John J King II
Report from Yellowstone: After the Flood
Updated: Apr 3
We were keen to get back to Yellowstone this winter. The last six months have been traumatic at the north entrance to America’s first National Park since the historic flood occured there in the late spring of 2022. We wondered about the damage and how the event had affected the park, its wildlife and the people who make a living there.
To recap, on the morning of June 13, 2022, Yellowstone experienced a 500-year flood event. Northern parts of the park received a combined 7.5-9.5 inches of rain and snowmelt in a 24-hour period. The flood destroyed several sections of the North Entrance Road between Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, and Gardiner, Montana, and three sections of the Northeast Entrance Road between Lamar Valley and Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana.
A thermal feature at the Mammoth Hot Springs
Now six months later the Park is open to the public and functioning while the longer term repairs to roads and park infrastructure at the Park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs continue. Incredibly, contactors constructed a safe temporary road on the site of the Old Gardiner Road from Gardiner into Mammoth on a very aggressive time schedule. The rebuilt road opened on October 30 for public traffic. This was a boon to the inn and restaurant owners in Gardiner, most of whom were suffering having missed the entire summer and fall seasons of visitors.
We arrived in Gardiner to find subzero temperatures and crystal clear skies. Yellowstone had a brand new entrance road and was beautifully blanketed in snow. We set out in darkness an hour before sunrise with our brilliant guide, Nolan Darr from Yellowstone Journeys. At that hour surface fog hugged the ground and crusty hoar frost clinged to the sage brush, aspen and willows waiting for sunrise to kindle the ubiquitous sparkle of ice crystals. Many bison were huddled in clumps like statues in their massive winter coats trying to conserve energy for the day of difficult foraging for grasses in the deep snow. There were few visitors in the park and we were free to move about in a winter wonderland in our hybrid SUV admiring the coming daylight and scanning for wildlife from various lookout points along the way.
Beautiful bull elk nibbling on willow shoots. With the rut long past he will soon drop his antlers.
Sunrise in the Lamar Valley
Steam rises from the Fountain Paint Pots.
A couple of bull elk rest conserving strength in the bitter cold.
A coyote on the hunt for rodents in the Lamar Valley
This coyote and a mate worked together to force a big horned sheep over this hillside.
We watched the whole sequence. The sheep was able to gain shelter on the steep hillside below and eventually the coyotes lost interest and moved on.
Icicles overlooking the Lamar River canyon. A north facing wall which the locals call the "icebox".
During this Yellowstone visit we had one distant wolf sighting of members of the Junction Butte pack early one morning. No images to share so I added this image of a female wolf we discovered near Tower Junction in a surprise spring snow squall we experienced on our May visit to the park. Wolf sightings are truly special.
A beautiful bison bull salutes us with his tongue near Hellroaring overlook!
Bald Eagle overlooks the Madison River on a very cold morning.
More from the Fountain Paint pots thermal feature. This mud bubbles away and is literally boiling hot. Don't even think about touching!
A small waterfall on the Firehole River near Madison Junction. On this day we were on the search for a bobcat that had been reported to be feeding on a deer carcass nearby for several days. Unfortunately we got there too late and the elusive cat had already moved on. Another photographer posted the image below that was taken a few days before our arrival.
Note: Bobcats are incredibly hard to find and see in Yellowstone. Maybe next time...
Probably our most adrenaline filled encounter was with moose. Near Round Prairie on the Northern range there is a stand of young willow trees that are popular with moose. Our guide lead us out a trail in the forest designed to get us closer to the action. As we made our through heavy snow we were surprised to discover three very large bull moose had been moving toward us but hidden from our view behind a small wooded knoll.
It is prudent to give moose a wide berth in the wild as they have poor eyesight and when startled often charge as a defensive maneuver. We found ourselves barely fifteen yards away...much too close. Frozen in place we hugged trees hoping that the animals would not feel threatened and move on their way past us. One of the bulls with formidable antlers was particularly impressive. He moved quite easily by us at close range in snow that was up to his haunches. Another moose chose to speed by behind us in panic strides while we were helpless to do anything except remain still. They can weigh up to 1500 lbs. A close call!
We breathed a bit easier as they finally got clear.
We had a close encounter with a few Bighorn sheep rams near the Yellowstone River.
A Bison bull, frosty in the subzero temps, makes his way past us in the early morning hours along the roadside.
The famous geyser "Old Faithful" still is a reliable attraction at Yellowstone. It's eruptions are variable in timing intervals but park rangers can still predict when it will fire up on most days.
With an uncommon stroke of luck for us the spectacular "Beehive Geyser", which only erupts once a day, chose the sparse few moments that we happened to be present to go off sending a plume of steam over 200 feet into the air! Yellowstone truly provides the visitor a spectacle of unique thermal features just as it has, likely for thousands of years. This image courtesy of Nolan Darr. I was shooting a video.
A pair of Pronghorn antelope. The fastest four legged creatures in North America.
We discovered this hibernation den of a female Black bear. Unfortunately she seemed to be awake and moved visibly in her den. Hopefully she still manages a successful winter rest.
A nice view of the northern range in the northeast of the Yellowstone NP.
Our fantastic guide, Nolan Darr, Co-owner & Naturalist from "Yellowstone Journeys" https://yellowstonejourneys.com/
Our merry band. Pam and me with the infamous "seventh son", Steve Smith, a long time friend and fellow traveler from New Orleans.