If you remember my “Corrie Calendar” you know that I have this strange, mystical and almost creepy
ability to tell what the date is – sorta, kinda – based upon weird factors. Just as the smell of leaves
burning tells some people to turn on the television to watch college football, I know that roof racks full
of skis and snow boards signals the opening of Sleeping Giant and hunting season is upon us when
men in fashionable orange clothing are chowing down at the Proud Cut.
And a historic yellow bus heading into town from the direction of the Buffalo Bill Dam means that the
East Gate of Yellowstone National Park is open.
Most of the roads inside the park are closed to regular wheeled vehicles during the winter. You can
drive from Gardner, Mont. to Mammoth Hot Springs to Roosevelt Lodge and then east through Lamar
Valley to Cooke City, Mont. where the road is closed again. The rest of the park roads are open only to
over-the-snow vehicles such as snowmobiles and snow coaches. Many of the tracked vehicles,
including the famed Bombardiers, have been replaced the past few years by fun modern coaches with
So much of Yellowstone has historical significance, and the roads are no different. The road over
Sylvan Pass was designed by Captain Hiram Chittenden of the Army Corps of Engineers in the early
1900s, and the first automobile traversed it in 1914. The original road was steep with a 10 percent
grade in spots.
Through the years, the road has been redesigned and rerouted, but you can still see remnants of the
original road. One of my favorite stops as I head into the park is the “Corkscrew” overlook where you
can look down and see a place where the road looped back over itself on a bridge. This feature was
designed to keep the grade to the aforementioned manageable 10 percent. I’ve heard stories that in
some spots the cars were turned around and backed up the hill because the road was so steep that
the gravity-fed carburetors would run dry unless the gas tank was uphill from the engine.
The elevation at the top of Sylvan Pass is 8,524 feet. Like all the higher elevations in the Absaroka
Mountains, it snows a lot. Avalanches occur regularly every winter, and the National Park Service has
taken steps to control them. I always point out to my guests at the top of the pass the howitzer
National Park Service uses to dislodge the deep snow instead of waiting for it to happen on its own.
From the summit of Sylvan Pass the road continues past Eleanor and Sylvan Lakes for the downhill
run to Mary Bay with Yellowstone Lake on my left and on to Lake Village for the obligatory stop at
Lake Yellowstone Hotel. And you read that right. The lake is Yellowstone Lake and the hotel is Lake
I am looking forward to my first car ride through the East Gate this season. I just love the familiar
landmarks and the traditional stops along the way. I always carve out about triple the time necessary,
and even that never feels like enough.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life – and explaining to the younger crowd what a carburetor is – in Cody