Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
On the first of June, we started the second half of our Big Western Road Trip (BWRT). When we left California, we thought this would be Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Bend, and a few unknown places. Then, with the crowds at the national parks, it changed to all unknown and then to I-wonder-if-we-can-visit-xxx, where xxx were friends and family in the upper-West. Sure enough, we shifted to Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon folks to visit and some new small towns in between to learn about. It's all set, sorta. More on that as it happens.
Tuesday, June 1, Longmont to Buffalo
At the start of a new month, we were back on the road again. This was going to be a long drive for us, 350 miles, from Longmont, Colorado to Buffalo, Wyoming. We needed to start with a good breakfast!
On Saturday, when we had toured Colorado State University with Rich and family, we got a glimpse of Old Town in Fort Collins and it looked like a good spot to find a meal. And it was. The poster in the window of the Silver Grill Cafe claimed it was "the best breakfast in America", so we had to test it. I'm not sure how one would warrant a best-in-America rating, but the ham, eggs, croissant, and cinnamon roll were all pretty darned good. A good start.
From Fort Collins north, Interstate 25 was straight, with little traffic. We crossed the Colorado-Wyoming border with no fanfare, other than seeing a half-dozen large fireworks stores, not something we were in the market for.
As we drove farther into Wyoming, we needed to visit a pair of Tesla Superchargers to carry us through all the open roads. The stops were welcome breaks from the long, straight, mostly-empty, highway.
Our Buffalo host Barb had suggested a stop in Kaycee, a tiny Wyoming village with a single attraction: a park with a statue of bareback rider Chris Lee LeDoux. He was a Kaycee kid who became a rodeo champion in the 1960s and 70s. His rough and tumble rodeo life provided material for a second career as a country music songwriter. He combined his rodeo champion gold buckles with a half-dozen gold and platinum records. This is the type of off-the-beaten-path stops and local history that we love.
At 5:30, we finally reached Barb and Buffalo. Despite the 16 years since last meeting, she was a most welcoming hostess and we chatted like the years didn't matter, except to provide more stories to catch up on. Barb had been a school teacher and school administrator in Japan, Korea, Sardinia, and Germany, so she has plenty of good stories. Most of this chit chat occurred on the front porch, looking out at sunset over the Bighorn Mountains.
Wednesday, June 2, Tours from Buffalo
My day started by diary-writing, looking out at the Bighorns catching first light. Then I watched the house Irish Setters, Ace and Zoe, wake up with too much energy as they "fought" and tumbled around the front yard. Then we all enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the front porch before we set out on our Wyoming history lesson. A great way to start a day.
Our history lesson: Shortly after the Civil War, this region saw the creation of the Bozeman Trail, developed to aid travel to the Montana gold fields. Not all local Plains Indian groups welcomed the newcomers and the US government decided to establish a series of frontier forts to protect the miners and settlers. In July of 1866, the Army established Fort Phil Kearny, just north of present-day Buffalo.
Over the next two years, the soldiers did provide some frontier protection, but not without skirmishes. In December of 1886, soldiers under Brevet Lt. Col. Fetterman were lured into an ambush by Native American warriors and all 79 military and two civilians were wiped out, the largest Indian victory until Custer's loss at Little Big Horn a decade later. In the following August, there was another significant battle, The Wagon Box Fight, where Lakota and Cheyenne warriors attacked a large work party, but were defeated by soldiers with new, more efficient rifles. Nonetheless, within a year, importance of the Bozeman Trail had diminished and a treaty was signed that stipulated the abandonment of the forts guarding the route.
Fort Kearny was burned down in the 1860s, but parts have been reconstructed to show its size and layout. Elsewhere, monuments identify the locations of the two significant battles.
Visiting the historic sites, we enjoyed the Spring wildflowers and green fields. I suppose these attractions have not changed much since the days when soldiers, settlers, miners, and Native Americans fought over who got to live here.
Next on Barbara's tour for us was an art fix for Marianne, The Forrest E. Mars, Jr. Building at the Brinton Museum Art Museum. The large, modern, soil-embanked building housed Western and American Indian art and artifacts.
The photogravures of American Native royalty by Edward Curtis showed
the dignity of the subjects and the skill and perseverance of the artist.
This Lakota dress had amazing bead and leather work. And a Remington.
From the museum, it was time for chores. Barbara stopped by a garden store and we headed into Sheridan for shopping and then a beer at The Mint Bar, apparently a landmark among Wyoming folks. It was all fun.
We drove the thirty miles back to Buffalo, let Ace and Zoe out of their house-prison, rested a bit, and headed out for dinner at another landmark: The Winchester Steak House (just "Winchester's" to locals). Like the small-town girl she sometimes is, Barbara seemed to know many of the staff and patrons, which made the meal even more fun.
Thursday, June 3, Crazy Woman Canyon
Every morning starts with a view of the Bighorn Mountains and today they were also our destination.
After breakfast and a little morning chatting, Barbara put us in her truck and we headed west. From Buffalo at about 4,500 foot elevation, we drove higher and higher on Highway 14 and the 12,000 and 13,000 peaks got closer and closer. Scenery was spectacular on all sides, although we were probably too late in the morning to see moose or the herds of antelope that reportedly fill these hills.
Halfway around our loop, Barb turned onto a dirt road leading down Crazy Woman Canyon. Here, the scenery was up close and fascinating. At the top, there was still a little snow. and the Crazy Woman river ran along side us the whole way, filled with Spring run-off. Forests surrounded us. The Aspen trees were still not awake from Winter, at least until we descended to the lower parts of the forest. The road was rough, particularly in the steeper areas, but our driver seemed familiar with most ruts and the trusty Nissan truck handled it all.
Fast-flowing water is one of my favorite photo subjects and there was plenty.
The rock wall above Crazy Woman Ranch was as interesting
as any we had spent days seeing in Utah.
Our "wildlife" viewing was limited. A small herd of long-horn cattle,
and a few prong horns, antelope. Meadowlarks song accompanied our drive.
Finally, back down near Buffalo, water photography shifted to a giant sprinkler.
Back on smooth roads, we drove back toward Buffalo, but took a detour over to Yoder's Country Market, an Amish store new to the area. We might have bought some comfy hand-crafted porch chairs, but the Tesla truck was already pretty full, so we settled for homemade cookies and treats. Cookies and treats would end up being the majority of my calories this day.
In downtown, we visited the Occidental Hotel and Saloon, founded in 1880. David Stewart, a renowned Bluegrass musician and songwriter, was setting up for a Thursday-evening jam session, with his gold records hanging on the wall behind the stage. Barbara assurred us that the lobby of the hotel looked the same as it had when she was a child and would visit her relative (aunt?) who owned the place and lived in the downstaris apartment. I loved the pictures of small-town life that have emerged during our stay.
Back on Main Street, it was time for serious shopping. Marianne bought a hand-tooled belt to make her travel costumes more Western and we all looked at other accessories. Fortnately, the car storage is filling up and that discourages purchases. Between shops, our guide showed us the flood gauge that tops with the warning "run", but she assurred us that Clear Creek has not flooded the town in over a century.
We finished our touring by early afternoon because Barb was on tap for cooking dinner at a local hunting lodge. She enjoys the gig a couple of times a week in hunting season. Marianne and I had plenty we could have done, including visiting a recommended museum downtown, but we chose to simply loaf. That's what retirement and travel are all about.
Friday, June 4, Leave for Bozeman
One more look out at the Bighorn mountains in sunrise and we packed up for Montana. We have had a wonderful introduction to Wyoming, the Buffalo region at least. It's a big state and we've only seen a slice.
Buffalo had been an unknown for us, but thanks to friend Barbara, we've learned a little bit. And that's why we travel.
John and Marianne