Yellowstone Flooding Disaster Breaks My Heart – What a Loss!

by Bill Sniffin

It was just awful. Recent flooding in Yellowstone National Park was a national disaster of colossal proportions. Hopefully, the federal government will come to its aid soon. It might cost billions to complete the repairs. 

As we celebrate the 150th year of the park, it is stunning to see what has been happening up there in the wake of unseasonable rains and massive flooding. 

During the 150th celebration slightly more than a month ago, Supt. Cam Sholly announced the park was in the best shape ever. As a tourist who has been there every year for 52 years, I totally agreed with him. It was never better. 

But now this! 

Flooding caused by heavy rains and melting snow wiped out highways and bridges, contaminated water supplies, cut power, and caused the park to be totally shut down for one of the first times ever in the middle of tourism season. It shut down in 2020 because of COVID and partially shut down during the 1988 fires. 

Last week, what a nightmare that must have been clearing out over 10,000 tourists. Besides all the folks staying at the hotels and inns, there must have been thousands of campers and motorhomes in there, too. Most neighboring towns offered camping sites for folks who could not get into campgrounds. 

The north loop in the park will be closed for the rest of the summer. Much of it had been closed for years for construction on Tower Falls road. Now it is closed again. What a shame.

Although this could be an economic disaster for the towns surrounding the park, there may be some opportunities, too. For tourists headed to the park, perhaps now they can spend more days in towns like Cody, Powell, Greybull, Lovell, Basin, Worland, Thermopolis, Riverton, Lander, Dubois, Pinedale, Rock Springs, Afton, Kemmerer, and Jackson. The new alternating odd-even-day entrance plan may keep tourists near Yellowstone but not inside it. 

The state of Wyoming has promoted four road trip routes all ending up in Yellowstone. There are many attractions in these areas along the way. 

Those four regional routes offer vast numbers of things to see and do. Tourists can still head to the park but hopefully will spend more time outside the park enjoying our local sites and sights rather than cancelling altogether. Here are those official routes promoted by the Division of Tourism:

Black to Yellow – This route comes from the Gillette coal area and includes Devils Tower near Sundance, Heart Mountain interpretive center between Powell and Cody, and the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area near Lovell.

Park to Park – Two of the big attractions on this route are the Fort Laramie Historical site and the Thermopolis Hot Springs. Casper, with all it has to offer, is on this route, too. 

Rockies to Tetons – This route is targeted to folks coming from Colorado and includes the Oregon Trail, Wind River Indian Reservation, the Wind River Mountains, the Dubois National Museum of Military Vehicles, and Historical South Pass City ghost town.

Salt to Stone – Folks coming from the Salt Lake area take this route which includes Fossil Butte National Monument, Flaming Gorge, the Red Desert, Evanston, Rock Springs, Afton, and Pinedale. 

As I write this, parts of the park will open this week but there is no way the damaged park can accommodate the near-800,000 tourists expected during a normal June. 

We toured much of the park back in May and it was in amazing condition. As Supt. Sholly said it has never been better. Alas, the events of this past week changed all that.  

In 2021, Yellowstone set a new all-time record for visitation with 4.86 million tourists. This shows the surge from across the world to visit this wonderful place. 

Is it worth going? Are you kidding! I love the place. “Like No Place on Earth” was the official slogan for Wyoming’s tourism division a few years ago. I liked the slogan but thought it referred more to Yellowstone National Park than anywhere else in the state.

We spent a lot of quality time at the most heavily visited part of the park – the lower loop, which was mainly unharmed. 

Back when I reported on the trip, I wrote: “Wow, what a day! Certainly, one of the best days ever. Visiting Yellowstone was like seeing an old friend again. And my friend was in fine form.”

At the present time, what has happened to the park leaves me feeling very sad. Our old friend has taken one helluva beating. Godspeed on getting healed up, old friend.  And thanks to all the staff and hard-working folks trying to fix our great park.



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