An essay in words and images from Nat Hab staff member Andrea Reynolds.
I remember the first time I visited Yellowstone National Park. I was driving from Alaska to Colorado after experiencing some of our country’s wildest national parks in the far north. I was sure nothing could rival the wildlife and scenery I had just encountered. But Yellowstone would prove me wrong.
Very quickly I was in awe of the sense of history that pervades the park as I drove through the old stone arch marking the entrance at Gardiner, Montana. I imagined the soldiers on the parade grounds at Mammoth Hot Springs, as well as the fantastic diversity of wildlife they – and I – would encounter. It was late summer, the leaves were golden, and my visit made for a memorable backpacking adventure.
Fast-forward 15 years to 2013, when I had the chance to join Natural Habitat Adventures’ Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf & Wildlife Safari. After a mild winter at my home in Boulder, Colorado, I was ready to explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, excited to find a white winter wonderland.
From the moment our trip began in Jackson, Wyoming, I knew it would be a winner. Four members of our group signed up for the optional dog sled adventure during which we learned about the sport of dog mushing, piled on our layers and headed out into a remote valley accompanied by a dozen super-enthusiastic dogs. Hot chocolate never tasted so good as we stopped at an overlook and admired the views. We were entrusted to drive the sleds if we wanted to, which added greatly to the excitement.
Returning to Jackson, we got to know our two Expedition Leaders better. Jared Baecker and Erik Nelson are incredibly well-versed, passionate naturalists who make their home in the area. I knew we were in great hands as we criss-crossed Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks with these professional and spirited guides who took us to their favorite locales to see an incredible concentration of wildlife.
In Jackson we got a foretaste of what was to come with a visit to the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Then, it was on to the National Elk Refuge. In just the first two days we saw elk, coyotes, trumpeter swans, bison, moose, bald eagles and wolves! Cloudy skies gave way to clear views of the Tetons, with many peaks towering over the valley at elevations of 12,000-13,000 feet. At times I felt like the views I was admiring were exactly as Ansel Adams had captured them with his camera all those decades ago.
From the Tetons we continued northward into Yellowstone where we swapped our van for a snowcoach. These magnificent vehicles that run on tracks were built in the 1950s and have been used as school buses and military transport vehicles. They tackle the snow-covered roads of Yellowstone with ease and provide a warm and comfortable way to traverse the park’s rugged interior in winter. We popped in and out of these coaches for wildlife viewing and geyser watching as we explored the wild inner reaches of the park.
The geothermal activity in Yellowstone is unrivaled, with its amazing collection of geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. We observed these features on boardwalks that were carefully built across the fragile landscape. At every turn we encountered another natural wonder: a sweeping view, the sound of wind in the treetops, or the warmth of the sun melting an icicle. I was truly in awe of the quietness we experienced in the park during the peaceful season of winter.
More wolf sightings rounded out the trip on the final day, which was icing on the frosty cake. But even if we hadn’t seen them, nothing could alter the thrill I had of spending a week with a great group of fellow travelers discovering the wonder and beauty of these iconic landscapes, at a time of year when the parks are at their most inviting. I hope you’ll get a chance to experience the same delights!
Andrea Reynolds is an Expedition Leader and Adventure Specialist for Natural Habitat Adventures. To see more of her images from Yellowstone Country, keep scrolling down.