Yellowstone shutdown: Families seeking hotel rooms after being evacuated


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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

Flooding and the closure of Yellowstone National Park ruined a vacation Denver resident Jackie Harrison and her family had planned for this week.

“It does, it’s totally ruined,” she said.

Due to rampant flooding, mudslides and road washouts in Yellowstone, the park pulled all visitors to the park on Monday, closing the park completely for what at least one former official believes is the first time in the history of the park.

It was a last-minute trip to buy binoculars that might have saved Jackie and Alan Harrison and their two children the over-hour drive from Cody to the east entrance of Yellowstone, where they would have probably been turned away. It was in the parking lot of a Cody store that the Harrisons received an email warning them that the park had closed.

Alan and Jackie Harrison pour ice from their cooler into a small ice bucket they plan to bring to their hotel room.

“It was just in time,” said Alan Harrison.

The Harrisons enjoyed a long vacation from the cabin they booked in Grant Village, with a boat trip, hikes and other activities on the agenda.

“For the kids, it was really exciting because it was their first trip to Yellowstone,” Harrison said.

The Harrisons were among visitors whose plans were upended by the flooding, the result of days of heavy rain amid snowfall. The park closed all of its entrances to incoming visitors on Monday morning and by Monday afternoon it had withdrawn all tourists.

Rob Wallace, a former Home Office assistance secretary who oversaw the National Park Service, said he thought this may be the first time the park has been completely closed.

Scott Lewis and his family were able to see part of the park before it closed, but it was limited to a rainy Sunday, which Lewis described as “good, but a bit stressful” due to the large amount of rain falling .

The family was supposed to stay in Silver Gate, Montana, outside the park’s northeast entrance and from there continue into the park. But when Lewis took one look at the overflowing Soda Butte Creek just 15 feet from the short-term rental cabin the family rented, he knew they had to change their plans.

“It (Soda Butte) was flowing three times the normal width,” he said.

Like the Harrisons, the Lewis’ vacation plans in Yellowstone, including wolf watching, a dinner wagon, and horseback riding, had to be scrapped.

“What are you doing?” asked Scott Lewis. “You just go with the flow with that.”

Scott Lewis tries to choose the items he will bring to his hotel room.

With five people in his party, Lewis said he struggled to find two rooms for a staycation in Cody. On Monday afternoon, he found himself deciding what foods from the back of his van he would put in the mini-fridge in his hotel room, trying to reach for avocados while maneuvering around fishing rods and coolers.

“If I had known this was coming, I would never have brought so much food,” he said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Lewis said he saw about 20 people crowding the lobby of the Best Western hotel in Cody trying to find a room.

Will Lewis, member of Best Western’s guest services department, said the property was sold out for the next three days.

“It affects our buses,” said Will Lewis, referring to the hotel’s partner tour bus groups.

Harrison said his family would take a long trip from Cody to Grand Teton, through Thermopolis and Shoshoni. It’s the only part of their journey that can still be salvaged.

“We planned to go anyway,” said Jackie Harrison.

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