Published: February 15th 2010February 11th 2010
Can you tell who's who?
We got up at 5:00, organized our luggage to leave some in the car, some stored at the hotel, and the ones we were bringing along on the trip.
We were picked up by a shuttle van and delivered to the Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours storefront. Once inside, we were invited to have a hot breakfast buffet, ahich was yummy. I didn't have any coffee because I was worried about consequences on the trail. We had to sign forms that we understood the hazards of the trip that we were embarking upon. Then, we got suited up. they had us try on boots, snowmobile suits, and helmets until we were all fitted. There were about 30 people milling around and trying on the suits, etc. Last, we picked big furry mittens to go over our inner gloves. Now we all looked like anonymous space people. We started to get really, really warm! Finally our luggage was put in the back of the van and we got loaded up. There were nine people in our tour. We set off in a light, beautiful snow while it was still dark and 15 degrees, and headed north toward the Flagg Ranch in Yellowstone Park.
It was about an hour's ride. When we got there, we were assigned our "sleds" and had our luggage strapped to the little space behind the seat. We were each allowed one bag the size of an airplane carry-on. Rich also had three extra oxygen bottles. He hooked his backpack over the handlebars. We assembled for a safety lecture and a few instructions. It was about 9:30. One of the directions was that we need to carry our cameras inside our suits to keep the electronics warm enough to work to take pictures. I put our little point andd shoot in my inside pocket and our bigger digital SLR around my neck and zipped up inside the suit. Another of the instructions was that since we needed to travel 100 miles that day, we should be prepared to drive at about 45 mph most of the time so we would get to Mammoth Hot Springs before 5:00 PM. Whew!
So, off we went! Oh man, was that fast!!! Rich had to concentrate, but I got to look at the scenery once I was able to relax and stop fighting the bouncing and jerking around. The woods were beautiful in the
softly falling snow, with big chunks of snow on the pine boughs. We couldn't see very far. In spite of the noise of the machines, it somehow felt quiet and serene because there were only the ten people counting the guide and the 7 snowmobiles in the big white wilderness. We and Carol and Art had had many discussions on the phone about what sort of "base layers" and other layers of garments we would need to stay warm. Now was the test. I have to say that I was surprised at hoiw warm we were. Carol's feet got a little cold and the wind chill must have been mighty as we traveled at 45 mph, but we were fine. Just as we began to feel that we might be starting to feel just the teensiest bit chilly, our guide would stop for us to look at something or to use a handy restroom so we got warmed up and ready to go again. The restrooms were mostly pit toilets. They were cold, and it was a struggle to try to get out of enough of the snowmobile suit to be able to use the toilet. Carol and I had
to help each other in and out of the sleeves.
We drove past Yellowstone Lake and over to Bridge Bay where we stopped in a warming hut to eat the sack lunches the guide had brought along on his
"sled". The warming hut was an old log cabin with a little wood stove and a couple of vending machines. We ate ham or turkey sandwiches, chips, an apple, and a brownie with gusto. There was water to drink. The women didn't drink much! We started to get warm enough to have to unzip a few layers.
After about a half hour, we zipped back up and left to follow the Yellowstone River and to enter Hayden Valley where the bison heard stays. We saw several and took some pictures. Both Carol and I are looking forward toa picture of a bison with snow all over it. Then we saw a pair of trumpeter swans! They stay in the rivers in the park all year because the thermal features keep the water from freezing! We saw what we thought was a wolf going up a hillside near the road. Everyone we SO excited! Our guide told us it was a coyote and explained how to tell them apart. The next exciting stop was to see Yellowstone Falls. I had been somewhat trepidatious about going to the overlooks to view the falls because I imagind the snow would be so deep it would be higher than the guard fences and walls. Fortunately, not only was the snow anly a foot deep, but some kind person had thought to shovel out the walks and the overlooks. The falls in the winter were amazing. About half of the upper and the lower falls were falling behind gigantic piles of ice that had formed from the splashing. Then, the mist and the falling snow all but obscured the rest, but you could still hear the roaring! We were so happy to have seen the falls in winter! We set off again, only to stop around the corner from the bridge over the river. Five "sleds" were at the corner. We stopped and the guide turned around to see what had happened to the other two. As he turned, he got his machine totally buried in a drift by the road. We were laughing and joking around completely unaware of the drama that was playing out back at the bridge. At first we thought maybe Carol and Art couldn't get their machine started. We looked back toward the bridge and saw what looked like a person in the black snowmobile suit looking over the side of the bridge. Every time we looked, that "person" was still hanging over the bridge. People from other tours were milling around on the bridge looking up towards us. Meanwhile, our guide and one of the younger men in our tour were trying to get the guide's "sled" out of the snow. We began to see that something was wrong down there. The last snowmobile in our tour was stopped on the bridge, but Carol and Art's was not to be seen. I started to walk down there after our guide drove off, but then I saw both of them standing on the bridge. Art had been unable to get the unwieldy machine to make the turn over the bridge and had headed right for the bank. Carol saw what was about to happen and leaped off into a snowbank. A witness said that she was airborne pretty high! She landed safely, unhurt. Fortunately, as Art stayed with the machine until it hit the guard rail under the snowbank at the edge of the river, it flipped over on its side. Unfortunately, Art's leg was pinned under it! If it hadn't stopped there, it might have continued on into a tree or a rock or fallen 30 feet into the river at the brink of the falls!!! Oh, my gosh, what a scary thought! The guide was able to get the "sled" off Art and to ascertain that Art was unhurt! All of our layers of clothing made good padding. Carol felt so helpless about being unable to help Art. After he got pulled out, she took a couple of pictures. Whew! After that ordeal, we continued on our way to Mammoth. We saw a moose, 3 elk, more bison, and another coyote along the way. The coyote was fairly close to the road pouncing in the snow to get a mouse! We watched it catch one, gulp it down, and trot away! A few miles before we got to Mammoth, the snow gave out, so we stopped and parked our machines, loaded our luggage into a van, and rode down to Gardner, Montana, the original entrance to the park. We were delivered to a nice motel and told to reassemble for dinner at 6:30. All of the meals were included in the tour. We had rooms with jacuzzis, so we soaked before dinner. Carol and Art had to get the tension from their scare loosened up, and to get relaxed. Dinner was good and the camaraderie of our little tour group was great. There was a family of three from England, the four of us, and a couple from Pennsylvania celebrating their 25th anniversary. After dinner, we all went to our rooms and crashed, quite proud of ourselves for being over 60 and going 100 miles by snowmobile!