Lamar Valley Reopens

soda butte creek

Soda Butte Creek below Pebble Creek Campground shows the extent of the high water event of last June.

When Yellowstone National Park closed in mid-June after record flooding disintegrated roads like they were made of sugar, it wasn’t clear when the Park would be able to reopen. With unexpected speed, however, much of the Park was open again within a few weeks. All that remained closed was the canyon road between Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana, and the road into Lamar Valley.

Several months ago, Lamar Valley Road opened to commercial tours as far as Slough Creek (not actually in Lamar Valley which begins several miles further down the road) and more recently, this same stretch opened for non-commercial use.

However, Slough Creek to the Cooke City (northeast) entrance remained closed to visitors until last Saturday, October 15th.  Anxious and interested to see just what the flooding had done and to determine if wildlife had responded in some way to the changes in visitation, we were some of the first people in the valley that morning.

The aftermath of the flooding was noticeable. It was easy to see where the major rivers and streams had exceeded their bounds, set new high-water marks, ravaged banks, created sandbars and washed huge logs into the floodplain. Smaller streams did likewise, but many of them were more constricted due to high walls.

In Lamar Valley proper, there were new side channels and likely hundreds of acres of gravel bars with bare mineral soil. At first glance, this seemed a little apocalyptic, but in retrospect I realized that this might be exactly what the valley needed. The few cottonwood trees that have managed to hold on in the riparian corridor need bare mineral soil for their seeds to germinate in. If germination occurs, and if the elk, pronghorn, moose and bison don’t eat all of the seedlings, this might be the start of a cottonwood reforestation on the Lamar River, which would be fantastic.

The road itself was not nearly as bad as we expected it to be. There was one place where it was obvious that the construction crews had completed repairs including new asphalt. Just before entering Lamar Valley proper, perhaps a mile or two past Slough Creek, the road constricted to a single lane with a stoplight at either end. Bear in mind that this was a Saturday and crews were not working, but the wait at the light was five minutes or less.

This stretch of road appeared to have been washed out for perhaps as much as a quarter of a mile. The new road was cut further back from the water and this time the edge of the river has been armored with lots of rock.

The only other stoplight was right at the Trout Lake pullout past Soda Butte. This one was also about a five- minute wait if you were first in line behind the red light.

Pebble Creek Campground was a disaster area, likely partly from staging all the equipment there. There is a mound of soil and rock four stories high and covering at least three-quarters of an acre. I don’t know if it was hauled in as fill or removed from some of the areas and dumped, but the pile was large enough to be given a name and a flag.

Be aware, the restrooms at the Lamar River-Soda Butte Creek confluence are the last ones you will find until you get to Cooke City. The two picnic areas above the campground were destroyed and unserviceable. The privy at the entrance gate was locked.

All in all, travel in Lamar was pretty much back to normal. Wildlife was no more or less plentiful and compared to what could have been, the short delays were not onerous at all.

A week expires between the time I write this column and when it is published, so by now, this may be old news. However, with the Park closing on November 1, you have just a week to find out for yourself.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho