Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone National Park, December 21, 2012, 4:43 p.m.
The shortest day of the year has just ended, and the long night is beginning. We are the only campers in Mammoth Campground on this calm and silent winter solstice. The temperature is in the mid-20’s, but there’s no wind: it’s surprisingly comfortable sitting by the fire.
We’ve just returned from a not-too-long ski along the Blacktail Plateau Road, which is a perfect way to spend the shortest day of the year. Even though we get started around 2:00, the sun stays below the horizon for most of our ski.
We leave the road to explore a bit, and as I round a small ridge I see a curious head watching us:
A little further on, we see her friends:
And even further, we see the big dude. It’s way past the rut, and he really doesn’t care anymore about what the ladies are up to.
We watch the surrounding hills brighten as the sun slowly climbs.
After the clear night, it’s a much colder day than it was the day before – it’s only 8 degrees as we head out to the Lamar Valley. Of course, it’s no longer fall – now it’s really winter!
A coyote has already been out, heading purposefully across the snow:
And we watch a chubby dipper busily bobbing up and down alongside – and in – a freezing creek.
We spook a snowshoe hare, who bounds away for a few yards, and then turns and defiantly stares us down.
As we climb the ridge the sun stays low on the horizon, but there’s a stark beauty in the gray silence. At times it feels as if we’ve been dropped into another world, a world that feels like a winter version of the Sahara.
Our final morning. The sun is still reluctant to cross the horizon, but once again there’s a calm, peaceful beauty in the slow awakening.
As the sun hesitates, the steam from the hot springs creates a magical world of white and blue:
Until, finally, the sun breaks through on a distant hillside.