Winter Ventures in Yellowstone Country – January 2012

I am starting this post at 7AM (Mountain time) in Gallatin Gateway, Montana, Sunday January 15th.  Yesterday my travels went like clockwork.  Mari took me to the airport at 5:40 AM and check-in, security went smoothly and the timing was perfect to sit a few moments before taking off.  Of course, I was in shock not having flown in the states in over 2 ½ years, all my flights have been overseas or within Canada.  Intuitively I knew you had to pay for a bag (all the winter gear) but guess I did not realize you had to pay for anything other than a peanut.  But, I always travel with cheese and peanut butter crackers.  I arrived in Salt Lake City a half hour early and headed to my next gate.  In checking in I asked about Scott, Betty and Rich’s flight from Philadelphia, and they too were a half hour early and in moments appeared.  It was like we had not seen each other since yesterday even though we had not been together since I visited them in the Poconos in September.

Maybe I should explore the US more (I do want to take Amtrak’s EMPIRE BUILDER from Chicago to Seattle and explore Glacier National Park however) because I was overwhelmed on the approach into Salt Lake City with mountains to one side and the Great Salt Lake on the other.  The patterns of where there was snow, or not, were baffling.  Soon it was time to board the small plane (seating about 50) for Bozeman.  Again the views of the mountains, some with snow, were amazing but approaching Bozeman the snow disappeared and it was a brown valley surrounded by mountains. Now, may I recommend you go to Bozeman just to see the airport.  We were amazed leaving the gate area and entering an all wood terminal constructed as you would expect a massive lodge in this part of the country complete with beautiful brown patterned carpet tiles.  We got to the baggage claim, and our bags were there already – obviously not a big airport, and then we went to Hertz who explained to Scott that our mini-van was not ready so he was giving us a larger Toyota Sequoia – wow what an amazing machine.  So, with much space to spare we packed our gear, Scott plugged in his GPS, and the lady with a French accent begins to direct us toward the Museum of the Rockies which is a division of the Montana State University where we arrived at about 1:30. Having gone to museums with Scott, Betty and Rich before is not like a group tour since we all have similar interests and can easily get immersed. The museum has great exhibits on the history of the area, but we were captivated

BIG MIKE at the entrance to the Museum of the Rockies

by was the dinosaur exhibit – yes, bear with me.  I was confused when we arrived and at the entrance was Big Mike because I did not know the museum is known for its vast collection of dinosaur fossils, and houses some of the most famous dinosaur specimens in the world including Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.  Montana is fossil country!  We heard an announcement for a guided tour of that part of the museum and Betty said, “let’s do it.”  Well, our guide’s knowledge was beyond belief and we learned so much.  Most amazing fast fact that I can remember is that with the improved study and research it has been determined that birds are the living dinosaurs.  This comes from bone structure.  The sex of dinosaurs also cannot be determined, but in one bone a young researcher noticed a certain membrane that develops when a  mother is producing calcium for the eggs for her young – this was quite a break-through.  As we were about to exit an announcement came for the last show in the planetarium – we looked at each other and said, “fine.”  Maybe not the best show, but we all needed a quick nap to continue on.

Next we were off to Gallatine Gateway, Montana, and the Gallatine Gateway Inn which was built in 1927 by the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway to serve and refresh weary travelers. The railway, to capitalize on its electrified route through Montana,  built a spur line to carry adventurous travelers to Yellowstone National Park with the inn at the start of the route.   We arrived about 5:30 just as a wedding with 150 guests was assembling in this landmark building restored in 1986 to its original Spanish Colonial architecture style with Polynesian mahogany woodwork, decorative beams and enormous windows.   Not having had much to eat during the day we

My view from the breakfast table back to the grand ballroom

unloaded the car and headed into “The Porter House” restaurant.  The menu was amazing, but when do you see elk on the menu — Elk Osso Bucco?  Scott, Rich and I all selected it – it was great.  But it was a long day so we turned in shortly thereafter.  Breakfast on the enclosed colonnade porch was very good, and this morning, Sunday, off we headed down Route 191 south to West Yellowstone arriving at 11AM after enjoying fantastic scenery along the highway.  Rooms were not yet ready, so we shuffled things around in our bags, went to the rest rooms and dressed in layers for our dog sledding adventure with Charlotte at Klondike Dreams.

Now it is tough to top elk for dinner, but we did!  Our next totally unique experience started with meeting the 26 dogs in their outside kennel next to Charlotte’s small shack (some electric but no water).  A college graduate, but she found her niche with her dogs raising and training them for racing – she is passionate about them, and loved sharing with us because of the interest we showed, just like with the dinosaur guide at the museum.  Once we got to meet the dogs and learn about how they are raised and trained it was time to hook eight to a working sled and we took turns, two at a time for a short ride.  The videos below share this experience as I was seated behind Scott. (click on the image to start the videos)

Next Charlotte changed the sled to a smaller one and hooked another one behind.  We each then had a turn driving the dogs, and she was behind “in case” and giving commands.  Actually the dogs were in control, and we were along for the ride.  Here I am on my turn.

The dogs, me, and Charlotte bringing up the rear

We arrived at 12:30 for our 1PM two hour adventure with Charlotte, and we finished up at 4:15 – an experience which will be hard to top.  We got back to the hotel and checked in, registered at 5PM for our program learning that it truly is a small group with only 16 participants – thus we are ¼ of the group.  Dinner was at 6PM with introductions and discussion following.  The adventure begins tomorrow with snow shoeing, Tuesday is riding in snow coaches touring Yellowstone all day, Wednesday is cross country skiing, and the last full day we travel on snow mobiles – “stay tuned!”  As always, yours, RAY

Yes, me again. How often do you get to do this?

And, just one more

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