Sunday, June 15, 2008

Snowed out of Yellowstone

After a quiet night in Buffalo, WY, Brad and I set out westward to Yellowstone. I checked the weather and found that the weather service forecasted an 11 inch dump of snow that evening. Wary, I called Xanterra, the concessionaire that runs all Yellowstone lodging and dining. I ask the staff if there are any sites available with tent pads (so we do not have to pitch in mud/snow/mix). The answer was none but the staff recommended that, upon check in, I ask the registration crew if they have any cancellations. I asked if any of the other grounds had openings; none. Most filled up before December, and the remainder filled in the past two days with people changing their reservations in advance of the weather system. (Originally, I booked Canyon b/c it was the only site where I could get four days straight, with two days being a weekend visit. All other campgrounds were booked for the wkend.)

As the truck climbed Route 14 through the Big Horn Mountains, I ask Brad, “Sweetie, what is the highest elevation at which you have skied?” “Mt. Washington, NH.” I flip to the NH map in the Atlas and assess that Mt. Washington is a mere 4700 feet. Hm. “Sweetie, do you know if you are susceptible to altitude sickness?” “No, why?” “Well, I according to the map, some of these pass are at elevations twice as much as you are used to.” “Well, I better hydrate.”
We topped snow covered peaks and were amazed to see a Direct TV truck pass us, heading down the mountain. As we crested a few additional peaks, we found summer camps and retreats tucked into the hillsides. I have to say, I was envious at the beauty that surrounded these secluded lodges. In our descent to Greybull, WY, we stopped to view the gorge created by the river; the highway follows the riverbed for the remaining descent. We teetered atop rocks to shoot pictures of the waterfalls and roaring rapids beneath us.

Having seen a billboard for Sierra Trading Post, Brad and I stopped in Cody, WY, for both lunch and some shopping. From the locals and shop owners, we hear that the snow in Yellowstone is the first blizzard in June that the area has seen in nearly 30 years. Among the sale racks, Brad and I assess that despite how many layers we have, we are unprepared for snow and the wind that is forecasted to blow the storm through on the following day. I caved and bought a windproof jacket, insulated Alpine Lowe jacket, gloves, and matching hat (hey, I had to coordinate). Brad, too, buys a windproof vest with hood. Both are purchases that will see much use in Alaska, but they made me feel very unprepared for our visit, despite my meticulous planning.

Leaving Cody, we climbed through what looked like an alpine Christmas scene. Shoshone National Forest was covered in at least five inches of snow, and the wintry mix that froze the bugs onto the windshield had Brad in third gear and looking wary of what we would find at Yellowstone. With no cell phone signal, I could not call and check the weather again.

We approached the gate at Yellowstone, where the Ranger scanned our annual pass, pointed out the road closures on the posted map, and gave us an updated weather report. Brad asked if we could, indeed, make it to Canyon Camp Grounds. The Ranger leaned out of his heated cubicle and assessed the truck’s tires and peered into the can to see or 4WD. “Sure,” he answered. Brad drove through the gate and parked at the nearest turnout. He placed the gear shift into neutral, and as the snow began falling harder, he gave me a questioning look. I answered his gaze, “We are prepared for rain and a little bit of snow, but we are not prepared for a foot of snow at our campsite.” I thought to myself, “we need a shovel, a tarp, dry firewood, and snow shoes for our activities. I packed yak trax on the off chance we would encounter ice on the trails, but I never thought we could cross country ski on 11 June!”

“That Shoshone Lodge had vacancy. Wanna check there?” He smiled, nodded his head, placed the truck and reverse, and we left Yellowstone, less than 90 seconds upon arriving.
On our way home, we saw Shoshone's finest. Since we named the Custer Bison, Barry, we deemed Bennie worthy for the Yellowstone bison. We caught a glimpse of Mortimer the Moose, too. Another snowed out couple obligingly took our picture with Morty as he ate grass in the river below.


shartbus said...

I'm jealous!!!

Tidden Tales said...

LOL sounds like quite the adventure!