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Mudslide: Rain, hail causes slide that blocks way to Yellowstone

Lynn Robirds of Powell stands in the center of a mud/rock slide that closed the highway to the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park Tuesday afternoon and evening. One lane of U.S. Highway 14-16-20 was open to vehicle travel by 10:30 p.m. Lynn Robirds of Powell stands in the center of a mud/rock slide that closed the highway to the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park Tuesday afternoon and evening. One lane of U.S. Highway 14-16-20 was open to vehicle travel by 10:30 p.m. Photo courtesy Jane Bushnell

A mudslide east of Pahaska Tepee closed the road to Yellowstone National Park’s East Gate for hours Tuesday afternoon and night.

Heavy rain and hail triggered the slide just east of Eagle Creek Campground on U.S. 14-16-20.

Pahaska owner Bob Coe measured nearly 2 inches of rain in the vicinity of the Mormon Creek cabins across the highway from the campground. Included in the rain was nickel- to dime-sized hail one-half inch deep on the ground. Coe said he measured one-half inch of rain at Pahaska, a few miles west of the campground.  

Big boulders, logs and soupy mud created a slide about 100 feet in length that covered the highway. On the upper end near the campground, the slide was about 6 feet thick. It was about 3 feet thick on the lower end, said Jim Berry Wyoming Department of Transportation (WyDOT) Cody maintenance foreman.

Berry was notified of the closure at 4:14 p.m. Tuesday. By 10 or 10:30 p.m., WyDOT crews operating two snowplows and two big front end loaders had opened one lane of travel.

By 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, both lanes were open and WyDOT had water diverted down a borrow ditch, Berry said. He didn’t leave the site until around 4 a.m. Wednesday.

“The road is safe,” Berry said. “We don’t leave it until it’s safe.

“There was a lot of debris,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of clean-up work.” 

When conditions are dry, WyDOT will return to evaluate the condition of the road and culvert, but Berry said he believes damages are minor. Shoulder work is needed, and the culvert requires cleaning. Some asphalt patching may be required too, he said.

Coe said some of his telephone lines were down. Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the chamber was able to telephone Shoshone Lodge and the East Entrance station Tuesday evening.

The chamber remained open late Tuesday to advise visitors of conditions and notify hoteliers of the road closure, Balyo said.

Berry praised the chamber for informing the public. Balyo wanted to pat WyDOT on the back for getting the road open quickly. Only a few people grumbled about their disrupted travel plans, he said.

“Most of them took it in stride,” Balyo said.

Torrents of rain

It’s been a wet, cool spring and summer. Locals measured 4.6 inches of rain at Pahaska in June.

“I think we’re pushing an inch all ready in July,” Coe said.

Temperatures have been cool in Park County and across the country, Balyo said. Tuesday’s overnight low was 45 degrees at Pahaska. Several people slept in their cars, and they found a blanket on the lodge’s front porch, indicating someone may have slept there, Coe said.

He said he has experienced five mudslides that have closed the highway in the 31 years he has operated Pahaska. Three of those happened in the last 20 years, Coe said.

Travel and activity were back to normal in Cody Wednesday morning, Balyo said.

Once again, people were embarking for the park Wednesday morning from Pahaska. “It’s not raining, so everybody is happy,” Coe said.

Visitation to Yellowstone National Park for the month of June is up more than 7 percent compared to 2013. Visitation surpassed the 1 million mark the first six months of 2014, according to the National Park Service.

The Fourth of July weekend rocked in Cody, Balyo said.

“Overall I think it’s been a good summer,” Balyo said.

The east end of the dirt road providing access to Mormon Creek cabins remained impassable Wednesday morning, Coe said.

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