Day 2. Tour of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin. Home
14.01.2015 - 15.01.2015 20 °F
I had a little better night's sleep, but was still awake at 6am. I quickly dressed for the cold walk to the breakfast room, waking Chris in the process. I went over and had the same as yesterday: omelet, toast, peaches, hot chocolate. Good Morning America was on and I watched until Chris came over. 4 guys on a photography tour came in, we recognized them from the day before. They basically go to the same places that we do, but stay longer. They leave at 7am, our tour starts picking up passengers at 8am. Photo tours charge a set price per van load. If you can get at least 8 to go, the price is about the same as a regular tour. After BF, back to the room to clean up and get ready for the tour. Over to the lobby at 7:30, I check my e-mails. At shortly after 8am, our snow coach pulls up. A smaller van than yesterday, this one seats 14 and Anthony is our guide. They use the smaller vans for the Canyon tour because the Park Service has not approved the larger buses for this tour. The Old Faithful tour is more popular and they need more seats everyday. The Buffalo Bus Company alone has over a 100 seats a day for the Old Faithful tour and there are several other tour companies.
We are the first to load and pick the seats right behind Anthony. That way we can be first off the van at each stop. 6 of us were at the Branding Iron Inn (BII), the rest over at the Hilton. A quick stop at the tour office for paperwork and we were off by 8:30am. Same routine as yesterday when we hit the Park entrance. The ranger checks that all have paid to enter the park. First stop is by the Madison River for the frost covered tress. Anthony tells us that the water vapor from the river is why these trees have much more frost than those away from the river. The Madison River never freezes due to the high volume of heated water that the thermal features pumps into it each day. Yellowstone recorded a low temp of -66f (-54c) a few winters ago and the Madison River never froze. This is why many waterfowl use Yellowstone to spend the winter. They don't have to fly any further South to find open water and a plenty of food. The same bison as yesterday were across the river, grazing on what grass they could find. A few of our tour that had not been in the park yesterday jumped out for a few photos. The rest of us had enough shots of these bison. We stop at Madison for a bathroom break and a chance to warm up or buy a snack. Every tour bus and snowmobile tour stops at Madison, part of the routine.
After Madison, we head for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Anthony drives straight to Canyon Village, our lunch stop. Chris and I brought our own snacks. Many bought the box lunch offered by the tour company. I had my granola bars and an apple and chatted with others on our tour. Chris was outside getting some shots of the bison laying in the road. I looked for a trash bin after finishing my snack, but could not find one. None to be found inside Canyon Village, not in winter. Not in the bathroom either. You are expected to take your trash back to your van. They just cannot deal with the volume of trash tour groups and snowmobiles generate. Anthony found everyone and we headed out for the next leg of our tour. There is not much to see as he heads for a meadow where animals are usually spotted. I almost fell asleep as did others. Full tummy, warm snowcoach and the rocking of a moving vehicle makes many sleepy. All of us are encouraged to shout out when we spot anything worth stopping for. First up is some swans and ducks on the Yellowstone River. The river is partially frozen as it does not receive the hot water that the Madison & Firehole Rivers do. We get some great shots of the swans and off we go.
A few miles later another shout out. A coyote is hunting for mice & voles not far from the road. We all pile out and try to get a decent shot of the coyote looking for food. He pounces several times as we were watching, no luck that we saw. After the coyote sighting, we arrive at the large meadow were a herd of bison are grazing. One of the photo groups is there before us and we see some serious cameras clicking away. They have tripods and long lenses, real pros wanting National Geography quality photos. I get some I am happy with and we drive to a turn around area and get some scenic shots.
Now we head for the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone. Short walk to the overlook and a great view of the falls and canyon. After everyone has their turn snapping away, we get back on the van and head for the Lower Falls overlook. Same routine. Chris and I are first off, quick walk to the overlook and we get our shots before the others. We all agree that we got very lucky with the weather. It has been sunny most of the day, blue sky, light wind and not that cold. I checked when we left West Yellowstone, 0 (-18c). It was 5f (-15c) at Madison, high for the day was around 30f (-1c). Really perfect weather for mid January.
We loaded up and headed back to Canyon Village for a bathroom break. Now it was my turn to get some photos of the bison laying in the road by Canyon. I get about 70ft from the bull bison and try to keep a road sign between us. On full zoom, I get my shots. Back on the van, we head back. First up is the Norris Geyser Basin (NGB). My knee is starting to hurt but I hike some of the NGB trail. Just perfect conditions, I take plenty of shots of the scenic vistas of the NGB until I see that my batteries are low. I carefully select a few more shots and then my camera goes dead. My fault of course, I did not carry extra AA batteries. I shot over 300 photos in 2 days and that was all the juice 4 AA batteries had. Back to the van, I wait for the rest of the group. I told Chris I was done taking photos and would have to get copies from him for the rest of the tour.
Monument Geyser Basin & Beryl Springs are close to the road. I look at them and Chris takes a few shots. Next up is Gibbons Falls, OK but not very impressive after the falls of the Yellowstone River. After we all get back on the van, we head back to Madison. Bathroom break, snack stop. 4th time at Madison, I just chat with our tour group until time to leave. On the way back to West Yellowstone, we see a bunch of snowmobiles and tour buses stopped. A sure sign something is worth stopping for. We see a few bison, but nobody needs anymore bison photos. Sure enough, we see some bald eagles in a tree. I get out to stretch my knee and will rely on Chris to get good shots of the eagles. After everyone has their shots, off we go to WY.
First stop is the BII and 6 of us troop off. We both thought Anthony did a decent job as tour guide and I give him a $20 tip for both of us.
We hit the bathroom and then head for the lobby. We ask the front desk clerks their advice on where to have dinner. One mentions the all you can eat spaghetti dinner at The Gusher and that gets Chris's attention. We decide to drive over just to fire up the van. It sat all day yesterday and I wanted to to start it up and get it ready for the drive home tomorrow. The Gusher is over by the Buffalo Bus Company office and has a reader board advertising its spaghetti night. In we go and ask about price and what is in the sauce. Bad news for me, meat sauce is the only option. The price was $12, OK by WY standards and Chris decides to go for it. I choose soup & salad for $10. The Stage Coach Inn is right across the street and I walk over to look it over. When we were looking at a winter tour of Yellowstone NP in Dec. I picked the Stage Coach because of price, $59/night. After talking to a tour guide on the phone in early Jan. I switched to the BII. Newer rooms and better BF. The front desk clerk at the Stage Coach told me a room with 2 queen beds was $69/night, same as we were paying at BII. Back to the Gusher, I dig into my soup and salad. An OK meal, there are not that many low cost dinner choices in WY during the winter. Back to the hotel, Chris starts working on his photos, I hit the hot tub again. After a 15 minute soak, I walk back to the room for my shower. One small quibble with the BII is the lack of a shower in the hot tub area. I think most would rather shower right there after soaking in the hot water. Shower, change into fresh clothes, then walk to your room. I shower, watch some TV, read a bit, then take my Tylenol PM and try to sleep. I again castigate myself for not bringing my own pillows. With the Odyssey, I had heaps of room and should have thrown them in the back. Another poor nights sleep, we are up at 6am. Over to the BF room, we load up on omelets, toast, peaches, hot chocolate. We like to steal some fresh fruit for our lunch, but don't have that choice. WY is too far from a real market to have bananas, apples available each day. After BF, clean up, pack and warm up the Odyssey. We are both grateful for the heated seats as it is 2f (-16c) this morning.
I stop at the lobby for the final bill, $243 for 3 nights. $69/night plus the taxes. Add in $260 for 2 tours plus tip, about $70 each in petrol, $30 for 3 dinners and we spent approx. $500 each for our Yellowstone winter adventure. We both felt like it was worth the time/money to visit Yellowstone NP in the winter. I doubt I will ever go again in the winter, but glad it did it while I can still walk to the thermal features. It took 11 hours to get back to Vegas, getting in at 5pm. Our winter adventure was over.