You normally assume, making your vacation reservations in February, that the weather in June will be good. We assumed that. And oh, my, were we wrong. The week before we left, my husband checked the Wyoming weather and said, "Wait a minute. There's 42 inches of snow still in Yellowstone." Wasn't it supposed to be summer by now? With this warning, I packed a sweater, a fleece pullover, and several long-sleeved shirts. And wool socks (a good call!).
It was raining when we got into Elko; the next morning when we left, it was raining even harder, and it was snowing maybe 500 feet above us. As we drove through the rain we could see the new snow accumulating on the hills above the town, below a very low cloud ceiling. It was an omen, but we didn't realize it. The rain (and a fiendish cross wind) chased us all the way across Utah (and through the Salt Lake City commute traffic; really bad timing!) to Brigham City.
The drive through Utah and Idaho into Wyoming was generally pretty; I especially liked Logan Canyon. With the bluff tops wreathed in cloud, and its limestone walls cracked into squared off sections and punctuated with pine trees, it looked like the model for a Japanese or Chinese woodblock print, just gorgeous. As we got to the Tetons, it began to rain seriously again, just as the roads deteriorated. Of course, since the speed limit in Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks is 45 MPH, the rain didn't delay us much.
The parking lot at Yellowstone Lake Hotel was slushy, with 4 foot high heaps of old snow, but the roads were clear and so was the sky, so we settled in and made an early dinner reservation for the Old Faithful Inn, the next night. Old Faithful is about 40 miles from the Lake, and the shortest route crosses the Continental Divide twice. We didn't think about that much, but as we began to climb Craig Pass, it started to snow; and then the snow started to stick; and then the snow started to stick to the road. By the time we got to Old Faithful, the ground was entirely covered and the snow was starting to pile up; and we began to wonder about getting back. We had our reservations, though, so in we went for dinner, shaking snow off.
Most of you know that I'm a native Californian; more, a native Bay Arean. Snow is not my thing. I was beginning to get pretty uncomfortable, especially when the folks at the Old Faithful Inn told us the Park Service had just closed the road over Craig Pass, and also one of the only other routes back to the Lake. But there we were, so we had dinner, which I spent peering out the window to see if it was still snowing. Around dessert, it did quit, and by then the word was that the Park Service was plowing the roads, so we went out and watched the geyser; and when we came back in and checked, they'd opened Craig Pass. So we got in the car and headed back to the Lake, before they changed their minds; and it started to snow again, and then the snow began sticking to the road again...
My husband did the driving; he grew up in Wisconsin, and snow doesn't bother him. He said later it wasn't that bad; but as I told him, he was in control. I was sitting in the passenger seat watching the visibility get worse by the minute, and I was pretty damn nervous. In the last couple of miles before we got to the Lake, we couldn't see the sides of the road; we were following a flat space in the snow, and a single pair of tire tracks from a car that can't have been more than 10 or 15 minutes ahead of us. I wasn't cold; I had plenty of layers on; but I kept wondering, if something did go wrong, how long it would take anybody to find us. There is no cell phone reception in that section of Yellowstone. I was amazingly glad to see that hotel.
I talked to at least one man, also staying at Yellowstone Lake Hotel, who had stayed overnight at Old Faithful rather than drive back - I hate to think what that cost him.
The next morning, they said the storm dropped two and a half inches of snow. On June 6.
That storm was actually the worst of it. It snowed several more times while we were in Yellowstone (and thawed twice, too), but never as much again. Snow covered fields make it much easier to spot wildlife; sporadic snowstorms make photography very iffy. (Take my advice: don't try to photograph a geyser going off in a snowstorm. Even with digital, it's not worth the effort.) But we also had some bright, sunny weather, which melted the new snow with amazing speed.
When we left the park on Tuesday morning, the park was snowy and covered with heavy clouds, but on the other side of the pass it was clear, sunny and windy. It was great weather for photographing the little herd of bighorn sheep right by the road (including 3 lambs), and the herd of bison (with seven calves!). We stayed in Bozeman, Montana that night, and the next morning we had to knock half an inch of snow off the car, but the snow wasn't sticking to the road, so on we went, over the Continental Divide again at Butte, and that was the last snow that fell on us. We saw plenty of snow in Glacier National Park but the weather was clear and windy.
We had one last "snow effect" - Jim hadn't bothered to check the status of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, in Glacier National Park. He'd planned to go into the park at West Glacier and take Going-to-the-Sun Road across the park to Many Glaciers Lodge, where we were staying. Of course it'd be open; it's June. In Missoula, Montana, where we stayed a couple of days between national parks, we learned that the Going-to-the-Sun Road might reopen in July. Maybe. Late July. So we suddenly had to drive an extra 80 miles or so...
I just checked the road status: Going-to-the-Sun Road is completely open, as of July 2. They don't say how long it's been open, or whether they got it clear in time for the scheduled 75th anniversary celebration on June 27. I guess it must be summer now.