Thursday, June 16, 2022

Yellowstone National Park closed during record summer season; Montana reels as flood waters wash away roads, bridges, homes


A bridge on the Stillwater River, on the Nye Road below Stillwater Mine, is one of dozens washed
away. Photo shows where bridge once stood over the water. Remains of the bridge are on the bank. 

Tragedy visits Montana's rivers in record flooding; bridges, homes, roads, lost to raging waters 



 FLOODING, MUDSLIDES and high temperatures conspired to close Yellowstone National Park this week for the first summer season in its 150 year history.

The road to Stillwater Mine was washed out, but the mine
quickly worked to create this secondary road late Thursday.
The disaster also closed Stillwater Mine, the only platinum and palladium mine in the United States and one of the largest in the world.
Rains from recent storms and snow run-off added to the tragic mix of elements to collapse bridges and wash away roads and homes in many parts of Montana, including Stillwater County, where I grew up and where my partner and photographic collaborator Bruce Keller spend part of each year.
Some friends were evacuated from their homes along both the Stillwater River and the river's West Fork. Mudslides washed out bridges and altered our route home.

This employee housing building near Gardiner
was washed away by the high waters and mud.
WE DROVE past several of Montana's "flood hot spots" this week, on our way in from California via the Targhee Pass and West Yellowstone. Seeing "Yellowstone Park closed" signs made us sad and we feel sorrow for those who lost homes, belongings, even some sheep and cattle.  We're lucky to be spared and safely at our summer place in southcentral Montana with only a few soggy pieces of land where culverts overflowed and the water came up to the gate -- but not the house which is on higher ground.

My native state has experienced its worst flood since 1918, and, as one old timer said, "We're four years late for the 'hundred years flood' and this one is a whopper."

The Yellowstone River hit its highest level in decades, and the surge moved through through nearby communities.  When we crossed the bridge over the Yellowstone, just south of Columbus, the river was the highest I've seen and the familiar  island west of the bridge was completely gone.
In Billings, 40 miles east of Columbus, residents were hit by flooding fallout, too. The roiling waters threatened to cut off fresh drinking water supplies and officials Wednesday asked residents to conserve water as they shut down the water treatment plant for a day. Operations were restored Thursday.
OFFICIALS ARE keeping a sharp eye on river levels in our corner of the state.
This house on the Stillwater hangs precariously
Thursday afternoon as water recedes a bit.
In the Park and nearby communities, residents are dreading the economic disaster that will affect them as long as the park remains closed.
One photographer friend speculated that Gardiner will be a ghost town, since most of its residents make their year's living off the three summer months of tourism. Restaurants, rafting and hiking companies, horse back riding outfits, motels, souvenir shops are all anticipating a disastrous summer unless the park is able to open quickly.

THE FLOOD has wiped out miles of roads and dozens if not hundreds of bridges in the park and surrounding towns. Many who didn't lose homes have suffered serious water damage from Gardiner to Livingston, Big Timber and all along the Yellowstone's surrounding communities. In our particular neck of the woods, floodwaters from the Stillwater River eroded the road to the Stillwater Mine, stranding some employees and shutting down operations. Campers near Woodbine Falls, where we frequently hike, were safely evacuated before anyone could be hurt.
Homes, sheds, garages and many other buildings
were destroyed, this one on the Nye Road.

returned from a photo-taking drive up Nye Road to the mine, with fresh pictures for this breaking story.
He observed that the mine has created a temporary road near the washed out road, so that operations can resume sooner rather than later.  The mine has been in operation since 1986, has annual production of 250,000 to 350,000 oz of platinum and palladium in concentrate and is accessed by a 580m-deep shaft and five surface portals. It has its own commissary, medical center, helicopter pad and employs 1,000 people.  It generates a whopping $711 million in revenue so its closure -- even for a short time --  has a definite economic effect.
In Red Lodge, some people evacuated along swollen Rock Creek and Main Street was badly flooded, stopping traffic.
In the Park, superintendent Cam Sholly said there is still 12 inches of snowpack in the higher mountain altitudes, "and if we get continued warming temperatures and the right mixture of precipitation like we did Sunday, we could easily have another flood event."

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers roll
up their sleeves and put on their work clothes to
help neighbors on the West Fork of the Stillwater
River, where the flood wrecked their guest house.
UP NEXT: The ability to rebound and help neighbors is one of the best and most admirable traits of the human race. We're following the record flood and its tremendous damage, with a look at the rebuilding effort in many Montana counties, and in the country's first and oldest national park.  Yellowstone has been closed for the first time during its busy summer season, with more than 80,000 people expected to visit this month. Thousands were evacuated last week when the flood broke and the park is slowly reopening in part.  The greatest damage in the northern part of the park won't be repaired for months, possibly years.  Remember to explore, learn, live -- and help your friends -- and check us out weekly for a fresh look at nature, travel, the arts and life in the West:




  1. So sad the destruction. Good reporting and photos.

  2. Ft. Lauderdale VisitorsJune 17, 2022 at 7:51 PM

    Big news, good synopsis. We are watching and hoping for no worsening.

  3. We've seen fire and rain up here. Holy cow --terrible.