Monday, June 30, 2008

Goodness, this story gets more like a junior high school saga daily. Today, the young mechanic asked me if I had any failures yesterday or today (you can tell they're right on the ball). I told him, "Yes, two failures on the first run yesterday." He asked what they were and said he was going to change more ECUs around. I told him, "Keep your hands off my boat. You've messed it up enough and I am about to make the boarding call."

He didn't like that and walked off in a snit. It just so happened that I had a new Ranger with me at the time (we were discussing how to coordinate his interpretation with running the boat). I could tell I stepped on the mechanic's toes, so after that run I went to the shop to see what I could do to make things right. He said, "It doesn't matter 'cause you aren't gonna be around here much longer. I called my boss and told him that you swore at me."

Well, that was a flat-out lie. I don't care if I get fired because I stand up for a principle, but I'll be damned if some kid is going to lie his way to getting me canned. Fortunately, there was a witness to the conversation, the new Ranger. He said he would "testify" for me... again I nearly laughed... don't think it'll come to that.

When I finished my shift today, I spoke with the guy who is in charge of "everything that moves" for Xanterra. He listened, told me that they are "doing all they can", and did his best to assure me that this situation will be taken care of "as soon as possible, now that he knows the extent of it." Interesting, since I've been briefing my manager daily and he tells me that he sends the information up the line.

I said, "My manager tells me that he has been relating this to you for a month now. Who's not telling me the straight story - you or him?" After a moment of stammering, he assured me that he "cares" and will stay on this.

I'll bet he'll still respect me in the morning, too. ;-)

Oh well, we have the next three days off... maybe they'll get it all fixed up nice by then? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

I really considered leaving this stupid work stuff out of my posts here, but thought there should be a dated public record.


It was a beautiful morning, then several small thunderstorms in the afternoon. I had to assure a young Ranger onboard that "yes, we will be fine."

"But, there's lightning!"

I told her, "I'm not going to do anything dangerous; we're fine, and we're going to have a good ride." Well, a bit lumpy south of the cell, but an interesting afternoon.

Best wishes,
Jim (boat captain, negotiator, baby-sitter, and truth-seeker)

Fix it or fire me...

Yesterday was interesting. I refused to take passengers out on the boat with all the unknowns the mechanic had introduced. The assistant manager asked if I'd train another captain (one with previous experience on the boat)... "absolutely." We took the boat out before the first run and had no failures. I offered to ride along on passenger runs as first-mate... "just in case." As expected, on the first passenger cruise, we had two ECU/engine failures. I guided the other captain through it, made notes on what failed and when. On the bright side, there was another experienced captain who could confirm what I have been dealing with this entire season. On the dark side, I have repeatedly been told "Xanterra doesn't care. Don't expect to get anything fixed."

That is very sad, if it is true. I intend to find out... now that the weekend is over, I hope to get through to the manager of Xanterra at Yellowstone. Maybe I'll invite him to bring his family out on the boat? In the meantime, I will run the boat again today... the passengers need the most experience person in dealing with this situation. When the mechanic messes with switching out ECU units indiscriminately, I will again refuse to take passengers out until a failure occurs... I don't fear running the boat; I have concerns about what the failure will take out and I don't want to be a test pilot with passengers onboard. I don't think the managers here understand the difference.

"Fix it or fire me." I let them know that I won't be quiet about this. They don't have the balls to fire me (and they'll also lose the Blonde as front counter/cashier) because one of the managers would have to take over some of the cruises. They won't INSIST that boats get fixed (yes, it's more than just the scenic cruise boat); if they get told "no" from someone at the next level above, they don't push it. I looked my manager in the eye and asked, "Would Xanterra put a bus full of people on these curvy roads with brakes that may or may not work?" (His wife is a bus driver here) He said, "You'd be surprised." I am appalled.

As you'd expect, this puts a damper on the enjoyment of our summer here. I have fun with the the passengers and the Lake Queen is truly a fine boat... it just needs to be PROPERLY repaired by someone who understands the electronics involved. In the meantime, I will go through a daily struggle with how to best deal with this situation.

Before I accepted this job, I was told that the mangers here will support the boat captains. Frankly, I have not found this to be the case. They seem to be the first line of denial. If they won't fight for what's right, I will... to a point.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Drawing the line...

Saturday, June 28

I just got home from work, and I am mad and frustrated. The mechanic changed out ECU units this afternoon, creating a boat with even more problems. When I finished my last run, I found out there was no one at the marina to operate the safety boat in case we had a problem with the Queen. That was the final straw.

I submitted a letter to my boss, letting him know that I will not run the boat in its current condition. It really bothers me to think that people will be inconvenienced and/or disappointed by this decision, but it is a safety matter. The way the company intends to deal with the daily ECU/engine failures is to switch ECU units and hope for more failures to try to figure out which black box is causing the problem. I did not sign on to be a "test pilot", and most certainly not with 40+ passengers on the boat.

Of course, the proper action would have been for the company to get a repair person out from Volvo-Penta with an analyzer, diagnose, and fix the problem. Instead, we have been messing with this for a month now, essentially doing nothing. It has gotten to the point where I feel it isn't safe. Drawing this line may get me fired. I am frustrated that I have been put in this position.

From the beginning, I was told that this job should be fun. It is not fun waiting for the next daily failure. We really love Yellowstone, but that passion isn't enough to overlook potentially dangerous problems with the boat.


It's hard to imagine that we are 1/3 of the way through our time at Yellowstone. It has certainly been an interesting experience. Simply having a schedule has reminded me why I've enjoyed being retired. ;-) And working for a big corporation has been eye-opening... we ran our own business for most of our adult lives. When something needed to be done, it got done... no having to "ask permission" and then wait for an answer. That has certainly been frustrating. But, the people we work with in the marina are high caliber. I find it rather amazing that there are that many people willing to work for such a pittance so they can spend the summer in Yellowstone... quality people. Yes, this place is that special.

Yesterday was a first for me: I canceled a trip. When I came in from the first cruise (with my family onboard), I had an ECU failure several hundred yards from the dock... no engine controls on two of the three engines. No steering indicator. I got the boat to the dock, and no one knew. Unfortunately, this happens all too often, and has been most of the season. When I couldn't get one of the engines to restart at the dock, I had to cancel the next trip. I felt bad, because I know this is a highlight for some of our passengers... I really don't want to disappoint anyone. But, my main job is to take care of the passengers. (Sigh)

The mechanics are stymied by this ECU/engine problem. Unfortunately, we haven't taken the next important step: bringing someone qualified from the factory to diagnose and FIX this problem. Too bad, because this is a great boat. This is the type of "corporate" thinking that leaves me shaking my head.

The days are long right now... both in the amount of daylight and the hours we work. In another month, that will take care of itself. In the meantime, my time on the water is very special. Each day is different. I enjoy showing the "heart of Yellowstone" (the lake) to the passengers... some are just out for an activity, others are truly enthralled with the beauty and history that unfolds onboard.

This really is more than just a job for me. I had one of the assistant managers tell me that I care too much. I had to chuckle at that. I told him, "This may be a corporate thing, but you will never make me not care. This place is too special for that." (Sorry about the double negative ;-) )

Yep, I can understand the reasoning of the employees who come back year after year.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Saying Good-bye...

Friday, June 27. Today is our "Monday", the first day of work for us for the next 3 1/2 days. It's also the morning we have to say Good-bye to our daughter and son-in-law. Steph, Dan, and Joan are going out with me on my first cruise this morning. It is a beautiful clear morning - should be beautiful out on the water. Steph is not a "water" person... generally when she comes to visit us in south Texas, we have to guilt her into going out on our boat... usually we can coax her, since we know we will see dolphins. No dolphins here on Yellowstone Lake, but the scenery is magnificent. I am pleased that they will get to see what I do for my "summer job". ;-)

When we get back in from the cruise, Joan will have to go to work in the office, and Steph and Dan will head for home. A sad time for me because of the parting, but we have had a wonderful visit.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Having a great time...

It is an absolute delight having our daughter and son-in-law here... we are spending our days playing tourist, showing them the sights. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and all the great wildlife. Steph's goal was to "see a bear"... here's a look at a Momma and baby that we saw on the first evening.

The weather has been cooperative, the crowds easy to deal with, and our "company" delightful. The only thing better than all this pretty stuff to see is being able to share it with the ones we love.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday, Monday...

We look forward to Mondays - it's the end of our work week. ;-) It was a busy day at the marina; Joan was busy at the front counter, and I had plenty of passengers on our scenic cruises. Our shift ended around 3:00; we drove to the Lake Lodge to get our daughter and son-in-law's cabin. Along the way, we saw a momma bear and two babies. When Stephanie and Dan arrived, we showed them to their cabin, unloaded their car, and came to our RV for a home cooked meal. On the drive, Steph said that she really wanted to see some bears. She got her wish... we saw 5 bears and spent quite a bit of time watching that same mom with her babies. Steph said it was worth the long drive from Phoenix, just for that. Before calling it a night, we stopped at the Lake General Store for ice cream and some beautiful views of the lake in the dwindling light.

Tomorrow we are off to take the kids around and show them the Yellowstone we enjoy.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What a difference a day makes...

Everything on the boat worked today. The weather was lovely... some precip threatened, but never materialized... and the water on the lake was surprisingly NOT lumpy. I had the young Ranger girl on one trip, and she acted like a prima donna... the passenger reaction was less than enthusiastic on that trip, but the rest of the cruises were great. One of the assistant managers asked me to read some comment cards that had been turned in... seems the passengers like the way I'm running the cruise. Doesn't mean I won't get myself fired, but I was really pleased to read the nice comments. ;-)

Our daughter and son-in-law will be here tomorrow - I can't wait to see them! And it's a "half day" for us at work tomorrow... only about 7 hours!

The Good and the Bad...

Saturday, June 21.

Like every job, this one has its pluses and minuses. I enjoy the passengers; the lake itself is an amazing place, the scenery is breath-taking. It doesn't get old.

Yesterday I had a young interpreter from the Park Service. She has ridden with me before, and could hardly look at the passengers while she spoke. I tried to give her some guidance, including some prompting. She would talk about a particular feature before we would get to it and then have nothing to say when we were actually there; passengers would lose interest. I spoke to fill some of those gaps. Apparently, that was a bad thing. I can appreciate the time and effort these kids put into learning the subject matter... when it turns into a wrote recital of facts and dates, I can see the passengers drifting off... they came for a great boat ride, some beautiful scenery, the opportunity to see some wildlife, and a bit of entertainment. Today, I was instructed by my boss to let the interpreters talk and make it on their own. Not as interesting for the passengers, but I got it. Most of the interpreters like a bit of give and take, and they will ask me questions or solicit my take on some features. We have Park Service interpreters three trips per day, and our employees do interpretation the other 4 trips. There is certainly a difference in perspective. The interpretation the passengers enjoy most are the ones that involve the them... ask them questions and invite questions; they know how to unfold a story and relate what the people are seeing to the narration. That obviously takes time and experience.

Later in the day, one of the assistant managers came to my boat to point out I boarded passengers 2-3 minutes early. The passengers are told that their cruise boards at 9:15, but our company decided to change that to 9:20. So, the people are left to stand at the dock for that extra 5 minutes. A minor detail to some, but I feel that we shouldn't leave those folks standing. We still depart at the same time, so it's simply a matter of: do they stand at the dock or come aboard the boat and get settled? I explained to the kindly asst. manager that I was trying to take good care of my passengers. Don't tell the people 9:15, if you don't intend to board them until 9:20. All of our printed material and advertising states 9:15. I understand the new policy, I just don't agree with it.

Nitpicking? Depends on your perspective, I suppose.

And the biggie - the boat is a great boat. We have had almost daily issues with an electronic controller that disables shifting and sometimes steering, on one, and sometimes two, engines. It is intermittent and frustrating. I am told to report it when it happens. I do. Daily. I have had to leave the helm on more than one occasion to go back to the engine compartment to manually shut down the engine and reset. Our mechanics are good, but they don't have an analyzer to read the fault codes on these electronics... so, we "wait and see."

I debated whether to write about this here, but I am trying to make this an accurate log of our experiences. It has been said, "The truth will set you free"... that may be the case here. ;-) Human nature being what it is, most people think they do a good job. I know Joan is friendly and helpful at the front counter; she greets people when they come in and treats them the way we like to be treated. I know I am safety-conscious and care that the passengers get the best we can give them. I have brought the boat to the dock with no steering, and an engine out, and the passengers never knew. I am competent, and I care.

We took these jobs with the idea that it would be a fun summer experience. That said, they are still JOBS. We are in the position that we don't need to work, and when nit-picking and inaction become the norm, we will move on. We like the people we work with and don't want to put anyone out.

So, maybe it was an accumulation of situations that came to a head today? We had a saying in our studio: "No bad days." Don't bring problems to the workplace, quickly and competently solve any problems that come up, and above all - take good care of the client. We still try to live that way, but find our desire to give our customers the best service possible sometimes conflicts with the way this large company operates. We won't compromise our integrity, but will try to work within their guidelines. To a point.

In the meantime, our daughter and son-in-law will be here on Monday and we will have three days off to show them the splendor that is Yellowstone. We are excited.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer Solstice...

Friday, June 20. The start of our work "week". The Scenic Cruise captains put in long days... we go in around 8:00 am, and it is usually close to 9:00 pm when we have the boat put away and the paperwork done. Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day on the lake - clear in the morning with very light wind; over 80 miles visibility. In the afternoon a small rainstorm came up on one trip... with the great viz, it was easy to avoid the worst of the rain, and (surprisingly) very little wind accompanied the precip. I could see a wind line coming towards us on the water, but by then we were already headed in. That weather disappeared quickly, and we had two beautiful evening cruises, including one private cruise where one party had booked the entire boat.

Great way to welcome in summer; today was the Summer Solstice, the longest amount of daylight for the year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Today was our last day off this week. There was a knock at the door this morning; Bethany, the RV park manager asked, "Can I ask you two to move?" No, not really evicted... there is a tree behind our trailer that is leaning our way. Last week, Joan asked me if I thought it was a problem. "Nahhhhh." Well, apparently Bethany thought it was. She wanted us to move so a tree-cutting crew could come in and chop it down. So, we went to work unhooking all the utilities and getting the trailer ready to move.

We pulled it down a couple sites just long enough for the crew to chop down the tree. Our part took about an hour; their part took less than 15 minutes. And then another hour or so to get things back to where we were. Well, we moved the trailer over just a bit, since when we first arrived, we were dodging snowbanks. Now, we have a bit more room on our patio.

Then it was doing what people do on days off: laundry and cleaning. Yeah, life in the fast lane. We may be living in a vacation area, but the day-to-day stuff still needs to be done. On the bright side, I did get in a motorcycle ride this afternoon. I stopped at the marina to visit with the other Lake Queen captain to see what new squawks (problems) I'd be dealing with in the morning... and there's always something.

While walking down the dock (dressed in my motorcycle leathers), one of the dockhands said, "Hey, Captain Jim, I almost didn't recognize you without your uniform."

"It's just Jim today. See you tomorrow."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Looking at the weather forecasts, today was supposed to be the most chance of precip of our three days off. With our daughter and son-in-law coming to visit next week, we decided that this was the best day for a run to Cody to stock up on groceries.

Living in Yellowstone means you have limited options for staples... there is a General Store at each of the "villages", but they are really equipped for short-term visitors. The nearest Wal-Mart is in Cody, so that's the direction we usually head. It is a beautiful drive out the east entrance and through the Wapiti Valley into Cody. Cody has become a very nice destination in itself, with a variety of stores, shops, and services. We made a visit to Sierra Trading Post, had lunch at a great little Italian restaurant downtown (Adriana's), Wally World, the liquor store, and DQ before heading out. That pretty much covers our essentials. ;-)

We spent $250 at Wal-Mart... it amazes me that Joan is able to find room for all the stuff we come back with. That should last us a couple weeks, so it isn't as bad as it sounds. Diesel is up to $4.79 in the park, $4.59 at Pahaska (just outside the park), so we try to get everything we need in one trip every couple weeks.

It turned out to be a beautiful day... warmer in Cody (since they are at about 5,000 feet, as opposed to our 7,800). It was the first time since we've been here that we wore shorts!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Playing tourists...

Some observations about driving around Yellowstone: this place is big and the speed limit everywhere is 45 mph (less in some areas). I am astounded by the number of people who try to push the speed limit... passing on a solid yellow line and over-driving the conditions. The roads are all two lane, lots of hills and curves, wildlife galore which causes people to abandon their normal driving skills. We frequently see cars stopped on the road with all four doors open, the people trying to sneak up on animals. There are laws on how close you can come to the animals: 100 yards for most of the animals, 300 yards for bears and wolves. Yet, we see people getting WAY closer than that to bison, elk, moose, etc. We have a name for these people: morons. Besides the traffic jams they create, they are endangering themselves. There are pull-outs along the roads, but noooooooo - they stop IN the road. You can see and photograph bison elk, and moose from the safety of the car, but they think these are docile animals... every year dozens of these morons get too close and are injured by the animals. It brings real meaning to the term "thinning the herd." ;-)

Many people believe you can "do" Yellowstone in a day - see Old Faithful, photograph a bear, and move on. They are missing what this place is all about. The Park Service did something exceptional when they implemented their "keep it natural" plan. Rules were put in place to protect the wildlife and natural features of this special place. Roads and buildings make up less than 1% of Yellowstone... in order to see the amazing diversity here, you have to get out of your vehicle and hike around. Yellowstone is much more than geysers... it is waterfalls, canyons, mountains, streams, rivers, forests, the largest alpine lake in North America, rolling hills and valleys, fly fishing, 60% of the thermal activity in the world, abundant wildlife... over 2.2 million acres. There is a reason it was set aside 137 years ago as the first National Park in the world. To really experience it, you need to get out in it. You can't "do" it in a day... or a week... or even a season.

Rush through this park, and you cheat yourself. There are many beautiful places around the world, but none other that offer so much diversity in one place... granted, one very large place.

Today was a day off for us, and we played tourist... took the motorcycle on a loop around the park, stopped for lunch at Canyon Village, drove over the continental divide several times, checked in on the progress of the new Old Faithful Visitors Center, stopped by the lake for ice cream, photographed some wildlife, dodged some of those cars mentioned above, and just had a wonderful, relaxing day off. The roads here are great for motorcycling: sweeping curves, hills, spectacular views... you just have to stay alert for... um... road hazards. ;-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Half day...

When we were still working in "the real world", we used to joke about working half days... only 12 hours most days. Our schedule here is considered 3 1/2 on, 3 1/2 off, and today was one of those half days: we went in before 8:00 am and got off just after 3:00 pm. 12 - 13 hour days are not uncommon on our 3 on.

Today was pretty nice - made it into the 60s. I have been anxious to ride our new motorcycle around, and Mother Nature was finally cooperative today. We took a short ride north to Canyon Village, the Visitors Center north of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone... along the way we saw bison, a moose, white pelicans... and a graying sky. Coming back home, we got rained on. The new motorcycle is considered a "dual purpose", but is mostly a road bike; it was very confidence inspiring on the wet roads. I can see that it is going to be a lot of fun here.

The rain was short-lived, and the ride was just what we needed.

Here's an example of changing perspectives: this may be the first night since we've been here (4 weeks now) that isn't supposed to be below freezing... we are going to leave our hose hooked up! Seems odd that that is noteworthy. But, living in an RV, these things need to be considered. I am looking forward to the first night we don't have to run heat... at this elevation, I'm not sure that will happen.
Things have "warmed" here in Yellowstone... that's in quotes because it's a very relative term... made it to the low 60s yesterday, and there's been 3 days of beautiful VFR weather.

I brought the boat in from my last run last night, with a thunderstorm converging on the marina... almost made the dock before the gust front hit, switching the winds from 10 on the dock to over 30 off the dock! Made for an interesting arrival. Got a round of applause from the 40 passengers onboard... then put the boat to bed... put an extra line on... and was treated to a full rainbow right over the marina.

Nice to have 900+ horsepower when the winds turn against you. (and a fresh pair of underwear)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day...

Happy Father's Day to those that are. My day started out in a lovely way, with a phone call from our little girl (only 36 years old). I've been fortunate that most years we've been able to be with her on this day, but she and her husband are coming to visit us here in Yellowstone next week. Dan (our Son-in-law) hasn't been here before, and we are excited to show them around so they can see what it is about Yellowstone that made us take a time-out from our retirement.

Yesterday was a beautiful day on the lake - the visibility was unlimited and it actually felt warm in the boat... first time I needed to turn on the vent fans in the boat. We had an ECU problem on the boat on the first run, and I had to have the young first-mate onboard come to the helm and hold the wheel while I went to the engine room and shut down an engine manually so I could restart the computer that runs the "fly by wire" on the throttles. The Ranger kept talking, the passengers didn't seem disturbed, it only took me a couple moments, and we went on with our cruise. The boat is impressive, but like any computer, occasionally it needs to be re-booted... I prefer that it doesn't happen during a cruise, though.

All went smooth after that, and our passengers seem to enjoy the views and the different interpretors we have onboard. I know I enjoy listening to the different perspectives. Besides the scenery, we saw bald eagles on a couple of our trips... that never gets old.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I am generally not a superstitious guy... but yesterday was Friday the 13th. It was a long day at work - I did 7 cruises then took the boat to the shop dock for some maintenance.

But what a glorious day: the sun was shining and it made it up to the 50s! (My how my perspective has changed, after all that snow the last two weeks). You could see every mountain ringing the lake, including Mt. Washburn to the north and the Tetons to the south... over 80 miles apart.

On one of the afternoon trips, while in the middle of the lake, the interpreter I had onboard said, "Look, a fire!" I gotta tell you, that got my attention! After my head snapped back, I could see that she was pointing to the north - a plume of smoke behind the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. I immediately called it in on the radio, giving location and wind. By the time we were headed back north on that trip, the plume of smoke was greatly diminished. Later that afternoon, we heard that the fire had been intentionally set on one of the hiking trails... about 1/4 mile from employee dorms in that area. I will never understand the nature of a person who could do something like this. Fortunately, the fire was quickly extinguished.

The rest of the day was uneventful, but beautiful. It was a treat to see how the light changes the beautiful views as the sun made its run from east to west.

Best wishes,
Jim B.

Looking forward to lots more... knock on wood. ;-)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shining orb in the sky...

For the first time in many days, we woke up to... no new snow! It was plenty cold, about 21º, but we didn't have to walk to the comfort station in snow and slush... just some slippery ice where water runs across the road.

If the weather weasels are right (and that'll be a change), it is supposed to be mostly sunny today, with only a 20% chance of precip. Running the cruise with unlimited visibility will be a new experience for me this season. ;-)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Never ending....

We woke up this morning to 3-4 more inches of the white stuff. The forecast for today: high of 37º, 80% chance of rain or snow. I was visiting with a guy from West Yellowstone this morning and he said, "I've lived here for years and never seen it snow like this, this late in the season. This is crazy."

Yeah, that about describes it.

Today is supposed to be a day off, but there is a mandatory safety meeting (spill training) at 8:00 this morning. I've got my longjohns on and I'm ready to stand outside and be "trained."

The weekend forecast is calling for improving weather. We're sure hoping so. There is some hiking and motorcycle riding to be done on our next set of days off. ;-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


A couple of my northern boating buddies implied that all the snow we've been getting (over 6" just today) is because of posting tropical images of our travels the past few winters. Karma. Of course, I deny that that I ever posted photos of dolphins, beaches, and sunsets as any kind of a gloat directed towards my frozen northland buddies.

There is weird weather happening all over the country currently. Local folks tell me that this is the most protracted winter in Yellowstone in 15 years. I can't speak to that, but I can tell you that I am ready for some sunshine and warmth. We moved south to get away from the cold and snow. Karma... indeed.

We drove around a bit, and along the way we stopped to capture this image of a buffalo in the snow...

Hopefully, there is no karma involved here - we had lunch at the Lake Lodge Dining Room, and I had bison stew!

The Lake Lodge Dining Room provides casual dining with a great view and rustic atmosphere. Nice place to spend some quiet time on our day off; we went after the lunch rush and had a quiet, relaxed time.

Don't believe it...

A fellow on a sailing forum where I participate lives near Yellowstone. He told me that June 10th is the "magic date"... after that time, we should be above freezing at night and the snow should be behind us... flowers would bloom... birds would sing... and all would be warm in this high elevation world.

Lies, more lies, and damn lies!

Here's a look out our window on Wednesday, June 11th...

Everybody sing: "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..."

It was clear and cold when we went to bed last night; I thought the snow might miss us. I am so silly.

Today is a day off for us; Joan made cinnamon rolls, and we're toasty in our RV with the heat turned up. It was 23º when I got up this morning, but the sun is out and it's already up to a balmy 28º at 8:00. I may just sit around and read this morning... now, where did I put that copy of "The Shining"?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A day off...

We are now in our regular cycle of time on/time off. I worked the last 8 days straight, and was ready for some time off.

We woke up to a slushy snow this morning, complimented by cold winds. It's June 10th, for goodness sake! I'm beginning to think we are in the land that summer forgot.

The other captain on the Queen shot these photos a few days ago... shows what I've been dealing with for weather.

Captain Jim at the helm.

Docking in the snow. Notice the guy standing next to me with the squeegee - he is clearing the window so I can see out. With the cold and snow outside, it was fogging faster than the defrosters could keep up.

That's the dockhand, waiting to tie off the stern... in the snow. You can see on the dock how much snow fell in the one hour that the boat was out.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Getting on schedule

We are supposed to be working 3 1/2 on, 3 1/2 off; I have worked the last 8 days straight. Today was a half day for me... well, kinda - I got off around 3:00. I did three cruise runs today, and the visibility was excellent. Nice people onboard, and the boat was mostly full. It was nice to be able to see the mountains all around the Lake. On one run, we were able to see from Mt. Washburn to the Tetons... that view didn't last long.

The Lake Lodge is opening tomorrow, and we participated in their shake-down for their cafeteria tonight. For the cost of a normal employee meal, we were able to get whatever we wanted. It was a good deal, and the food was good. In all the times we've been to Yellowstone over the years, we've never been inside the Lake Lodge... beautiful place; rustic, but classy. This shakedown allowed their food service staff to do a practice run before opening to customers tomorrow. After the meal, we had a marina staff meeting by the fireplace in the lobby area.

We are looking forward to the next 3 days off; hopefully the weather will cooperate and we can spend some time exploring the park.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The dockhands didn't have a lot to do today...

I ran 5 cruises today. We had some good weather, we had some low visibility. I'm looking forward to some sunshine, but the passengers have been understanding. I altered the route several times today, to go where the weather was more favorable. Yellowstone Lake is the largest alpine lake in the lower 48, with very changable weather systems that move through quickly. You know the old saying, "Don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes" Well, that is very true at Yellowstone.

Winter Wonderland...

Yeah, on June 7th. The snow (and snow squalls) came and went all day. I ran 6 cruises today, 4 of them with good visibility, 1 OK, and 1 that started good and then smacked us with a snow squall. Visibility went from a over a mile to less than 100 feet in seconds. We were near Stevenson Island at the time, so I backed the boat off into deeper water, scrapped the part of the trip that goes around the south end of the island (no point in taking passengers where they can't see AND have rough water), and headed back to the marina.

During the times of good visibility, the scenery is spectacular.

Joan shot these photos around the marina today...

Friday, June 6, 2008

I was wrong...

I thought the snow from this morning would go away...

I was wrong. Well, it kinda disappeared. Then, while out on an afternoon cruise, a snow squall moved in... the viz went down to about 200 feet and the snow was accumulating at over an inch an hour. I'm glad I had my portable chartplotter, 'cause this boat doesn't have much in the way of nav equipment (certainly not what I'm used to on Wild Blue). I was told, "You won't need that GPS; it's a lake. You can't get lost; and besides, the visibility almost never gets so low you can't see."

Yeah, that statement was wrong, too. With an island and some shoals (that I couldn't see) between me and the marina, I was glad I had laid a track on my GPS. It took me around the island, north of the shoals, and right to the opening of the marina. The passengers didn't get to see anything for the last half of the trip. But, I got 'em back, didn't get disoriented, made a nice landing at the dock... and cancelled the last trip because of the snow and low visibility.

Here's what it looked like when we got home...

I must be acclimating...

We woke up to this this morning. The snow around our trailer was all melted yesterday. I know it will be gone in a couple hours, but I checked the calendar... yep, June 6th. Perhaps Mother Nature needs a calendar? I haven't paid much attention to the calendar or clock since we retired two years ago, but I'm pretty sure I remember June being a summer month. I knew I was acclimating when I checked the outside thermometer and said, "33º... it doesn't seem so cold this morning." Quite a statement for this island boy.

Today is the first day I have to dress like a grown up. I put on my captain's uniform and Joan said, "Ohhhh... nice." Chicks dig a man in uniform. ;-)

Time to head to work.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

It's Official...

It was a busy day today. Joan had the day off and made a run into Cody for groceries and other supplies. It's just over 80 miles to Cody... and a Super Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, Subway, Sierra Trading Outlet, and a host of other real stores. I had a 3 hour practical test this morning... first an oral on the boat, explaining the equipment and procedures, then on-the-water: docking, marina maneuvering, high speed maneuvering, emergency procedures including a man-overboard recovery. It was as thorough as any flight check-ride I've taken. Earlier this week, I passed the Park Service/Department of the Interior written test. I am now officially certified as a Scenic Cruise Operator/Captain. I already hold a US Coast Guard Masters License, but the Park Service requirements are a bit different.

The marina is getting busier each day. This afternoon we took Park Service Interpretive Rangers on the cruise route so they could train some narrators. We explained where we'd be slowing, stopping, pointing out features, and coordinating the cruise with their narration. Tomorrow we will have the boat full of employees on 4 cruises so they can see what the scenic cruise is all about, and Saturday we start with customer cruises. I was surprised to find out that Saturday's cruises are booked full with a stand-by list.

If the last few days are any indication, it's going to be a busy summer. Next week we will start our regular schedule with 3 1/2 day work weeks. I am enjoying running the Lake Queen, but we are also looking forward to time off to explore the area in more depth.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Weather... or not

Weather is always a topic of conversation around Yellowstone. Due to the mountains and high elevation, it changes quickly. Yellowstone Lake is 20 miles by 14 miles, and can be an entirely different weather situation than the nearby Canyon area. The park is so large, that you can't count on an "official" weather forecast to be accurate for the area you are in.

We work up this morning to snow... it didn't stick on the pavement, but there was over 1/2" on the truck. No precip by the time we went to work. Then rain. Then small hail. Then sunshine and no wind. Then a sleety-hail with north wind. That was this morning. It makes the boat captain job a challenge.

We ran out on the lake today and had plenty of slow-speed marina maneuvering. At one point, to repair a trim tab, we had to pull the boat out on the trailer. 45 minutes later, I was backing the boat off the trailer. There is a lot to be done as we prepare for carrying passengers on Saturday. Six tours daily, increasing to seven next week.

This is why I'm here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The lake to ourselves...

Today was a treat - the whole day on the boat, practicing docking maneuvers and slow speed maneuvering in the marina area. The lake is still closed, but the Park Service gave us permission to run out on the lake... this will likely be the only time we'll have it to ourselves, but it was perfect for training. The Lake Queen scenic cruiser is an amazing boat, and Paul (the other captain doing my check-out) is patient and encouraging. The engines needed to be run up and this was the perfect opportunity. The thrust when you push those three throttle forward is very impressive.

A very good day.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Lake is clearing of ice...

On the way to work this morning, we stopped to take these photos of the low clouds on the water. As you can see, most of the ice has melted or moved down the Yellowstone River. It's a pretty spectacular view on our "commute" to work.

After lunch, we stopped at Fishing Bridge to check out the ice flowing out of the lake and into the river. It makes a "hissing" sound as it passes below, from chunks of ice rubbing against each other in the current.

I spent most of the day going over systems on the boat, from checking out the electronics to walking around in the bilge. The repair guys for the fuel pump didn't show up until after 4:00, so we never left the shop dock. We tested their repair by putting 100 gallons on and will be able to continue with my check-out on the water tomorrow.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Day off...

There was a little excitement around the campground this morning: a grizzly took a stroll nearby, across the road from our trailer. So much for a quiet walk to the shower.

Today was a day off for us; the sun was shining, we decided to make a trip to Jackson for a few supplies. The ice is melting fast on the lake - it was open from the marina area almost to Stevenson Island.

Heading south out of the park, here's your first glimpse of the Tetons...

Grant Teton National Park is another favorite place of ours. Yellowstone has tremendous variety, including some beautiful mountains, but in the Tetons you are close to the mountains where they rise dramatically from the valley floor.

One of the best views of the Tetons is from the Jackson Lake area. Having made this drive many times before, we think the views are best driving south. With no traffic, it is about a two and a half hour drive from the Lake area in Yellowstone to Jackson.

If the tourists are staying home because of high fuel prices, it didn't show in Jackson - it was packed. We stopped for lunch at Bubba's Bar-B-Q and then took care of our shopping. Diesel, which we needed, was $4.65, 15¢ less than in the park.

It was 65º mid-afternoon in Jackson... the highest temps we've seen since coming to Yellowstone. Being outside without a coat felt good to this island boy!

Then the long drive back. A friend of ours, Casey, was delivering a boat to the Puget Sound area and was on his way back. Just passing through, we made contact by cell phone and arranged to meet up just south of the park for a short visit... that turned into an hour and a half. Always nice to see friends!

It was after 7:00 by the time we came in the south entrance; almost no traffic and we had a couple more wildlife sightings: a mother moose nursing a calf and an elk. We pulled up to the trailer about 8:00. Anywhere you go to resupply around here is a LONG drive. Lots to look at along the way. Cody will be our choice for buying stuff; Jackson is trendy, pretty... and pricey. We'll look forward to some motorcycle trips to Jackson this summer as things warm up; Jenny Lake in the Tetons offers rental kayaks that should be fun.