Decisions, decisions, decisions…
Oh boy what happens when you put three heads together that at any given moment couldn’t make a decision to save their lives..? Well that was the case in November, December, January and part of February when planning this Montana trip. I had signed up along with my two photographer friends to take a helicopter ride to the top of the Bridger Mountains in Montana That was the easy part; the decision that needed to be made was what to do after those two days in Montana.
First thought was a snowmobile trip in Yellowstone with 1 or 2 days in the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful, snowmobiling each of those two days. Well that was a good idea if we were ordinary tourists but this trio of photographers would want to stop at every mountain, valley, bison, elk or other breathing critter along the way and we would not be the only people on this trek in the woods, bad idea.
On to plan B, well, how about renting a snow coach and driver for a day or two out of Mammoth and see Yellowstone via a comfortable coach, Vinny take a look into that for us and when the results were in, the trip sounded decent but the cost was high and then those nasty stories that Yellowstone was not getting heavy snow fall. Ok scratch the snow coach from Mammoth idea.
Next up what about those Montana ghost towns we had read about? What about going to Cody for Big Horns, this was slowly going from bad to worse. Talk about a slippery slope, we were on the giant slalom at Bridger Bowl without ski poles.
We emailed our friend Don in Wapati, Wyoming and found that the Big Horns could be found and photographed but the rut was over and therefore no head butting. The Jackson Hole Elk refuge was out of the question it was a 4 hour ride in good weather one way. Then the break we needed. A week before our departure an email from buddy Don suggested a West Yellowstone firm (Yellowstone Alpen Guides) for a snow coach charter so Vinny was off doing his great fact finding for us again.
It was a great lead, decent price, all day charter and we could go where we could safely want to go in the park. What about the weather, was there good snow cover? We made some calls, visited the NWS National Snow Analyses site, and checked the weather forecast and 3 days before our departure made the decision. One phone call was made to charter the snow coach and a decision was made to photograph in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone by vehicle for one or 2 other days.
Up bright and early for the ride down US 191 the Gallatin Road...
I was not ready for the early morning ride from Bozeman to West Yellowstone at all. The US 191 had some snow and ice on it and the winding nature of it makes for a wild ride in the darkness. No wonder there are so many white crosses on the side of the road. The road smoothed out when it entered the western most part of Yellowstone National Park and we started to get some early morning light. Good looks were available of some nice 6x6 bull elk in this area. Light was not yet conducive to to good photography so we didn't attempt to find an area to safety pull over, maybe this is an area to check the next time we travel to Yellowstone area.
We arrived in West Yellowstone and easily found the snow coach company. Waiting for us was our driver and a vintage 1979 Bombardier snow coach. I was expecting a tight fit for the three of us and our gear but was pleasantly surprised at the amount of room in the antique sled. The sled driver you have can be the difference between a so-so and a great tour. Not only are you hoping he has a good knowledge of Yellowstone but also can bring you to areas that he or his fellow drivers have seen animals in the recent past. Drew was just what we wanted, a knowledgeable guide on all subjects of the park from its geological history to recent sightings.
The weather was stunning along the Madison River as we entered the park. Drew stopped numerous times to allow us to take in the great early morning views.
We took a break at Old Faithful snow lodge then had lunch at Gibon falls and a walk through the snow covered trees and walkways of Norris Geyser area. At Norris we had a Raven croaking upon arrival. The sun was just perfect to photograph the frost laden trees. As the steam rises from the hot springs and pools it condenses and freezes like heavy snow sometimes bending them to make a huge snow ball.
Drew gave us a great history lesson on the last major eruption of the Yellowstone Volcano and explained how the two lava flows stopped facing each other to form Firehole Falls.
The Early afternoon brought us back to the Madison river area hoping for coyote or bobcat. We did manage a beautiful coyote before returning to West Yellowstone but no Bobcat.
All in all a great ride with the best of friends and a beautiful snow covered Yellowstone National Park. Next up day Two in the Lamar Valley and the Elk on the side of Route 89.