The journey from Glacier down to Yellowstone took us south on Route 89 again. With a quick stop in Great Falls to pick up our mail and have something to eat, we continued moving south. The section of Route 89 from Great Falls down to White Sulphur Springs travels through Lewis and Clark National Forrest and the Little Belt Mountains. The terrain is drastically changed from plains to pine covered hills and valleys where small National Forest campsites are tucked in under the overhanging cliffs. We drove into almost all of these spots, just to check them out, and saw only one or two campers occupying each park. Along this narrow winding road old log cabin homesteads occasionally appeared, causing us to fabricate stories about each settler as we drove along. I think we have been reading way too much western lore.
With an overnight stay in White Sulphur Springs, we continued toward Yellowstone, stopping in Livingston to re-supply. Livingston is about 50 miles north of the park and we added this town to our growing number of western places we have found appealing. Just another small town that has held onto its character. Local papers in these places often have articles about how they are trying to cope with growth and still retain the original spirit that brought people there.
When we entered Yellowstone Park, through the famous Roosevelt Arch, signs indicated that all the campgrounds were still open. This was around 4 or 5 o’clock, so we headed toward the area we had chosen to begin our explorations. However, by the time we reached Tower Fall the campground was full, as were the next three moving east along this road. In addition to the large crowds we saw at Mammoth Hot Springs, this setback was not a great start to our visit here. We ended up around 8:30 finding a spot outside the park in a National Forrest site. Since we were closer to Cody, Wyoming, than attractions within the park, we decided to continue toward the city. We had planned to visit Cody after the park anyway.
The road from the park to Cody goes through more classic Rocky Mountain vistas. One high outlook called Dead Indian Pass is where Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians crossed into the Yellowstone area during the successful portion of their campaign to avoid the U.S. Army and flee to Canada. Unfortunately, they were finally surrounded by the army in Montana, only a short distance from reaching their destination and freedom in Canada.
A must see attraction in Cody is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. We expected to breeze in and out of this venue in a couple of hours but were happily proven wrong. This is a world class museum, really five separate museums in one place. The first day we spent in the Whitney Gallery of Western Art which houses an outstanding collection. The four galleries offer artistic interpretations of life in the west from early nineteenth century to the present. Included are W.H.D. Koerner, Frederick Remington, and Charles Russell works, as well as pieces from their contemporaries and modern western artists. One current artist I was drawn to was James Bama, who paints today’s Native Americans with the realism of a photograph. The museum is sponsoring an art auction at the end of the month and there was a separate showing of the available pieces, all with posted opening bids. Scary.
The following day we began with the Draper Natural History Museum, which is the newest section, dedicated in 2002, and my favorite. The brochure provides a concise overview of its purpose. “The Draper is dedicated to illuminating the complex relationships among humans, wildlife, and landscapes, with an eye toward shaping the future by understanding the past.” It presents this experience through downward spiraling exhibits which take the viewer through alpine, forest, meadow, and plains environments, with commentary on the interactions between people, animals and the world we all live in.
The Plains Indian Museum houses many beautiful and elaborate historical artifacts, examines the cultural history of the plains Indians, particularly their relation to the buffalo, and explains some of the living traditions of Native Americans. One amazing modern bronze sculpture, adorning an entire wall, depicts a buffalo jump at 1 ½ actual size. Picture high bronze cliffs with huge tumbling buffalo bodies cascading down through the air
The Buffalo Bill Museum contains memorabilia from William Cody’s life and wild west show. At one point his show employed over 300 people, many of whom were Indians that had survived the years of battling with the army. Cody is said to have treated all his employees with equal courtesy and respect. He had a partner, Nate Salsbury, who was the organizer. He took care of feeding, housing, and moving all these performers. One section in the museum highlights some rare film footage, running in a continuous loop, that shows various acts in the show. It was quite a production and the show, with 300 cast members, traveled all over the world giving performances. Can you imagine the culture shock some of the Indians experienced during their time in Europe? It was said that Cody did much to portray the image of the actual Indian life style but at the same time he created the stereotype of the savage worrier because his show focused on battles with the army.
By the end of the day, with energy flagging, Marlin toured The Cody Firearms Museum, which follows the development of firearms from the 16th century to the present. Construction of this part of the museum was completed in 1991 after the Olin Corporation permanently gave the Winchester Arms Collection to the museum. Contained here is also the Crockett Club’s National Collection of Horns and Heads, a collection of big game mounts from around the world. Marlin’s report was that it was much more than just displays of guns and it would take another couple of hours to do it justice. At our low energy level, we decided to leave that for our next visit to Wyoming.
I took this time to view the mezzanine gallery of modern western artists. There were some great pieces here. Some whimsical, some abstract, and many classical portrayals of life in the west. There were two James Bama oils here that I found striking, “A Contemporary Sioux” and a portrait of an elderly Native American who’s title I can’t recall. We decided the two day ticket should definitely be valid for three days.