Yellowstone in Winter

By In English

The thermometer drops to -11 degrees Celsius and my satnav discreetly tells me that I have to turn right in 245 kilometers. Hopefully I won’t miss the moment, I think to myself and glide through the snow-covered prairie. Not much is happening in Wyoming, except for the farms with their herds of cattle or the long-abandoned barns, gas stations and motels. A completely different America than in Aspen, Colorado, presents itself to me on the tour to Yellowstone National Park, which is also reflected in the burger restaurants, where everyone knows everyone and pandemic masks are frowned upon. A cowboy doesn’t know Corona, so people in the Northwest take it easy.

I finally reach the western town of Jackson Hole with its rustic saloons and the distinctive antler arches on Town Square, to have a good steak at the Gun Barrel Steak House before my trip into the wilderness.

I decide as a pre-program to hike to Taggart Lake, which is wonderfully frozen in the perfect winter scenery of the Grand Teton National Park.

It’s about 7 kilometers through powder-dry snow to the lake, from which one has a wonderful view of the mighty Grand Teton, the highest elevation here in the park at 4,199 meters. It’s dashingly cold at the lake, but the silence and scenery captivate me. I am ready for Yellowstone, the adventure can begin.

The alarm clock rings at 4:50 a.m. and I repack a few things from the suitcase into the small travel bag, since only small items are permitted for transport in the snowmobile. Quickly I drink a coffee to wake up before I leave for the freezing cold night. At minus 20 °C I stop converting from Fahrenheit to Celsius and concentrate on the partly icy road towards Flagg Ranch. A fox crosses my path, a few bison lie sleeping in the snow, the Lewis River steams its breath out into the night. It is a mystical atmosphere outside the windshield, lonely and impressively beautiful.

After about 60 miles I reach Flagg Ranch, where I meet Malvin from Scenic Safaris, who will drive us with his preheated snowmobile to Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Cars have no business here in winter, the park belongs solely to snowmobiles and thus to the few lucky travelers who were able to snag a cabin at the Snow Lodge in time.

The sun rises and peels through the deep snow-covered firs to conjure up gnomes, fairies and enchanted creatures. Again and again I believe to have caught sight of an animal or a figure, but it remains an illusion until we reach the Snow Lodge after almost 2 hours. After the „early bird“ in the morning, I look forward to the breakfast buffet with scrambled eggs, bacon and French toast, which I bathe in maple syrup. A culinary America like out of a picture book, which fits perfectly to this winter landscape, which cannot be put into words.

It bubbles, hisses, splashes and steams at all corners and what impresses in summer is simply magical in winter. On lonely trails I walk through the geyser basin around Old Faithful and enjoy the fountains of the geysers and the graceful spectral colors of the hot springs and pools.

All around, everything is frozen and snow-covered, as if hell had really frozen over. The only thing missing are the dark figures that stand warningly at the edge of the path and look threatening. Again, you don’t have to wait too long, because bison like to linger by the warming geysers to eat the soggy tufts of grass.

At first you spot them in the far distance, but suddenly they are close, very close, standing right in front of you and looking at you quite grumpily. I nod to the fellow in front of me, thank him with 1,000 photos for keeping still, and head back to Snow Lodge to review the day’s pictures in front of the crackling fireplace. There are many and yet too few because Yellowstone in winter is an experience of a special kind.

Cross-country skiing is the name of the discipline the next morning and so I rent a set of skis, boots and poles for $18 at the Snow Lodge. After a short instruction, which I only accept with half an ear, I set off on the Biscuit Basin Loop Trail, only to find out right away that cross-country skiing can be extremely strenuous.

At least if you don’t know how to do it and the trails aren’t fit for competition. On the other hand, you can get everywhere on your skis and admire the pools and geysers as you go by.

I slide about 11 kilometers through the park before I must run away from a herd of buffalo, which crosses the track without further ado.

I had never been so fast on skis before, only to take revenge from safe distance with innumerable photos at the wild cattle.

The quickly gained meters, I give up only a little later, because the way back to the lodge has its lengths, even if the sunshine could hardly have been more radiant. Completely exhausted I put down my ski set and count the hours until dinner. An opulent Cheese & Bacon Burger with a freshly tapped Bavarian Beer crown this day and I can hardly detach myself from the place at the fireplace, which does not want to go out anymore.

The stars light my way from the dining room to my log cabin, where I sleep through exhaustion for the first time since my arrival in America. I dream of gushing geysers, deep snow-covered pines, lonely trails and magnificent herds of buffalo. I dream of Yellowstone and wish that this dream will never end.

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