The “New” North Entrance Road to Yellowstone: What was Lost and What was Gained
As virtually everyone knows, the summer of 2022 was a historic year for Yellowstone National Park. Specifically, June 13, 2022 (my Birthday) will always be remembered as the once in a lifetime flood that lead to destruction of parts of two key roads in the park and other damages.
One was the Tower-Roosevelt to Northeast Entrance Road where it was destroyed in three different locations and two other locations damaged to the point of possible lane collapse.
The significance of this, combined with the near total destruction of the North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs Road (will discuss later), was that access to Cooke City and Silver Gate, MT, two communities located just outside of the Northeast Entrance to the park, were cut off. And, to make the situation worse, the Red Lodge, MT area on the other side of Beartooth Pass, which leads to the Northeast Entrance, also sustained significant road damage and was rendered impassable. This left the folks in these two towns totally isolated with absolutely no road access to drive west to Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, MT or east to Cody, WY. Needless to say, these roads needed to be repaired as rapidly as possible. Thankfully, the leadership of Yellowstone National Park and those of the states of Wyoming and Montana, sprang into action to work together to do what would be needed to make this access to the Park and these two towns once again viable.
Destruction of the North Entrance (Gardiner, MT) to Mammoth Hot Springs Road
Unlike the damages to the Tower-Roosevelt to Northeast Entrance Road that could be repaired and done so that same summer, the North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs Road was so extensively destroyed to the point that repairing the road was deemed way too costly and time prohibitive. Consequently, it was determined that the one-way Old Historical Gardner Road would be the location of the “New” North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs Road.
Just two days after the flooding, National Park Service road crews started to make temporary improvements to the Old Gardiner Road for immediate access, and after strategic planning, funding securement, and selection of a contractor, work began to create the “New” North Entrance Road. On October 15, 2022, the Park officially opened the Northeast Entrance Road to the public.
What Was “Lost or No Longer Accessible” to Park Visitors as a Result the Destroyed North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs Road
The following sites, normally easily accessible along the pre-flood era North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs Road, are no longer accessible at this time. (See the map for the location of these landmarks, as well as to view the approximate location of the new road identified as the “Old Historical Gardiner Road”. This was the original trail of the old stagecoach route used in the 1880s.)
· Rescue Creek Trail and Native American Artifact: This trail actually ends at a pull off on a stretch of the road, but really began at the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail that is accessed on the Tower-Roosevelt Road section. The bridge that provided access across the Gardner River was destroyed. It is this trail that enabled visitors to walk past a Native American artifact, a nearly perfectly oval 20-foot diameter circle of rocks believed to be a tipi ring.
· Historic Military Shooting Range: When the US Calvary patrolled Yellowstone National Park working to protect it from undesirable characters like poachers, and to help with early efforts of creating the Park, they would hone their marksmanship skills at a shooting range, a 120-yard-long cement-stone wall.
· Gardner River Picnic Area: This small picnic area also served as an overflow parking area for the Boiling River Trailhead.
· Boiling River Hot Spring: This was one of the few hot springs in the park that was also a natural outdoor hot pool where park visitors could enjoy a relaxing soak in hydrothermal waters.
· Passage through Bighorn Sheep Management Area: As you traveled the old pre-flood road you passed through areas where you would often see a few bighorn sheep atop the cliffs and occasionally the road. It was a fun sight to gaze upwards and spot a large ram at the top of the ridge with the sky as the backdrop.
What Do You as a Park visitor “Gain” from Traveling the “New” North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs Road
There seems to often be a silver lining to something that is considered a tragedy, and that is true with the “new” North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs. Here is what was gained or dare we say wonderful about the path of the new road.
· Spectacular Views: Unlike the old road that traveled the canyon floor next to the Gardner River requiring you to look upward at cliffs hoping to spot bighorn sheep, the new road is positioned much higher on the west “hummocky” terrain hills, providing a spectacular view looking down on high plateaus and sedimentary rock formations, one of the few places in the park you can see sedimentary rocks.
· Herds of Wildlife: the high plateaus that are easily viewed from the new road often are covered with large herds of bighorn sheep, elk, and bison. A few pull offs along the road allow you to pull over, grab your spotting scope, and gaze at these herds roaming free on the high plateaus. Also, the openness of the “hummocky” terrain hills that the “new” road travels through are prime locations for elk herds and roaming bison. So, you are among the herds and have a great view across the canyon at other herds.
· A Grand Entrance: As the old road climbed up the canyon traveling past Mammoth Campground to eventually arrive at Mammoth Hot Springs, the new road summits providing a wonderful view of the majestic terraces of the famous Mammoth Hot Springs geothermal feature, and a grand look of the area as it then drops down to arrive at the north entrance of the parking lot.
A Final Word
It has yet to be determined if the newly constructed North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs Road will remain the permanent road. If it does authorities have indicated that it would need some further improvements to become the permanent road. Also, the old road as it enters the mouth of the canyon is still intact (but closed off for now) and may be reopened to a point where some of the “inaccessible” landmarks could once again be accessible, providing a new foot bridge is constructed over the Gardner River.
The best news of all, the North Entrance to the Park is once again open for all who want to come and experience the grandeur of Yellowstone National Park.