Usually one’s idea of a winter holiday vacation is going someplace warm where you can spend a few days on the beach and escape the nasty winter weather. I have been to Southern Florida twice in winter and never quite understood the appeal. I love winter – the cold, the sparkling snow, quiet nights, holiday lights and cheer, and hot chocolate. Sadly, winter never came to New England this year with 40-50 degree temperatures and sporadic rain leaving almost no hope for white X-mas or New Year.
I knew the weather has been abnormally warm all over the country this year and our best bet for a real winter would be going to one of the coldest places in the lower 48 – Yellowstone country. Now, Gilad is the opposite of me when it comes to cold and could barely contain his “enthusiasm” when I told him about my idea. He disliked the possibility of planning an alternative vacation even more though and in the end just agreed to go along with my plan.
I have been entertaining the idea of going to Yellowstone in winter for a couple of years to avoid the crowds – only 1% of people visit in December, and to get a different perspective on the park. But every time something else came up and we kept putting this trip off until now.
We left New England’s nasty fall/spring/winter weird weather mix and headed to Salt Lake City, Utah. There are a couple of small airports close to Yellowstone as well as a major one in Bozeman about 1.5 hours away from one of the entrances but since we planned on moving around a lot anyway, we decided to get a car in Salt Lake and drive up.
After sorting out the rental car, which is a whole another story, we got a 2015 Ford Explorer 4WD right off the lot with only 2 miles in it. Most of the time you can get along with a small car but 4WD makes driving on mountain roads covered in snow and ice a lot easier. Even though Salt Lake weather was perfectly sunny and dry, we expected the landscape to change as we moved up north along I-15. Passing through Idaho we stopped in a small town -Malad City about 1.5 hours from SLC for lunch at a local PInes restaurant http://www.maladpines.com/. I got a delicious jalapeno burger and Gilad picked a chicken sandwich. We continued on through Idaho Springs and then turned off to US-20 W for West Yellowstone, Montana, a small town at the Western entrance to the park. As we got closer and the sun set over horizon, it started snowing and became noticeably colder.
We got to West Yellowstone just after 5, right in time for their annual downtown holiday parade featuring holiday tree lighting, santa meeting and the contest for the best costumed sled dog. West Yellowstone holds several sled dog races every winter, and our visit coincided with the first race of the year – Rodeo Run held over three days. The day before the race, mushers and their dog teams participate in the holiday parade to give spectators a chance to meet the dogs. It was not hard to find the mushers, the howling and barking of hundreds of overly excited siberian and alaskan huskies resonated through town. We walked around and talked to a couple of dog sled teams until the festivities were over and we went to grab dinner, bison nachos and chili at a local pub. Everything else in town closed pretty early, in fact, many businesses are seasonal in West Yellowstone and closed down for the winter, and as we had nothing else to do we just headed back to the hotel to spend some time in the pool and hot tub before getting up early the next day to watch the Rodeo Run.