Mudslides have had one huge year in 2005. They decimated southern California, displacing people from their homes and radically altering landscapes. In New York City, just last month, the West Side Highway was hit with a mudslide that closed a section of the roadway for a few days. Where mudslides can have the a greater impact, however, is in national parks. This past May, a mudslide in Yellowstone National Park (tel. 307/344-7381; www.nps.gov/yell) on the well-known and often traveled Beartooth Crossing (Hwy. 212) collapsed a good portion of the road making travel through Beartooth impossible.
On May 19, 2005, the Beartooth mudslide, caused by wet snow and rain, came sliding down on road crews trying to ready the road for the onslaught of summer crowds starting Memorial Day weekend. The slide caused 12 breaks in the road and trapped highway workers in the area, forcing them to walk to safety. Beartooth Pass is an approximately 43 mile 11,000 foot elevated highway that zigzags through a particularly stunning area of Yellowstone with some of the more incredible views in the park. Beartooth Crossing runs through a town known as Red Lodge (www.redlodge.com) before settling from Montana into Wyoming and the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone. The slide will hurt, maybe devastate, some local businesses that rely on the popularity of Beartooth during the summer season. Beartooth is a National Scenic Byway.
Estimated cost of repair of the road is somewhere in the $20 million dollar range. Huge rocks need to be replaced and adjusted, not to mention the fragile soil that needs repair. If you travel to Yellowstone you can stop in the impacted communities of Red Lodge and Cooke City (www.colorado-west.com/cooke) to show your support.
To get details on the slide and check out some pictures, go to www.mdt.mt.gov/contract/beartooth/beartooth_show_files/frame.html. The photographs show the overall scope of the mudslide and the unbelievable challenge of the repair project. It also shows the beauty of the roads and the park taken from a birds-eye perspective.
For detour information or updated highway reports, you can find daily information on road closings at www.mdt.state.mt.us/travinfo/reports/winter_eto.shtml or updates throughout the summer at www.mdt.state.mt.us/travinfo. Beartooth is closed for almost ten miles South of Red Lodge two miles of north of the Montana/Wyoming border. The west side of Beartooth can be traversed from Cooke City. You can also access the towns that are be more difficult to get to because of the mudslide, Red Lodge and Cooke City, via Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, an equally beautiful passage. Also, important to note, the northeast entrance to the park remains open.
Don't let the slide impact your travel to Yellowstone. The state and all its officials including the Governor, two Congressmen and a U.S. Senator toured the slide site and pledged their commitment to repairing the damage as soon as possible. Montana's United States Senator, Max Baucus, even gave his personal e-mail account to concerned citizens who thought the slide could decrease tourist dollars coming into the region. Baucus, known as Max, is an avid motorcycle driver who drives his Harley all over the state. Beartooth is among his more cherished routes.
Opening date for full access to Beartooth is still uncertain but park officials are hoping for Summer 2006 for the finished repairs.
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