Do you know the Christmas song that’s about somewhere being a “marshmallow world in the winter?” I’m pretty sure that it was written about Craters of the Moon. We’ve had more than 70 inches of snowfall so far this season and there’s no end in sight. All of the sharp black lava rock has disappeared underneath a smooth blanket of white. Growing up in with lake effect snow off of Lake Erie I thought I knew winter, but Idaho is a totally different ball game. We had two weeks where the temperature barely got above 0°F. The coldest temperature I was awake for was a very uncomfortable -25°F 3-minute walk to work. We go weeks without seeing the sun or blue skies. BUT IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL HERE. Sometimes we get a snow crystal formation called hoar frost, which creates this really beautiful and defined frosty fuzz over everything. When it’s overcast, it looks like all the color has disappeared from the park and everything is in black and white. And when it is sunny and clear, you can see for hundreds of miles and everything is sparkly and feels new.
A lot of parks that get a lot of snow are pretty much closed in the winter. Here, you can no longer drive around the park, but the loop road is groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There is nothing like the quiet crunching of snow beneath your snowshoe as you trudge up a cinder cone somewhat blinded by the white snow everywhere, even with sunglasses on.
Visitation is definitely lower than it was this summer, but almost every day of the week we have a school group come to visit and learn all about winter ecology. This has been one of my favorite parts of the winter. Strapping 30+ kids into their snowshoes isn’t always fun, but watching them experience winter here is totally worth it. By the end of the season, we will have seen every grade, K-12, and even some college students. We talk about hibernation, toleration, and migration in the classroom, but then get to learn through experience out in the snow. We look for tracks and try to run through the deep snow without our snowshoes on like elk. We play camouflage hide and seek like snowshoe hares and try to hold our breath as long as a hibernating golden mantle ground squirrel (one breath once every 20 seconds!). We also penguin slide on our bellies down a big hill, which I’m not sure has any educational purpose but it’s really fun so I don’t think it matters! The kids also eat A LOT of snow and like to climb up piles of snow that they shouldn’t be on. Age on these two points doesn’t matter- kindergartners and seniors in high school are on the same page when it comes to climbing on things and eating snow.
Outside of work, living here has been an experience as well. All of the seasonal staff left in October, making me the only person living here (and the only person in a 20 mile radius) for two months. But now things are on their way back to normal, with some seasonals and interns living here with me. There’s a small cone behind my house that we’ve had fun tubing down when they had to close the park because the plows couldn’t keep up with the snow on the highway (park ranger snow days > school snow days).
Nine months in, I still have a hard time believing that I have the opportunity to live and work and play here. Every day I learn new things and have new experiences. I’m lovin’ every minute of it, even when a pack of peer-pressuring kindergartners makes me stick my face in the snow to put on a snow beard.