My Dream Winter Trip To Yellowstone by Adriano Manocchia


A winter trip to Yellowstone has been on my “wish” list since the very first time my love affair with this fabulous Park started many years ago. If you have followed my work through the years, you know how much I enjoy painting Yellowstone. I have had the fortune to spend many summers, falls, and springs immersed in its glorious landscape and surrounded by the untamed wildlife.  Every time I returned home from my visits there I brought back a feeling of renewal and wellbeing, and a growing desire to experience its beauty in the winter. 

I would have probably continued wishing and not acting on it, if a big birthday and the invitation by two dear friends to join them on their trip, had not come along at the same time. When our son agreed to join my wife and I and our friends Bob and Irene and turn this experience into an unforgettable birthday celebration any misgivings I might have had, were put aside. How grateful I am to all of them for making my dream a reality… Plans started rolling and a date set for late February.

I soon learned, after several calls to snowmobiling guides in West Yellowstone set as our first destination and my friend and legendary fishing guide Bob Jacklin, that February can, at times, be a little tricky as far as snow pack is concerned. I started getting a little nervous. What if there wouldn’t be enough snow by the time we got there for our snowmobile outings? Now, that would surely be disappointing. So I told everyone to start wishing and praying for enough snow and boy!, were our prayers answered…. The week before we landed in Bozeman, 4 feet of fresh snow covered the already existing accumulation an unusually snowy winter had brought. 

We arrived in West Yellowstone well after dark and just finding the driveway to our place took some skill and several phone calls for directions. We finally managed to squeeze in between two snowdrifts as tall as the house itself into what turned out to be our driveway. Settling in and unpacking was all we managed that first night, but the expectations were riding high under everyone’s skin. We had snow and plenty of it.



The place where we stayed was right behind the huge wall of snow


First light found us all gawking at the magnificent surroundings with virgin snow covering everything in sight and the majestic mountains forming an inspiring background. We saw the sun start to tinge the horizon, while sipping coffee in the kitchen. Now that is what I call a good breakfast!!!!


Sunrise as seen from our place. (Photo courtesy Adriano Manocchia Jr.)

For the first full day of our visit, we had decided to take it easy and get acclimated. We headed to town for the mandatory breakfast at the “Running Bear Pancake House” home of the awesome cinnamon rolls. As we approached the center, however, everything that had become so familiar to me from previous visits now appeared completely altered and strange under all this snow.  Humongous snowdrifts that often reached rooftops hided familiar landmarks and on the streets covered in a tick layer of snow, there were more snowmobiles than cars circulating. With the sun shining and no plans for the day, we took the suggestion of our snowmobiles rental guide, and headed towards Ennis for a chance of spotting wildlife. In breathtaking vistas that were as varied, as they were spectacular, we did spot several big horn sheep, antelopes, and elk, and both my son Adriano and I had a field trip taking photos and everyone else just enjoying the magnificence of it all. Great start to our trip!!!



Some of the wildlife we encountered on our way to Ennis (Photo courtesy Adriano Manocchia Jr.)

On our way back clouds started to thicken on the horizon… Not a good sign. The following day we had planned our first snowmobiles excursion in the Park and we could surely use some nice weather. But it wasn’t meant to be. We woke up to falling snow and gray skies, but I cannot say I was totally disappointed. Even in the snow this place still managed to preserve its magical quality. We didn’t waste any time in getting ourselves suited and equipped for our excursion and soon enough we were following Andy, our guide, into the West Entrance of the Park on our snowmobiles.


Waiting to pass the West Entrance gate on our snowmobiles

Once in a while I had to keep reminding myself that I was not dreaming, that I had actually made it. What an experience it was. It went beyond my wildest expectations… Andy proved to be a great and knowledgeable guide and showed us corners of the Park that were simply spectacular. Several times we had to stop and give way to the wildlife we encountered, mostly elk and bison, while we spotted coyotes feeding on a carcass and a Trumpeter Swan swimming in the waters of the Madison. 


Some of the wildlife we spotted on our first day (Photo courtesy Adriano Manocchia Jr.)


…and the wildlife that came to greet us on the road

Yellowstone National Park is the largest national park in the lower 48 states covering 2.2 million acres, and is famous for its geothermal geysers, hot springs, steam vents, and mud-pots. Of course Old Faithful is by far the most famous of its geysers and we made our way towards it, stopping often to admire and photograph.


Notice how we were standing on a snow pack that was as tall as the railing….


At Old Faithful

We arrived at my “favorite spot” on the Firehole River but to my greatest disappointment the light was so low that I couldn’t get any good photos there. That said it still remains one of my favorite stretches of the river. Lunch and an Old Faithful’s eruption later, and we started heading back. We crossed the flats between the basins and the wind was brutal. Elevations in the park range from 5,000 to 11,000 feet and the temperature can go from 90 degrees F. in the summer to -45 degrees below zero in the winter. Well, we were not quite below 25, but the icy wind was not all that pleasant either. We couldn’t help but feel sorry for the buffaloes that had to face that harsh winter. Many of them showed signs of malnutrition as they continued in their incessant search for the little grass still growing underneath the deep snow that they tried to reach by swiping their muzzles from side to side.



Tough winter for the wildlife…

On our second and last day of snowmobiling in the Park we headed towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, famous for its colors, shapes, and waterfalls. All around us was a winter wonderland. The steam vents along the Gibbon River caused the trees and vegetation along the edge to be incased in a layer of sparkling crystals. It was as if we had entered a glass forest.


A crystal world…


By Gibbon Falls: Standing: Our friends Irene and Bob Headwell – Front: me, my wife Teresa and our son Adriano Jr.

Weather was not great again, but better than the first day.


Wildlife always has the right of way on the road


One of our many stops…

Many, many stops later the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone appeared before our eyes in a glory of frozen waterfalls and icicles. The water that still flowed was barely visible behind an ice curtain, but the thrill of its beauty and majesty was still powerful.


Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone (Photo courtesy Adriano Manocchia Jr.)


Just to remind myself that I was really there…

We continued to the end of the trail and were rewarded by an unbelievable sight. A magnificent red fox, oblivious but to her quest, was following the movement of a rodent under the snow. With an uncanny concentration and sense of hearing, she followed the movement of an invisible prey. She would stand motionless listening for the sound of rodent scurrying under the snow, and then slowly approach the prey’s location. Arching her back she would pounce into the snow headfirst and back up, almost in a vertical position reaching for the mouse. She kept missing but persevered long enough to allow our son all the time in the world to take a series of amazing photos. Still empty-handed, she finally decided to move on but not without first walking so close to us that we could almost touch her. Simply amazing…


The fox on her quest… (Photo courtesy Adriano Manocchia Jr.)


Close enough for great photos


At the Park exit, Andy stopped by the welcome sign and as good tourists we posed for an obligatory photo. Notice the depth of the snow by the sign….


The following day we left West Yellowstone headed for Gardiner. We were spending an overnight there so that we could take the only road open all winter in the park, from Gardiner to Cooke City. It was our last day in the Park and we wanted to make the most of it. The sun was shining and the promise of a spectacular day was in front of us. Driving through the passes that offered never ending views of snow covered wilderness, we met with several wildlife specimen and were amazed at how different everything appeared in the winter landscape. We arrived in Cooke City in time for a late lunch and got to the end of the road where a wall of snow made access impossible.


It is literally the end of the road…

The beautiful day was starting to turn gray again.


A new storm is approaching

Menacing black clouds covered the sun in the Lamar Valley and the first signs of a new snowfall marked our return trip to Gardiner. By the time we reached the point of highest elevation, we were in a complete whiteout. Driving conditions were tricky to say the least and our son’s excellent driving skills were put to the test. We had to literally crawl since we couldn’t see past the front of the car.


White on white on white…

The threat of wildlife on the road was great and not welcomed in those conditions. Slowly and painfully we made it. At one point we had to follow a herd of buffalo that had claimed the road for a long stretch. A calf kept slipping and sliding on the icy road and we were afraid that she would injure herself before reaching the sanctuary of the open field. We allowed them to make their way at their pace, without encroaching. Finally they reached an opening on the road and joined another herd.


Waiting in our car for a buffalo to get off the road

And all of a sudden it was over… My dream trip was already behind us. At the hotel we played the “remember when” game. Everyone was bringing back a special memory of this trip. With me the certainty that back at home at the easel these memories would turn into paintings.

I hope you’ll want to come back for part two of this blog if you’d like to see some of these paintings…





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