero temps, we enjoyed wildlife and nature sightings beginning barely 5 minutes en route with a lone bison grazing 50 yards from a large herd and continuing with trumpeter swans. And then there were the geysers, mud pots, mountain and valley views, and wintery scenery along the way. Pictures underestimate the true beauty of Mother Nature at Yellowstone.

An early morning wake-up call is the only way to enjoy a naturalist-guided Yellowstone Association Institute's wolf watch. Although we weren't lucky enough to see any wolf sightings, I was amazed at the herd of bison including the little calves running down the road, their warm breaths steaming behind them. Other sightings included elk, coyote and again Mother Nature's winter paintbrush.

When we returned to Old Faithful's Snow Lodge the next day, I eagerly anticipated another early morning walk in the lodge's backyard of Upper Geyser Basin for my first glimpse of Old Faithful. I wasn't disappointed -- the gushing geyser and its sister geysers gurgled their underground water source up to the sky in steamy bursts in my 45 minute walk. The only distractions were the occasional geyser gazer and two coyotes trekking their way along the man-made boardwalk in search of their next meal.

Next up, my ski adventure at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Diana Rowe

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