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YELLOWSTONE IN WINTER

Q: Is it possible to visit Yellowstone in winter? I want to take my two children, 7 and 10, and would like to know what sort of activities in the park would be suitable for them. We'd prefer lodging inside the park.

A. Winter lodging is available in Yellowstone at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge Dec. 18-March 12, with rates starting at about $80 per night, and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Dec. 23-March 5, with nightly rates starting at $96.

An activity schedule has not yet been posted for the coming season, but last winter several ranger-led programs were held, including a daily "Geysers Galore" talk, evening slide shows, snowshoeing tours and wildlife walks. Concessionaires conduct daily snowcoach tours of the park, and cross-country skiing is also offered.

If you like to snowmobile, you're in luck. A federal judge recently struck down a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The park service is working on a snowmobile winter-use plan that will be finalized next month. Most likely, it will allow 720 commercially guided snowmobiles per day into Yellowstone. Snowmobile operators must be licensed drivers within Yellowstone, but your children can ride as passengers.

For more details: National Park Service, (307) 344-7381, www.nps.gov/yell. For lodging: (307) 344-7311, www.travelyellowstone.com.

Q: My husband and I are planning a vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii, but he has heard the volcano may become more active, which could affect our plans. What do you know of this situation?

A. Volcanoes are getting uppity all over the world. In recent weeks, Mount St. Helens in Washington state has been belching smoke and ash. Mount Etna in Sicily has been spouting lava. And scientists are watching Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the world's largest volcano.

No one can say exactly when Mauna Loa will erupt, but increased earthquake activity beneath the 13,677-foot mountain indicates that the volcano is emerging from a more dormant state. It last erupted in 1984, sending a 16-mile-long flow of lava toward Hilo. Since then, thousands of homes have been built on its slopes.

Unlike Hawaii's other volcano, Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since early 1983, Mauna Loa produces large lava flows that move quickly; in one instance, a lava flow traveled more than nine miles in three hours, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Your chances of being at a resort that's impacted by a sudden eruption are slim. The volcano is wired with tracking and measuring technology, and scientists most likely will be able to warn residents if it's about to blow. But if you're still worried, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory publishes "lava flow hazard zone maps," which divides the island into safety zones based on past lava flow history. North Kohala and Mauna Kea are safe bets, although they are not the island's tourist centers. For more info, go to http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov.

Washington Post

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