There’s no better way to see America’s amazing vistas, charming small towns, wide-open skies and bond with your parents than a Great Western Road trip in the RV to see the Western classics.
Last Saturday I packed my bags and met my parents in Casper, Wyoming and we drove straight to take a nice soak in the healing waters of Thermopolis Hot Springs. Hot Springs State Park boast the world’s largest single mineral springs which flow at a constant 104 degrees F. They were part of a treaty signed with the Shoshone Indians in 1896 that it would remain free to the public.
Sunday morning we started our adventure at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, Wyoming. Some have asked me why I have such a yearning for history. Honestly, I was raised on it. My parents raised us to appreciate the rich and vast history of this nation.
Today I believe strongly we must never permit ourselves to lose sight of the great and singular achievements of those who came before us and settled this nation. We owe much to the pioneers that suffered much. And we must never forget that the success we enjoy today is built upon the shoulders and courage of the humble giants of the past, including the one and only Buffalo Bill Cody. His life was a living example of one how worked hard. His dreams gave way to a great harvest and compelling motivation for many to follow his footsteps into the American West. (Learn more at: https://centerofthewest.org/)
Monday we drove over the Bighorn Mountains stopping at the small village of Ten Sleep nestled in the foothills. It’s so named because it takes ten sleeps (nights) to get between the Sioux Camps and Platte River. I couldn’t help but be amused by the little boy rolling himself and sister up the sidewalk on his skateboard. Guess they don’t have internet. I loved the expression on his face.
Afterwards we drove down the road to see the fish hatchery. Tucked carefully in beautiful Ten Sleep Canyon and built in 1939, the Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery is one of Wyoming’s smallest facilities but still produces over two million fish annually. Part of the reason for its scenic location is the water. Three natural springs feed the hatchery over 3 million gallons of water daily and the combined 54-degree temperature is optimal for raising trout.
Along the way I couldn’t help but notice every small Wyoming town has had a Crazy Woman shop. Buffalo, Wyoming has Crazy Woman Square with beautifully painted murals and sheep sculptures also. Legend is the Morgan family was traveling west by covered wagon & attacked by Indians. They tomahawked and scalped the husband and three children. Mrs. Morgan was not killed but was driven out of her mind from witnessing the terrible fate of her family. However, she had seized an ax and killed four of the attacking Indians who then left her alone. Supposedly, a mountain man named Johnson chanced upon the scene shortly thereafter, buried the dead family members, but could not persuade the woman to leave the gravesides. As a warning to the Indians not to bother her, he decapitated the warriors and placed heads upon stakes near graves. Johnson then built the woman a small cabin and stopped by occasionally to bring her supplies. Because of her presence on the stream it came to be known as Crazy Woman Creek. Johnson eventually found her frozen body, apparently dead from starvation. Now visitors can buy shirts, mugs and look at murals dedicated to her memory. God bless this crazy country!
A beautiful historical building in the center of downtown Buffalo is the Occidental Hotel. With its original back bar, tin ceilings and furnishings, the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming, is not a re-creation of a historic hotel, but a refinement of the historic structure that has been frequented by guests such as Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane and Butch Cassidy. Started in a tent, the hotel later moved into its first permanent building —a log barn-like edifice that was renovated into the present hotel. It was on the edge of demolition when John and Dawn Wexo bought it in 1997 and began the restoration that brought it back to its early days of grandeur. They not only salvaged the structure but also most of its original furniture. It’s quite magnificent. You can read more at: http://www.occidentalwyoming.com
Before pulling out of Buffalo Wednesday morning we went for a local history lesson at the Jim Gatchell Museum in downtown Buffalo. The Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum has been a part of the Buffalo community since 1900 when Jim Gatchell opened a drugstore. The Buffalo Pharmacy was a stopping place for cowboys, lawmen, settlers, cattle barons, and famous army scouts. http://www.jimgatchell.com/ Then it was time to head north to Sheridan.
In 1931, the small town of Sheridan, Wyoming, was so quiet you could “shoot a shotgun down Main Street and have no fear of injuring anyone.” A group of local citizens wanted to do something about the situation and decided to put on a rodeo. We were in luck, the rodeo (and its cowboys) were taking over Sheridan today. Yippee!! Cowboy take me away … and when you tire of looking at the cowboys you can read about the rodeo here: http://www.sheridanwyorodeo.com/history/
Another Sheridan tradition not to be missed is the First People’s Pow Wow that’s an important part of rodeo week. Held on the grounds of the historic Sheridan Inn, the First People’s Pow Wow happened to be starting just as we finished lunch. We were happy to watch dancers and participants from many Indian nations dance in this one-of-a-kind event. Pow Wows are truly unique in their pageantry and participation across the country. During the Sacred Circle Dance they invited all of us to join to symbolize their desire to work together as one nation. It was a very moving experience to be a part of. http://www.sheridanwyorodeo.com/portfolio-items/first-peoples-pow-wow-dance/
Thursday we started east visiting historic Deadwood, South Dakota (https://www.deadwood.com/) where we wandered the very same streets as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and other notable Deadwood legends. After dinner we even witnessed a shootout re-enactment (http://www.deadwoodalive.com/main-street-shootouts) on Main Street.
Continuing eastward Friday morning we stopped at one of the West’s most well-known tourist stops, it’s hard to believe Wall Drug Store got its start with something we wouldn’t even turn our heads at today … the promise of free ice water. But in fact, the Husteads turned free ice water into a million-dollar idea with a little determination and quick thinking. Read Ted Hustead’s story about the genius behind what made Wall Drug Store into the road side attraction our family loves, have stopped every time we’re in the area, and is celebrated around the world. http://www.walldrug.com/history/since-1931 I got to ride a jackalope!
We didn’t have to advance too far to reach South Dakota’s Badlands. We’ve been many times before, however the rugged beauty that draws visitors from around the world never ceases to amaze us. These thousands of acres of striking sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. It’s what I imagine being on another planet would look like. https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm
Finally, we had time for just one more journey into western early pioneer life at the Prairie Homestead. I was able to step back in time as a member of the Brown family and wander around an original sod home and the outbuildings. It’s one of the last remaining original sod homes intact today. These pioneers played a very important part in settling the Great Plains. In 1890 the Homestead Act allowed anyone over 21 to homestead 160 acres for $18 and the agreement to build a house, work the land and remain on it for 5 years.
The Brown homestead site was occupied between 1909 until 1949. The beams are the original cottonwood beams though some of the sod has been replaced. The endless supply of aid kept their home warm in winter and cool in summer while safe from weather on the prairie. This was so much fun!! http://www.prairiehomestead.com/
I’m sure I’ll feel nostalgic about this time spent with them once my ears stop ringing. Enjoy every minute you have with your family, wherever that may lead you.