A SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE #15 â€“ â€œGUEST PARKING ONLYâ€
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[Cooke City, Montana (Pop. 140), on U.S. Route 212, at the Eastern Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Monday, October 17, 2010]
I was in Boise, Idaho the previous week for an army reunion and, coincidentally, a meet-up with four other JPG members, but now I was making my way east to Denver to catch a plane home to Nashville.
I arrived in Gardiner, Montana, at the Northern Entrance to YNP on Saturday, October 15, and had a decision to make. I could keep driving, or I could stop for two days to watch college and pro football. I found a Best Western with a good cable television package . . . and stopped.
I awoke early Monday morning to dire weather forecasts of hail, sleet, and snow. For a moment, I wondered whether I should turn north and catch the Interstate at Livingston, Montana. That would give me a smooth, if nondescript, ride all the way to Denver. However, my heart was set on the far more exciting drive through Yellowstone to Cooke City, then to Cody, and finally to Sheridan. That would mean crossing the Northern Absaroka Range and the Bighorn Mountains . . .
I knew that U.S. 212 (the â€œBeartooth Highwayâ€) east of Cooke City could "close for the winter" on a momentâ€™s notice, but it was worth the try. From Park Headquarters at Mammoth, I turned east and crossed Yellowstoneâ€™s northern frontier. Ice crystals hit the windshield, but there was little accumulation, and the wind-swept roads were dry. Ninety minutes later, I was in Cooke City.
I stopped to take some photos of this extremely isolated, hard-pressed village. Since I was not a guest, I was careful not to park on the grounds of the Soda Butte Lodge for fear of what could happen!
Skeletons of dead trees (shown) speak to the conflagration that burned down almost half of Yellowstone and much of the surrounding national forests, and came within an eyelash of torching Cooke City (and the Parkâ€™s Old Faithful Inn), in 1988. Many books have been written about the great fires, but the best book on the subject is, in my opinion, â€œFire in Paradise,â€ by Micah Morrison (HarperCollins 1993). It is a scathing indictment of the â€œpolitics of environmentalism.â€
Years later, Yellowstoneâ€™s â€œburnâ€ policy is unclear. I â€œthinkâ€ that natural fires (lightning strikes, for example) will be allowed to burn out on their own, even if the entire ecosystem is consumed. Other fires, that is, fires caused by humans, will be suppressed by human means.
I stayed ahead of the storm and decided to stretch my luck by detouring east to South Dakotaâ€™s Black Hills. I reached Hill City, South Dakota in plenty of time for Monday Night Football. But, it was here that the snowstorm caught up with me.
Many of you will remember this October storm, which was accompanied by fierce winds. Thousands of scheduled flights from Denver to Boston were cancelled.
As always, thanks for stopping by!
Also by Richard Knight
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