By Richard Carroll
In northwest Wyoming, a vast national wonderland awaits the traveler in search of the rhythms of nature and a pristine natural world. To walk the backcountry trails of Yellowstone National Park following a rain is like being the first human on earth. It is an unparalleled opportunity to enjoy an environment in a state of perfection, a special moment for physical and spiritual renewal.
Only the hoot of a great horned owl or the eerie wail of a coyote disturbs the silence. Far on the horizon a mingled herd of shaggy buffalo, aloof elk and prong-horned antelope standing up to their bellies in swift-moving water, contentedly feed on moss and grass from the edges of a river. A Wyoming wilderness larger than the state of Delaware, Yellowstone is the nation's first and largest national park (1872), capturing 10 large rivers, thundering waterfalls, huge lakes, and hundreds of miles of clear streams flowing from mountains and plateaus. Gorgeous pine forests cover four-fifths of this vast wonderland.
Here nature has created hot springs, geysers, mud pots, fumaroles, steam vents and the royalty of all geysers, Old Faithful, erupting every 90 minutes (give or take 15 minutes) and sending blankets of blistering steam soaring skyward as if in the magical world of Jules Verne. The boiling ponds shimmer with an ever-changing array of deep, rich colors, tempting observers to peer into them as if they were windows into the earth.
For many visitors, it all begins at the gateway, Cody, a pulsating Wyoming town with dynamic Western character that is only a one-hour scenic drive from the east entrance of Yellowstone. The endearing and long-lasting marriage of these two destinations offers the traveler the best of the West, a place where only a hundred or so years ago the only school in town had just four students and surrounding countryside was a land of trails rather than roads.
Col. William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, a living legend who at the age of 41 was one of the most famous men in the world, founded Cody in 1886 and positioned the town firmly on the map. In 1904 Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the Hole in the Wall Gang rode in and robbed the Wall Bank here and then had their choice of secluded hideouts in the enormous Wyoming backcountry.
Bigger than life, and the John Wayne of his day, Cody was everything from a fearless frontiersman, skilled wrangler and Pony Express rider to a Civil War Scout, buffalo hunter and finally a famed showman with his enormously popular "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show."
Walking through town, one passes by the Silver Saddle Saloon, Wayne's Boot Shop (offering 200 styles of boots), the Proud Cut Saloon with its "Kick Ass Cowboy Cuisine," and the famed Irma Hotel. Built by Cody in 1902 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Irma was named after his youngest daughter, and it boasts of a female ghost that has often been seen walking to and fro on a balcony.
Across the street, the historic 21-room Chamberlin Inn is the jewel of Cody. On Oct. 16, 1932, Ernest Hemingway booked Suite 18, and his signature is still intact in the register book. Wyoming and Yellowstone were favorite haunts of the famed author/adventurer. An additional jewel is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, noted as America's finest Western museum, which includes the Draper Museum of Natural History, Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indian Museum and Cody Firearms Museum.
Just outside of town is the Big Horn Basin high desert, the last area in the United States to be fully mapped and one of very few places to have survived unchanged from Native American times. Travelers who take time for the 22-mile drive through the basin, guided by the Red Canyon Wild Mustang folks, have the chance to see a large herd of wild mustangs, a living legacy descended from horses who escaped from the Spaniards centuries ago. Field glasses are a must on this little adventure.
Nature aficionados can experience a two-hour float on the Shoshone River, a walk through Old Trail Town with buildings collected from an 80-mile radius dating from 1879 to 1800, and a visit to the Bill Cody Ranch for a horseback trail ride in the Shoshone National Forest halfway between Cody and Yellowstone.
Popping through the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, visitors find Yellowstone Lake with 110 miles of shoreline; the 19-mile-long Grand Canyon carved out by the 671-mile Yellowstone River, one of the longest free-flowing rivers in North America; and an incomparable vista of towering mountain ranges.
Rangers say that few visitors have seen the backcountry and others should venture from the main roads and walk the trails where they might glimpse a wolf and smell the wild flowers. Check in with the prestigious five-star nonprofit Yellowstone Forever for behind-the-scenes field seminars, backpacking courses and private day-long trips on backcountry trails, as well as spectacular winter excursions and tips on how to catch sight of animals using high-powered spotting scopes. Embracing the dynamic duo of Cody and Yellowstone is a surefire shortcut to lifelong memories.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: www.codyyellowstone.org and www.yellowstone.org/experience/yellowstone-forever-institute/field-seminars
Richard Carroll is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center, noted as America's finest Western museum, is located in the heart of downtown Cody, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Halina Kubalski.