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Powell, WY

Fair
Wind: N at 7 mph

East gate opens for season

Heralding Friday’s opening of the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, an adult grizzly bear captures the attention of visitors one mile below the gate. Heralding Friday’s opening of the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, an adult grizzly bear captures the attention of visitors one mile below the gate. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

When the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park opened for the season Friday morning, folks were raring to go.

“Good morning,” said Dennis Lenzendorf, supervisor of the East Entrance. “Welcome to Yellowstone.”

Occupants of every car received the same neighborly salutation.

A thermometer at the gate read 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky was gray and overcast. But neither the chilly air nor piles of snow heaped beside the road were detouring the early birds Friday.

Gene and Kay Onstine of Powell were en route to Fishing Bridge to check out the campground.

“We just love it up here,” Kay said as Gene eased their car to the gate where Lenzendorf waited.

Lenzendorf is doing a steady business. Although Friday does not compare to July or August, two to three cars were, at any given time, waiting as drivers paid the entrance fee or flashed Lenzendorf their pass.

Last year, Lenzendorf said 400,000 people entered the East Entrance.

A few hundred yards east of the gate, young visitors laugh and lob snowballs at one another. There is an ample supply of ammunition piled on both sides of the highway and in the meadows.

One mile below, a small crowd armed with binoculars and cameras observed a grizzly bear feeding on grass in a meadow free of snow.

They debate the species. Some speculate it is a grizzly and others believe because of its dark chocolate coat that the bruin is a black bear.

“It’s a black bear,” claims a fellow, whose camera lens is nearly as long as the howitzer parked on Sylvan Pass.

Meanwhile back at the gate ...

“Good morning. Welcome to Yellowstone,” Lenzendorf says. “Where you from?”

The driver says he lives in Madison, Wis., but his passengers hail from Hong Kong.

Lenzendorf has visitors from across the country and the globe, he said.

Tons of snow have been plowed in Sylvan Pass, but it is still mighty snowy up there.

It is cold and winter still claims its hold on the land, but with summer’s official arrival in just over one month, the gate will be hopping in no time.

Cars line up, and Lenzendorf remains busy.

“Probably about 120 vehicles so far,” Lenzendorf said at just past noon.

Wintry conditions at Sylvan Pass prompted a brief closure of the East Entrance Monday morning. If you head to Yellowstone, verify that entrances are open before loading the car. Call 307-344-2117 or click on http://www.nps.gov/yell/conditions.htm.

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