Gateway to the wild and scenic – Cody, Wyoming

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American Bison

Cody is in the heart of the “American West”, a gateway to spectacular driving loops that allowed us to see the best of Wyoming.  We drove them until Steve threw up his arms and said ” enough driving already!”  Armed with a color-coded map, we set up our driving strategy and took off!

Big Horn Mountains Loop/Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway (blue line)

Coming here to our home base in Cody from the south, Betsy followed the western section of the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway, a 34-mile route along U.S. Hwy 20 between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.  Then we continued northwest on Hwy 120 through miles of broken range and badlands.   It was a beautiful trek through some of Wyoming’s most amazing geology.

Boysen Reservoir

Deep blue waters of Boysen Reservoir, with the jagged ridges of Wind River Range in the background


This Pronghorn hesitated next to the road, then decided to go for it.  Hit the brakes!

Owl Creek Mountains

Yellow and red rock of the Owl Creek Mountains

Wind River Canyon

Spectacular rock walls rise 2,500 vertical feet on either side of Wind River Canyon

South Fork Road (purple line)

WYO 291 is also known as South Fork Road, and it begins off of Yellowstone Highway on the western end of Cody.  It parallels the South Fork of the Shoshone River upstream through a scenic valley.  Along the way are prominent volcanic rock formations like Castle Rock, and a succession of picturesque ranches.  The road eventually dead-ends on the fringes of the Absaroka Range.

South Fork Road

Castle Rock serves as a visual divider between the lower South Fork Valley and the more remote upper South Fork Valley.  Around it are historic ranches and many exclusive private recreation properties.

Castle Rock

Another of those Wyoming roadside signs we love

Southfork Road

One of the many ranches that continue to practice old traditions


Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway (green line)

This stretch of U.S. Hwy 14-16-20 – also known as the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway – follows the north fork of the Shoshone River all the way to the east gate of Yellowstone National Park.  For this scenic drive our destination was the eastern side of Yellowstone NP. Along the way in Wapiti Valley, we craned our necks at the high rugged rock formations. The valley is known for its wildlife, and although there were notices posted about grizzly bears we didn’t see any that day.

Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway

Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway

Wapiti Valley

Wapiti Valley

The byway entered Yellowstone NP at the head of the valley.  It’s been ten years since our last visit here, so we thought it would be fun to revisit the oldest national park in the world.


Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

As to be expected, wildlife here is abundant and fortunately most critters shy away from people.

Visitors to Yellowstone NP can usually count on a traffic jam caused by the iconic Bison that live here.  They aren’t shy!

American Bison

Not a care in the world as he struts along the road, heading right at us

Unlike our first visit here, it was crowded with heavy traffic by 10AM this time.  We turned around after a stop at Hayden Valley in the park, which gave us a 190-mile roundtrip for the day.

Yellowstone National Park

This drive with breathtaking views as it snaked through Wapiti Valley and over Sylvan Pass into Yellowstone NP made the traffic in the park worth tolerating.

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (green line)

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway forks off of WYO 120 about 20 miles north of Cody.  It follows the route taken by Chief Joseph as he led the Nez Perce Indians out of Yellowstone National Park and into Montana in 1877 during their attempt to flee the U.S. Cavalry and escape into Canada.

The scenic highway climbs though fields of wildflowers and past Chugwater formations on its way into Shoshone National Forest.

Red chug water formations

Red Chugwater formations

Antelope Butte

Antelope Butte

We pulled over at Dead Indian Pass (elevation 8,060′) to enjoy a dramatic panorama west into Sunlight Basin and north into Clarks Fork Canyon (unfortunately, due to a developing thunderstorm I caught only a glimpse of the 1,200′ gorge carved at Clarks Fork on the Yellowstone River).

Dead Indian Summit

Looking down at the switchbacks from Dead Indian Summit to Sunlight Basin

Cathedral Cliffs

Limestone Cathedral Cliffs

Pilot Mountain

Pilot and Index Peaks

Chief Josep Scenic Byway

Heavy rain and hail on our way home on Hwy 296

The scenic highway ends at the bottom of the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212), and we drove west up to Cooke City and east to the Wyoming-Montana border.  I’ll do another post on that section, as we drove it from our next home base in Montana.

Bighorn Mountain Loop northeast end (orange line)

Taking U.S. 14A northeast toward Bighorn Canyon, we passed through irrigated farmland – a product of Buffalo Bill’s irrigation project – to the town of Powell.  It’s the agricultural hub of northwestern Wyoming.

Our only stop here was at Devils Canyon Overlook:


This overlook provides amazing views of the confluence of the Bighorn and Devils Canyons.  The narrow, winding, colorful canyon cliffs tower 1,000′ above lake level.

Devils Canyon Overlook

Devils Canyon on the left and Bighorn Canyon on the right

Bighorn Canyon

Sixty-five millions years of erosion has carved 50 mile-long Bighorn Canyon

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Deep red-colored cliffs

Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range

Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.  Steve called it the “horseless range” because we didn’t see a single one on this trip

On our way back home we stopped at the National Historic Site of the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese-American Relocation Center.  This was one of 10 relocation camps set up around the country to detain Japanese-Americans in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

We had visited the Manzanar Relocation Center at Lone Pine, California in 2012, and found the exhibits to be interesting and sad at the same time.  This site near Cody memorializes the experience of more than 14,000 Americans of Japanese descent who were brought into and out of the camp between 1942-1945.

Heart Mountain Memorial

Steve points at the image of hundreds of barracks buildings that made up the camp

Heart Mountain World war II

14,000+ tags symbolize the number of Japanese-Americans that were interned here

Bighorn Mountain Loop southeast end (orange line)

In a previous drive we were disappointed that we didn’t see wild horses at Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop in Rock Springs, Wyoming.  Here, I opted to join a private Wild Horse Tour, and for $33 I got a 2.5-hour viewing of the wild horses at McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd Management Area.  The viewing area is 22 miles east of Cody on Hwy 14-16-20 at mile marker 72.

Wild Mustang

According to the guide, the objective of the Horse Management Area is to maintain a population of 100 wild horses.  When over-population occurs, horses are removed and offered to the general public for adoption.

Wild Mustang


A wild horse as defined by federal law is unbranded, unclaimed and free-roaming on public lands.  Wild horses and burros are descendants of animals that were released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, the U.S. Cavalry and American Indians.


Stallions in fight

Stallions fighting to decide who leads the bachelor band – this was a rare capture!

Northwestern Wyoming is wild and scenic, and Cody is in the center of it all.  Every road we took rewarded us with rugged canyons, spectacular mountains, lush ranch valleys and vibrant wildflowers adorning hillsides.

We’ll definitely be coming back to Wyoming – wild horses couldn’t keep us away!


Next up:  Beartooth Highway – A National Scenic Byway All-American Road


Our final days in Texas – the Davis Mountains

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Acorn Woodpecker

After gazing into the night sky and peering through telescopes while star-partying, it was time to come back to earth and move on.  Our home base at Davis Mountains State Park was nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Davis Mountains, with the historic town of Fort Davis only 4 miles away.  The total absence of internet and phone connectivity, along with many days of nice weather at the campground, made outdoor exploration the perfect pastime while we were here.

Davis Mountains State Park

Under those trees in the foothills is Davis Mountains State Park

Davis Mountains is a mountain range that rose from the Chihuahuan Desert floor, isolating it to form a “sky island.”  Rising above 5,000 feet to cooler and moister climates, the mountains provide area residents and visitors a retreat during the hot Texas summers.   We’re glad that Laurel (Raven and Chicadee) and DK (My Five Fs) had scouted this place out, allowing us to enjoy a wonderful time here.


Wide open grasslands of the Fort Davis flats

As we took hikes or drove around the mountains and the town of Fort Davis, evidence of intense volcanic activity millions of years ago could be seen.  Park brochures indicated the mountains we see now consist of layer upon layer of ash (hardened lava).  Massive eruptions built up shield volcanoes composed of rhyolite lava flows and ash-flow tuffs.  The weathered formations show a peculiar feature, more common in basaltic lava flows, called columnar jointing.  It has created “palisades” characterizing such landmarks as Sleeping Lion Mountain (the backdrop to the town of Fort Davis) and the walls of Limpia Canyon.

Sleeping Lion, Davis Mountains

Can you make out a sleeping lion in this formation?   It’s just one single lava flow!

Sleeping Lion

Homes have been built in the shadow of the Sleeping Lion formation

Limpia Canyon Davis Mountains

Limpia Canyon viewed from the park’s CCC Trail

Basaltic Lava flows- Limpia Canyons

Basaltic lava flows – we’ve seen this kind of rock in several other places during our travels

Hiking at the State Park

The excellent weather allowed us to follow every hiking trail in the state park; Skyline Trail, CCC Trail, Montezuma Trail and the Indian Lodge Trail.  We enjoyed a variety of vantage points during every trek.  The canyon walls, composed of unmistakeable igneous rock, were evident everywhere as we followed the ridge on Skyline Trail.


Montezuma Trail

This trail provided a 221 ft. elevation gain, and it seemed like all of it was at the beginning of the hike!


Big Horn Sheep

We spotted not one, not two, but eight Bighorn Sheep walking around and perching on the rocks at the summit


A camera-shy Javelina runs for cover

Cow at Davis Mountains

The area surrounding the park is still owned by private ranchers

Skyline Trail

Not a bad way to spend the morning!

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute

This institute sits on 507 acres of semi-desert grasslands, surrounded by igneous rock outcrops with a riparian canyon and spectacular views.  I arrived during their membership meeting and got a free pass to explore the botanical gardens.  Wanting to get my “money’s worth”, I also followed their hiking trails and viewed samples of historic artifacts and ore displays which highlighted 19th century mining in this area.

Chihuahuan Desert Institute

The Chihuahuan Desert Institute as seen from a nearby overlook

But my favorite activity here was hiking up to Clayton’s Overlook, where I spent time reading 10 plaques about the surrounding  dynamic landscape – its  geology , culture and history.  One explained in detail the characteristics of the Davis Mountains.  Despite their stunning beauty, they are a hard land filled with wildlife and people that have adapted to these highlands located in the heart of the Trans-Pecos part of Texas.

Geology Exhibit

My “selfie” for the day

The town of Fort Davis

Fort Davis is known as the highest town in Texas – located at a mere 5,050 ft. of elevation. Established in 1854 on the San Antonio-El Paso Road through west Texas, the town, the fort and the surrounding mountains were named after Jefferson Davis, who was the Secretary of War at the time.

Fort Davis, Texas

The town of Fort Davis at the base of the Sleeping Lion formation

It was in town at the Jeff Davis County Library that I checked email and my all-important FB account.  This historic adobe building was a store during the 1870’s, changing hands several times.  By 1891 it had grown to serve as the town’s general store, temporary jail, telephone exchange and post office.  It became a library in 1999.

Going inside and comparing the original and current pictures, nothing much has changed, especially the ceilings and floors.

Checking out the town of Marfa

On one morning we drove to the nearby small town of Marfa.  This quirky old West Texas cowtown has turned into a hip cultural mecca.  The first thing we noticed upon our arrival was the most prominent building in town, the historic Presidio County Courthouse.  Built in 1886, it is designed of brick and stone quarried right here in Marfa.

Presidio County Courthouse

Presidio County Courthouse

We went inside this beautiful building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The original pecan wood throughout the interior was gorgeous and had really withstood the test of time.

Presidio County Courthouse

Grand Jury courtroom still in use today

On our way back home, we saw what we at first thought were white-tailed deer, but after stopping for a closer look we discovered they were Pronghorns, the first we had ever seen.


What the heck is that?

The Pronghorn Antelope is not really an antelope, but rather the sole descendent of an ancient deer-like animal.  It’s the second-fastest animal on land (Cheetah being the fastest), able to achieve and maintain speeds of 53 miles per hour for up to 1.5 miles.


These guys were unafraid of me as I snapped away.  We saw them grazing along the highway in several spots

Can’t forget the birds!

This particular state park made it very clear that they didn’t want bird feeders in campsites. So to lure my feathered friends to our site, I “accidentally” dropped some birdseed on nearby boulders – shhh, please don’t report me, I can’t help myself!  In just a few hours the “word” had spread, and one by one they came for a free lunch at site #11.

Black Crested Titmouse

This Black-crested Titmouse was jumping for joy!

Black-throated Sparrow

A Black-throated Sparrow waited for his turn

Acorn Woodpecker

An Acorn Woodpecker just sat on a branch, watching the show below

Western Scrub-Jay

Even a Western Scrub-jay made an appearance


But as usual the Chipping Sparrows were the mainstays, not leaving until all of the goodies were gone

We had been in Texas for the past five long months, our longest winter in a single state, and I must say we were glad to finally be moving on!

Davis Mountains State Park

Goodbye Texas!


Next up:  Hello New Mexico!