7th December 2005
Gardiner, Montana

We drive south from Billings to Yellowstone. We've arrived at the wrong time of year to really see Yellowstone to its fullest. For one month a year a huge chunk of the park is closed because of mammoth 10 feet snowfalls. We happen to have arrived in that month.

The scenery is incredible though. Amongst the snow the river winds through the landscape and a slow drifting steam floats above it. The tectonic activity of the area is quite apparent - the hills to the side of the road show obvious signs of the layering that happens over thousands of years. Here, the layers are practically vertical - pushed up by movements beneath the ground. It is perhaps important to remember that Yellowstone is one of the most active places on the planet. If this place decides to blow there isn't going to be much left around to enjoy the show.

We pass through the grand gates and buy our way into the park. We wind our way through the valleys to the visitor centre. Inside, the ranger Mary is incredibly helpful and tells us what we can see at this time of year. The famous attraction of 'Old Faithful' is off bounds at the moment - a shame. There are some local sights that we can see. Hot Springs and the like form the bulk of it. The view across to the terraces from here is quite surreal. Solid snow is being gently heated from underneath causing the whole landscape to steam. Don't get me wrong though - it's bloody cold outside.

We drive a short distance to the 'Mammoth Hot Springs'. At this time of year it is a very strange sight. Boiling water amongst all the snow laying upon the ground. A path around the springs is just visible so we trudge up through the snow, following the poles that have been wedged into the ground to show the route beneath the whiteness.

We wander past various formations with interesting names - 'Liberty Cap', 'Minerva Terrace' and 'Palette Spring' are all very interesting. Palette Spring in particular is quite fascinating - bubbling with different colours and chemicals. The whole vista permeated by the rather distinct smell of sulphur. Looking back over the car we catch our first sight of wildlife. A train of deer is working its way across the car park. As we work our way around the slopes I become aware that my feet are freezing. Trudging back to the car we get the engine warmed up and the heaters on.

Just around the corner is 'Canary Spring'. Another walk leads us to more sulphurous formations. We are startled a sudden sound from behind the trees and then we spot that wonderful creature - the lesser spotted cross country skier. We drive back to the visitors centre and watch the video that introduces visitors to the park. I dread to think how busy this place must become in the summer. From the video it would appear that it's one long traffic jam. We look at the maps and decide that tomorrow is the day to tackle the road through the park - we're going to have to return the same way in the same day.

We drive back out of the park and return to the town of Gardiner. We check in at a motel overlooking the river and go out for dinner at a local pizza place.

Chris Cottam