Wyoming. It’s big country. Vast and blanketing fields rolling yonder to no end with juxtaposed red clay mesas. Its semi-arid climate gives it a desert-like feel and yet grass and hay fields go on for eons. At times, the wide open ranges condense into the narrow crevices of a canyon. We wind through rocky walls and the drive returns us as quickly and unexpectedly to a martian expanse.
The first historical marker we passed was the Buffalo Jump —native Americans would herd buffalo and chase them off a cliff and into a sinkhole where it would be easier to make a kill for the food and material that bison provide.
Wyoming is the least populous state in the entire United States. At the first sign of a town, a welcome sign read: Population 33. The main street was a quaint Old West style village with a watering hole, motel, and a Crazy Woman Realty office (pictured above). Later, I learned that Crazy Woman is also the name of a town and a creek (origins unknown) however, I prefer to imagine the name of this realty office was self-designated by the woman holding her rifle in the company photo.
The first major tourist destination can be seen 30 miles before you’ve even arrived. Devils Tower stands 1,267 feet above the surrounding landscape like a tall skyscraper. Its summit is 5,114 feet above sea level.
The strange growth is thought to have been caused by a volcanic eruption and the tower as it stands is actually the neck of an extinct volcano (extinct by roughly 40 million years). Sedimentary rocks have eroded away over time leaving behind basalt columns created by cooled lava. This isn’t the first time we saw this strange geometric column created by volcanic activity — we also saw them on a trip to Iceland.
It’s about a one-mile hike around the tower, accessible for most age ranges save for the high altitude and lack of acclimation for Andrew and I. Free climbers may also make their way to the flat-topped summit.
The tower was and is considered sacred by many Native American tribes. Most of the folklore indicates that the proper translation of the name of the geo-monument should have been Bear’s Den or Bear Tower—or at least something that has to do with bears, not with devils.
Devils Tower was the first declared a National Monument in the United States by President Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906. In Teddy’s multifarious history, he spent time as a rancher in the Dakota territories.
Campers may stay at the foot of the tower at a KOA.
Big Horn & Ten Sleeps
The route to Cody from our departure in Spearfish, South Dakota lead us through the Big Horn Mountain range, covered in beautiful Aspen trees and evergreens, a sudden alpine departure from the rolling plains.
Alas, we descended from the mountains to arrive in Ten Sleeps, located in a desert-like plain between the mountains with blankets of red rock leading to canyons which date some 300-570 million years.
On our route across Wyoming, we learned that native tribes used to indicate distances between places by how many sleeps (or an evening’s rest) places were from each other. Unfortunately, we only had time for one sleep in Wyoming.
After hours and miles of landscape undressed by civilization, except for a few scatterings of close-quartered neighborhoods, we neared to Cody.
Cody is named after its founder, William Frederick Cody—better known as Buffalo Bill. He was most famous for being a showman and founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West which put on performances depicting cowboy themes and episodes from the frontier and wars with Native Americans. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West toured the United States and Europe, and at a point, he was arguably the most famous man in America.
The town maintains a cowboy and cowgirl charm, boasting several boutiques with beautiful home décor and Native American art as well as turquoise jewelry. Horse paraphernalia is ubiquitous—even the benches along the sidewalks are adorned with horseshoes and wagon wheels.
The local high school football team is the colts, symbolized by a rearing horse, similar to the one on the Wyoming license plate. At the end of Cody’s main street is the Cody Night Rodeo and Stampede. I’ll have to make a return trip to experience the rodeo season which takes place in the summertime.
Our first evening in town as we perused the main street for a place to grab dinner, we knew exactly where we would be going as soon as we stumbled upon a theatrical corner building with intricate woodworkings and heaps of flag bunting inside. Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel, Restaurant and Saloon was built by the man himself in 1902. Some famous faces of the Old West have stayed there, like Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley — and it’s not hard to imagine them there toting their guns and swigging firewater.
While a lot of the original molding and decoration are still intact, it doesn’t possess the extravagance of its heyday.
Home for the night would be the Buffalo Bill Village Cabins. A drive through the parking lot of a Comfort Inn and a Holiday Inn off the main drag of Cody took us to a row of very unexpected cabins. Literally, log cabins, each with their own parking space next to them, at the edge of the parking lot. It was bizarre. But totally great. I did learn that a cabin for rent in the middle of town is actually pretty typical as you enter into the Great West.
For our morning coffee, we stopped at the Rawhide Coffee Company on Main Street, a quaint joint with comfortable couches and high tops by the window. Our brief stop in Cody came to an end all too soon. Off we went to Yellowstone National Park.