Buffalo Bill Historical Center and Yellowstone NP

Wow and wow. Despite the lure of Yellowstone National Park to spur us on, we did not get out of Cody, WY until 3PM. Now I know that some of you are thinking that this is just typical behavior for us, but I swear we were on the road by 10AM. We fell into a time trap in the form of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

Neither of us were that enthused about a museum devoted to Buffalo Bill. I mean, OK he was famous for making the West a source of entertainment, but in the larger picture of things how significant was that? I still do not have an answer to that question, but the Buffalo Bill Historical Center is an outstanding museum on several levels.

First, it is really five museums in one: The Draper Museum of Natural History, a museum of the Plains Indians, the Whitney Museum of Western Art, a firearms museum, and a museum devoted to Buffalo Bill. We said to ourselves, “Let’s just see a couple of the museums and we will be out by lunch. Two hours, tops.” The AAA guidebook said “Allow a minimum of four hours.” We were out in five hours.

The Draper Museum of Natural History was very nicely done. In one room, they spiraled around from the upper to the lower level with sublevels for each of the climatic zones (alpine, pine forest, etc.) with stuffed animals mixed with interactive exhibits. While the museum specialized in Wyoming and the area around Yellowstone, it was one of the best educational exhibits on natural history I have ever seen, and that includes the Field Museum in Chicago. The Whitney Museum has every piece of Western art that you have ever seen, both painted and sculpted. I am sure that its collection of Western art exceeds anything the Smithsonian has to offer. Finally, the firearms museum had over 2500 firearms on display. As you enter the museum the displays give a complete history of firearms with an astonishingly complete collection. I had forgotten, for example, if I ever knew, about the “wheel lock” rifles, but they had ten or so examples. Oh, and for fun, they had the actual guns used by the cast of “Bonanza” and “Have Gun, Will Travel” and a bunch of other TV Western series. But if that wa not enough, then every firearms manufacturer that you can think of and many you never heard of has their own display case with a minimum of a dozen and a maximum of maybe 100 guns. They even have a display of the revolvers that Winchester prototyped and the rifles that Colt prototyped before the two companies agreed not to compete against each other. It was amazing. I can’t tell you about the other two museums as I did not set foot in them.

Tearing ourselves away, we traveled the fifty miles that Teddy Roosevelt claimed was the most scenic fifty miles in the US, from Cody, WY to the east entrance to Yellowstone. As a former resident of the great State of Washington, I think there are roadways there that might give this one a run for its money, but this was pretty spectacular. We drove from the east entrance of Yellowstone to the north entrance. We saw many bison, a hawk or falcon, two foxes, a small herd of elk (from a distance) and more common fauna. We stopped at an overlook to photograph the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone and had a lovely picnic dinner. I had expected that the roads would be one traffic jam after another, but it really was not too bad. I did discover how to spot wildlife in Yellowstone. You drive until you see three or more cars pulled off the road. Stop, get out of your car, and look in the direction the others are pointing their cameras. Something will be there. Probably just another bison, but something. It is amazing how quickly we got jaded about bison. We didn’t even stop to see a bison, lounging in a sun lit patch of dust, not five feet off the road. We jeered at the other tourists when they stopped for bison. Just yesterday we were excited to see them at Custer State Park. Now they have become passe.

Anyway, we now are in Gardiner, MT, a funny town just barely outside the park boundaries for the night. Tomorrow, we pass from north to south through Yellowstone and then the  Grand Tetons to bunk down in Pocatello, ID.

Tim

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