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29 September - 6 October 2015 - Wyoming - Cody

Tuesday 29th September

Up at 5.30 am to get into the park before light. We made our way towards Norris, driving through a ghostly landscape of steam and mist.

On the Central Plateau we saw Buffalo with frost sticking to their thick woolly coats.

Past Canyon Village we followed the Yellowstone River through the Hayden Valley. The mist was quite thick here and covered the road reducing the visibility. We stopped when we saw a few people with scopes who were probably looking for wolves. The mist was clearing and the terrain here was quite bare and moor-like. Saw a herd of buffalo up on a hill. Got out of the RV and could hear wolves in the distance but our binoculars did not pick them out. The road continued to follow the river until we came to Yellowstone Lake. The lake is 20 miles long by 14 miles wide and is North America’s largest high altitude lake. We stopped at Sedge Bay, a pebble and driftwood beach alongside the lake for a bacon sandwich breakfast. Sat outside in the warm sunshine, it was still relatively early and we had the beach to ourselves with a lovely view over the lake.

Continued on over the 8,530 feet Sylvan Pass in the Absaroka Range - eroded volcanic mountains named for the Crow tribe. We passed out through the east gate of the park into the Shoshone National Forest.

This magnificent valley followed the north fork of the Shoshone River with tall dramatic cliffs on either side of the valley and unusual volcanic rock formations. Some looked like ancient forts carved into the sandstone.

The valley widened out as we came into the Wapiti Valley and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and dam.

We went through a narrow canyon past the dam and came into the semiarid area that surrounds Cody.

Booked in at the Ponderosa RV Park which is within walking distance of the town centre. Cody is named after William Frederick Cody, known as Buffalo Bill, and one of the founders of the original town. The town has a population of over 9,000 and was founded in 1896.

This afternoon we attended a talk given by Ken Martin a local and owner of Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tours. He talked about historical figures from the area, including American Indians, mountain men, trappers, outlaws - such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. It was fascinating and gave us a good background to the area. He also brought along some of the rifles used by the US Cavalry and American Indians in the 19th century. They are heavy, how they used them and stayed on a horse I don’t know. Lastly, he talked about the wild mustang horses in the area. These are free roaming unbranded, unclaimed horses or burros found on public land. They are descendants of animals that were released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, the US Cavalry and American Indians.

Wednesday 30th September

Met Don and Joyce this morning and their four dogs. Don is an engineer and Joyce a retired teacher. They are from Arizona and we sat outside in the sunshine and chatted for quite a while about our travels. Decided to move on from the Ponderosa as the wifi was not good. We went over to the back of town on the south side to the Absaroka Bay RV Park. This is a nice open site on the edge of town but still within reasonable walking distance and the wifi is much better. Just across the highway is Beck Lake Park that has a good dog park for Sandy.

Following on from Ken’s talk yesterday we went to Old Trail Town this afternoon to see and hear a bit more about the old west and its characters. Here they have assembled a collection of historic buildings and artifacts of the old west from all over Wyoming and Montana.

Included in the collection is the 1892, fully equipped store

from the town Shell, Wyoming and the 1885 Hole in Wall Gang cabin, a two room cabin built on Buffalo Creek was a rendezvous for Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and other out-laws.

There are also six grave sites at the end of the town which include the remains of Jeremiah Johnson who during his life had been a trapper, hunter, army scout, marshal and Civil War veteran. The 1972 film Jeramiah Johnson was based on his life and starred Robert Redford.

The1888, Rivers Saloon, built at the mouth of Wood River and comes complete with bullet holes in the door. This was a favourite spot for Butch Cassidy, where the gang plotted two different bank robberies.

On the way back through town we called in at the Pat O’Hara Brewing Company for a little light refreshment on such a hot day. Fiona served us, she is from Hong Kong and is here studying. There was a good selection of in-house brewed and bought in beers. I had a nice wheat beer which was really refreshing and tasted of apricot.

Then back to camp for a steak dinner.

Thurs/Fri 1-2 October.

Stayed around camp, caught up on the chores, blog, shopping etc.

Saturday 3rd October

Weather has taken a turn for the worse raining all night and most of the day. Visited the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West which has five museums and a research library.

Buffalo Bill, the life and times of William Cody, the famous Wild West show he ran and the town he founded.

Natural History, looks at and develops an understanding of the humans, wildlife and ecology in the Yellowstone area, including the sights and sounds of the park.

Western Art, a picture of the west through painting and sculpture.

Firearms, a large collection of fire arms and the history of how they shaped the west, some finely crafted pieces, also guns used in famous movies.

Plains Indian, an insight into the lives and history of the Plains Indian people told through the seasons of the year.

The Centre is affiliated to the Smithsonian and is a very impressive place and first class museum. As we arrived and walked into the building there was a demonstration and talk about raptors taking place in the foyer. They had three birds there, a Peregrine falcon from Arizona with an injured ligament, a Red-tailed hawk from New Mexico, he was hit by a car and lost an eye and a Great Horned owl from Utah with a broken wing, found five years by a hiker on a trail. Because of their injuries all these birds are looked after by the Centre. As is usual with anything to do with birds of prey there was a big crowd.

Sunday 4th

Went back to the museum today to finish off our tour around. The ticket price allows for admission on two consecutive days, which is a great idea, there is so much to see and absorb. After the museum we went to the Irma Hotel for a look around. The hotel was built by Buffalo Bill in 1902 and named after one of his daughters. It still retains some of the atmosphere of the west particularly in the dark wood hall and restaurant with plush red seats. There is also the Cherrywood bar given to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria.

Monday 5th October

Got on the road in the car before light this morning to make our way back to Yellowstone NP for the day. We took the Wyoming 120 north out of Cody towards Red Lodge and the Beartooth Highway, scenic route to the north-east gate of the park. We soon got into open rangeland of grasses and sagebrush and rolling hills. We saw cattle and horses and gateways to isolated ranches. Further along the terrain changed to farmland and it looked like there were irrigation systems in place. We crossed into Montana and over the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River before turning onto the 308 towards Red Lodge and back into empty sage grass rangeland with a few cattle. On the way we passed the small towns of Bearcreek and Washoe, plus an abandoned coal mine. We descended down into the valley towards Red Lodge with nice views of the mountains. As we were leaving town on the 212 we saw a large electronic notice saying that the Beartooth Pass (10,947) had closed for the winter. I went into the National Forest office to confirm, and yes, the road had closed that morning. Disappointed, we made our way back to the 120 to take the alternative route via the Chief Joseph Byway to join the Beartooth Highway on the west side of the pass, which we were assured was open. On the way we stopped off at the deserted coal mine where we saw two Coyote’s, they were so well camouflaged in the sage grass we were lucky to spot them.

The Smith Mine was opened in the early 1900’s and the two towns of Washoe and Bearcreek accommodated the miners and families. In 1943 there was an explosion caused by methane gas in the mine that killed 74 miners. By 1953 the mine had closed to commercial operation but the buildings remain as a memorial to those that died.

We moved on to nearby Bearcreek where there were still a few buildings remaining from the coal mine days, like the bank and gas station. After the closure of the mine the town declined and many of the buildings were moved to other communities or demolished leaving gaps along Main Street.

We got back onto the 120 south to pick up the 296, Chief Joseph Scenic Byway north. Chief Joseph was a Nez Perce chief and following a battle with the US Calvary in 1877 fled through this area avoiding capture. We started to climb through deserted moorland scenery and quickly came into thick cloud that covered the road and reduced visibility. Our progress was stopped when we came across a herd of cows with their young.

As we gradually weaved our way through the herd, out of the cloud appeared the ghostly figures of cowboys mounted on horses.

We drove by Pine covered hills and alpine meadows as we overlooked the thick cloud cover below. ​​​​

Stopped at Dead Indian Summit at over 8,000 feet for a wonderful view of the valley and mountains.

Continued on down into Sunlight Basin around hairpin bends with spectacular views of the valley landscape, plateau, steep cliffs and Absaroka Mountains. One of the rock formations looked like a hill monastery carved out of the rock.

We stopped off at Sunlight Creek Bridge, the highest bridge in Wyoming crossing a deep river canyon.

Eventually we came to the turn west onto the 212, Beartooth Highway, again a beautiful scenic road back into Montana near Cooke City where we stopped for lunch at The Bistro.

Originally a gold mining town, it still retains some of the old buildings. We made our way on just a few miles through Silver Gate, a small log cabin town, and the north east entrance of Yellowstone. This route to us to the Lamar Valley

and area where the first wolf pack was reintroduced in 1995. We haven’t seen a wolf in the wild yet and we are particularly keen to do so. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the park but no luck, not a wolf in sight. On our way out of the park, near Yellowstone Lake we saw a large black bear sitting over a deer carcass.

We needed our binoculars because he was away from the road near the edge of the forest. Black bears are omnivorous but mostly eat vegetation and fruits. They are opportunistic and will sometimes catch small game animals or snatch a carcass from another predator. They need to gain as much fat as possible this time of year before winter and hibernation. We made our way back to Cody along the valley through the Shoshone National Forest as we did last week. Another gorgeous drive and to top the day and make up for not seeing a wolf, we saw a grizzly bear cub. There were one or two vehicles stopped on the side of the highway, we pulled over and there he was, leaning against a telegraph pole. All on his own with no sign of mother bear, he looked too small to be off on his own yet. He stared at us with some interest, wandered around to see if there was any interesting grass to eat, got bored then wandered back up the hill away from the road. He was absolutely gorgeous, a real teddy bear, I wanted to take him home and spent the rest of evening worrying in case he went back down to the road and got run over.

Wow, what a day! Back at camp had a chat with Margo with her dog Tommy. Margo and Martin are from Amsterdam and are here for a month travelling in an RV and visiting friends.

Tuesday 6th October

Stayed around camp, waiting for Amazon delivery. Did laundry. Beautiful sunset tonight.

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