Douglas Scott | Oct 13th, 2021

This Week in Yellowstone: October 14th-19th, 2021

Whew! We made it through the first major snowstorm in the region for the season! Last week, especially Monday to Wednesday, the park was bit chaotic. We will definitely get into the specifics in a bit.

This coming week, we will see the return of the sun, fantastic views of snow back on the mountains, a couple of campground closures, and all of the other wonderful things that Yellowstone has to offer. We will also dive into the recent storm, chronic wasting disease, NASA’s plan to harvest Yellowstone for energy and more.

Give it a read, a share and get ready to visit America’s first National Park. If you want to support my weekly park posts, please pick up a guidebook!

BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK

A bighorn sheep in a snowstorm at Yellowstone National Park.

The First Major Snow Storm of the Season Shuts Down the Park
An early winter storm, occurring in October, rolled into the region, wreaking havoc on roads all around the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As last weekend came to an end, the snow started to fall, dumping well over a foot or two in some spots. The park, overwhelmed with snow and understaffed/underfunded, did their best to keep travel open throughout the park, but by Monday night, it became too much.

While snow events are common in October, this storm was different. Instead of hitting just one area, the storm hit the entire park. On Monday and half of Tuesday, all park roads were closed, except the five mile stretch of road between Gardiner, Montana and Mammoth Hot Springs. This is extremely rare. Sure, roads get shut down because of snow all the time, but closures to this extent haven’t occurred in the last few years, at least. Especially a road closure cutting off access through the park to the remote town of Cooke City. This stretch of road is the only road open year-round, so the closure was pretty significant. Luckily, it last less than a day.

Other park roads struggled to remain open on Tuesday and through Wednesday. On Wednesday the 13th, only small segments of road were open by noon, with access through the park impossible. At the time of publication, the majority of park roads were not open. Access from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful was possible, and the route between Gardiner and Cooke City Montana was also open. The rest of the roads should open later in the day.

The snow is extremely welcome, as rivers and creeks have been depressingly low all summer long. The snowpack from the winter of 20-21 melted far faster than normal, helping to plunge the entire region into drought. Hopefully, this snow sticks around and stays as a good base for dozens of feet of snow throughout the upcoming winter. Only time will tell if that will happen. Until then, enjoy the snow while you can!

Chronic Wasting Disease Found in Deer South of Yellowstone
In a recent article in the Billings Gazette, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been confirmed in a hunting district just south of Yellowstone National Park, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced in a Monday press release. While this doesn’t mean much to the average visitor to the park, it is important to watch, as this disease can spread to elk and moose, as it manifests slowly, and can remain in an infected environment for years.

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
CWD is an always-fatal nervous system disease found in cervids (deer, elk, moose, reindeer). It can be transmitted through direct animal to animal contact, contact with saliva, feces, carcass parts of an infected animal, and can even spread through soil that has been contaminated with any of the above tissues or fluids. CWD has not been shown to be infective to humans. Current research indicates that there is a robust species barrier that keeps CWD from being readily transmitted to humans. In fact, there are several other species that don’t seem to contract CWD either, like cattle and pronghorn. However, laboratory studies have shown that the CWD infective prions can be forced to morph into a form that may be infective to humans, and it has been shown that other primates (macaques) can contract the disease by consuming meat from CWD infected deer. Therefore, it is recommended that humans not consume meat from infected animals.

Why should we care about this?
This disease could have huge impacts on the future of deer hunting and funding for wildlife habitat conservation, as 80 percent of all hunters hunt deer and contribute the most money for conservation and management through the purchase of licenses and gear. The cost to test animals also puts a strain on the already tight budgets of Federal Agencies and without some form of serious action, the epidemic will spread further.

OTHER NEWS

Grizzlies Frequenting Garbage Dump Near Chico Hot Springs
A few dozen miles north of Yellowstone, east of the Yellowstone River, residents of Chico and surrounding communities are inadvertently putting grizzlies in harm’s way. The grizzlies are feasting on an open trash area in Paradise Valley, and have been there for at least a week. Captured on video, it appears as if there is little currently being done to stop this. If these bears continue to feed on trash, there is a high likelihood that they will continue to see human’s as a source of food and frequent homes and dumpsters up and down the valley. If this occurs, the bears will be killed. I placed a call into Fish and Wildlife, but it has not been returned. Updates will occur when and if I hear more.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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NASA Has a $3.46 Billion Plan to Cool Yellowstone and Harvest it for Energy
While this news came out in 2017, you probably missed it. I know I did. While the headline reads like an Onion title to a satirical story, this piece ran on BBC.Com. The following is an excerpt from a new article on interestingengineering.com, but I highly suggest you just go read the original story from 2017 at the link provided here.

In 2017, Brian Wilcox, a member of a NASA Advisory Council on Planetary Defense conducted a study on the threat of asteroids and comets, said he “came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat. There are approximately 20 supervolcanoes on Earth, and major eruptions occur on average once every 100,000 years. A prolonged volcanic winter from a supervolcano eruption could prevent humanity from having enough food for the world’s population, leading to widespread starvation.

Wilcox explained NASA’s plans to prevent this from happening. The U.S. space agency itself admits that the plan isn’t without risk, though the rewards would outweigh the risks if they prevent a cataclysmic event capable of wiping out humanity. The plan would see holes drilled into the volcano’s lower sides, outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. The project organizers would then pump high-pressure cold water into and then out of the supervolcano. The water going in would cool the volcano, while the outgoing water would reach temperatures of approximately 350°C (662°F) and could be used to generate electricity.

Supervolcanoes could power surrounding areas for ‘tens of thousands of years’
According to Wilcox, the plan is only theoretical at this point and there is a lack of data on the risks of drilling into the side of a volcano. Still, he believes the $3.46 billion experiment could be funded by geothermal companies who would see a return on their investment and who would “get electricity which can power the surrounding area for a period of potentially tens of thousands of years.” On top of that, “the long-term benefit is that you prevent a future supervolcano eruption which would devastate humanity,” Wilcox told the BBC in 2017.


WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK

After a week of chaos, this week’s weather forecast looks downright boring. Once the last of the snow leaves on Thursday. The next week in and around the park will be mostly sunny and brisk during the day. Nighttime temperatures will be well below freezing in most locations, but the days will be manageable, ranging from highs in the 50s to highs in the mid-40s.

The following screen shots are from the weather.com forecast for the three closest towns to the park- Gardiner, West Yellowstone and Cooke City, as well as Yellowstone Lake. While they don’t specifically cover the entire region, these forecasts give a great idea of what to expect all around the region As always, weather can and does change fast in the park, so always be prepared for anything.


WILDLIFE WATCH

The days after a snow event are some of my favorite times to hit the park to look for wildlife. On the chilly mornings, ungulates wildlife will be hunkered down until they are warmed by the warmth of the sun. Be aware that on these cold mornings, the roads are often warmer than the snowed over area and animals may be sleeping on the pavement. Drive extra slow when daylight is minimal. I have rounded a corner near Slough Creek and came across several bison sleeping on the road.

Ok, so where will you see animals. That is what everyone wants to know. I sound like a broken record, but your best chance to see bison, elk, moose bears, and wolves will be to head to the Lamar Valley and toward Cooke City. From here on out, your best wildlife experiences will probably occur out there. Around this time, the moose rut begins to wind down and a few bull moose have been known to frequent the areas around Pebble Creek.

Bighorn Sheep mating season is just a few weeks away, so the first of the aggressive activity may be starting soon. The most constant year round sightings of bighorn sheep will occur on the cliffs between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, Montana. You may get lucky and see then near the pullout with the bathrooms by the eastern end of Lamar Valley.

The elk rut is still winding down, but bugling can be heard and the bulls are still all hyped up on testosterone and lust. You’ll probably see them around Mammoth and along the Madison River. There is also a huge herd outside of the park, on either end of Yankee Jim Canyon near Gardiner, Montana.

Want the best tips and locations for wildlife sightings on your Yellowstone trip? I wrote a book for that very purpose! Pick up your digital ebook or paperback copy now!


ROADS AND CAMPGROUNDS

After Wednesday the 13th and Thursday the 14th, road closures should be a thing of the past. At least for the coming week. With no real precipitation in the forecast and some sun shine anticipated, travel in and around the park should be much more manageable than this past week. I would be shocked if any road closures occur. If they do, they should be for more than a few hours at the most. As
For up-to-date information consult the map above, call (307) 344-2117 for recorded information, or sign up to receive Yellowstone road alerts on your mobile phone by texting “82190” to 888-777 (an automatic text reply will confirm receipt and provide instructions). Anticipate possible road closures due to inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions.

Planning on camping in the park this week?
This week, the camping options in the park get cut in half, with seasonal closures of both the Madison and Slough Creek Campground occurring. The 16 sites at Slough Creek are closed as of October 12th. The 278 site Madison Campground is slated to close on October 17th. After these closures, the only remaining campgrounds open in Yellowstone National Park are Lewis Lake and Mammoth. Lewis Lake will close on November 7th, while Mammoth will remain open all year. You can check the status of campgrounds in the park online here. 


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

If the road is open, consider taking a quick trip out of the East Entrance. Full of scenic spots to take in views and glimpses at towering peaks, this is an underrated drive that many visitors to the park do not take. Not only are there grizzlies that frequent this stretch of road, but you’ll also have a chance to see the changes in geology as you drive a few miles east of the park. From Fishing Bridge, this road skirts the lake, then rises up to Sylvan Pass, giving you places to stop and bask in the glory of the region. Highlights are the long beach along Mary Bay Lake Butte Overlook, which gives glimpses of the Tetons on a sunny day, and Sylvan Lake, which sits under the impressive Grizzly Peak. The popular trail up Avalanche Peak will probably not be accessible, but it is ok. Tuck it away for your summer visit next year.

If you feel like heading out of the park for whatever reason, you’ll find a handful of campgrounds and picnic areas along the North Fork of the Shoshone River, next to red rocks and under snowy summits. If you feel so inclined, and have the time and ability, go all the way to the town of Cody and check out the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum. It is quite impressive! Can’t make it that far this trip? Plan another trip and add it.


TIP OF THE WEEK

See the main sights of the park in snow. Before this snow melts, which most of it probably will in many areas in a week or so, head to the well-known spots for a unique experience. Seeing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with snow, seeing the Old Faithful erupt with snow around in the hills, even seeing the mountains out of the northeast entrance should all incredibly impressive. The snow will add a layer of definition that will be perfect also be for pictures. Plus, you may see some bison with frost on them, or watch as the push snow to eat. It won’t be as deep of snow as it is in the true winter months, but it is still awesome to see.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Curious about something not mentioned in the post?
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