Employees were ready for the rush of visitors through the East Entrance at Yellowstone National Park, but Mother Nature doesn’t follow a calendar.
By the time the gates opened to visitors on Friday — about 80 minutes late — guest vehicles formed a line for almost a mile. Roads were increasingly snow-covered leading to the gate and a layer of ice covered the road near the entrance. It was fascinating for Grace McIntosh of Powell, who skated along the road in her sneakers on the banks of the Shoshone River. She was first in line along with her mother, Stacy Boisseau, arriving at 3 a.m.
“We passed a bear and a bunch of deer, but Grace was sleeping,” Boisseau said.
The mother and daughter team hadn’t been through the gates for six years — since Grace was just 9 months old. Boisseau thought it was time the two started a tradition. They wanted to be first because it was still a work day and mom, a waitress at 8th Street at the Ivy, had an 11 a.m. shift. Her plan was to get their pass and see as much of the park as possible before heading back. Other than a short nap once arriving at the gate, it was a mostly sleepless night. It was going to be a long day, she said.
At 8 a.m. East Entrance supervisor Brian Perry began walking down the long line of cars to alert visitors of a delay: Road crews were still working to clear Sylvan Pass of ice and snow.
“It caught me by surprise,” Perry said. “We seemed to get a lot more snow than expected overnight and there was quite a bit of ice.”
About 400 vehicles entered through the East Gate Friday.
“It felt busier last year, but that’s probably because it was my first year,” Perry said.
By 2 p.m., as the sun warmed the pavement, all the restrictions were cleared.
“Safety is the number one priority through the pass,” said park spokesperson Linda Veress.
Traffic picked up over the weekend, Perry said, and visitors were excited to see grizzlies on both sides of the entrance.
On Sunday a grizzly visited the property right next to the entrance, thrilling those moving through.
The snow pack wasn’t as impressive as in previous years — between 4 and 6 feet in most places — but a fresh layer of powder made for beautiful scenery the 26 miles to Sedge Bay. Some pullouts and restrooms were still closed, waiting to be cleared. At Indian Pond, the pavement was stripped and visitors drove on wet dirt through 3 miles of road construction, near the newly refurbished Fishing Bridge.
Construction in the area will continue through next year, depending on weather. There will be short delays getting through the area but there won’t be hard closures, Veress said. The East Entrance Road closed early last year on Oct. 15, forcing local visitors to enter through the Northeast Entrance to get to the rest of the park.
The South Entrance to West Thumb, Lake Village to West Thumb, West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass) and Tower Junction to Tower Falls is scheduled to open Friday. Dunraven Pass and the Beartooth Highway are scheduled to open May 24. Veress cautioned open roads may close temporarily due to inclement weather and other issues.
Boisseau and McIntosh weren’t worried about construction delays, but didn’t have enough time to do anything other than buy their pass, hit the nearest facilities and head back east.
Still, “it was totally worth it,” Boisseau said. “It was a beautiful morning and the shooting stars that night were amazing. I’m happy to get my pass so we can come up as much as possible.”