Friday, July 31, 2015

Chapter 35 - Billings to Buffalo, Wyoming

Thursday, July 30:
Our drive from Billings down to Buffalo, Wyoming was entirely on our interstate highway system which is remarkable considering that over the course of this almost 170 mile drive there was little traffic, we passed through remote and scarcely populated areas, and about a third of the drive was through the Crow Indian Reservation.  What a great country we live in where our federal government would build a divided highway system through miles of almost empty land (excluding cows) to get to a city like Buffalo with a population of under 6,000.  And I am definitely not complaining and here again the scenery on the drive today was beautiful. It is going to be hard to return to the east.

Believe it or not the local history books tell us that Buffalo, Wyoming was named not after the thousands of bisons that used to roam the area, but after the City of Buffalo, New York.  I am sure that it had nothing to do with the fact that Buffalo, WY and Buffalo, NY are both serviced by I-90, nor does it have anything to do with the fact that I was born in Buffalo, NY.  What we are told was that the name Buffalo was simply drawn from a list of possible names placed in a hat.  Pure luck as the case may be.

After Kathy and I were all hooked up in the Indian Campground and RV Park in Buffalo we decided to drive downtown to learn a little about the city where we had chosen to stay for the next two nights.  Incidentally, it is probably not politically correct to refer to Indians as "Indians" rather than Native Americans.  Furthermore, referring to bison as buffalo is genetically not correct as bison are native to North American whereas Buffalo are native to Africa and Asia. I suppose far more important than these two corrections is the observation that by the mid-1800s, Americans tried to slaughter all of the "Native Americans" and the "Bison" and now that many years have past, we are attempting to make amends by changing a few words to make up for our past indiscretions.  This is completely stupid but we certainly cannot blame Buffalo, Wyoming despite the fact that it was founded shortly after battles such as the Battle of Little Big Horn where Lt. Colonel George A. Custer and 263 soldiers were killed by Indians in 1876.

The historic downtown area of Buffalo, Wyoming is only two blocks long and by far the most historically important building in the area is the Occidental Hotel that was first constructed as a log structure in 1880. Although the original structure obviously has not survived, the current structure built in the early 1900s is still a hotel today and it is shown in the photograph above.  The photograph to the left shows us siting at the "saloon" in the hotel which while renovated as was the hotel in the 1990s, still is about as authentically old looking as any place we have ever visited.  Incidentally, Cabo did not have a beer although one was offered.

According to the hotel brochures some of its famous early visitors included Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Calamity Jane, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. We are hoping that they will soon add our names to their listing of historical visitors, at least to their saloon.  This photograph to the right was taken in the main lobby area of the hotel.

Most of the other buildings on Buffalo's Main Street were also fairly old, however none of the stores within the buildings offered anything as interesting as the Occidental Hotel.  Furthermore, most of the tourist brochures describing visitor options in the Buffalo area describe the beauty of the surrounding area particularly scenic drives up into the Big Horn Mountains immediate to the west of the city. Kathy and I decided that tomorrow we will drive out and see for ourselves the "spectacular scenery at every turn."

Friday, July 31st:
The southern portion of the 1.1 million acre Bighorn National Forest is immediately to the west of Buffalo, Wyoming and today one of the things that we wanted to do was to drive out U.S. 16 West, a highway they are calling the Cloud Peak Scenic Highway, and have a look for ourselves at the Bighorn Mountain Range.  We drove the highway approximately 25 miles before deciding to return to Buffalo as we had no particular destination in mind other than to checkout the beauty of Bighorn. The views for the entire drive were spectacular and we took many photographs.

This scene to the right was very typical of our short range scenery which consisted of numerous rock outcroppings, grass fields,and evergreen forests.  The photograph with Kathy and Cabo above shows one of our typical long range views of mountains ranging up to 7,000 feet and a few with snow still near their peaks.  One of the nicest things about all State and Federal parks including the Bighorn National Forest is the total lack of billboards other than the occasional historical or informational signs.

One fun thing that we did find in this particular national forest is this old wagon which we photographed. Kathy insisted that I be in the photograph rather than herself (with Cabo of course) although she admitted later that she did not want to "walk through the rattlesnake infested grass to get to the wagon." Obviously she had no qualms with me walking through the rattlesnake infested grass.

When we returned to Buffalo we decided that we would drive northwest of the city to an area at the edge of the Bighorn Mountains named the Bud Love Wildlife Habitat Management where their literature promised that we were guaranteed to see "big game species" at least during the winter months.  We were "game" for anything.  The drive this time was around 15 miles with the final section of the drive on very dusty gravel road.  The photo to the right shows Kathy pointing at the bullet dents in the sign apparently made by a former visitor upset because he failed to see any big game.

We also did not see any big game although we did see this scene of two White Tail adult deer (perhaps parents) walking across a field with two younger deer (perhaps their children). In the background is a very interesting stone house set on the top of a hill. In the near distance is the Bighorn Mountain range.  Here again the photograph is a poor substitute for the real thing that unfortunately only lasted for less than a minute.

We returned to our campsite by the early afternoon content once again on relaxing and preparing for our next day which was a drive to the Mt. Rushmore KOA located about 9 miles east of Mt Rushmore located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

I did take this final photograph in our campsite of a few of the children who were staying with their parents in the camper across the street from our own travel trailer. The kids were practicing roping a small metal model of a calf.  This weekend in Buffalo, Wyoming is the conclusion of the Johnson County Fair and Rodeo Week and these young kids were practicing for the calf roping contest for young folks their own age.  We left the next morning before asking how they performed in the competition.  I am sure that they had fun in any case.

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