After very little rain in August 2017, we left Salmon, Idaho in a downpour and much cooler temperatures in mid September. Our final checking routine includes signal lights. Oops! Nothing on the trailer but the truck is fine. Then we check trailer brakes. Mmmm… not working either. So we creep two miles over to the Chevy dealer. A mechanic comes out and finds a loose connection between the truck and trailer electrical connection. We probably knocked something loose with all of our bouncing around on backroads. He gives it a push in the right direction and Voila! It’s fixed. He wishes us well and doesn’t even charge us. Oh, how I love small town America!
We are headed to an overnight stop at Jefferson County Lake CG just north of Rigby, Idaho. Before we get there we must drive over Gilmore Pass at 8,000 feet. This is where the rain turns to wet snow but thankfully isn’t sticking to the road. The park is good for a one night stop but not much else to recommend it. We push on to Cody ignoring our GPS who thinks we are a truck and tries to detour us around Yellowstone NP. We never get enough of this park! Yesterday’s snow has left the first white blanket of the upcoming winter. Typical Yellowstone wildlife jams allow a bit of fun as buffalo march on past us. A few more high passes to cross then down into Cody for our stay at Buffalo Bill Reservoir State Park. We had a busy schedule planned even if it looked like we picked monsoon season for our visit!
The first 2 days of our stay were predicting good weather so we planned some outdoor activities. Then the rains would move back in and we had plans for inside attractions. When we were in the area visiting Yellowstone in 2009 (pre RV days and our honeymoon) the drive along the Chief Joseph Highway was a favorite. This leads from just north of Cody toward Cook City and the East gate of Yellowstone. With a fresh coat of snow, the Rockies and vast western scenery we had a great day touring and hopping out to snap pictures.
The following day we headed north and east to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. We wanted to make a day trip to check the feasibility of bringing the DreamChaser 2 here in the future. Some of the roads on the map looked rather curvy and steep. We found the route to be fine and look forward to coming back. A great spot for kayaking and fishing.
We stopped at the Visitor Center and watched 3 short films. One was about the wild horses of the adjacent Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Area. That name sounded so familiar. Ah yes, now I remembered watching a show named Cloud of the Pryor Mountains. We were told to keep our eyes open for the horses at certain points along the scenic drive. We were stopped at an overlook when another visitor told us there were horses right along the road about 2 miles up the road. We jumped into the truck and found them easily. There was even a large pull off nearby. We spent the next hour watching and merrily clicking away as the Pryor Mountain horses moved from spot to spot. At one point Steve was up on a hill while I stayed at road level. The horses decided it was time to cross the road. I ran out to get shots as they came toward me. They kept coming closer and closer until at about 50 feet away I jumped to the roadside out of the way. I think they are used to being photographed as they didn’t seem a bit concerned. Another time one stallion had left and reappeared at the top of a ridge. He whinnied and tossed his head looking like a scene from a 50s western.
We’d heard from several other folks that the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West was a “Do not miss” stop and that we should allow 2 days there. All we can say is “Ditto”. This is really 5 museums in 1: natural history, Buffalo Bill Cody, western art, Plains Indians and firearms. Just in case you don’t have enough to see there is the raptor show at 1 PM and the western music show at 6:30 PM. Each section of the museum has it’s own curator who ranks among the top in their field. This was the Centennial year for the museum and they had a few special exhibits such as the one about one of the early directors and his adventures in Alaska in the 1920s. The taxidermy in the natural history section was so well done you really expected them to move. At the Buffalo Bill section you are greeted by a hologram of BB Cody. We saw his jacket and photos of him wearing it, Annie Oakley’s guns and costumes, artifacts belonging to Sitting Bull when he performed with the Wild West Show and a map showing hundreds of locations where the show performed. Did you know that Buffalo Bill Cody was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient? The art museum is fantastic and Chari could have spent a whole day there. One of my favorites was a sculpture by Solon Borglum, lesser known brother of Gustav Borglum, the creator of Mount Rushmore. The Plains Indians section was especially interesting to us after having worked at the Sacajawea Center this past summer. Of special note was the buffalo skin tipi on loan from the Smithsonian and one of only three known to exist. Steve could have spent his entire visit in the Firearms section. It is the world’s largest collection of firearms, some dating from the 1200s. Of special note were the guns from TV shows, a whole gallery of decorated guns and air guns from the same manufacturer that made the one used by Lewis and Clark. We had talked to visitors about the air gun just a week earlier in Idaho. There are only 4 known to exist and this museum has 2 of them. During our first visit we watched the raptor show with a red tailed hawk and owl. On our second visit we passed on the buffet but attended the music show. This museum is worth a trip to Cody by itself!
Other sights around town were the Irma Hotel, the Buffalo Bill Dam and huge breakfast at Granny’s Diner. The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill Cody and named after one of his daughters. The present day restaurant was originally the gambling hall but the ornate bar is original. He might have been a great guide and showman but he wasn’t great at marriage. I felt very sorry for his wife who was left to raise the kids alone while he galavanted all over. The Buffalo Bill Dam was built between 1905-1910 and was the tallest dam until surpassed by Boulder Dam. The view of the Shoshone River Canyon from here is great.
Next stop is Belle Fouche, SD and our third visit to the Black Hills area. Belle Fouche is pronounced as if there is an r in it, like Forshe. We stayed at the state park there in a large site with a water view. Knowing we would be back in SD next year to renew our driver’s licenses we purchased a yearly pass. SD like several western states charge a daily entrance fee on top of the camping fee. You break even at 6 nights so we are already ahead of the game! On previous visits we’d stayed at Custer State Park and Angostura State Park. We’d already seen the big tourist sites of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse so this time we concentrated on the city of Spearfish and the Belle Fouche area.
We have volunteer friends who had worked at the DC Booth Historic Fish Hatchery in Spearfish so we thought we’d visit and see if we might enjoy volunteering there sometime in the future. It was one of the first fish hatcheries in the west and much of the science and fish culture processes used today were developed here. One of the most interesting displays is the replica train car used to transport fish to release sites prior to using truck transport. A few years ago this site was almost closed and the historical artifacts were to be moved to West Virginia. The community and advocates were able to mount a “Save DC Booth” movement and the historic structures were preserved, at least for now. We spoke with one of the volunteers and the director. We look forward to returning here.
While talking to the volunteer, he mentioned a local art gallery called Termesphere. Although we’d never heard of him, the artist is well known for his unusual medium of using globes. The process he uses involves taking his original artwork and through digital means turns it into 3D spheres. I liked the graphic patterns but some of it was just too weird for my taste. His wife is a well known puppeteer and has a small display there as well.
The weather improved for one day and we had a lovely day driving along Spearfish Canyon including lunch at the Spearfish Lodge. We drove passed a site used in the film Dances With Wolves. We’ve been to several movie locations in our travels and I wish I’d kept a list of them. The Canyon is only 35 miles long but when you add exploring some backroads it is an all day trip. Early Fall colors gave the area a special charm.
On our last day we toured the Center of the Nation Museum and Monument. The geographical center of the USA used to be in Kansas until Alaska and Hawaii were added. Now the actual center is a few miles outside of Belle Fouche in a farmer’s field. We spoke with a museum docent about going there. She said “It is down dirt roads and with the rain it is very muddy AND there are a lot of rattlesnakes.” WHOA! You know how I am about snakes. Staying in town at the monument is just fine with me! The local historical museum was fun as well. I always find some bit of local interest that amuses me or where I learn about the local culture. Here it was about a few of the “houses of ill repute” from the 1870s-1890s and a few amazing women who made history on the rodeo circuit (the two topics are not related!)
Then we made a straight through drive across I 90 with a one night stop at Vermillion Lake SP. Next stops: Wisconsin and Illinois.