Wyoming's beautiful landmark had this couple traveling back to their honeymoon spot 35 years later.
Story and photos by Linda Aksomitis
In our house there’s one really important season—winter. While the other three have their moments, it’s the pristine beauty of a snow-covered landscape that makes us want to go out and explore.
For our 35th wedding anniversary, David and I decided to repeat our honeymoon trip and go to Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. This time, though, instead of hot July sunshine, we planned to see the world’s most active geothermal location covered in snow.
Not all of the park’s 3,472 square miles were accessible, but we could visit some of the most interesting attractions, including, of course, the geyser Old Faithful.
Just as we did 35 years ago, we entered the park on the west side in West Yellowstone, Montana. Back then we’d been on a budget, trying out a friend’s camping equipment. Now we had our choice of a number of new hotels.
With an annual snowfall of at least 150 inches, Yellowstone is closed to vehicular traffic through the winter. Without wheels of our own, we chose to take a snowcoach, which is rather like a bus with large tracks instead of wheels. Doug Kiel, a summertime educational ranger, came along as our guide.
We were the first passengers to board, so we relaxed while the coach lumbered through town, going from hotel to hotel. In all, about 20 people joined us for the day.
The early fog disappeared quickly as the sun rose into the clear blue sky, though it was still dark enough that the lone bison we encountered seemed more like a shadow than a living, breathing animal. Luckily, by the time we came to the nesting area of one of the park’s dozen pairs of bald eagles, it was bright enough for some photos.
Our journey followed the Madison River. The amazing thing about the waterways in Yellowstone is that they flow year-round because of the heat generated by the Yellowstone Caldera, a cooking-pot-shaped volcano that simmers quietly below the surface. While it hasn’t erupted for thousands of years, it has an enduring impact on the landscape.
It was still early when we reached Firehole Falls on the Firehole River. Trappers gave the river its name because the steam pouring off it made it seem as though the river was on fire. The river’s temperature has been measured as high as 86 degrees. I listened to water gushing 40 feet down the rock embankment, thinking how spectacular it appeared against the snow and lodgepole pine trees.
Elk plunged through the snowy riverbank, making their way to the water for a morning drink. One stood, waiting for its partner, as the pine trees cast zebra-striped shadows over the road’s groomed white snow.
There are more animals in the park in the winter, Doug told us, because predators such as grizzly bears and wolves relocate to hunt easier prey in the warmer lower basin. There are also a few wild cats in the park, though they’re rarely sighted.
Bison herds grazed in Whiskey Flat, one of the low areas alongside water. There they slid their horns under the snow and tossed the crisp outer layer aside to get to the grass beneath. Doug said that more people are injured in the park by bison than all the other animals combined. We were glad to be safe in the snowcoach, viewing them from a distance!
As we neared Old Faithful we saw mud pots, geysers, sinkholes, hot springs and fumaroles or steam vents, all of which were amazing on the frosty winter day. The sulfur smell was just as strong in the cold as it had been when I visited on a 95-degree day.
Our tour stopped for lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge. The food was as tasty as I remembered! And Old Faithful—well, it was even more magnificent against a winter sky than it had been the first time. On a day when I could see my own breath, the steamy eruption seemed bigger, bolder and brighter. The moment was so still, it seemed everything but Old Faithful had been frozen in time.
People often say you’ll be disappointed if you try to go back and re-create yesterday’s best experiences, but this time that didn’t happen. Instead, we found Yellowstone in winter even more enchanting than it was 35 years ago in