We switched locations today, going from Mammoth Springs in the north to the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful in the south. The lodge is at a much higher elevation so there is more snow and it is much colder. The trip by snow coach took about 4 hours, but a lot of that time was stopping to see more animals. If we had driven straight there it probably would have taken two hours.
We got to see some more eagles. There was a pair with a youngster. We saw one first and it flew away which was beautiful to watch. We continued driving a bit and then found the other two eagles. The third picture shows the juvenile. Bald eagles do not get the white heads and tails until they are 5 years old.
It had snowed the night before and the bison were covered with snow. Their winter coat is so thick that their body heat does not get through it to melt the snow. It melts off if the air temperature gets warm enough. According to our guide, bison do not really get cold until it hits -30. We also got to see a fox, so now we have had a three dog trip. We actually saw two. One of them was hunting and it was quite fun to watch.
We got to see some pretty scenery as we were driving (the 5th picture shows the road we were driving on). The driver said something that was interesting – all of the beautiful views that are in Yellowstone right now are here because of the fires in 1988. Over 1/3 of the lodgepole pines burned that year and they have not grown back to the mature height of 80 feet. It is hard to imagine how different it looked with pines blocking the views. A little biology lesson on lodgepole pines – fire is necessary for them to thrive. They produce regular pine cones, but very few trees result from these as the seeds normally fall into areas that are shaded. A fire clears the canopy, allowing sunlight to get to the ground and the ash fertilizes the soil. Lodgepole pines produce a second cone, called serotinous, which has a resin that holds the seed in until the cone is heated to 115 degrees or more. These seeds fall on the ash and thrive in the sun that can now reach the ground because of the fire.
After we checked in, we braved the 18 degrees and went walking in the Upper Geyser Basin. We had good timing and only had to wait about 5 minutes to see Old Faithful erupt (10th picture). The Upper Geyser Basin is approximately two square miles and contains the largest concentration and nearly one-quarter of all of the geysers in the world. It is absolutely amazing to walk through the area and see all of the geysers, hot springs and fumaroles (last four pictures).
We took an evening tour and got to ride in a Bombardier which is a small (very loud) vehicle that has skis in the front and tracks in the back. They have been used in the part for over 50 years and are about to be retired because they do not meet the sound requirements for the park. The one we rode in was made in 1969. We went out and walked around a geyser basin that is about 30 minutes from the Snow Lodge. It is very dark here so the stars were amazing. It was also interesting to see how much light reflects off the snow. Our walk got cut short a bit when we came upon 5 bison right next to the trail. They were about 15 feet away as we did not see them in the dark until we were right up on them. Our guide wisely decided we had better turn around. It was cool to be out in the park in the dark. Very different sensations than when you see it during the day.