Last updated: 01:27 PM ET, Wed March 02 2016

Dispatch: Tauck’s Winter in Yellowstone

Tour Operator | Tauck | David Cogswell | February 29, 2016

Dispatch: Tauck’s Winter in Yellowstone

Photo by David Cogswell

I’m not fond of Mondays. Monday is the day that the sweet dreams and pleasures of the weekend are rudely interrupted by the tasks and problems of the working week. So why would I want to rise at 3 a.m. to get a jump on a Monday morning?

Well, this is no ordinary Monday. This Monday I was getting ready to leave for the airport at 4:30 to catch a 6:10 flight to Minneapolis, and from there to fly to Bozeman, Montana, to join a Tauck tour called Winter in Yellowstone.  

Tauck has been taking people to Yellowstone for decades, but this trip is different in several ways from what the company offered historically. First off, it takes place in winter, when only a small minority of the visitors to Yellowstone arrive.

The idea to offer the Winter in Yellowstone experience in 2012 grew out of the company’s relationship with Ken Burns and the creation of a series of tours called Ken Burns American Journeys.

The Tauck-Ken Burns initiative is three pronged. The headliner was a series of events based on Ken Burns’ documentary films, such as a Civil War event in Washington D.C., a Jazz event in New Orleans, and a Chicago event that drew on themes from Burns’ films on Prohibition, Frank Lloyd Wright and Jazz.

The relationship also produced a new series of Tauck tours called Ken Burns American Journeys, in which Burns and his historian partner Dayton Duncan worked with Tauck’s product development team to build the programs.

READ MORE: Ken Burns’ Long Conversation with America

And third, the partnership produced a series of film vignettes created to be shown exclusively to Tauck guests while participating in one of the Tauck Ken Burns American Journeys.

According to Tauck insiders, at the beginning of the discussion of collaborative itineraries, Dayton Duncan’s first comment was, “Well, you have to do Yellowstone in winter.”

The result is the Winter in Yellowstone program. It was designed to fit into Tauck’s Culturious series, designed for the “culturally curious.” The Culturious programs take a maximum of 24 guests. They are more active than the company’s traditional tours and are designed for people who want an in-depth, authentic experience of a destination, including personal interactions with local experts of one kind or another.

The meeting point for the tour was the Chico Hot Springs Resort in Pray, Montana, about an hour’s drive from the Bozeman airport through the wide-open spaces of Montana. The resort is built upon a hot spring in the foothills of the Absaroka Mountain Range just north of Yellowstone National Park.

The resort dates back to 1900 and has a feeling of stepping back into the early American frontier. It’s nostalgically rustic and comfortable, a good intro to the American West and a good place to rest up after a flight and prepare for an active tour.

There was a welcome cocktail reception and dinner at Chico, at which the tour director Randy Hammond gave some introductory remarks and initiated introductions and the ice-breaking among the guests that would hopefully lead to a melding of the group for a week of traveling together.

The next morning after breakfast the program got going with a gathering to watch three short films featuring Ken Burns and his historian writer partner Dayton Duncan. The films helped to create the sense of magic of the National Parks that inspired the tour and also the Ken Burns film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

The films were about 10 minutes each, but they were sufficient to create a sense of wonder and appreciation of the parks almost amounting to reverence. Dayton Duncan, who normally stays in the background as a writer, emerged as something of a star with the sincerity and emotion he displayed in expressing his love for the national parks.

READ MORE: Yellowstone National Park Hosts Record Number of Visitors in 2015

The National Parks Service reports that visitation to national parks increased by 10 million between 2008 and 2009, after the Burns film was aired.

After the film showings, the group met with a team of dogsled mushers, competitors in the Iditarod, the king of dogsled races in Alaska. They showed us sleds, talked extensively about the life of dog sledding, raising dogs and the Iditarod. It was an amazing glimpse into the life of people for whom dogs and sledding is their life.

After the presentation, we boarded a motorcoach for the one time during the trip that we would use that form of transportation. We headed across the border into Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where we would be staying for the next two nights.

As with all trips, for me it began with a few reference points of things that I know about the destination, but mostly as a mystery yet to be unveiled. I have so much to learn.

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