Couple Spends Wedding Anniversary Stranded During Historic Yellowstone Flooding
Kelly and Kelli Preston hadn't made much of a trip since their eighth wedding anniversary.
Sixteen anniversaries later, they managed to get away for a quick weekend in Yellowstone National Park — and this one will be their most memorable.
The Prestons made their way to the park from Colorado on Friday for a long weekend.
"We literally decided on Wednesday just to go up for the weekend, a four-day weekend," Kelli said. "We booked a place in Gardiner (Montana). We headed out. Got there Friday about seven o'clock."
Gardiner sits on the north entrance to Yellowstone and is home to the famous Roosevelt Arch.
Kelli described a nice day of sightseeing in the park on Saturday. Sunday, despite constant rain, the couple still enjoyed their day.
"We saw the flood warning Saturday, but we were already there," Kelli said. "We talked to one guy who went whitewater rafting on Sunday. So we were out in the park the whole day with our umbrellas walking around everywhere. We were soaked by the end of the day, but that was OK."
When the couple was traveling from the Mammoth Hot Springs area, they rounded a corner and ran into a frontloader cleaning up a rockslide from the road. They knew it wasn't a good sign, but night was already falling.
After 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Kelli said conditions began rapidly deteriorating.
On Monday morning, the Prestons woke up to check out of their hotel and make the trek back to Colorado.
"They said, 'Yeah, you're not going anywhere,'" Kelli recalled.
The Prestons loaded up on food and water and hunkered down for a day in Gardiner. Kelli recalled watching a building used to house Yellowstone employees falling into the Yellowstone River. Videos of the large structure falling into the river like a toy have since gone viral.
Kelli described seeing the river pulling large portions of the earth away as surreal and "very ominous."
"We were just watching it make a new path," Kelli said. "It was like nothing I've ever seen."
At one point, the Prestons saw a refrigerator floating down the river.
For a while, they didn't know when they would get to leave Gardiner. Would it be a week? Two weeks?
"There was a lot of panic and anxiety that I had about how long we were going to be stuck here," Kelli said. "We were prepared to lock in for a few more days."
Kelli said Gardiner's residents — despite seeing historic flooding in their hometown — were gracious and welcoming.
"Never was I afraid," Kelli said.
Locals set up entertainment in the area including a saw demonstration. Local wildlife officials put on demonstrations on how to properly use bear spray.
The local Boy Scout troop set up a place for stranded travelers to get a warm bite to eat, grilled cheese and soup to be exact.
But at roughly noon on Tuesday, there was a call with emergency personnel. Kelli figured there were 300 people on the call.
"They said 'If you don't live (in Gardiner), leave now. Because we don't know how long the road will be open,'" Kelli said. "So we are on the road right now."
So the Prestons were making it out of Gardiner and, with any luck, back to Colorado as of Tuesday afternoon. Officials don't know how long the road on the way out of town will hold out. Kelli said portions of the road were washed out or obviously had been under water recently.
As for spending a wedding anniversary becoming a part of flooding the area hasn't — perhaps, ever — seen.
"It's our most memorable," Kelli said.