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The Gallatin’s changing pathway

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Speaker to discuss how Gallatin Canyon has changed over time


Duncan Patten, hydrologist, professor and author, will discuss his book, “The Gallatin Way to Yellowstone: A Changing Pathway Through Time,” at the Museum of the Rockies’ Hager Auditorium on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. Patten’s lecture is a part of the Gallatin History Museum Monthly Speaker Series.

Patten’s book uses repeat photography, or a comparison of historic photos and modern retakes of the same location, to show how places and the landscape change (or do not change) over time. He focuses on the Gallatin Canyon from its mouth just south of Gallatin Gateway to West Yellowstone.

The route through the Canyon, once called the Gallatin Way, was used by many who traveled to the west gate of Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone. This was especially true for tourists that stayed at the Gallatin Gateway Inn, owned by the Milwaukee Railroad, who were bused through the Canyon to the park.

Many historic images date before 1900 or in the very early 1900s, showing both limited development in the Canyon and the condition of the road that eventually opened all the way to West Yellowstone in 1914.

Historic guest ranches developed along the way, following miners and cattle ranching. Some of the very early guest ranches were Karst’s Cold Springs Ranch (mid-canyon), Michener’s cabins at West Fork, Halfway Inn (originally called Dew Drop Inn and now Rainbow Ranch), Buffalo Horn Ranch (now 320 Ranch), and Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, which evolved from an operating cattle ranch and is still operated under the old name. In the 1920s Elkhorn Ranch and Covered Wagon Ranch were established.

In 1908, railroad service was added to West Yellowstone which greatly impacted tourist business at the west gate of Yellowstone. Increased use of personal cars eventually put the Gallatin Gateway Inn out of business.

In 1929 the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park was added to protect the petrified wood forests in that area. This corner of the park had been managed by the Army until 1918 when the National Park Service was established and took over the park. The foundation of the old Soldier’s Station is still evident in the northwest corner of the park.

All the while, the road continued to improve with gravel in the 1920s and early versions of pavement in the mid-1930s. The 1950s and ‘60s saw a major upgrade and change for the highway as parts of the road were moved or improved.

Major changes came to the Canyon with the development of Big Sky Resort in the early 1970s, and tourist business in the Canyon and West Yellowstone greatly increased about that time.

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