Bill Sniffin: Don’t Let Worry About Crowds Keep You From Yellowstone – It’s Wonderful!

Bill Sniffin writes: Alas, this year mid-September felt like July 4. If you are going you better be patient. And congratulations to the park service for installing those traffic-moving gals with the bullhorns as they were effective in moving traffic along.

Bill Sniffin

September 20, 20214 min read

Sniffin bison scaled

By Bill Sniffin, publisher

In Yellowstone, the voices of authority are young gals with bullhorns telling people to move along. We ran into them on three occasions during our 11-hour drive through the park Friday, Sept. 17.

The first two times, these rangers had gotten the traffic moving by the time we got to the offending place.  The third time, we stopped and rolled down our window, and asked: “What’s going on?”

“There’s nothing here. Get out of here!” said the seemingly pleasant looking but serious traffic mover.  OK, OK.  And away we went.

We have been going to Yellowstone for 51 years and it is my favorite place on earth.  We love going in the fall as a way to avoid the summer tourist rush.

Alas, this year mid-September felt like July 4.  If you are going you better be patient.  And congratulations to the park service for hiring those traffic-movers with the bullhorns as they were effective in moving traffic along.

We spent two nights at the Blair-owned Holiday Inn in Cody, thanks to some scheduling help from Tim O’Leary, that company’s CFO. He is an outstanding photographer. Cowboy State Daily ran a photo of his featuring two bear cubs last Friday morning. The cubs’ mom had been hit and killed by a car west of Cody.

Using Cody as a base, we left early and took the spectacular Chief Joseph Highway to connect with the Beartooth Highway and enter the Yellowstone’s northeast gate.  Traffic was moderate and the smoky haze was gone. It was a nice day that  topped out at 66 degrees in the park.

It was chilly in the morning. An old boy in Cooke City, Montana, said they had freezing temperatures early that morning.  It was still too early to see much color in the trees. But it will be happening soon. The next two weeks will be golden in the park.

At Tower Junction, the road south was closed for the season as it was getting a major repair.  We headed on over to Mammoth hoping to see some elk roaming the streets. 

Parking spaces were hard to find. It was a busy place. We had to wait in line and wear masks to get into the Horace Albright Information Center.  The poor park service gal, who was in charge of enforcing the mask rule and maintaining proper social distancing, was not having a great day. One of the most unpleasant jobs in the park, I would assume. She was standing outside wearing her mask while everyone around her was not.

Xanterra is the outfit in charge of running just about everything in the park as its concessionaire.  It is the best in the business.  But this year has been tough.  Like just about everyone in the hospitality business, the company has had a struggle hiring staff.  

Lately, Xanterra has also had trouble getting food into the park.  One of their staff people strongly suggested that we pack in our own food, which we did. Thus, I have no idea about how service was, although there appeared to be lines everywhere.

I assume a lot of the company’s staff are college students who had to quit and go back to school.  It put them in to an impossible position.

Yellowstone is projected to see 4.8 million visits this year, smashing the all-time record of 4.2 million set last year.  The place is busy, even in mid-September.

Is it worth going?  Are you kidding!   I love the place. It is my favorite place. Just go prepared to be surprised at the large number of fellow tourists there with you this time of year.

Yellowstone is the world’s first national park. It is one of our country’s best ideas.  Next year, it celebrates its 150th anniversary. There will be a big party in Cody.  We attended the 100th anniversary party in 1972, also in Cody. Did I say I have had a long relationship with this wonderful place?  Yes I have. But I digress.

From Mammoth we headed south through the Golden Gate, which is an amazing road cut through a huge canyon where the road extends out over the gorge.

Much of this road is newly-paved and was wonderful.  At one point, traffic stopped for 20 minutes. No reason why.  Cars, trucks, campers, and motorcycles were stopped for five miles.  Finally, we started going but there was no indication of why we stopped. No bears. No accidents.

Oh well.  We still had most of the park to cover on this trip.

(End of Part 1. Part 2 will be about geysers, lakes, canyons and more and will appear next week.)

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.