Snow and Solitude: A Yellowstone Solstice

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.

DSC03496The solstice dawn that arrives next morning is muted and soft.   Just before 9:00 a pink glow lets us know that the sun has decided to make an appearance at its own relaxed pace.


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.


About westerner54

Hello. I'm Cindy, and I love to hike, bike and explore the outdoors - particularly the western U.S.
This entry was posted in Hiking, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Yellowstone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Snow and Solitude: A Yellowstone Solstice

  1. Margaret says:

    Wow. This is my idea of a great day.

  2. lylekrahn says:

    That all seems pretty wonderful. I’m not surprised you have the place to yourselves.

  3. Nathan Young says:

    Those are beautiful photos. I have been to Yellowstone during the Summer and one day I need to go during the Winter months!

  4. akwoman says:

    What a great way to celebrate the solstice! Fantastic photos

  5. Thanks for the view of Mammoth during a time when I would never visit. Brrr! What a great way to celebrate the solstice.

  6. This is, in my opinion, the best way to spend the solstice. I’m going to have to share this one with my fiance – I think he will agree 🙂

  7. I wish I could double like this! Thanks so much for sharing this for those of us who can’t come along. I felt like I was there breathing in that cold wonderful air and love the rabbit shot along with the head peeking over the hill!

  8. I would love to be in Yellowstone in the winter. Great wildlife shots.

  9. Your pictures are beautiful! It looks like a lovely trip!

  10. bepphotos says:

    you are living the dream ! happy new year!

  11. writer77 says:

    What a grand and glorious wilderness! I hope to one day visit; meanwhile, thank you for taking me there through your super blog and photos! All the best for 2013!

  12. Great post and photos. It felt pretty cold in October when I was there, but not that cold! Done summer and fall the past two years; now it’s time for winter and spring.

  13. This is a beautiful post, I feel as though I’ve just been to the heart of winter…..but thankfully I still have a warm cup of tea in my hands 🙂 Stunning photos.

    • westerner54 says:

      Yes, winter is lovely in photographs, isn’t it? Just a little tough once you’re actually out in the weather. I’m enjoying visiting your part of the world through your blog, as well!

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