After three fun days exploring Yellowstone and West Yellowstone on our recent winter vacation, we moved on to Cody, Wyoming.
Ordinarily you would just drive across Yellowstone National Park and out the East Gate to Cody, but since you can’t drive through the park because roads are closed during the winter, we took the long way around through Bozeman, Montana, across Interstate 90 and down through Laurel, Montana.
I was glad I was driving as we passed through the Clark Fork Valley south of Laurel. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of row crop agriculture going on there, and being the passenger, my farmer could take in all the sights without driving us into the ditch.
There were fields where corn, sugar beets, barley and wheat had been grown, and of course a lot of grass and alfalfa for the cattle wintered there. Also there were plenty of center pivots. We saw a new pivot dealership being built to provide maintenance for all the machines in place.
Since we arrived in Cody well ahead of the appointed check-in time at our Airbnb and the weather was clear, we headed west out of Cody to complete one of several wildlife viewing excursions outlined by a good friend who had worked at the Powell Tribune.
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From the North Fork of the Shoshone River, west between the Cedar and Rattlesnake mountains, on past the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, it took us only 10 miles before we spotted a herd of Big Horn sheep only 30 feet off the side of the road. They paid us little mind and kept grazing away while we took photo after photo.
We continued on for 45 miles through the Wapiti Valley all the way to Pawhuska Teepee just outside the East Gate of Yellowstone before turning around for the trip back to Cody. While taking in the many wonderful vistas, Hubby spotted a lone bison grazing in brush just off the road. A young bull, we surmised he had been kicked out of the herd by older bulls and was now on his own.
When we rounded a curve close to where we had first spotted the Big Horn sheep, I nearly ran into a young ram who was standing right on the shoulder. The herd had moved right down to the road as dusk approached, so we took another round of photos right out the car window.
With the weather forecast clear and cold the next day, we took off after breakfast for an out-and-back drive up the Clark Fork Canyon hoping to spot some mountain goats. There in the shadow of the Beartooth Mountains we headed for a parking area at the end of the canyon road. After 30 minutes of scanning the sheer outcroppings and tops of ridges we couldn’t find a trace of the white prizes but were able to watch an aged lone bull elk, probably kicked out of the herd by much stronger young males.
The best was saved for last that day, as we took a jaunt up the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway to Dead Indian Pass. It received its name from the wounded warrior that died there during 1877 when the Nez Perce went on a 1,117-mile fighting retreat to Canada after protesting the loss of their ancestral lands. From the top of the pass you can see at least 10 miles, a vista well worth the trip.
Our last two days in Cody were spent touring museums, and there were plenty to choose from. At the Buffalo Bill Center of the West there are five world-class museums all in one complex. A ticket is good for two days, as it takes that long to browse through the exhibits.
There is the Whitney Gallery of Western Art (containing works from Charles Russell, Frederick Remington and Gutzom Borglum and other masters), Museum of the Plains Indian, the Buffalo Bill Museum (focusing on the town’s founder and namesake), Draper Museum of Natural History (a vertical museum with flora, fauna and geology exhibited by altitude) and the Cody Firearms Museum (which among other collections has been home to the famed Winchester gun collection since 1991).
We also went to the Heart Mountain WW II Japanese American Confinement Site between Cody and Powell, Wyoming. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center tells the story of the 14,000 Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated there from August 1942 through November 1945.
An eye-opening experience it is a chapter in our country’s history no one likes to remember, but I hope we never forget. This was just one of 10 relocation centers used during WW II during an era of high anti-Asian sentiment.
We concluded our travels with a quick side trip to Devil’s Tour National Monument (what better way to use that life-time National Parks Pass?) and a two days in the Black Hills.
(The one good thing about traveling to cold weather country in winter is coming home to more winter isn’t so bad. It was -30 Fahrenheit at Hof Batie as I wrote this column and I pray for all those working with livestock or whose livelihood requires outdoor work. May we all survive this Arctic blast to come out the other side.)
Barb Bierman Batie can be reached at email@example.com.