Silver Gate, Montana rests two miles from the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It is a collection of stores and shops and motels. Most of those on the north side of the highway are owned by one man, or one company – I don’t know for sure. The good thing about him or it is this: He does not cater to motorcyclists and snowmobiles. You can always be sure, if you stay there, that you will have silence. The air will not be full of exhaust fumes, as is Cooke City in the winter, four miles down the road.
His goods are very expensive. He requires an up front deposit to make a reservation, and keeps it if you cancel. You can say that this is the price of being in business there, but no one else in the area does that. However, it is tough to be in business in a tourist trap. Cooke City addressed this problem by opening up to snowmobiles in the winter, delivering year-round revenue.
My daughter, who worked for a few years in Yellowstone in winter, (when snowmobiles were less under control than now), once remarked that park rangers had arrested two snowmobilers who were riding drunk, adding “… but I repeat myself.” Cooke City in winter is rowdy and drunk. Stay away.
Both Silver Gate and Cooke City are deeply affected by the flooding. The northern entrance to Yellowstone is closed now, as the highway from Gardiner to Mammoth is wiped out. It will be a good while before that opens again. The Gardiner entrance is one of three ways to get to these two towns.
The four miles stretch of highway between the SG and CC has washed out, by the way.
Another way is via Red Lodge and the Beartooth Highway, a scenic route that tops out at over 11,000 feet before dropping down to 7,000. It is majestic, part of Works Progress or some other Federal program during the Great Depression.
Red Lodge has been flooded, and the Beartooth Highway has washed out in six sections over one hundred feet long. A friend who delivered this news to us said that it might be a couple of years before it opens again. I don’t know about that. All I can speculate is that it will be a good while.
This leaves but one route to Cooke City, Silver Gate, and Yellowstone’s northeast entrance. That is known as the Chief Joseph Highway, which experienced some flooding of the Clark’s Fork river, but remains open. As with the Beartooth Highway, the Chief Joseph route is spectacular scenery. If you’ve plans to see Yellowstone this year, that’s one way to get there. It requires first going to Cody, Wyoming.
Other entrances, via Cody (east), West Yellowstone (West), and Grand Teton National Park (south) are open for business, or will be soon. There was no flooding in the southern half of the park.
Last night I got an email from the owner of the Silver Gate motels. Let me preface this by saying that in 2020 when we went to the park, Montana was among the worst states to visit in regard to Covid, masks, distancing. The then-governor, Steve Bullock, played every fascist card he had available. The state was locked down. Anyone entering the state was quarantined for two weeks. It was completely unnecessary, as our readers surely know, but there was a trend at the time: The more liberal a government, the harsher the restrictions.
I was not allowed to enter the Silver Gate General Store without a mask. I refused of course, telling them I do not ‘bend the knee.’ I did have to transact some business with them, and so went to a side window, where even as I was less than two feet away from the clerk, I wore no mask. Go figure.
The Cooke City General Store is run by a different breed of cat. There we shunned masks, and after 5 PM one evening entered there to find many of the townspeople unmasked, with a heavy aroma of beer in the air. God bless them, that is the Montana I once knew.
Here’s what chaffed me regarding the Silver Gate motel owner(s): They wanted us to send them money. The owner is independently wealthy, mind you, and his real estate holdings probably make him a millionaire. While cash flow can be a problem in resort areas, businesses and buildings command a hefty price.
I answered the email last night suggesting 1) that flooding, even record high rivers, are a normal occurrence, and that existence in the high mountains is always risky; 2) that I was still angry at my treatment, not being allowed in his building without a mask, the humiliation and genuflection before Bullock’s nonsensical rules, and 3) payback is a bitch.
There will a period of reduced income, followed by return to normal with probably disaster relief on the way. In the meantime, tighten your belt, buddy. Try to keep your employees employed. Minimum wage is the most common wage in resort towns.
And don’t beg.
The Park Service regards resort towns on its borders as pariahs, having to go to great expense to keep roads open in winter to service them. In 1988 the Yellowstone fires threatened Silver Gate and Cooke City, and fire fighters did all in their power to rescue the towns. Near Cooke City they set a backfire to save the place. The wind shifted, and the fire headed right at the town. It was only after herculean effort that the fire was diverted north of the town. Not one building was damaged.
On one of our recent visits there, I was told by a Cooke City employee or business owner that the fire in 1988 was set by the Park Service in order to wipe out the town. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Park Service was heroic in its efforts to preserve the places.