Yellowstone’s Modern Day Horses: Snowmobiles

Bev Hosford  |  Sunday Feb. 1st, 2015

I grabbed a flannel shirt and hopped into my SUV to drive from Bozeman to West Yellowstone. The scenic road between these two amazing places kept me alert and focused. Winding through the rocky corridors and along the babbling rivers was breath taking. Snow highlighted the changing landscapes along the way. It was easy to “be present” while following the curvy paths through the mountains. As I drove away from Bozeman, I left all my cares behind and was open to what might cross my path in the coming days. Yellowstone always has something special waiting for its visitors…

Two hours later, I arrived safely at the Gray Wolf Inn and Suites to pick up keys for an Explorer Cabin. I was bummed that I forgot my swimsuit, after finding out that I had access to the hot tub at the Gray Wolf Inn. Somehow bikini didn’t make my list when packing for possible below zero temperatures! I toured the Gray Wolf Inn and found the rooms to be quite spacious for the price. The accommodations were average, but perfect for people who want to save money, bring their pets and have breakfast included in the cost.

I made my way over to the Explorer Cabins, which are situated in a half-moon shape, joined by a fire pit. My cabin was clean and quaint. The gorgeous wood accents and stone were very appealing. I appreciate the comforts of updated furnishings and privacy, so I was thrilled. I tossed my food into the mini fridge and sat on the couch for a moment to soak it all in. There I was, in West Yellowstone about to go on a snowmobile adventure.

I could hear the buzz of snow mobiles zipping around town on the powdery streets. The early settlers of Yellowstone would have found this sound to be foreign and possibly disruptive. To eager visitors, it’s the music of adventure and excitement. It’s nothing compared to the headache I got from motor bike noise while visiting Bali last year. Regulations are good sometimes…  It’s nice that there are restrictions on the number of over-snow vehicles allowed in the park each day. It’s too bad they can’t have the similar rules in the summer.

Preparation is half the fun
It was time to pick up a snowmobile outfit. I went over to the Holiday Inn, which would have been another fine choice for accommodations. It’s the nicest one I’ve ever visited. I got to peek at some of their rooms and could see why someone might pay a little extra to stay there. The architecture was inviting and cozy. They have a neat restaurant made out of an old train car called The Branch. This Holiday Inn had some character!

You’d never know there was a snow mobile outfitting room below the lobby. I joined other eager travelers and tried on several options, walking away with boots, a snowsuit, gloves and a helmet. It’s good I could try everything on, because my sizes were variable to what I’m used to. It’s no wonder I have trouble shopping online... The men helping us were patient, friendly and eager to ensure our safety and warmth.

Arms full of gear, I returned to the cabin, turned on the fireplace and put on some music. I read the other travelers stories in the journal on the table, excited for my tour the next day. It was time to curl up in the giant king bed that I had all to myself. I set my alarm, filled my back pack with extra layers and made a list of what I needed to bring with me. This sport requires adequate preparation!

Time to ride
At 7am, I ate breakfast, wrestled my way into the snowsuit and packed a bag with snacks and lunch. The 20 degree weather that morning was welcomed, compared to negative 20 from the week prior. Multiple languages and accents from all over the world filled the lobby of Yellowstone Vacations as people signed waivers, collected family members and made their way out to the snow vehicles. I felt lucky to be just a two hour drive away from this magical place. Some people were going on a snow mobile and others on a snow coach, which is a big bus that travels over the snow. Read more about these:

The snow coach is nice for its warmth between stops, good conversations, time to look out the window and ease of studying maps. The snowmobile allowed me to be more connected to the park and provided lots of space to breathe. I couldn’t let my mind wander as I stared at the scenery. Instead, I was in the moment, taking mental snap shots and soaking it all in as I zoomed through the park. It’s a thrill in it’s own and not something that can be captured on film anyhow.

Riding a snowmobile in Yellowstone National Park is a privilege and must be done with a tour guide, unless you want to take a gamble on the lottery system to go in on your own. It would have been fun to ride outside the park because the speed limit is 45mph instead of 25mph. There isn’t as much wildlife outside the park and you won’t see thermogenic features, but I heard the views are spectacular.  

Four features
My favorite stop on the snowmobile tour was at Firehole Falls. The sunshine, steamy vapors and chilly air presented a beautiful mixture of colors. Later, we walked through the Painted Pots to talk about the four thermogenic features of the park: mud pots, steam vents, geysers and hot springs. Anthony (tour guide) would be happy to know I remembered this information. His motto was, “Have fun, be safe and learn something.” We also got to see bison tracks in the clay and foot prints in the snow. Later in the morning, Mother Nature warmed our black snow suits with sunshine. Speaking of heat, my arthritic hands enjoyed the built in warmers on the snow mobile handles. What a treat.

I found a quiet bench near Old Faithful to lay down and stretch my body from sitting on the sled all day. Enjoying the silence is a luxury of visiting Yellowstone in the winter. I heard Old Faithful starting to spit up water and sat up instantly!!! What I saw was unexpected….  A coyote ran out into the open geyser patch to capture a bird. It was a treat to see an animal in action. You hear stories, but rarely witness it yourself. As people gathered to take photos, a park ranger came over and asked us to give the little hunter some space. He said it was nice to see a coyote eating something other than human food. Moments later, Old Faithful put on its famous show.

Hot and Cold
The steamy shower and warm fireplace waiting back at the cabin were a perfect reward for a chilly day outside. I made memories to share for a lifetime. The eight hour day was long and left me appreciating the simple comforts of modern day lodging. As I sipped on hot tea, I contemplated what it was like to get around the park in the winter, before snowmobiles and snow coaches. I felt lucky that I could get to Old Faithful and back all in one day.

Each time I visit Yellowstone National Park, it’s a slightly different experience. The weather, animals and people mix together in various combinations to keep it interesting. You can’t visit Yellowstone enough, because each trip is a new adventure. Don’t take it for granted and plan your next trip soon. If you enjoyed this story, check out “Grizzles on My Mind” by Michael Leach and any books by Tom Murphy, who is an incredible photo journalist. These guys both know how to entertain and educate.   

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