By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
A “sea of humanity” descended upon Pahaska Tepee Resort late Wednesday, just outside the east entrance into Yellowstone Park, after a mudslide blocked the main highway into the park.
“People were trying to find something to eat, and rent rooms. And then a bus would pull in and all those people would start pouring out,” Bruce McCormack of Cody told Cowboy State Daily. “So, it was a real sea of humanity.”
The mudslide late Wednesday blocked a section US Highway 14-16-20 (US 14A) about seven miles east of Yellowstone’s East gate and 43 miles west of Cody, Wyoming Department of Transportation ( WYDOT) District 5 spokesman Cody Beers told Cowboy State Daily.
WYDOT was alerted about the slide at about 7:30 p.m., and had the road cleared and reopened just after 12 a.m. Thursday, Beers said.
Florida Man Strikes Again
The slide was trigged by rain and consisted of mud, rocks and logs, covering the road about a foot deep, Beers said.
“We had one driver, a person from Florida, try to drive through it (in a small sedan). “Their car was totaled, but they were uninjured,” he said.
What started out as a quiet evening in Pahaska quickly turned chaotic after the slide hit, McCormack said.
“Sleep In Your Cars”
After a couple of days of touring the park, he and some friends had rented rooms at the Pahaska Lodge. They were enjoying a late dinner when vehicles started piling into the parking lot. Word spread quickly that a mudslide had blocked the road to the east, cutting Pahaska off from Cody.
Then word came that the Park Service had closed the East Gate, said McCormack, who is the retired Editor and Publisher of the Cody Enterprise newspaper. That was to prevent more people from piling into the area, or trying to make their way back into the park. It also stranded everybody who was already between the slide and the East Gate.
“People were being told, prepare to sleep in your cars,” McCormack said.
As the hours passed, he visited with some of those stranded at Pahaska.
Everybody’s standing around, and they’ve all got situations,” he said. “There was one young couple that had left their dog and their child’s medication back at a motel room in Cody.”
He said they were considering that, if the park gate reopened, driving back into the park and circling all the way through to another park gate and back to Cody.
“I don’t know what they ended up doing,” McCormack said. “They wandered off and got lost in the sea of humanity.”
Another traveler, “a big, heavy, jovial guy” said he needed a CPAP machine to sleep.
“I told him to maybe try finding an outlet in the store,” McCormack said.
The Pahaska staff truly shined, patiently helping people make the best of the situation, he added.
“The bar was really hopping as the night wore on. And after the dining room closed late, people were still coming in, trying to sleep at tables,” he said.
WYDOT apparently got the road cleared at about 1 a.m. Thursday, McCormack said.
“The word must have gotten out that they had the road opened. By the time we got up in the morning and left our rooms, all of those people were gone,” he said.