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Wiltz: Journey in Wyoming well worth it

Other than a border crossing into Wyoming to see Devils Tower, I had never before visited The Cowboy State with the exception of a 1976 job interview in Sundance. Why had I waited so long?

On Saturday, Dec. 2, Mike Hall and I headed for Cody, Wyoming. Sunday would be spent at the Buffalo Bill Center of The West, and late Sunday afternoon we would make the half hour drive south to Meeteetse's Oasis Motel where Wood River Ranch hunting guide Casey Johnson would meet us to discuss the following morning's cow elk hunt. Mike was kind enough to accompany me as a non-hunting partner.

We turned onto I-90 near Plankinton and took it all the way to Buffalo, Wyoming. The number of Wyoming pronghorn antelope we observed far exceeded my expectations. We were well ahead of schedule, and Mike suggested that we swing up to Sheridan where we could make a short visit with his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Linda and Art Erickson, truly wonderful folks. They owned the Rails Bar, a converted CB&Q (Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy) railroad station that is now the most interesting bar I've ever seen. That old bar held more artifacts than 99 percent of the museums I've visited. The CB&Q merged into the Burlington Northern in 1970.

After a most delightful hour, we headed to Cody by way of Dayton, Shell and Greybull, a journey that took us through the heart of the Bighorn Mountains. The breathtaking vistas equaled or surpassed anything I've ever seen including New Zealand, the Canadian Rockies, Alaska and the Andes. Had we gone no further, the trip was already a life high point.

Cody, other than being the gateway to Yellowstone, is a trendy, upscale tourist community. I can certainly tell you where not to go in Cody. We pulled into this modest looking motel called Carter Mountain. The office was void of life save a white parrot perched in the far right corner. He greeted us with a robust "Hello" and flew onto my right shoulder. From there he flew to Mike. I then went to the counter where I rang a bell for service. Apparently no one was home. The bird then flew to the counter and promptly bit the top joint of my right index finger — my trigger finger! Blood flowed freely from the deep wound!

Needless to say, we left the motel for another where the kind clerk gave me a band aid. She had also once been bitten by said parrot. Fortunately I was already on an antibiotic to head off potential pneumonia. I should have chased the bird out the door where twenty degrees would have ended his biting career in short order.

During the winter, the Buffalo Bill Center is open on Thursdays and Sundays. On Sunday, we thoroughly enjoyed the museum, especially the extensive collection of firearms. The center also included the Plains Indian Museum, the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum and the Whitney Western Art Museum. The Buffalo Bill Center alone is well worth a trip to Cody.

Up until this trip, I had assumed that the guns used in TV westerns were replicas. I was surprised to see that Matt Dillon's "Gun Smoke" piece was a genuine 1st generation Colt six-shooter. The same was true of Richard Boone's Colt in "Have Gun Will Travel." We also saw Teddy Roosevelt's Model 95 Winchester. This Cody collection is as good as it gets.

After our museum tour and a snack at Wendy's, we headed to our Meeteetse motel. Next week's column will cover our unforgettable elk hunt adventure. Following the hunt and a good night's sleep, we headed home on Wednesday morning.

From Meeteetse, we headed southeast to Worland on Highway 431, and then to Ten Sleep on Highway 16 to Buffalo where we again picked up I-90. Northeast of Ten Sleep we went over the Powder River Pass at 9666 feet elevation. It was spectacular! Rustic lodges punctuate the scenic route.

Our New Year's resolution we can keep? Next year, following Labor Day, Betsy and I will retrace the above-described routes during a first-time visit to Yellowstone. I want to share this with her, and I'm hoping friends will join us.

While Mitchell to Cody is an easy day's drive, perhaps 11 hours, an overnight in Spearfish with a swing through the Canyon might make this little escape better yet.

Have a great new year, and thanks for supporting this column. See you next week.