Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cody, WY, and the West of today

The West lives on in many modern forms - rodeo, rafting the Shoshone River, searching for and observing wild herds of mustangs, listening to Tin Pan Alley Western songs and contemporary cowboy poetry, dude and guest ranches where visitors can ride the range and ridges with experienced wranglers, seeing the rich fields made possible by America's first reclamation project after which the great Hoover Dam would be fashioned and remembering the cruelties of war through the new Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center.

Shoshone River
The West of myth has become reality in other ways, too: men who tip their hats and address  women as ma'am; neighbors who lend a hand to one another and to strangers as well; an acceptance of nature and an accommodation with her for the land is what supports them and why they choose to live here.

Teton and a couple of his mares.

Bronc riding at the Cody Rodeo.

Cody is the self-described rodeo capitol of the world with a rodeo held every night between June and the end of August. Broncs and bulls are ridden, barrels are circled at high speed, calves are roped and there is a calf chase for youngsters as well as some fun folderol for them with the rodeo clowns.

                  Calf scramble at the Cody Rodeo.
Tip: Best seats are above the bucking  chutes but that requires a bit of a climb,  two series of about 14 steps each, but the steps are easy and there are plenty of rails for holding and balancing.


Young, unnamed bay mustang stallion.
Wyoming River Trips is a popular rafting outfitter. Ours was a high-water "cruise" along the Shoshone for summer's usual drought had been replaced by above normal snow melt and rain. That meant a swifter, safer trip as the guides didn't have to worry about the extra rocky rapids that usually pop up in late summer. It's not without eek! moments and you will get wet but you won't be white-knuckling all the time.

We encountered lots of mule deer, bucks, does and late season fawns still spotted, grazing and lazing along the river banks. The water is heavy with sulfa and the skies are filled with golden eagles and swallows as you float through the high canyons.

Tip: Guides drive you from their headquarters just outside of downtown Cody to the river. You will have 21 steps down to the river bank. Getting into the raft is easy as is getting out at the flat landing site where you will be picked up and returned to headquarters.You can opt for the short rafting trip or the long one; I found the short one just right. 

Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center was designed to resemble the barracks where Japanese American families were interned. 
Ken Martin, a teacher and high school wrestling coach, runs Red Canyon Mustang Tours, piling visitors into a bus and taking them across 110,000 acres of public land to observe bands of the 150 head of wild horses that roam there.

It is a labor of love;  Martin has come to know the horses intimately and to respect their right to freedom on and use of the land, no more or less so than the prong-horn antelope and mule deer who roam it too.

The mustangs are a handsome lot having benefited genetically from the well-bred horses from his Wild West shows that Buffalo Bill once turned loose here between touring seasons. Martin knows them by name, or more accurately, names, for each has its white man name and its Indian name. When the stallion Two Socks stood his ground and refused to budge when Land Management helicopters tried to herd him for dispersal or death, his Indian name became Two Socks Who Stands Tall.

Rules keep onlookers no closer than 500 yards from the herds. The one we watched was led by a big black, Teton, son of Lakota. Bachelors, young stallions too green to challenge Teton, stayed well away except for a large, handsome and as yet unnamed bay whose coat was already battle scared. He followed at a prudent distance but I'd lay money he takes over Teton's band in a year or so.

Tip: You can drive the free range land yourself - it's about 20 miles east of Cody - but you are unlikely to find the horses. Martin goes out every evening to see where the bands are moving and to estimate their locations come morning. The land is pretty flat but it is uneven, cacti abound and rattlesnakes are not unknown. Watch where you step whether guided as I was or on your own.

Sounds of the cowboys
Dan Miller puts on a nightly family-oriented show of cowboy music and poetry performed by himself and several other strong singers and musicians. You'll hear anything from Frankie Lane's old "Ghost Riders in the Sky" to the traditional "Streets of Laredo."

Heart Mountain
The just opened Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center will get you in the heart for it is where more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. The story of how these American citizens were gathered from their West coast homes and farms, taken to holding areas then shipped to barely finished camps of barracks and barbed wire, armed guards and watchtowers is a heart-wrencher. The internees and the community joined to finance and support this center, turning it into a must-see stop.

Tip: It's flat and on one level.

 Hawk surveys the ridge top.

                                                         View at the end of the climb.

Riding along Blackwater Creek.

Dude or Guest?
A dude ranch is one that takes in visitors for minimum set stays, usually a week at a time.

A guest ranch is one that will accept visitors on a space available basis for a week, a few nights or perhaps even a trail ride.

Both provide memorable experiences, hearty, delicious meals and varying degrees of accommodation from bare-bones rustic cabins to luxuriously-appointed quarters and in some cases, spa treatments and wellness center. You'll probably have more fun in one with comfy cabins.

My ride and lunch at Blackwater Creek Ranch, a few minutes east of Yellowstone National Park, was perfect. My mount, Smoke,  was good, the food was delicious and the wranglers, Hawk and Joe, were right out of Central Casting. The scenery as we climbed to the top of Shoshone Ridge from an elevation of 5,000 feet to one of 8,000, right at the tree line, could have been selected by a seasoned location scout. Finishing the trek along the high grass trail following Blackwater Creek was the best possible finale, exceeded only by the delicious grub that awaited us, including fresh homemade peach ice cream. Does it get any better?

Tip: A good dude or guest ranch will be able to match you with an appropriate mount, see you safely into the saddle and have you feeling like a seasoned buckaroo in no time.

Rest Western style.
 Mule deer are frequent visitors.
Wherever we went in and around Cody, the greeting was one of welcome. Downtown isn't large but there are benches - with a Western theme - for resting. Even the mule deer were welcome to graze along the yards and sidewalks just a block away from the main drag.

They may say ma'am a lot, but equality is important out here.  As residents are quick to tell you, Wyoming was the first state to give women the vote, the first state to elect a woman governor and the first state to hang a woman.

The code of the West lives on.

Leia Mais…
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cody, Wyoming and the Old Wild West

Everywhere you turn in Cody are reminders of the Old West, reproduced or real. Make believe gun fighters dueling it out nightly, and two pervasive Buffalo Bill look-alikes, an old one and a younger one, plus a much thinner version of his wife, Louisa.

Old saddle tree
Of the real remnants, my favorites were  Old Trail Town and Museum of the Old West, Old West Miniature Village & Museum and the Dug Up Gun Museum.

Old Trail Town.
I'd seen it from the road and it looked like a tourist trap but Old Trail Town, the original site of Buffalo Bill's Cody City, turned out to be well worth the effort.

Hole in the Wall Gang's cabin.
 Tip: Not that it is much of an effort.  The ground is mostly level if uneven and the only steps are on and off the boardwalk fronting the buildings.

And what buildings - 24 cabins of trappers and outlaws, a saloon, store, school, carpenter shop, livery barn, mayor's home, all equipped with the appropriate used, abused, rusting fittings. Dating from 1880 to 1901, their weathered boards, timbers and fogged glass panes silently testifying to a hard scrabble existence survived only by the hardy and often devious.

Names pop up from old dime novels and famous films - Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, the Crow Indian Curley, buffalo hunter Jim White, Kid Curry, cattleman William Carter.

Buckboards galore.
Buckboards, wagons, wheels and other necessities of life in the old west fill the spaces in between. "Out back" you'll find the graves of Jeremiah "Liver Eating" 
Johnson, the trapper made famous by
Robert Redford; buffalo hunter Jim White; scout James Stilwell; trapper Phillip Vetter, who met his demise at the claws of a grizzly bear; W. A. Gallagher and Blind Bill, cowboys murdered in 1894; and the murdered Belle "Lady in Blue" Drewry.                                                                                 

Old West Miniature Village & Museum


                                                                             Plains Indian bull boat.

In a labor of love, Jerry "Eagle Speaker" Fick created an enormous - possibly the largest in the U. S. - miniature diorama of the battles for Montana and Wyoming, 66 meticulously researched scenes in all each with an audio for a self-guided trip through history.

Jerry "Eagle Speaker" Fick

More interesting to me were the exhibits surrounding the diorama. Fick, a Native American, found his first arrowhead at the age of 12 and has been collecting ever since. From family artifacts to healers' bags from the Grand Medicine Society of the Great Lakes Indians, weapons, period clothing, tools and weapons from all across the country add up to a museum-quality assemblage.

It took three large and one medium-sized beaver skins to buy this blanket (you can tell by the black marks on the upper right).

You'll see the tripod used by the surveyor who laid out the canals Buffalo Bill had dug to bring water year-round to his city, pictures of Jessie James from his niece, a bull boat made from the hide of a bull buffalo and willow in which the Plains Indians navigated rivers.

Known to locals as Tecumseh's, if Fick is around forget the rest of your schedule and spend as much time absorbing his wealth of knowledge as he's willing to give. You won't be sorry.

Hans Kurth
Dug Up Gun Museum
   The name got me. Planned only to stop in, glance around and leave, but 90 minutes later I was still in this upstairs room on a downtown Cody side street fascinated by  founder Hans Kurth's histories of the guns, bullets, sabers, clothes and photos in this array of the literally "found".

Warning: There are 23 steps from street to museum.

It is all fodder for the imagination from the broken Springfield carbine found at the Wounded Knee battle site to a flintlock pistol from the infamous Civil War battle at Cold Harbor. Kurth's enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge is addictive.

A good introduction to it all, old and contemporary, is an hour on the pet-friendly Cody Trolley Tours trolley. As they say, "Give us an hour, we'll give you 100 years."

Actually it's more than 100 years.

Leia Mais…
Friday, September 9, 2011

Wild west survives, thrives in Cody, Wyoming

 Cody is set amid land perfect for deer and antelope and visitors to play.

Shooting showdowns in the streets are staged for tourists as are the stage shows and most of the shops, but the Wild West lives on in Cody, Wyoming, a perfect starting point for meeting wildlife, entry into Yellowstone National Park and dazzling scenic drives.

Tip: What you want to see and do in Cody is, for the most part, on the level, but you are at altitude (5,098 feet), so take it easy. The new Yellowstone regional airport is a delight. You will load and deplane outside with a short walk to the baggage area and beyond. The restaurant produces some good food, too.

Defining the American West
 What was and is the West exactly? The Buffalo Bill Historical Center has been striving to define it since 1917. What began as a log cabin tribute to William  F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, founder and namesake of Cody, has grown into  a seven-acre building housing five museums and a research center, any one of each most cities would claim with pride.

Buffalo Bill in a Wild West show tent, ca. 1903.

The Deadwood Stage used in the Wild West shows.

First came the Buffalo Bill Museum (1927) with its extensive collection of material from this fascinating man's life from his childhood years in Iowa, his adventures as a U. S. Army scout, a rider for the Pony Express, a hunter for the railroads, a respected friend of the Plains tribes, a guide to royals and other well-heeled visitors to father and showman extraordinaire.
Spider Phaeton carriage built for Buffalo Bill in 1890 by Studebaker Bros.         

Tip: The Buffalo Bill Museum will be closing for renovation Oct. 1 but should be open by May 1, 2012.

Examining the documents; clothes - his, his wife, Louisa's, Annie Oakley's, daughter Irma's; his Spider Phaeton carriage built in 1890 by Studebaker Bros.; saddles and bridles - his, Irma's, Annie Oakley's; the chuckwagon and Deadwood stage from the Wild West shows; his saddle with its silver buffalo head medallion and hundreds more items could fill the better part of a day.                                      

"Last of the Buffalo" (1888) by Albert Bierstadt.

The Whitney Gallery of Western Art (1959) is equally impressive with its collection of Bierstadts, Morans, Russells, Butterfields, Hannocks, Berneses, Scholders, N.C. Wyeths and Remingtons (including his studio) to name-drop a few.

Studio of Frederick Remington.

Absaroka ashtaale, Crow lodge.

On the move

Plains Indian Museum (1979) houses one of the largest and best collections of North Plains Indian art and artifacts that present their life in context from an Absaroka (Crow) lodge and Hidatsa Earth Lodge (the women owned them!) to a life-sized tribe on the move.

1913 hunting camp of Prince Albert I of Monaco.

Even pacifists will appreciate the Cody Firearms Museum (1991), the world's largest and most important collection of American arms from the 16th century to the present. If the artistry and affect on history leaves you cold, seeing the guns carried by actors and actresses in famous films and TV shows and the 1913 camp of Prince Albert I of Monte Carlo, the first foreign head of state to visit, who was guided by Buffalo Bill, will be worth a look.

Visitors spiral down to today's landscape at the Draper Museum of Natural History.

If you plan to visit Yellowstone, don't miss the Draper Museum of Natural History which shows you how it and its wild residents came to be.

Tip: This is the only non-level museum. A ramp circles down but as we all know, what goes down must come up. It's doable.

Ernie LaPointe, last living great grandson of Sitting Bull.

Don't miss the second, lower, floor where special exhibits are staged and talks given. I met and heard Ernie La Pointe, the last living great grandson of Sitting Bull.

Tip: It's 30 steps to the basement level but there's also an elevator.
Sacagawea sculpture by Harry Jackson.
Ron Reed cooks for visitors at his chuckwagon.

Outside the Center are impressive sculptures and fun, live demonstrations such as tepees, Ron Reed and his cowboy chuck wagon fare (see recipe for Cowboy Beans at ) and local wranglers teaching visitors how to rope a steer.

To find all of this in Cody, a town of 9,000, is astonishing. Until you begin to meet some of those 9,000 inhabitants. I'll show and tell you more in coming posts.

Leia Mais…
Friday, September 2, 2011

Nemacolin Resort and Laurel Highlands

When Pittsburghers yearn for nature they head for Laurel Highlands. Any who want to mix outdoor pursuits with indoor pampering and world-class gourmet meals,  check in at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

Located on 2,000 mountain acres 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the resort offers just about any outdoor activity you could want. The Botero sculpture that greets you is an indication of what's to come.
Golf                                                                                                 Mystic Rock

Pete Dye's Mystic Rock course is yours for the playing as is The Links. The Golf Academy and practice center will hone your game.

At the Field Club, try the shooting academy, fly fishing, archery or guided hunts. At the Adventure Center it's the climbing wall, Jeep off-road driving academy, Fallingbrook miniature golf, a ropes course, disc golf, paintball, biking and the Fat Bird Flyer zip line.

Omni -turf tennis courts and lessons will serve you well as will pools for swimming and playing and kids' activities.

Winter sports.
Try skiing and snowboarding, snow tubing, snow shoeing or dog sledding with lessons for all and a snow camp for kids.

Walk on the wild or better-behaved side.
The Wildside offers an eight-lane bowling alley, 65 arcade games, RC race cars, a sports bar, pool tables, indoor climbing wall, an exotic bird habitat and miniature train display.
The Wildlife Academy & Habitats includes safari tours, a petting zoo and an equestrian center.
Nemacolin Wooflands offers your four-legged family members hydrotherapy, grooming, obedience training, outside exercise area and luxury day care or boarding. There's also an animal care center.

Nearby there's biking, hiking, kayaking or tubing the Youghogheny River, more golf, scenic drives and of course the two Frank Lloyd Wright homes to tour.

Inside diversions
                                                Lafayette lobby

Lodging. Naturally there are several choices. The Lodge is an elegant English country cottage style while Chateau Lafayette sports very spacious rooms, wide windows and  crystal chandeliers.  
Falling Rock is a 42-room boutique hotel with gold course views and a design inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. There are also townhouses scattered about the property.
Lafayette double.

Dining. In addition to a host of casual offerings there is Aqueous, an AAA Four Diamond restaurant and one of Pittsburgh Magazine's Top 25, in Falling Rock. In the Lodge/Chateau you find Autumn, featuring menus of regional cuisine and local farm and table ingredients, and the much-heralded Lautrec. In addition to its AAA Five Diamond award for the last three years it has also received the Forbes Five Star Award, making it one of only 14 restaurants in the country so honored.

Chef de Cuisine Kristin Butterworth

At its helm is Kristin A. Butterworth, 31, the youngest and only female chef of a five-star resort restaurant. She loves a challenge and habitually produces heart-healthy, vegan and gluten-free offerings.

The Woodlands Spa. You can work out in the 2,400 square-foot fitness center or let a skilled masseuse and a host of aestheticians do the work for you.

It's all the creation of Joseph A Hardy III, a door-to-door vegetable seller who went on to be CEO of 84 Lumber Company, and his daughter, Maggie Hardy Magerko.

Warning: Levelers, Laurel Highlands is hilly and mountainous but I've already told you what to expect in the Wright-designed houses. Most of those hills and mountains are left to the hikers and bicylists, with shops, museums and restaurants situated on level or levelish ground.

At Nemacolin, you will walk a lot, but rarely encounter more than 4-6 steps at a time. Often there's an adjacent ramp. Lots of original art works make flopping into one of many comfy chairs en route part of the experience.

Leia Mais…