Motorcycle Road Trip 2011 – Day 45

Buffalo Bill Cody Statue - Cody, Wyoming

"Buffalo Bill" Cody statue in Cody, Wyoming

Day 45 of my motorcycle road trip, and it was another very fun day. I left Sturgis not sure whether to take Highway 14 or 16 over the Bighorn Mountains to Cody, Wyoming. The first part of the trip along Highway 90 was typical high speed interstate. It is amazing how quickly you can put on miles when traveling at 75 to 80 mph.

When I got into Wyoming, I stopped at an information center to get some advice on my route. The person suggested I take Highway 16 rather than 14, because it was much safer. Supposedly, from the top of the Bighorn Mountains on Highway 14, you look straight down at the town 8 miles away. He said there are a lot of accidents because people drive too fast. Having ridden through the Rocky Mountains, and others, I wasn’t sure if he was just being overly cautious, or what.

As I rode along Highway 90 toward the Bighorn Mountains, I kept seeing large billboard signs warning that Highway 16 was the fastest, safest route through the Bighorns. This was the first time I’d seen signs warning me against a specific road. I almost wanted to ride it to find out why. Maybe I’ll try Highway 14 on another trip. I decided to take Highway 16.

 


 

As I reached Buffalo, Wyoming, my exit for Highway 16, I pulled over to read an historical information sign. The town of Buffalo looked very scenic, but in the middle of nowhere, at the base of the Bighorn Mountains. According to the historical sign, Buffalo was founded in 1879, at the end of the Indian War Campaigns. It serviced soldiers from nearby Fort McKinney. It was very clear that while yesterday appeared like I was in cowboy country, I was now really in cowboy country. And it probably hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s.

The ride over Highway 16 was quite scenic, and much different from what I’d expected. Rather than majestic mountains, like the Rockies, I just kept climbing a winding road through the Bighorn National Forest. I didn’t have a good sense for how high I was getting until I got above the tree line. I stopped at Powder River Pass, an elevation of 9,666 feet. Looking around, I could have just been at sea level with small hills around me. No large peaks, mostly just small rolling hills. I continued riding, and down into the Bighorn basin.

Once out of the Bighorn Mountains, I came into the small town of Tensleep, Wyoming. Another historical sign said it was so named because it was 10 days travel, or “10 sleeps,” from Fort Laramie (southeast), Yellowstone National Park (west-northwest), and the Indian Agency in Montana (northwest). With a population of 304 people, it was mostly a gas station and general store. I stopped for gas and some water. I was entering a high plain, almost desert-like hot. The highway was very good, for what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Although there was a lot of highway construction delays. The view was mostly rolling hills and grasslands, as far as the eye could see. Apart from the modern highway, this is probably what it looked like in the 1800’s when the Plains Indians lived here. I stopped for lunch in Worland, before continuing on Highway 16 north to Greybull.

Highway 16 connects with Highway 14 at Greybull, Wyoming. I stopped for a short break. The rest stop was next to the South Bighorn County Airport. At first the airport looked like an airplane graveyard, with lots of old airplanes scattered all over. After closer inspection, I discovered that the airport also doubles as the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting. It had unusual and unique airplanes dating back to World War II. What first caught my attention was the Royal Canadian Air Force, Air Transport Command propellor driven plane. I’m not sure what it did back in its time, but it may have had an important mission in the Canadian Air Force.

Highway 14 was much like 16, rolling hills and grasslands. As I approached Cody, I could see the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. I arrived in Cody late afternoon. I checked into the hotel, got out of my motorcycle gear, and headed out to walk around.

Cody is a fun city. It very much symbolizes the “Old American West.” It has a rich pioneer and cowboy history. It was founded by Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody who passed through the region in the 1870’s and returned in the mid-1890’s to start the town. And for me, it’s only 52 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, so a good place to stop for the night.

My hotel was just up the street from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, so that was my first stop. This actually consists of several museums in one. The Buffalo Bill museum has lots of Buffalo Bill related stuff, such as chuck wagons, clothing, posters from his “Wild West Show,” and other memorabilia. There is also the Cody Firearms Museum, a large gun collection featuring pistols, rifles and other weapons from the old west, up to more recent times. The Plains Indian museum had lots of information about Native American life, including a teepee, clothing and horse travel displays. Lastly, the Museum of Natural History had a lot of information and displays about the geography, geology, and wildlife native to the area, particularly Yellowstone National Park.

After the museum, I decided to find somewhere for dinner. The information center told me about The Irma Hotel restaurant. The Irma Hotel was Buffalo Bill’s original hotel. How could I pass that up? So off I walked to the Irma. The Irma Hotel was built in 1902. Each day at dinner time, they stage an old western shootout in the parking lot. This was definitely fun, and added to the old western theme. From the outside, the Irma just looked like an old brick hotel. But, on the inside, it was beautiful. The restaurant had a large cherry wood bar, so rather than waiting for a table, I took a seat at the bar. Shortly after sitting down, a guy in western gear, including a pair of six shooters, sat down beside me. I couldn’t tell if he really dressed that way, or was part of the show and stop by for dinner. The food was really good, the decor amazing. If I had known about this hotel earlier, I would have tried to book a room for the night.

After dinner I walked around downtown for a while. The local theatre was showing a Country Music Review. Yes, I was definitely in Cowboy Country. I think that Cody, Wyoming may have moved to the top of my favorite cities list.

 

Motorcycle Road Trip 2011 – Day 1

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