Members of a Florida family are glad they didn’t heed the dire stories coming out of Yellowstone National Park in mid-June.
When torrential rain and rapid snowmelt caused devastating flooding in the park’s northern section on June 13, officials decided to close the entire park, not just the portion that suffered damaged highways and contaminated water systems.
On Wednesday, June 22, after determining that the southern “loop” of Yellowstone was safe for visitors, three of the gates opened again – and Jamie Bunn and his wife and teenage boys were among those who ventured into the park soon after.
“Obviously everybody knows about the damage that’s been done in the north end of Yellowstone,” he said. “We didn’t want that to ruin the trip for us. And we did not want to cancel, and thank goodness we didn’t. We did a gear shift, and we did the Tetons for two or three days. And that was absolutely fabulous.”
The Bunn family was among thousands of visitors who made their way into Yellowstone this past week – although getting into Yellowstone National Park isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Since park officials reopened the south loop of Yellowstone, strict screening at the gates ensures that only those authorized to enter can pass through on any particular day, an effort to ease the strain on infrastructure and staff in the portion of the park that is open to the public.
Under the park’s system, those who have a license plate number that ends in an even number will only be allowed in on even-numbered days and those with numbers that end in odd numbers will be allowed to enter on odd-numbered days.
Those without the correct last digit on their license plates get turned around before they can even experience the winding roads, abundant wildlife, and thermal features of America’s first national park.
But for those who make it through the gate, the experience is not much different than any other summer day in Yellowstone.
Bunn said his family’s Yellowstone vacation has been a bucket list trip, and although they had heard about the flooding in the northern part of the park, it didn’t deter them.
“I mean, obviously we’d love to see the north end of Yellowstone,” Bunn continued, “and we’re not going to be able to do that, but we’ve been coming up through the south end so far, the loop.”
Bunn, who called himself a passionate outdoorsman, said they family has made amazing memories.
“Literally, I had an elk, a bull elk in velvet, 20 feet from me, feeding,” he said. “It was the most phenomenal, amazing thing that I’ve ever seen.”
Because the Park’s new license plate system filters out roughly half of potential visitors every day, there were plenty of open parking spaces Friday at places like Canyon Village and the Lower Falls.
The flooding that occurred in Yellowstone on June 13, while primarily affecting the northern part of the park, has still had an impact on the southern loop. For example, Pelican Creek is a little more like Pelican Lake at the moment.
Otherwise, Yellowstone remains beautifully the same, with guest services open, plenty of wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities and ample parking.
“We just saw buffalo across the way, we saw a herd of cow elk,” Bunn said. “I mean, we’ve seen a lot of different wildlife and a lot of great scenery. So it’s been everything we hoped for, even despite what’s going on, you know, with the park closures to the north.”
Bunn said he hopes the word will spread that Yellowstone is open for business.
“I would tell anybody that’s been back and forth, or considering whether they come based on everything you see and read in the news about the closures in the park – don’t let that hold you back,” said Bunn. “There is so much here to see and do. And I wish we had more time.”