Very good stuff!

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 10:21:22 04/06/14

In Reply to: Snow Plowing posted by Kent


Thanks for posting this link. I've never had the opportunity to watch these crews when they are doing the really tough stuff. The closest I've come was watching one piece of equipment plowing the parking lots at Old Faithful in late March, and it was way easier than doing the roads, because the lots I was observing had not been groomed and driven on extensively through the winter.

Back in the 1980s, when I was doing photography for Rocky Mountain National Park as a volunteer, the Naturalist Office wanted me to get photos of the plowing on Trail Ridge Road. Unfortunately, my paying job kept me busy Monday through Friday, so the only time I could get up there was on the weekend, when the crews were not working. All I was able to shoot was "deep canyon" shots, where drifting had piled snow up to 30 or 40 feet deep. We get to see that occasionally in Yellowstone in select places, like Hayden Valley, the Lewis River Canyon, or Sylvan Pass, but by the time the roads open, a certain amount of melting has transpired.

This video was shot in an area that is likely one of the easier places they plow (between Swan Lake Flat and Indian Creek). My suspicion is that when they are tackling the real hairy places, they are too busy to screw around with video.

I like the fact that they addressed the harsh reality of mechanical breakdowns. I remember how often the plow equipment would go out of service in Rocky; and the same thing happens in Yellowstone. Thankfully, there is so much more plowing in Yellowstone, they can justify dedicating two mechanics to the effort. If you look at the capital investment in those pieces of equipment, then factor in the lost labor cost when those crews are idled, it would be a no brainer to construct a viable business case justifying the expense of the mechanics.

I would love to see Jim Peaco go out with these guys sometime, and video one of the tougher clearing operations from some safe vantage point. I worked with a fellow down in Colorado in the mid-1990s that had been part of our Wyoming team. He told me about visiting Yellowstone on business one spring, when plowing was just getting going on Dunraven Pass. The head of Maintenance told him how tough it was up there, and then took him out there to show him. My friend told me about standing on what amounted to 18-24 inches of solid fairly clear ice, which was the closest layer to the pavement. The department head told him it was very dangerous for the crews doing the initial passes, because once they plowed down to that ice layer, you could easily slide off the road. You've been over that pass enough times to appreciate the exposures in all sorts of areas. One good slide, and you could keep going for quite a while, courtesy of gravity and steep terrain. I can't remember what my co-worker told me about how they deal with the ice, unless they just let solar energy work on it for a while to soften it up.

Erik Hendrickson was telling Jane and I about how Denali uses steam trucks to clear certain ditch areas, but primarily the culverts that go under the road, particularly the main drag between the Parks Highway and Savage River. I've seen photos of the operation. It is pretty dramatic. The local boroughs down here also have those type of trucks to deal with some of the ridiculous ice build-ups we get in some of the culverts.

There is an irony in considering how much trouble it is to deal with all that snow in Yellowstone, yet you are sitting in this humongous volcanic caldera, surrounded by over 10,000 thermal features.


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