It was time to move on to a new state on our map- Wyoming was on the horizon. Our first stop- Devil’s tower. Devil’s tower rises 1,267 ft above the surrounding land. It is America’s first national monument, designated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. It is considered sacred land by over twenty Native American Tribes. I could see why. It is a behemoth. It’s completely different than all the land around it. It’s like, by magic, it just rose from the earth to stand victorious and defiant. I was fascinated. Jackson, my twelve year old son offered a deadpan, “Woo, it’s a big rock.” He was not impressed. He had caught wind of the fact that if we could find parking, I was going to drag him on yet another hike in the heat. He had had enough. I reminded myself of the whiny teenager I overheard telling her dad at Mount Rushmore that it was “so boring” and there was “nothing to do” there. Bleh, teenagers.
Luckily for Jackson, parking at Devil’s Tower is very limited and the park is very busy. Add to that the fact that we were pulling a 42 ft RV behind our full-size dually pickup and I’m sure you can guess the outcome-no hike. The park road winds around offering lots of opportunities for taking pictures, so I was still a happy girl. Devil’s tower is super popular with rock climbers for obvious reasons. But, it’s also popular with motorcyclist because of it’s close proximity to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
I decided to book us at a small RV park in Cody, Wyoming. Cody is a small town near the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. You could easily spend a week in Cody. They have a lot of entertainment packed into a small community. But, the first thing on our agenda after the log drive from South Dakota was lunch. We drove to Irma’s. Buffalo Bill himself built the Hotel and Saloon in 1902. He spent $80,000 (In 1902!) on construction costs. The Hotel was named for his youngest daughter.
It is a beautiful establishment. Clearly, all the western movies I’ve seen model their sets off of this place.
This gorgeous cherry backbar was a gift from Queen Victoria of England after she saw a Buffalo Bill performance. I chose the Irma for a couple reasons. One was that I read it had an all you can eat Prime Rib buffet. The other reason was that I heard there were reenacted cowboy gunfights on the porch. I thought that would be more exciting for Jackson than the “big rock” we had seen earlier.
We had arrived to the Irma at lunchtime, which meant no buffet. But, here’s a tip: Order the prime rib sandwich. It’s not really a sandwich. It’s the prime rib they sell at dinner, only cheaper. And, it is literally one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It completely put to shame any lousy prime rib dinner I had before. I think I could have cut it with a butter knife. It was like all the meat I had had before Wyoming was the equivalent of dollar menu burgers and here was the holy grail of steaks. My mouth is literally watering as I write about it weeks later. So, book a flight, go to Irma’s. Have the prime rib.
After I was completely stuffed with red meat, we decided to walk around downtown and window shop. The shopping in Cody is awesome. I am not a “shop ’til you drop” kind of girl. But, I really enjoyed all the shops and boutiques along main street. All the boots, hats, cowgirl glam clothes were beautiful. Dangly earrings, fringes, and the smell of leather called from each boutique. Charlotte begged for a new cowgirl hat. We found a really nice one for a reasonable price and then decided to head home to get get dressed. We had big plans. We were going to catch a gunfight in the street outside Irma’s and then head to the Night Rodeo on the other end of town. The gunfight is a short play in the street. Locals act out the parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Wyatt Earp, and of course Buffalo Bill Cody. You can rent a folding chair for $2 or grab a drink at the bar on Irma’s porch. The shootout was loud and silly and the kids enjoyed it.
Our next stop was the Night Rodeo. Cody calls itself the Rodeo Capitol of the World. There’s a Night Rodeo every night from June 1st to August 31st. July 1st-4th is the annual Stampede, a parade and special Independence Day celebration centered around the rodeo. I love a rodeo. I love the excitement and the flair. I love the grit of the cowgirls and the swagger of the cowboys. I love the roar of the crowd and I love dressing the part. We all donned our boots, hats, and denim. While waiting in line to get in, someone mistook us for locals. I took it as a compliment.
The next day, we decided to have a little adventure. It would end up being more adventure than we bargained for. We found a company right in town that rents out side by sides and slingshots. Our plan was to rent a UTV, go fast, and get dirty. My husband and kids love four wheelers and off-roading. So, I called and made us a reservation. When we arrived, we signed the necessary forms, had trails programmed into our GPS system, and promised to return the unit clean, gassed up, and in working order. As usual, my hubby would drive and I would navigate (we know our strengths.) Donning our helmets and seatbelts, we headed for the hills. Charlotte announced in her best monster truck announcer voice that she wanted to “Find MUD!” “Well sweetheart, we’re on the prairie. It’s dry here. We’ll see” was my response. Soon after though, I saw a pure white scaly-looking area ahead. I had read about salt flats and decided that this looked like one. The surface was dry and cracked open in the hot sun but just beyond it was a little patch of mud. I pointed it out to Jason and yelled over the roar of the engine, “Over there! There’s Charlotte’s mud!” He looped around. “Just drive over the salt flats and get the kid dirty,” I laughed. What happened next was a complete surprise. He coasted over the parched ground and immediately sunk about a foot. We looked wide-eyed at one another in alarm. “What’s happening?!” The wheels were covered halfway up the rims in thick mud. We would find out later that this was a “dry” lake bed. The white surface wasn’t a salt-flat but, sulfur that was left behind when the water evaporated. We started baling out of the machine. Like quicksand, we sunk to our calves and the mud sucked at our shoes. It was impossible to walk. We were miles from the rental place. I started to look around the area around us. I spotted an old roll of carpeting and some garbage nearby. There was also a board. I started crawling trying to find a spot that wouldn’t sink under my weight. Then, I pulled and tugged at the litter trying to free it from the mud that had partially swallowed it. “What are you doing?” called Jason from somewhere behind me. I’m gonna put this stuff under our front tires, try to drive up on them. Jackson, are you carrying a knife?” Jackson is always carrying a knife. “Yeah, why?” “Because if this junk doesn’t do it, we can cut some branches from this brush over here for traction.” They were starting to see my plan. But, executing it in this sticky pit was excruciatingly slow. We trudged, tugged, and clawed our way. Trying desperately to make some headway. Jason tried driving onto our island of junk. The wheels spun and sunk in even deeper. I shoved everything I could find under the wheels and then we traded places. “I’m lighter and you can push more weight than me, I need to drive.” The family pushed and I tried easing my way forward, backward, and at an angle. We tried flooring it. We tried pulling. Finally, Jason mumbled in defeat, “Call the girl at the rental place.” I called and tried to tell her my location. “I know exactly where you are. We’ve pulled people out of there before. The winch on that machine is broken though.” Great. About that time, a man with a beat up Jeep Cherokee came around the bend. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. I felt like the clouds had opened and an angel had arrived- a smug angel who joked about how dumb the decision was to drive into a mud pit. I pointed out that all the space around us looked completely dry. It was dry. Well it was dry about four inches deep. Unfortunately, the weight of the side by side broke right through that dry layer and opened into the vat of hell where we set. At this point, we were all in our sock feet because it was impossible to walk and keep our shoes from being left behind in the mud. Our grisly angel sighed and asked if we had any chain. “Nope, it’s a rental. I just called and the lady said the winch is broken on this one.” It was at this time, that Jason began to udder words that should NOT be said in front of holy beings. Our rescuer didn’t seem to mind. He wasn’t an angel after all. But, he was exactly the kind of guy you’d want in a situation like this. He pulled rusty chain from the floor boards of his cab and wiped his hands on his tattered flannel. This wasn’t his first rodeo. He had the tanned skin of a laborer, had the gravely voice of a chain smoker, and probably had a name like Earl or Hank. He was perfect. I sat in the machine with mud caked up to my knees and elbows and did exactly what he said. I may have been the stupid tourist. But, I would be an obedient stupid tourist. Within two minutes we were out of of trouble and on dry ground-stable dry ground. We thanked him profusely and drove as far from there as possible. I called the woman back at the rental hut and assured her that nothing was damaged and we would find a carwash before returning.
We still had about 3 hours left before the unit needed to be returned. So, we decided to keep driving. We found a stream and I sat in the freezing water and peeled off my socks and submerged my boots. We scraped and scrubbed at the thick layers of mud on our jeans and faces. Cold and wet, I walked bare-foot back to the side-by-side. I tied my socks to the railing and poured water out of my boots and rested them upside down between my feet. Donning our helmets once again, we headed out. Jackson spotted a herd of pronghorn about 200 yards to our left. They took off and Jason gunned the engine. We were racing along neck and neck with these beautiful animals. It was awesome. I felt like we were on an African safari zooming along taking clumsy pictures on the bumpy terrain. They cut in a different direction and faded over a hill. It was exhilarating. The kids were shrieking and squealing for Jason to go faster. But, he was understandably cautious after the ordeal we had just been through. I navigated him to a route toward the hill country. We drove for miles climbing and climbing. That’s when the engine started to overheat. Jackson noticed the indicator light from the back seat and informed Jason before we noticed it. Jason stopped and I deadpanned, “Now what do we do?” Jason got out and started going through our backpacks. “There’s probably mud on the radiator.” He pulled water bottles from the zippered pouches and unlatched and removed the hood. Cacti peppered the ground around us. The view over our shoulders was gorgeous. Jason cleaned up the engine and tried to line the hood back up and use the dials to lock it back in place. He made the tight U-turn to head back down the trail. We picked up speed and started moving at good clip when the hood detached and blew clean off and over the roof. We screeched to a halt and Jason took off to retrieve the hood from a cactus. “Do you need help lining it up?” I yelled. “I think I got it.” He hopped back in and we took off again. About a mile further and the hood blew off again. “Good grief!” “DAD!!” “Did it break?” Everyone was yelling this time. “I think you better help,” was his response. I wiggled back into my boots and headed toward him. Turns out there’s a lip on the bottom of the hood that needs to be pushed into place before tuning the knobs into a locked position.
I jumped into the drivers seat before Jason could make it in. He protested but finally gave in and got in the passenger seat. There were some straightaways coming up before we reached the main road and I wanted to see how fast I could push this thing. The needle would creep up on the speedometer and then a turn would surface ahead and I’d have to slow down again. Jason was urging me to pull over but I wasn’t having it. They wanted me to come along on this crazy trip. I’d survived the mudpit and I was going to have a little fun before we went back. Another straightaway ahead- my chance. I floored it and the OHV continued to pick up speed. A little more gas…a little more…”Go easy!” Jason warned. The needle rose, the digital reading lit 50mph…55…58…come on…almost…60mph. Yep! I let off the gas and eased to a stop. I looked over at Jason and grinned. He exhaled and didn’t look amused. “Well, that was fun,” I said sweetly and climbed out to trade places. “Just get me back to town,” he grumbled.
I found a carwash on the GPS and we cruised on the road back. It took us 45 minutes and probably twenty dollars in quarters but, it eventually came clean. I clipped our boots to the floormat clips along the wall and we sprayed them down too. The staff person walked and walked around the unit and snapped a couple pictures as we collectively held our breath. But, she took the keys and announced “Perfect. You’re good to go.” Thank God…and Earl.
Later, after showers and naps, we visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. It is five distinct museums under one roof. The admission is good for two days. You could probably spend two days here. We spent one because we were leaving the next day. But, we didn’t see everything. My boys really enjoyed the Cody Firearms museum. The collection has over 10,000 artifacts and is the most comprehensive gun museum in the nation. My favorite was the Draper Natural History Museum. The Draper is all about plants and animals of nearby Yellowstone. My daughter enjoyed the Whitney Western Art Museum. There’s self-guided audio tours and kids can complete a scavenger hunt. We also colored postcards to send home to friends and family. Charlotte’s favorite sculpture was a bronze tumbleweed. She’s been fixated on the idea of spotting a tumbleweed on our journey and this is the closest thing she’s found so far. We really enjoyed the diverse artwork. Other museums here include the Buffalo Bill Museum and the Plains Indian Museum. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a Smithsonian affiliate and it shows. There are special exhibits and even experiences to book through the museum like a “chuck wagon” lunch. It’s a quality museum and was a nice way to finish our stop in Cody. There was more to see and do in the area. But, we were ready to head to our next bucket list stop-Yellowstone National Park.