While planning our route through Wyoming we initially intended to revisit the Grand Tetons and Jackson. But even many months ahead the RV parks were fully booked on the dates we wanted. Since we’d already visited those places several years ago, we changed our plans and headed instead to Cody. It was a good move, as it turns out Cody is a gateway for several scenic drives.
But let’s talk wild west first!
It seems Cody is the center of all things wild – wildlife, wild west and wild experiences as envisioned by the man who named the town after himself. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was the most well-known man in the world during the early 1900’s, and he made this area famous during his life. He and his companions were the first to perceive the possibilities of turning the sagebrush flats of Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin into a land of agricultural abundance through irrigation.
We began our visit by taking the narrated Cody Trolley Tour to learn about the town’s colorful and entertaining western history. Then we immersed ourselves in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a complex of five impressive museums under one roof. The center has an amazing collection of all things western, and we quickly realized why our tickets were good for two days there.
The Old Trail Town
The Old Trail Town is a collection of historic western buildings and artifacts dating from 1879–1901. It’s displayed at the place Buffalo Bill and his associates chose as the first town site for Cody City in 1895. These buildings were meticulously disassembled from the surrounding area and moved here for re-assembly.
Cody Historic Mural
We first heard stories about the Mormon pioneers at Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, where we saw the ruts their wagons made on their way to Utah from the east coast. We learned of another group that first settled in Bluff, Utah, and their harrowing experience while descending the 2,000’ Hole in the Rock to the Colorado River during their journey. These were some very tough people!
Here in Cody, artist Edward T. Grigware painted a circular mural depicting highlights of the Mormon Church’s early history, and the story of a people blazing trails to avoid persecution. What surprised us is that Mr. Grigware was not a member of the Mormon Church. It took him eleven months to paint his concept after studying the history for a year.
The presentation was like a diorama with a voice describing highlighted sections of the mural. We reacted when a photo of Chimney Rock in Nebraska and the Hole in the Rock were highlighted, as we’re familiar with those places.
It was a mini education about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and although it was very interesting, we didn’t convert!
Cody is Rodeo
You’ve heard the term, “This isn’t my first rodeo?” Well, this was our first and we had a blast! A stay in Cody isn’t complete without experiencing a night at the rodeo. Every night from June through August is Rodeo Night, and we were lucky to be here for the one-night-only Extreme Bull Riding event. It was two hours of fun watching crazy cowboys trying to stay on top of 1,900-pound bulls. What a way to make a living!
Buffalo Bill Dam
Just six miles west of Cody is Buffalo Bill Dam, which at the time of completion in 1910 was the tallest dam in the world at 325′. It’s an engineering marvel, one of the first concrete arch dams built in the United States and the one that Hoover Dam was modeled after. It was built to irrigate thousands of acres in the area, which was one of Buffalo Bill Cody’s visions in the early 1900’s.
From the video shown at the Visitor Center we learned about the horrendous conditions that the various contractors had to face. Three contractors came and went over the course of construction mostly due to labor disputes, and the final cost was twice the original estimate. Most of the construction work was done during winter months, as the Shoshone River flooded every spring. That meant the men were working in sub-zero temperatures during most of the project.
The guide on our trolley tour mentioned that we could walk to the dam through Shoshone Canyon via the old road to Yellowstone. So after reading the displays and exhibits at the Visitor Center we drove down to the road and then walked back toward the dam. It was a good 2-mile test for my leg, and we enjoyed seeing the dam from the top and bottom perspectives.
It was a pleasant walk along the floor of the canyon with the sound of the Shoshone River rushing next to us. Pink granite rocks exposed by the river are said to be 2.7 billions years old, and they’re beautiful.
An additional 25′ was added at the crest of the dam, making its height 350′ and increasing the reservoir storage capacity to 260,000 acre-feet.
Buffalo Bill Cody would smile at what his little town has become. It’s a cool western tourist town that is not overrun nor frenetic, and somehow manages to retain a hometown feel.
And with that we’re ready to explore some of the scenic drives that begin in Cody.