Feb 24, 2015

For 42 years, man has maintained Yellowstone’s Canyon Village year-round

CANYON VILLAGE — It’s a solitary existence, and that’s fine with Steve Fuller. He never feels alone.

Fuller has been the winter keeper at Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park for 42 years.
He was hired in 1973 and now works full-time at Canyon for Xanterra Parks and Resorts, Inc.

“I’ve lived at Canyon year-round every since,” Fuller said. “Seems like last week.”

Steve Fuller gazes out across Yellowstone's winter landscape. Photo by Gib Mathers

His nearest neighbors — 16 miles to the south at Yellowstone Lake — are National Park Service rangers and the only other winter keeper in the park keeping an eye on the facilities at Lake Village.

Originally, he was hired only to remove snow from roofs, but more duties came when he was named maintenance manager 30 years ago, such as summer project planning, preparing for contractors and hiring employees, Fuller said. Still, snow remains a chief component in his world, especially when it’s measured by the foot.

On Feb. 13, Canyon had 38 inches, according to the snotel site there, which automatically measures snow data. That’s an average year, although it has been a warm winter, Fuller said.

Left unattended, snow cornices can weigh tons and cause severe roof damage, particularly on the lee, or downwind, side where the windblown stuff accumulates, Fuller said.

He carries a big saw on his snowmobile, a two-man cross-cut like the ones used by lumberjacks of an earlier time.

Behind the main lodge, snow hugs the roof like an avalanche waiting to crash. More snow is piled high along exterior walls like a berm concealing a building partially underground.

Tons of snow accumulate on the buildings Fuller is tasked with protecting over the long winter at Canyon Village. He keeps the snow in check, but believes the cornices can be exquisite. ‘They’re beautiful things,’ Fuller said. Photo courtesy Steve Fuller
Years ago, he had a Willys Jeep tucked away for the winter in the back of the lodge. That spring, he had removed the snow from the roof and the parking lot had been cleared of snow except next to the lodge.

He had to dig a tunnel to get the vehicle out, Fuller said.

Family photojournalist

Fuller’s photography has been published and publicized. He has performed commercial contract photography on a number of occasions.

In 1978, he wrote and illustrated a story for National Geographic magazine portraying his life and that of his family living in Yellowstone year-round. Last fall, CBS aired a story featuring Fuller. “TV seems to discover this life every 10 years,” Fuller said.

Living in Yellowstone for years affords him the opportunity to know when wildlife and features will be the most photogenic, Fuller said. He took this shot of a lone bison in Hayden Valley.

He’s presented photo slideshows of his work for the British Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, REI and National Geographic.

“It reminds me of the special opportunity I’ve had to live here, and it’s quite extraordinary,” Fuller said.

With the exception of management and administrators Mammoth Hot Springs or in Gardner, Mont., working in Yellowstone is a transient vocation for most people, summer or winter.

During winters, they are employed during a brief season at Mammoth or Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Few stay year-round within Yellowstone’s interior. Fewer still rear their children in the park. Still, it isn’t unprecedented. Jerry Bateson, former winter keeper at Lake, raised at least one son there, Fuller said.

“My kids grew up in Hayden Valley,” Fuller said.

Fuller and his ex-wife, Angela, raised Emma and Skye, now grown, at Canyon.

Emma was 18 months when she came to Yellowstone, and Skye was born there; well, darned close, anyway.

On Dec. 23, 1974, Skye Canyon was born in West Yellowstone, Mont. By Christmas Day the family was back at Canyon, Fuller said.

In the mid 1980s, Fuller’s children, Emma and Skye, were out for a little ice skating. ‘The freeze-up of Yellowstone Lake is one of the great events of the year,’ Fuller said. Photo courtesy Steve Fuller

The girls were home-schooled at Canyon. Fuller has a bachelor’s degree in history, and Angela has a master’s degree in education.

“I had taught in Africa,” said Fuller, who still spends April on safari there each year.

Emma finished high school in Gardner, Mont., and Skye in Jackson, Fuller said. Now, Skye lives in Reno, Nev., and Emma resides in Livingston, Mont.

Stew burglar

In November 1973, a grizzly bear tried to join the Fuller family for dinner.

While they were eating, the sow broke through the kitchen window. Although the opening was too small to allow her full access, she was able to snatch a pan of stew off the stove.

“The next morning I found the pot behind the house, licked shiny clean,” Fuller said in his National Geographic piece.

Two days later, the grizzly was back. “Didn’t get any stew that time,” Fuller said.

Later that fall, the 16-year-old sow was trapped in the Pebble Creek area after raiding cabins at Roosevelt Lodge.

The skinny old bear was euthanized. “Seeing her killed was a bummer,” Fuller said.

Now iron bars reinforce his windows to keep uninvited guests out.

Kruger keeps a close eye on a bison looking for a little grass. Photo courtesy Steve Fuller
Fuller’s house of 42 years is at least 100 years old. It may date back to the 19th century.

“Certainly 1910, no doubt about that,” he said. 

The place is a bit off the beaten path, a mile south of Canyon Village. From his front porch, the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River are little more than a stone’s throw away. From a picture window, snow-softened hills highlighted with pine seem to undulate to infinity.
The moon and sun backlight the falls’ vapor plume. Fuller can hear the Upper Falls.

“It’s like a megaphone pointed at my front step,” Fuller said.

Not sequestered

Fuller captured this shot near the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
During winters, he keeps busy with work, writing and photography, Fuller said.

Of course, he has a 2.2-million-acre playground. “I love to cross country ski,” Fuller said. 

Fuller was born in Cathedral City, Calif. He spent his childhood in Indiana and the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia.

He has lived in Boston; Washington, D.C.; New York City; San Francisco and London, but after spending three years in Africa — one year in Uganda and two in Kenya — he was “spoiled on the bush,” he said. “It changed my life, and that is what brought me here.”

He doesn’t want television, although he had a satellite dish. He tunes into Wyoming Public Radio, streams the BBC and reads The New York Times online. He also accesses the Library of Congress, providing him a wealth of reading material.

Fuller only leaves his Yellowstone home if he must. He has no reason to leave. He stocks up on groceries prior to winter storms, he said.

Fuller is not a cranky hermit spurning the world. Rather, he’s an articulate, friendly man who loves his home and the outdoors.

He’s never suffered cabin fever, and friends come by to visit, even in the winter.

“Never felt lonely — ever,” Fuller said.


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