|The historic Irma Hotel and home to the Cody Gunfighter show|
Gunslinger ShowdownWe arrived in the late afternoon of a sunny June day. Driving through downtown, I noticed that quite a crowd was gathering in front of the historic Irma Hotel. While most cowboy stories tell of gunfights on the street taking place at high noon, the Cody Gunfighters put on a performance in front of the hotel at 6PM every Monday through Saturday during the summer months. It's like the Old West come to life.
Cody Night RodeoAfter a quick stop to drop our suitcases at the hotel, we headed over to the Cody Nite Rodeo which has been going on nightly from June through August since 1919. That's quite a long run! It's the town's way of paying homage to Buffalo Bill and his famous Wild West Show.
I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that, despite being Texans, this was the kids' first rodeo. We arrived an hour early for the 8PM show so that we'd have time to look around at the horses and clowns as well as get our food (hot dogs, corn dogs, BBQ sandwiches, soda and beer) from the concession stand before the rodeo started. There was even a mechanical bull for those brave souls who want to embrace their inner cowboy! We made our way to the Buzzard Roost at the far side because those seats had backs, unlike the benches in the Grandstand closer to the entrance.
While the Cody Nite Rodeo features mostly local talent, the Cody Stampede which typically occurs around July 4th brings in top competitors with its purse of over $400,000. Although I grew up watching the professionals who competed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, I really enjoyed seeing high school kids and other up-and-comers out there in the arena. It's quite a rush for the audience when the announcer broadcasts that it's someones first time in the bull riding competition.
|Youngsters in the stands are invited to participate in the Calf Scramble|
Over the next two hours, we watched both cowboys and cowgirls rope calves, race horses around barrels, and ride bucking broncos and twisting, turning bulls. Some cowgirls performed standing balanced atop their horses while twirling hoops in the air. The brave rodeo clowns were quick to distract the bulls while a rider was down and equally as fast to dive into a barrel when the bull got too near.
When it came time for the Calf Scramble, kids under 12 years old were invited to come down to the arena and participate. Even though I wasn't quite sure what was involved, I sent my girl down to join in the activity. All the kids lined up across the middle of the arena. Suddenly, a few calves were released into the area, and the kids took off in hot pursuit. The goal was to grab the bandanna from the calf's tail and then bring it back to the announcer for a prize. One calf quickly gave up his bandanna, but the other one proved to be elusive and kept the game going for quite a while. (Note to parents: Make sure your kid washes off before climbing into bed because... well, let's just say that all that brown stuff on the ground isn't just dirt.)
|You can easily spend all day at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West|
Buffalo Bill Center of the WestThe next morning, we headed to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Visitors can easily spend all day here because it's actually five different museums under one roof. True to the nature of the town, a chuck wagon cook greeted us as we walked through the parking lot and offered us a cup of campfire coffee. He was also simmering some chili in the Dutch Oven, but that wouldn't be ready for a few more hours.
Of course, one of the museums focused on its namesake, Buffalo Bill Cody. Long before Western movies and television shows, Buffalo Bill toured with his Wild West Show and reinforced the world's fascination with America's legendary Western frontier. The displays cover both the good and the bad (by today's standards) parts of William Cody's life. He was famous for his speed as a Pony Express rider and as a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. He was also known as "the youngest Indian slayer of the Plains" and for killing 4,280 buffalo in only 8 months.
|Display at the Plains Indian Museum|
A counterpoint to Buffalo Bill's story is presented in the Plains Indian Museum. Tales of displaced tribes — or, even worse, slaughtered people — are depicted in this area. Artifacts and artwork are displayed along with explanations to give visitors a context for what they are viewing. As he grew older, Buffalo Bill is said to have regretted his "Indian slayer" ways and incorporated parts of Indian culture in his Wild West Shows. This collection began with the artifacts gifted to Buffalo Bill over the years by the Indian performers in his shows.
|A great scavenger hunt for kids at the Whitney Western Art Museum|
The Whitney Western Art Museum features a collection of paintings, prints and sculptures ranging from the old masters to modern interpretations of famous battles like Custer's Last Stand from the Native American point-of-view. Although we've taken the kids to numerous art museums, this is the first one to offer up an artwork scavenger hunt in the form of a retro bingo card where you slide the red plastic piece over each window as you spot the element.
The Cody Firearms Museum has a rather vast array of antique guns. There are over 7,000 firearms and more than 30,000 firearms related artifacts in the collection. Whereas I'm not a big fan of people carrying around guns in the modern world, it was truly a necessity for survival in the Wild West. Displays such as the colonial gun shop and a frontier hunting lodge explain firearms historical importance in daily life. There's also a shooting gallery if you or the kids are interested in arcade style target practice.
|What you may encounter in Yellowstone|
Last of all, the Draper Natural History Museum does a better job of explaining the Yellowstone ecosystem than any of the small National Park run museums we explored in Yellowstone. My kids picked up an Adventure Passport at Trialhead Bulletin Board and searched for stamps and information as we made our way through the museum. We strolled down a spiraling ramp through the Alpine-to-Plains Trail depicting the various microclimates found in Yellowstone. The "Please Touch" displays and interactive computer stations kept the kids engrossed in the exhibits.
|Large scale area map|
Where to EatAlthough the Center of the West does have a cafe where visitors can eat lunch, we opted to take a break from the museum and dine at the Irma Hotel. Built by Buffalo Bill in 1902 as a European style hotel for tourists on the way to Yellowstone, this hotel is named after Buffalo Bill's daughter. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the saloon which is famous for its long, French-made, cherrywood bar gifted to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria who is said to have spent a whopping $100,000 to have it built. With a pressed tin ceiling and antler chandeliers, the saloon doesn't let you forget that you are in the West. Lunch and dinner buffets are offered during the summer months along with a full menu.
|The Irma Hotel's famous cherrywood bar which was a gift from Queen Victoria to Buffalo Bill.|
For dinner, we dined at the super kid-friendly Millstone Pizza Company & Brew Pub. The menu includes pizza, pasta, submarine sandwiches and burgers. A kids menu and craft beer flights are also available. With sports shown on the TVs and an arcade downstairs, no one was in a rush to leave.
Lodging at Cody Cowboy VillageWe spent our two nights in town staying at the rustic Cody Cowboy Village (Cabin #116), located near the rodeo and Old Trail Town.
|Cabin #116 at Cody Cowboy Village|
Although we were in the furthest cabin from the free continental breakfast, our porch had a fantastic, unobstructed view of the sweeping plains and mountains rising west of town. Finding comfortable accommodations for a family of five people can be difficult, but we had plenty of room with two queen beds in the bedroom and then a queen foldout sofa in the separate living room. A microwave and minifridge along with a small table gave us the option of picking up food from the grocery store if we wanted to save money. Free Wifi can be accessed in every cabin, too.
|Two Queen Bedroom Suite|
Spend the day in CodySo, if you are one of those travelers making your way between Yellowstone National Park to the west and Devils Tower or Mount Rushmore to the east, make sure you spend some time exploring Cody. It's a fun place to learn more about cowboy life and can give you a better understanding of both the historical events and natural history of the surrounding areas. I think you'll find your trip enriched by stopping a for a day in Cody instead of just rushing through.
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