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Wyoming: Buffalo Bill, Cowboys, and Whiskey

Three days on the road since leaving Yellowstone, losing my driver’s licence, reentering the park and driving in the darkness through the Grand Tetons and treacherous roads in southern Wyoming. Admittedly, a lot went wrong in this portion of the trip! First, following an old friend’s advise to visit Cody, which according to him was the most western city where cowboys strolled down the streets as in a Hollywood Wild West movie, brought me a couple of unexpected events. First, a good one! Having left Yellowstone on a cold, snowy day, I ended up camping at the Buffalo Bill State Park. This is a site that jumped on me, as I had not known about it. The eastern side of Yellowstone was covered in snow and ice with a mix of rain and sleet; the Buffalo Bill park was the first place that seemed dry enough to set up camp.

Wintry conditions at Yellowstone National Park in early Spring
Wintry conditions at Yellowstone National Park in early Spring

After setting up camp right before sundown on the shores of the lake, I headed into town to purchase food and firewood. I did not notice any of romanticized side of Cody that he had described to me while insisting that I could not pass the opportunity to visit the town. My initial thought was that I was in a newer part of town and later I would find the picturesque, quintessential Cody! Heading back to the park, I was sent to a dead-end road in the dark. The GPS sent me to what I assumed was a back road to the park, bringing me to a padlocked rusty gate. After turning around heading back toward downtown Cody, I tried to reset the GPS a few times. For some reason it kept trying to send me to the same dead-end road. I then set it to take me to Yellowstone, as I knew that the Buffalo Bill State Park would be on my left.

It was a dark night! I finally made back to my camping site and as I was lighting the fire, a car pulled up. The park was practically deserted. In the section for tents I did not see anyone else camping that night. Closer to the entrance of the park in the RV section there were only a couple of campers. When I arrived at the park earlier the booth at the entrance was not staffed. I filled out the self-registration form, included the payment, and deposited the envelope at the drop box. As the driver came out of the car and walked toward me, I thought that he was one of the park employees who may randomly stop by and check to see if fees have been paid.

Camping at the Buffalo Bill State Park - Cody, Wyoming
Camping at the Buffalo Bill State Park – Cody, Wyoming

It turned out that he wanted to know if he could camp for the night at the park as he had not found anyone at the gate. I explained to him how the self-registration worked, but he said that he was a traveler from overseas and had no checking account to write a check or cash in the exact change. Credit card would not work! My advise was go ahead and camp! If someone shows up or if someone is at the booth when he left in the morning, explain the circumstances of his arrival and offer to pay the fees. I also told him to go ahead and set up his tent quickly before it got dark. As he walked away he asked me if I would mind if he came back to share the fire.

Buffalo Bill Dam reservoir in the Shoshone River - Cody, Wyoming
Buffalo Bill Dam reservoir in the Shoshone River – Cody, Wyoming

The lake and the surrounding area at the Buffalo Bill State Park is beautiful. However, it can get mighty cold! As my campsite neighbor came by and sat by the fire with me, the temperature continued to fall down to the mid twenties. It had been a while since I had enjoyed the company and conversation with someone culturally stimulating. It turned out that he had been in the United States for a couple of months as part of his studies in biochemistry as a PhD student from Eastern Europe. We talked well into the night and when I woke up the next morning he had already taken off.

Buffalo Bill Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam on the Shoshone River in the U.S., named after the famous wild west figure William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who founded theĀ  town of Cody. Most of the land now covered by the reservoir was owned by Buffalo Bill, as the land in the town of Cody and surroundings. The dam is part of the Shoshone Project, successor to several visionary schemes promoted by Cody to irrigate the Bighorn Basin and turn it from a semi-arid sagebrush-covered plain to productive agricultural land. Known at the time of its construction as Shoshone Dam, it was renamed in 1946 to honor Cody. After visiting the dam and learning about its history, it was raining heavily and I was ready to leave the area. There was no point in staying any longer.

Buffalo Bill reservoir on the Shoshone River - Cody, Wyoming
Buffalo Bill reservoir on the Shoshone River – Cody, Wyoming

The bad news! I was feeling good until I came to the east gate of Yellowstone. As I tried to produce my driver’s license to re-enter the park, I realized I had lost it. It was nowhere to be found. After searching the car, I returned to the camping site that I had just left and I could not find it. At that point I had no other choice but return to Cody and retrace all the places I had visited before going to the Cody Police to report that I had lost my driver’s license. Here it is where it gets a bit funny! It was a bit difficult to convince the police that I needed some sort of document proving that I had lost my driver’s license, so I could continue on with my road trip. After all, I was still about two weeks from getting back home.

In the meantime, I was able to get a copy of my lost document through the online services offered by the New York State’s Department of Motor Vehicle. Even the police officer who was assisting me was quite impressed about how quickly my husband was able to get me a copy of my driver’s license faxed to me in Wyoming. Nonetheless, I had lost too much time and I still had to return to Yellowstone and head south toward Utah. The weather forecast for western Wyoming was for rain for the remainder of the week and beyond. Naturally, everyone kept telling me how unusual the weather had been. My decision was to head south and try and scape the rain and snow that was in the forecast. Destination!? Zion National Park in Utah. After all, it appeared that even the cowboys had left Cody!

A word of advise to anyone traveling in this part of the country! From Cody, re-entering and crossing Yellowstone and through the Grend Teton National Park, there is no lodging that is easily found until getting to Jackson, which is the town that sits in the area known as Jackson Hole. Jackson is, however, the ‘cowboy’ town of the West. It is a tourist destination and hotel prices in the area are quite high. Camping in the winter and rainy season can be difficult, as I found out first hand. After spending too much time driving behind herds of buffalos, it was pitch black dark as I crossed the Grand Tetons. I was exhausted and it was very late when I finally arrived in Jackson, but it was comforting to finally see some cowboys enjoying whiskey at the bar and hearing the cracking of the wood in the fireplace.

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