Cody, Wyoming
Chapters  1 2 3 4

The Great American Adventure

Rediscovering a bold heritage in the beauty of Cody, Wyoming

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William Frederick
Credit: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

“Go West, and your heart will never leave.” My grandmother’s words, spoken to me as a child as she recounted growing up in frontier Wyoming, took on new life as my family and I kicked up our horses to a trot. As we edged up a trail traced centuries earlier by trappers and Native Americans, I felt the same spark that must have enticed those early pioneers to throw off convention for the promise of this vast, untamed new world.

Buttermilk, a palomino whose brawn seemed born out of the backcountry, crested the butte with an ease that belied the miles we had traveled that morning. I felt a twinge of embarrassment for packing my laptop computer. Up here in Cody, Wyoming, where the Shoshone wilderness opened up to the rugged Absaroka mountain range, a Wi-Fi signal was as unlikely as it would be unwelcome. The sweet linger of sagebrush whispering through the pines that stretch endlessly over the sharp mountains could only be experienced in person.

William Frederick
Credit: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

As we unpacked our saddlebags, I reflected upon the past few years. My grandmother’s passing had weighed on my family, as she had always prioritized keeping us connected despite distance or time apart. She was a matriarch whose soft-spoken kindness made perfect sense given the backdrop of Cody, where she grew up. In this small town, the ethos of the West still flourished. Friendship came naturally. When someone asked how you were, it was a genuine question.

Surveying the sprawling ridgelines, my wife, Julie, and I watched our sons, Sean and Will, as they played out among the wildflowers a scene from Shane, one of their favorite movies since watching it with their great-grandmother. Their closest encounter to this unique heritage, I realized, had been through the silver screen.

Credit: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Take a step forward back in time

Dan Miller of Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue plays guitar and sings into a microphone while performing in the Kuyper Dining Pavilion at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Credit: Mike Ross

Our arrival into Cody that first day felt like something pulled from a Western paperback. The quaint town told a story of a place removed from the worries of the outside world. Cowboy hats and weather-worn jeans replaced the raincoats that painted the streets of Seattle. Passersby offered friendly smiles. It felt like home in a way the Pacific Northwest never did, even though we had just pulled in.

After unloading our luggage at a cozy dude ranch, we headed to Buffalo Bill Center of the West. It had been years since I visited the now five museums at the center as a child, but the memory was fresh in my mind. Upon entering, I was transported back in time. The exhibits told a fascinating story of the area’s fabled past: Buffalo Bill Cody, the Colonel whose traveling show brought the Wild West across the country and even the Atlantic; fortunes won and lost by early settlers; native cultures of unimaginable diversity; and wildlife still thriving in the neighboring national parks and forests.

Dan Miller of Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue plays guitar and sings into a microphone while performing in the Kuyper Dining Pavilion at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Credit: Mike Ross

Julie, the kids and I enjoyed perusing the guns at the Cody Firearms Museum—the most comprehensive collection in the world. We spent a few hours taking in the firearms dating back to some of the earliest models and admiring the masterpieces of the Whitney Western Art Collection. It quickly became evident why our passes were good for two days; seeing the entirety of the center’s five museums could easily take weeks.

As I pulled Sean and Will away from the exhibit hall, I expected them to be worn out. Instead, they were abuzz with all they had seen. What they had only read about in books sprang to life. They could not stop talking about all they had learned. That is, until Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue took the stage in the dining pavilion.

The spectacular show brought to life the celebrations cowboys must have enjoyed around the campfire for ages. The colorful cast performed songs I hadn’t heard since I was a child. Their talents were matched only by the food, which rivaled that of any restaurant back home.

By the time we got to the historic Irma Hotel—one of the oldest lodges in Wyoming—the boys were practically sleepwalking. Before returning to the dude ranch to put them to bed, we took a quick detour to the hotel’s storied cherrywood bar, which was gifted to Buffalo Bill from Queen Victoria in celebration of his traveling Wild West show. As we examined the piece of history in front of us, Julie’s awe said it all: this trip was a long time coming.

Credit: Mike Ross

Adventure lives here

A brown leather saddle rests on a hollow metal railing in Park County, Wyoming
Credit: Michael Schoenfeld

Coffee holds no candle to the power of a raft trip down the brisk, clear waters of the Shoshone River. Paddling the rolling rapids reinvigorated our senses as we soaked in the natural splendor of the surrounding red canyon walls. We watched in wonder as elk migrated from the hills to drink and eagles soared overhead, one even diving down to pull a trout from the stream.

The morning slowly gave way to afternoon, and we made our way to Old Trail Town, a collection of dozens of historic buildings that were disassembled and reassembled at the site of historic Cody City. This frontier town boasts the original Hole-in-the-Wall cabin, built in 1883, which served as a meeting place for Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch and other outlaws of the West.

A brown leather saddle rests on a hollow metal railing in Park County, Wyoming
Credit: Michael Schoenfeld

After a hefty steak dinner, which only seemed appropriate given Cody’s long history as a cattle town, we drove to the Cody Nite Rodeo, held each evening in the summer months for 80 years. Our knuckles were white as we watched the daring contestants, most from local ranches, rope and ride. From the bull riders to the barrel racers, the team ropers to the mutton busters—these men, women and children embodied the spirit of the West in its purest form.

“Dad, I want to be a rodeo cowboy,” Will insisted as we made our way out of Stampede Park. The look Julie gave me made clear it would be a cold day before we let him saddle up on a bull.

A gateway to another world

An elk surrounded by trees and fallen branches stares at the camera near Cody, Wyoming

We checked out of the dude ranch on our final day in Cody, and any sign of exhaustion was masked by the sheer exhilaration still bubbling in each of us. It had been an adventure none of us could have anticipated: the culture of the West, the thrill of experiencing the outdoors firsthand and the unrivaled beauty that only Cody could offer. As we traveled along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway toward Yellowstone National Park, I reminded Sean and Will that the adventure wasn’t over yet.

As we drove toward the park’s east entrance—the most breathtaking gateway to the country’s first national park—the area’s otherworldly features emerged out of the serene countryside. Geysers bubbled steaming pastel-colored water, erupting artistically as hot magma boiled the water tables. Clay pots imbued the air with a subtle sulfur smell, calling to mind the shock the first explorers must have felt when they stumbled upon this geography.

An elk surrounded by trees and fallen branches stares at the camera near Cody, Wyoming

My grandmother had brought me to Yellowstone as a young boy, and I still remember the way she held my hand as she explained the importance of preserving such a matchless wonder for future generations to experience.

As I held Julie’s hand, I knew our family would never forget this Western adventure. I quietly thanked my grandmother for giving this opportunity to us.

During our trip, it became clear to me that this beauty—of Cody and of the surrounding parks and forests—belongs to no one person or family. It is meant to be shared. I hope that someday my children will share Cody, Wyoming’s limitless history and culture with their families.

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