Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Buffalo Bill Center Of The West - Cody, Wyoming!

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     Buffalo Bill Center Of The West!
     When the west is mentioned in a conversation, the first thing that enters the mind of a listener is visions of the old wild west.  Thoughts of mountain men, natives, big mountains, pioneers, gold, buffalo, deserts and legendary heroes quickly flash by, before the attention is placed back on matters at hand.  It is amazing how the word "west" can conjure up so much attention and admiration, especially after pondering over taking a vacation in this vast region. 
     To really get the most out of a western vacation venture, it is necessary to know a little something about the history of the wild west.  For example, one would be surprised at how often that the footsteps of western heroes can be traced in old ghost towns that have not changed much since the 1800's.  While viewing a remote valley between red sandstone mesas, the picturesque scenery casts a different feeling when it is known that a battle took place in the area.  When wondering why an outpost was located in a god forsaken spot in a vast barren desert, it all makes sense when knowledge of old west gold prospecting enters the picture.   A little bit of western history knowledge can help to put the pieces of the puzzle together and the family vacation can become an educational experience.   
     The desire to experience key events in western history can inspire an overall theme for a vacation.  Visiting destinations along The Oregon Trail, The California Trail or Pony Express Routes is always a worthwhile vacation theme.  Visiting tribal villages, trading posts and ancient ruins would be perfect for a vacation with a cultural exchange theme.  Following the trail of old west outlaws with the hope of recovering a hidden stash of stolen gold coins is always a popular vacation theme too.  Planning a classic western theme style vacation does require doing a bit of historical research ahead of time, in order to make it all happen. 

     So, where does one go to amass as much old west history knowledge as possible?  The answer definitely is the Buffalo Bill Center Of The West in Cody, Wyoming!  No place on earth houses as many old west artifacts and exhibits as this museum does.  The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West actually is 5 large western museums all in one location.  It literally can take two days to thoroughly explore all of the museum exhibits!
      The Buffalo Bill Museum section contains just about everything and anything that is connected with Buffalo Bill and the old west.  Antiques, clothing and saddlery items are so well preserved that they look like they were made yesterday.  There are complete shops, kitchens and industrial exhibits that depict lifestyles of the 1800's.  Tons of memorabilia from the Buffalo Bill's Traveling Wild West Show are on display in this museum too.
     The Cody Firearms Museum contains the largest collection of western guns in the world.  Pistols and rifles that many western heroes and outlaws carried are on display.  There are row after row of complete collections of famous western gun manufacturers on display too.  Even old Spanish explorer arms and mountain man muskets are part of the collection.
     The Draper Natural History Museum houses a vast collection of animal and plant life gathered from just east of the Rockies to the west coast.  Ecosystems and predator/prey relationships are conveyed in the exhibits.  The geology and mineralogy of western regions is explained in detail too.
     The Plains Indian Museum houses both Pre-Colombian native cultural exhibits and educational displays that detail events after European pioneers arrived.  Many items from archeological sites provide a wealth of knowledge about everyday life in old west native culture.  Visitors will find plenty of information about the tribes of the High Plains in this museum.  
     The Whitney Western Art Museum is off limits for cameras, so plan on just taking the memories home, unless purchasing a work of western art is what is in mind.  Many of the modern works of art are on sale, while the old antique paintings have found a permanent home.  The western art collection is vast and many of the works come from famous artists.  All I can say is to be sure to allow plenty of time for visiting this great western art museum.
     The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West offers group tours, workshops, lectures and family programs.   The research library has a vast collection of rare books and photographs that were amassed by prominent western characters, like William F. Cody.  The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West is a trading post too.  Everything from Native American pottery and jewelry to T-Shirts and Huckleberry Candy can be found at the gift shop.
     No vacation in the west is complete, unless a little something of substance is learned along the way.  The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West is a great place to start a western vacation venture, because this museum offers such a vast wealth of historical information.  While on a family vacation in the Yellowstone neighborhood of Wyoming, traveling down the road a short spell to The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West is certainly worthwhile!     

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cody, Wyoming!

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     Cody, Wyoming!
     Wyoming is not exactly in the Southwest region, but this state is living example of old west heritage and scenic splendor.  There is plenty to see and do in this state during the summer vacation season and Yellowstone National Park is by far the most popular destination.  The thing is, not everybody wants to deal with big crowds and long waiting lines.  Those who prefer a relaxed pace while on summer vacation will find what they seek just about anywhere else in Wyoming, other than at the National Park.      
     When considering that the entire Southwest has been hit by record setting high temperatures this week, the cool summer weather in Wyoming looks mighty appealing.  In Wyoming, the June and July temperatures range from 50ºF to about 85ºF.  Cool nights and comfortably warm sunny days sure do sound better than suffering through a week of 115ºF temperatures while vacationing somewhere in the Desert Southwest right now! 
     Other than Yellowstone, where is a good place to start exploring Wyoming?  The answer is definitely Cody, because this city is chock full of old west heritage.  Cody, Wyoming, was named after its founder William F. Cody, who is better known as Buffalo Bill.  This city is a great destination for history buffs and those who want to experience the cowboy lifestyle.  
     As one would expect, the name Buffalo Bill is pasted on nearly everything in Cody and this is for a good reason.  Buffalo Bill made this city famous and the name is highly revered to this day.  A good place to saddle up a Buffalo Bill style venture is the old historic Irma Hotel.  The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill and it was named after his daughter.  Nearly every famous name from the old west can be seen on the Irma Hotel registrar.  Visitors can rent the same rooms and suites that Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane or Buffalo Bill slept in.  
    The Irma Hotel serves up some great classic western food.  The Irma also serves up some famous entertainment in the form of old west gunfights!  Visitors can view the good guys versus the bad guys shootout on the street from a restaurant table on the porch.  Audience participation is sometimes called for and children of all ages enjoy taking part in the action. 
    The historic main street area is where visitors can get their western style shopping spree on!  Cowboys and cowgirls will find the fashions they are looking for in the western wear stores and boot shops.  There are plenty of antique shops, outdoor outfitters and curios shops too.  
     When the whistle runs dry, there are several old saloons that serve ice cold beer along the main street shopping area too.  Some of the saloons in Cody have been in business for over 100 years and they are like windows that offer a view of the past.  The quality of the 1800's woodwork in these old saloons is something to marvel over, because craftsmanship like this is rare in the modern age.
     After doing some window shopping I stepped into the Silver Dollar Bar to get an ice cold brew and a bite to eat.  When in Wyoming, one simply cannot go wrong when ordering beef.  The Silver Dollar Burger with Pepper Jack and fresh cut fries was as good as it gets!  
     Cody is also famous for great steaks.  Wyoming is cattle country and most restaurants feature local ranch beef, so the steaks easily rate as Prime Grade Beef.  A little later in the day I ran across what looked like another great saloon on the outskirts of town.  The name of the place was Cassie's and as it turned out, Cassie's has the reputation of being the best steakhouse in all of Wyoming.  
     Cassie's has another kind of reputation and this landmark offers quite a bit of old west history in its own right.  Back in the early 1900's, Cassie started up a Ladies Of The Night Club downtown, just in time to capitalize on the Cody Stampede Rodeo.  In other words, Cassie was an old west brothel madam and she definitely had some good business savvy.  Eventually during the prohibition years, the city council forced Cassie's brothel enterprise to close its doors, so she opened up Cassie's Supper Club where it stands today.  
     Cassie's Supper Club dining room actually is tastefully decorated like a luxurious old west brothel.  This lush atmosphere is perfect for enjoying a thick Wyoming steak, while sipping on some good frontier whiskey.  The long bar at Cassie's is another shining example of western style saloon carpentry.  Cassie's offers live country entertainment and a western style dance floor.  My experience at Cassie's was most excellent and this steakhouse definitely is worth recommending!
     Cody does not have much of a winter tourist season and summer is the best time to visit.  Cody is a good place to book hunting and fishing guides.  Wyoming is a fly fisherman's paradise and the Shoshone River is close by.  Other things to look for on the calendar when planning a trip to Cody is the Cody Stampede and the Cody Nite Rodeo.  Both of these summertime events offer a chance to be part of the biggest rodeos in the west.  
     Once again, western heritage is what Cody is all about.  There are several museums in this city that have a Buffalo Bill theme.  The original works of Buffalo Bill Wild West Show memorabilia can be viewed at the local museums.  
     By far, the biggest museum in town is the Buffalo Bill Center Of The West.  It takes nearly two days to see all the exhibits on site.  This museum is also the home of the largest western gun collection in the world.  A large portion of this museum is also dedicated to Native American heritage.  Those who cannot get enough of old west history will be happy to know that a travel article about the Buffalo Bill Center Of The West will be published in this blog real soon. 
     As one can see, Cody, Wyoming, belongs on the lifetime bucket list of western travel destinations.  There is much more to this town than what is pictured in the photo show, so saddle up and head on down the trail to experience Cody while the weather is nice!                        

Friday, June 17, 2016

Scenic Wyoming Byways!

     Scenic Wyoming Byways!
     Every summer the temperatures rise in the Southwest and people seek relief from the heat.  The exception is the endless flow of tourists from back east and overseas that are willing to visit desert destinations that are as hot as a frying pan, because this is the only time of year they can travel.  Most of the locals in the Desert Southwest dream of taking a vacation to a destination that is guaranteed to have cooler temperatures.  Wyoming is one such place!
     I recently worked in Wyoming in late summer as a chef at a remote hunting lodge resort and I had the time to explore this territory from one end of this state to the other.  Wyoming is a vast expanse of land that offers ever changing panoramic landscapes.  Wyoming also has plenty of old west history to tell.  

     Wyoming is a great place to take a long scenic drive.  The distances between towns and cities can be hundreds of miles, so when traveling in Wyoming there literally is nothing better to do than drive and take in the scenery!  
     There are winding mountain roads that are challenging to drive and there are straight highways that are better suited for land yachts and travel trailers.  Wyoming has some of the steepest mountain grades in the west, so depending on the vehicle you drive, it may pay to take a good look at the map before setting off on a journey.

     When traveling north to Wyoming from major cities in the Southwest, staying on the major interstate highways will save plenty of time.  Winding through the two lane roads in central Utah will result in getting caught up in the summertime National Park tourist traffic.  For example, traveling on Interstate Highway 15 from Las Vegas to Wyoming will cut the travel time in less than half.  
     For those who drive sports cars and muscle cars that have a stick shift, there is a challenging mountain road just east of Salt Lake City that leads to Rock Springs, Wyoming.  This route avoids the big city eyesores too.  Traveling north on U.S. Highway 191 from Northeast Utah to Rock Springs is just about as hair raising as it gets!  When I did this scenic route I was driving a small block Hemi Challenger with a 6 speed stick.  I had a blast powering through the dangerous steep mountain hairpin turns!
     Rock Springs is a noteworthy starting point for exploring Wyoming when traveling from the Southwest.  Rock Springs is a fair size city that offers all amenities and shopping.  Rock Springs has some pretty good places to grab a bite to eat too.  There is no use arguing with the fact that many folks prefer to start a long day of driving with a big coffee and a box of good donuts.  Cowboy Donuts is the best in the West and this gourmet donut shop was featured on the Food Television Network.  All I can say is that the Watermelon Donuts are to die for!

     Southern Wyoming is just about as flat as it gets.  They do not call this region the High Plains for no reason at all.  From horizon to horizon all that a traveler sees is endless grassy plains, cattle ranches and a few rolling hills.  Small towns are few and far between.  When traveling on two lane roads in the High Plains of Southern Wyoming one cannot help to think of two important demographic facts.  First of all, there are more cattle than people in Wyoming and this state has the lowest population of any in the union.  This all becomes evident when driving in the High Plains.
     Traveling on SR 28, U.S. 26 and U.S. 20 from Rock Springs to Thermopolis near the Bighorn National Forest in north central Wyoming definitely is a scenic drive worth taking.  After enduring the monotonous trip through the High Plains, surreal looking mountains eventually come into view.  This route rewards travelers with a drive through one of the most spectacular mountain gorges in the world.  The Bighorn River runs through this gorge and empties into the Boysen Reservoir, which is one of the most picturesque desert lakes in the west.  This end of the Bighorn River is a haven for fly fishing and white water rafting ventures, so it is worth packing some camping gear.

     There are several scenic roads worth checking out that skirt around the Bighorn National Forest.  U.S. 14 runs west through lush farmland and mountains to Cody and Yellowstone National Park.  Interstate Highway 90 runs east through the High Plains toward the Devils Tower National Monument and the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Going due south from the Bighorn to Colorado SR 13 on the two lane state roads offers some of the most dramatic high desert scenery that one could imagine.  Spotting Pronghorn (Antelope) in this region is pretty easy to do.  Pronghorn are the fastest animals in North America and they present great photo opportunities.
     Wyoming is a big place and there is plenty of ground to cover.  Those who like driving long distances in the wide open spaces surely will like exploring what Wyoming has to offer.  The scenery along the way is majestic and as pristine as it gets!