Like the chicken that crossed the road, we traveled on August 5 through Yellowstone, fifth-wheel in tow, to see what was on the eastern side of the park. The steep road heading out the East Gate and beyond for miles was a sharp contrast to the West Gate, which stood mere yards from the town of West Yellowstone.
We had seen signs along the roads the past three days in Yellowstone warning of forest fires, but the only smoke we saw or smelled was from campfires in the evening. As we moved further east, the blue sky turned gray and when we arrived at Yellowstone Valley Inn & RV, smoke boiled up mixing with puffy white clouds above the hills behind the campground.
The lady who checked us in assured us the fire was worse a couple of days before and was now concentrated behind the hills with the wind blowing in that direction so neither the smoke or fire should be a concern.
We set up our trailer and tried to relax while vigilantly watching helicopters and planes fly in to pick up water from nearby Shoshone River and Buffalo Bill Reservoir then fly out through the smoke over the hills to douse the flames we could not see. Later in the day hot spots flared up on our side of the hills that the helicopters and planes ignored until just before dark.
The next morning, the clouds and smoke made for magnificent photo opportunities for a short time before the sun hid behind the clouds.
Our first stop the next day was the Buffalo Bill Dam. The dam is puny compared to Hoover Dam but the depth of the canyon still amazed. Jon’s panoramic photo gives a sense of height from the top. It looked like no one had bothered to clear the tree debris from the reservoir side of the dam for some time. Logs and limbs piled up against the back wall of the dam.
Our next stop was Cody WY, named after William Buffalo Bill Cody who, with his Wild West show partner and other men, was instrumental in founding and developing the city in 1895. The town still has the old Western flavor with mostly 19th and early 20th century buildings and a smattering of newer construction. The Irma Hotel and Restaurant, a centerpiece of the city, was named after one of Cody’s daughters and bills itself as Cody’s Finest Restaurant. A local person warned us that what is advertised is not always what you get. We didn’t get a chance to confirm or dispute her claim.
The Old Trail Town at the west end of town was an interesting place to visit. I usually expect something cheesy at these kinds of stops.
Instead, we saw actual buildings that Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other historical figures occupied at one point in their lives. The owner researches all the buildings to ensure their historical value before he moves them to the museum for restoration.
The Lincoln log-type construction peaked my fascination and I wondered how airtight the walls might have been against the frigid winters. Imagine sitting at one of the desks in the school wearing a thin shift of a dress or tattered pants and shirt while snow piled up outside. These little shacks made me appreciate indoor plumbing, heating, and air conditioning, not to mention my phone and computer.
Piles of antlers popped up around West Yellowstone and Cody. At first, I was horrified to think of all the slain animals to accumulate such stacks of antlers. Alas, no animals were harmed in the creation of the antler arches, mounds, or pyramids. Elk shed their antlers each spring and they regrow during the summer.
On to Yellowstone Regional Airport on the east side of Cody for an open house and free lunch. The main attraction was a C130 brought in by the Air National Guard of Wyoming. We also saw the planes (red and white) that scooped up the water to drop on the fires. The dump doors are shown in the close-up photo.
This little blue plane took off while we were there. It had trouble starting and sputtered as it taxied down the runway, but managed to take off with no problems. I hope he made it to his destination.
Always skeptical of free offerings I was pleasantly surprised to bite down on a freshly grilled burger and bun. We had a nice talk with the manager of the local REACH Medical unit and one of the paramedics. I never want to have to use their services but it gives me comfort to know they are around just in case.
Our last stop for the day was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a massive building of 91,480 square feet housing not one museum but five. For the price of admission, you get two consecutive days to explore the Buffalo Bill Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Plains Indian Museum, and the Whitney Western Art Museum plus several special exhibits. I enjoyed wandering around the place, getting lost and finding new and exciting things to look at and learn about but a few hours each day was not enough to see everything. We’ll have to go back some day, or perhaps a week, to see the rest.
The Bob’s Big Boy statue stands in the middle of a rancher’s field. What the heck was it doing out there?
We took a very long drive on our last day in Cody. We stopped at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, one of ten concentration camps used for the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The prejudice and treatment of the internees were appalling. May our country never resort to such tactics in the future.
How could the government take away the rights of its citizens and then have the gall to draft them into the military? From Heart Mountain, eight hundred volunteers and draftees served in the military while 92 young men were imprisoned for selective service act violations due to their protests.
We continued our journey through Powell, Byron, and Lovell, cute little idyllic farm towns. Then we crossed Big Horn River into the Big Horn Forest Mountains that offered an overlook of the Big Horn Basin. The photos cannot display the awesome feeling one experiences from the sight of the vast valley below (although shrouded in smoke) and the massive peaks showing off the colors of their geological history. They are something one must see in person to benefit from their magnificence.
A stop at Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark and a short hike was in order after such a long drive. Contrasted with the ancient medicine wheel was a FAA radar dome on top of a hill. Native Americans still use the medicine wheel for ceremonies and leave offerings tied to the ropes.
We continued our journey to Shell Falls about half way down Shell Canyon. From the valley floor, up the mountains and down again, every twist and turn of the road gave us something new to admire from colorful cliffs to thick forests, ranches, and farmlands. Wildlife came out late in the day. We saw pikas (so cute with their little circle ears and round bodies), a marmot, deer and bunnies, and even a coyote. Unfortunately, the critters scurried so fast we weren’t able to capture their images.
We entered Greybull as the sun was setting and we still had more than an hour before we arrived at the campground. We found Lisa’s Western Cuisine a fine place to stop for dinner. We were surprised how good a cob salad could taste in such a remote location. The menu stated the salad was topped with a shoestring potato nest. What came to mind were the ones that come in a can. No sir, these freshly made, piping hot, potato nests were quite tasty along with the lettuce and other vegetables.
Then it was decision time. Should we continue on to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore, or work our way home? The two-week delay in Elko caused our planned trip to South Dakota to bump up against Sturgis, a weeklong event that brings up to 500,000 motorcycle-loving people to the area. We decided not to fight the crowds and headed down to the Grand Tetons instead. We will have to include Mt. Rushmore on another trip.