A Southern Girl’s Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone

Laura bundled up and ready to ride on a snowmobile.

Laura snowmobiles for the first time at Yellowstone. Photo © Donnie Sexton.

Ever since my first post on this blog – “Greetings from an American Nomad!” – which I wrote on July 1, 2009, I’ve relished the opportunity to share my passion for travel and my love of this multifaceted country with you, my fellow travelers. Along the way, I’ve offered my own travel tips and experiences as well as the advice of other travel experts, plus a few relevant product and book reviews, too, and no matter what I wrote, I always hoped that it would help someone, at least in some small way.

That said, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today. After all, this will mark my last post as Moon’s American Nomad, and I’ve long been wondering what my final words should be. So, after racking my brains for the past week, I’ve finally decided to highlight one of my new favorite destinations in America.

Of course, it wasn’t easy to choose just one place in this amazing country. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, then you know that I’ve traveled quite a lot around America, and some of my favorite locales include New Orleans, Michigan, and the Florida Keys – the subjects of three of my Moon travel guides.

Back in January, though, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a press trip to Yellowstone National Park – and even though my husband, Dan, who just happens to be my favorite traveling companion, wasn’t able to join me on the trip, it was truly a memorable excursion into a fascinating winter wonderland, especially for a Southern girl like me whose only exposure to cold weather has been limited to her college years in Chicago and a few brief visits to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

As I wrote on one of my other blogs, Laura’s Simple Pleasures, it would require several posts to describe all that I saw, did, and ate while away from home for a week. So, I thought that it might be more interesting to note some of the “firsts” that happened to me during that memorable excursion. After all, it was the first time that I’d ever seen Montana or Wyoming – much less Yellowstone – in my life. It also marked my first roadside encounter with a wild bison and my first long-distance view of a snoozing wolf pack (both of which occurred in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley), the first time that I ever strapped on a pair of snowshoes and attempted to hike uphill in them (not a bad way to experience the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces), and the first time that I ever floated between a freezing-cold river and scalding hot springs (in the Boiling River, to be exact). Along the way, I also experienced my first ride in a snowcoach (the only way to traverse most of Yellowstone National Park in the winter months) and witnessed, for the first time, a bellowing river otter get sucked beneath the icy surface of a near-frozen river (not the most pleasant of memories, true, but certainly fodder for conversations with my fellow writers during the rest of the trip). In addition, I got the chance to make my very first snow angel (not far from some wild bison on a geyser plateau) and snagged my first look at Old Faithful blowing her top (a particularly beautiful sight in the winter, when the billowing steam makes this stately, ever-punctual geyser seem even taller and more grand).

While the entire trip was spectacular, I particularly enjoyed the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone National Park, which is not only gorgeous during the winter months but supposedly much less crowded than it is during the summer. In addition, although all of the accommodations experienced during this particular press trip were notable in their own unique way – the Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa, for instance, boasted a wonderfully refreshing pool fed by natural hot springs; the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel reminded me of the Overlook in The Shining; and the Holiday Inn in West Yellowstone had a rejuvenating hot tub in the room – my favorite was indeed the Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins, where the furnishings were modern and comfortable, the on-site Obsidian Dining Room served delicious bison short ribs, and the dimly lit ice-skating rink became the site of my first solo ice-skating experience (without rails, surrounded by snowdrifts, and beneath a canopy of stars).

But Yellowstone National Park wasn’t the only focus of this trip. On the second-to-last day, we ventured via snowcoach to West Yellowstone, where I experienced yet another “first” – the first time that I ever wore a snowmobile suit (as pictured above) and, yes, rode a snowmobile, which, save for my near-capsize on an unruly snowdrift, was as exhilarating an experience as I’d always hoped it would be.

So, if you’ve ever considered venturing to Yellowstone and its environs during the winter months, I’m here to tell you that it’s definitely worth the cold temperatures, the layers of clothing, and the potential for discomforting frozen nose hairs. Although I’ve heard that Yellowstone is marvelous in the summer – something I certainly plan to observe for myself someday – I can also attest that it’s truly stunning in the winter, when the small bison herds stand out amid acres of blinding-white snow, against a backdrop of dramatic geysers. No wonder, then, that it’s America’s first national park.

If you’re still curious about my wintertime adventures in Yellowstone, don’t despair. I’ll soon be sharing a few more details on my new American Nomad blog (along with a wide range of other travel topics, tips, and stories) – after all, it’s never too early to start planning your next wintertime vacation. Until then, though, I want to thank you all for reading my posts over the past four years – and for sharing your own adventures with me. I hope that you’ll continue to explore this wonderful country – and may your travels always be safe, happy, and memorable!

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