YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - At 18 degrees below zero, the bison we meet on the road near Fishing Bridge are crusted and draped with frost. We pull our rented snowmobile over to one side and wait for the behemoths to pass, feeling small and unprotected on the open seat.
There's no doubt
about it - Yellowstone by snow machine is a kick. It's not only the
ghost trees and clouds of steam around the hot springs, or the
eyeball-to-eyeball encounters with big game.
It's also the sense of hurtling through icy air
with nothing between you and instant death but a plastic
windshield. We didn't see any yahoos chasing coyotes or tossing
Schlitz cans into the drifts. David McCray, who rents 100 snow
machines in West Yellowstone, reports that most of his customers
"You have to be here to see
the levels of excitement a lot of these people come back with," he
says. It's not uncommon for someone to tell him, "This was the best
day of my life."
Then there's the down side.
Packs of the machines leave a smelly haze on the road behind them.
And a snowmobiler travels at the center of a shock wave of noise
that seems perversely designed to destroy the wintry peace it
traverses. The machine is so raucous you have to use hand signals
even to communicate with your seat-mate.
learned after the trip that Park Service employees who use these
machines are advised to wear ear plugs; 10 days later, my ears were
Evidently unfazed by the din, the
bison we encountered moved aside - if they moved at all - with
stolid indifference. Park employees have noticed, however, that
they use the groomed roads mainly at night, when the over-snow
traffic almost stops. Since bison are not nocturnal animals, this
fact speaks volumes about their
Yellowstone planner John Sacklin
hopes that an environmentally friendly Yellowstone snowmobile can
soon be created, something "whisper-quiet, that produces virtually
no emissions." In the meantime, the old environmentally unfriendly
variety is what's seen - and heard "everywhere.
"What can you say?" a gas station attendant here
told me. "They're noisy and they stink."