If you’re headed to Yellowstone in this landmark year that marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, there are some people waiting to meet you in Cody, a small town near the east entrance to the national park.
Here you’ll find Buffalo Bill, frontier scout and Wild West showman, and Dan Miller, troubadour of western music. The cowboys who risk their limbs each evening at the Cody Nite Rodeo (spelling is correct) want to make your acquaintance, as do the guides who pilot the rafts on the rapids that flow past the town. And you might well have the best conversation of your vacation with a wrangler on a trail ride at Blackwater Creek Ranch.
“I’m an Arkansas native who’s fallen in love with the West,” says Chantz Wilson, a Blackwater cowboy who leads trips into the national forest that borders the park. “I love introducing guests to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world — and along the way, we find a lot to talk about. People tend to open up here. It must be something in the air.”
The best place to start your Cody tour is the famed Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a seven-acre complex where the history of the West is told through the perspectives of Plains Indians, trappers, hunters, cowboys, soldiers, pioneers, adventurers, and more than a few scoundrels. Buffalo Bill Cody, the namesake of both the town and the museum, did more than any other person to create the myth of the Wild West through his popular cowboy-and-Indian variety shows between 1883 and 1913. Cody’s life is recounted here, a tale of celebrity, showmanship, and genuine love for the West.
The center also celebrates the natural history of the region, including its superstar animal species, wolves, grizzly bears, and bison. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to see these creatures in Yellowstone, you can learn about their fierceness, intelligence, and importance to the park’s ecosystem here.
Next, put on your swimsuit for a rafting trip on the Shoshone River that runs through town. Wyoming River Trips takes visitors through scenic Red Rock Canyon, a stretch of river that has enough whitewater to give you a thrill, but not enough to scare the faint-of-heart. As the rugged scenery passes by, the raft guide gives information on the colorful characters who once followed this same route, including Buffalo Bill and mountain men Jeremiah Johnson and John Colter.
Once you’re back on dry land, ask Ron Blanchard, the owner of the rafting company, about his experiences with bears and wolves in the region during the off-season when he works for Wyoming Game and Fish. “Cody has the only elementary school in the lower 48 states with a fence around it to keep out grizzly bears,” he says. “Thanks to Yellowstone next door, this is still wild country.”
Every night during June, July, and August, the Cody Nite Rodeo gives visitors an introduction to cowboy life. For nearly a century, rodeos have been held here, making this the longest-running rodeo in the world. Bull and saddle bronc riding events draw competitors from around the nation. Before the action starts, visitors can try their hand at rope skills, have their face painted by a rodeo clown, and get their picture taken on a live bull. At the end of the rodeo, children will enjoy the calf scramble, where kids run around the arena trying to pull a tassel off a calf’s tail.
Another popular evening option is Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue, which this summer will move from a downtown theater to the Buffalo Bill Center dining pavilion. Dan Miller’s performance blends live music, comedy, and story telling. Miller, who has a long list of TV credits as well as wide-ranging musical credentials, often has his friends in the music industry join him on stage. His concerts have included Kathy Mattea, Suzy Bogguss and Mel Tillis, but even on an ordinary evening, his musical skills will leave you humming as you leave the show.
Dining options in Cody range from the down-home to upscale. The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill and named after his daughter; through the years it’s hosted guests from Annie Oakley to Frederic Remington. The cherry wood bar in its restaurant was given to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria. Take a seat on its porch for the mock shoot-outs held here on Monday through Saturday evenings during the tourist season, and then enjoy a prime rib meal — the restaurant’s signature dish — in the restaurant.
For a more elegant dining experience, try Eighth Street at the Ivy, which uses locally sourced, organic ingredients in its updated versions of American classic dishes. Juniper, a combination bar, market, and bistro, offers a range of fine whiskeys, cocktails, and wines as well as small plates and salads of artisan meats, cheeses, and vegetables. For breakfast or lunch, try Heritage Bakery and Bistro, which serves freshly made pastries and homemade soups and sandwiches.
Even after you leave Cody for the wonders of Yellowstone, this little town with a big heart is likely to linger in your vacation memories. “Cody is a place that works its way into your heart,” says Dan Miller.
If you go
The Cody area has a wide range of accommodations, including the Buffalo Bill State Park campground, 10 miles to the west. Blackwater Creek Ranch located between Cody and Yellowstone National Park, offers accommodations in cabins as well as dude ranch activities. In Cody, the historic red brick Chamberlin Inn is a 21-room boutique hotel.
For more information, contact Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country at (800) 393-2639 or www.yellowstonecountry.org.