Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring, Yellowstone Style

Evidence of spring is just about everywhere today - although spring manifests itself differently in Yellowstone. It takes road crews about 12 weeks to plow Yellowstone's roads prior to the summer season. In March a few roads open up into the interior for bicycles only. Spring in Yellowstone means little canyons of pavement carved into the snowpack.

With mild temps and a chance to catch some sunshine my friend Rick and I decided to head to Mammoth Hot Springs for a launching point for a bike ride (the main attraction) and brief ski (clearly, the side show).

The road going south from Mammoth climbs about 900 feet onto the Yellowstone plateau; therefore a good workout is guaranteed. Also guaranteed is a screaming descent on the return trip. The multi-geared mountain bike and its low gearing is my friend today.

There is something wonderful about having this park to yourself - a place that can see 3 million visitors a year. The roads are so empty in fact, that like a lizard, I decide to take a seat in the middle of the road, soaking up the sun and its effects on the blacktop. Lovely.

The aforementioned climb out of Mammoth provides a brake-heating and near pedal-free return trip back to the car. The knobby mountain bike tires out of place here sound like a Hummer going down the interstate at 80mph.

Upon returning to Rick's well-equipped minivan, we make the quick change to x-country ski gear. I briefly think about trying to pedal my bike with skis on. Briefly. The skiing is pure spring: slightly damp and granular snow and the people walking on the trail around the Mammoth terraces outnumber the skiers (us). After a mercifully short climb to the top of a hill we call it good and proceed to flail to some degree down the winding path.

After this indulgent afternoon of Yellowstone recreation we bask in the exhaustion and celebrate the day Gardiner, Montana style with fried bar food and a beer at one of the few business open during the off season.

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