MONDAY, June 13
I knew Chloe & Becky had returned to the Park on June 9 for a short visit. I had made a plan to join them Monday (6/13) thru Wednesday (6/15).
But it was not to be. On Sunday night June 12, I got a text from Becky & Chloe warning me that the weather prediction was pretty gloomy for the next few days, rain, rain and more rain, and that they would understand if I decided to skip my trip. Nevertheless, I was packed, and planned to leave on Monday after watching the Jan 6 Committee hearings.
At 8:30AM, I got a text from Bozeman friend VW, who said she had be notified that “a bridge on 89 was washed out” and that the road between Gardiner and Mammoth was blocked.
I checked the NPS website and saw multiple notices that a flood was happening, causing numerous problems. It apparently began Sunday night and was still rampaging. I knew it was common for spring rain to cause landslides in Gardiner Canyon, which would close the road for several hours while it was cleared of debris, but this seemed different. These notices said the road itself was washed out, and that access between Gardiner and Mammoth was cut off.
I then got an email from Chloe, with a subject line “Road Closures”
Well, there’s more fun afoot. Don’t have details yet but the road from Gardiner into the park is closed and the road from Mammoth to Silver Gate was closed this morning. Think there was a rock/mud slide in Gardiner Canyon. The road maintenance guy said also possibly a washout but emphasized to us that he didn’t have any details other than we couldn’t go that way today and possibly for a few days.
Law enforcement had the road closed at the chapel as we tried to head out to Lamar at 5:30 this morning. He wasn’t clear if the road to the northeast entrance was closed due to high water over the road or if there was a washout but he seemed to think it would be closed for awhile. Dunraven also closed due to weather.
Betty told us Laurie’s house has a moat around it and that Rick’s driveway was flooded. There’s also flooding in Cooke, power is out, and some people are stranded. Dorothy’s visit has been delayed because the road to her cabin is closed due to flooding. And it still continues to rain For Cooke and Silver Gate, snow is forecast for tonight.
So, don’t know if you are still thinking of trying to get down here to share some critter-watching time but you may not be able to get from there to here or to where the critters are. YNP currently is showing the road closures on their website but doesn’t say why or for how long. Supposedly details will be available when the VC opens at 9.
I replied to Chloe that I would be staying in Bozeman! I encouraged them to leave the Park by whatever roads were still available to them and invited them to stay over at my place, since I suspected their drive might take a lot longer than usual.
During the course of the day, I discovered that the bridge washout info from Veronica was not about 89 itself but a bridge in Tom Miner basin which crosses the Yellowstone and leads to 89. Not only did that bridge wash out completely but the Yellowstone overtopped the road in Yankee Jim Canyon, cutting off Gardiner from both sides.
Next, I spoke to Laurie (in San Diego) who told me Rick, Bill H, Bill W, John K. and Gary G were all stuck in Silver Gate. The Soda Butte Creek had flooded in Round Prairie and washed out a separate section of road between there and Trout Lake. People had sent pictures to her which were just unbelievable.
The power was out in Cooke City and Silver Gate but was restored within 24 hours. Laurie told Bill to go ahead and stay at her house. Bill told her the generator was working, so her house had power. At least for now.
I admit to feeling a degree of numbness throughout the day. The news, the photos, the phone calls, the emails – I could barely process what was happening to the Park I know so well and love so much.
I was wracking my brain, trying to recall which of my friends were in the Park now, and came up with none besides Becky and Chloe. By sheer luck, the majority of my close buds had missed this disaster. Two were due to arrive soon, but the word was out and they were able to turn around and cancelled their plans, and avoided being trapped.
Chloe and Becky reported in from West where they were having lunch. Park personnel encouraged them to leave Mammoth Campground, which they did, using the road southwest to Norris, then through Gibbon Canyon to Madison Junction and out through West.
As they exited West, they saw the Park had just closed that entrance and were turning visitors around. Before lunch was finished, the Park had closed all five entrances and were escorting all remaining visitors out. They needed all-hands-on-deck to deal with the disaster on the Northern Range.
Law enforcement, especially, could not be spread thin dealing with summer visitors, even in the southern half, where no damage or flooding was even occurring.
In the end, Chloe and Becky made it out via 191, although traffic was heavy and backed up through Gallatin Canyon. They did stay over with me in Bozeman and are now safely back in Missoula.
Over the next several days I immersed myself in flood coverage, local and national. The pictures I saw were unbelievable, the damage to my beloved Northern Range so extensive.
The flooding itself was exclusive to the Northern Range. It involved two weather events that coincided, involving the very high mountains of the Absaroaka Range and the Beartooths. Although the winter of 2022 began with very little snow, April, May and early June proved to be colder than usual, with repeated snow events and rain in between. Instead of melting gradually, the snow in the mountains actually built up.
Then on Friday (6/10) and Saturday (6/11), the area had warmer than usual temperatures, accompanied by heavy rains. Suddenly all that snow began melting very fast. The rain continued into Sunday causing ever more rapid snow melt. All the high tributaries rose at the same time, flooding their banks, dragging trees and boulders down.
The Soda Butte Creek, normally a gurgling, tree-lined mountain stream became a monster. Trees and boulders carried by the enormously high water swept away four sections of road and flooded all of Pebble Creek Campground and Round Prairrie. It merged with the Lamar River (which was already running at its “normal” seasonal high) which created a lake from Hitching Post to Midpoint. At least now the waters could spread out over the flats, which apparently saved the road from damage.
In Lamar Canyon, the water lifted hundreds of huge boulders from the east end and piled them up on the west end, along with countless trees, dangerously undercutting the road on the north side.
Meanwhile, the Yellowstone River was rising due to snow-melt and rain along its countless smaller tributaries.
Slough Creek flooded, adding its rocks and tree trunks to the Lamar which delivered them to the Yellowstone. The Yellowstone was recorded as rising 6 feet, a full 2 feet above the “normal” spring flood level.
Another Yellowstone tributary, Gardiner River, swelled higher than ever in recorded history as all its tributaries brought excess water roaring into Gardiner Canyon. It tore out six sections of roadway, caused huge rocks to tumble down, numerous landslides and mudslides as it made its way to the Yellowstone. All that water and debris tore at the banks, carving out huge chunks.
Before the end of the day on Monday, it had so eroded the north bank so severely that an entire house tipped down into the flood, riding the churning water until it was demolished as it crashed into a concrete bridge.
The bridge held.
We learned of a water gauge just north of Gardiner in a place called Corwin Springs. That gauge had recorded a record high water volume during a spring flood in 1918 of 30,000 cubic feet per second. On June 13, 2022, the gauge read 49,400 cfs – breaking a hundred-year-old record by an astonishing margin.
Thanks to a quick and well-executed response from Cam Sholly’s administration in YNP, not a
single person lost their life.