I must've been a cowgirl in a previous life, because nothing can quite explain the immediate attraction and connection I experienced on a recent trip to Cody, Wyoming.
From immersing myself in Western culture at Buffalo Bill’s Historical Center and exploring Old Trail Town to attending a night rodeo in the “Rodeo Capital of the World” and tracking wild mustangs, I felt as if I connected with my inner cowgirl.
Then I saddled myself up at Blackwater Creek Ranch on a sturdy horse named Bob. Here I had an unforgettable ride in the clouds for a top-of-the-mountain panoramic view of the Absaroka Mountains – territory that the Crow and Shoshone Indians once claimed as hunting grounds.
And at night, I went for some cowboy culture, listening to classic country and cowboy poetry at Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue.
What happened to me remains an inner mystery, but of one thing I’m certain: Cody cast its spell on me through a special blend of Western spirit, rodeo thrills, wild horses and breathtaking wide-open scenery. Here’s how it happened:
Buffalo Bill’s Historical Center
Buffalo Bill Cody used to roam this area and was so stricken with its innate beauty he decided to build himself a town. The year was 1896.
Today, Cody is known as a place where cowboys, Western culture and a tough work ethic prevail. It’s also the eastern gateway to Yellowstone, less than an hour away.
The first stop for many, including me, was Buffalo Bill’s Historical Center – where for the price of one admission you can see five different museums over a two-day period. My favorite was the Plains Indian Museum, featuring an array of Plains Indian art, clothing and artifacts.
The Buffalo Bill Museum explores its namesake legacy while the Whitney Gallery of Western Art displays masterworks of the American West – including Remington and Thomas Moran. The Draper Museum of Natural History is an excellent overview of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and the Cody Firearms Museum contains an exhaustive collection of American firearms.
Old Trail Town
Old Trail Town is a collection of 26 pioneer buildings reflecting the frontier history of Wyoming. I walked inside Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Cabin as well as Mud Spring Canyon, the infamous hideaway of Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid.
With curiosity, I also checked out the cabin of Curly – a Crow scout for General Custer just before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The story goes that Curly sensed something ominous and had the foresight to move on before the big devastating battle.
Bulls and Bucking Broncos
There’s nothing quite like a rodeo to celebrate the spirit of the West. Held since 1938, the Cody Nite Rodeo is the longest running nightly rodeo in the United States, with bull and bronco riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, barrel racing and more. Cowboys and cowgirls compete in amateur events to hone their roping and riding skills, for bragging rights, and for the thrill of competition.
Mesmerized by the rodeo spirit, I yearned to try barrel racing, but wisely chose vicarious contentment through my camera’s telephoto lens.
A personal favorite was the Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tour with Ken Martin. For about two hours, I was immersed in the natural habitat of wild mustangs. We got close yet stayed within the legal distance of 500 feet, using tour-provided binoculars to observe the wild bands.
With an encyclopedic knowledge and purposeful passion, Martin educated us on everything we ever wanted to know about these wild horses. “I am passionate about mustangs because they touch you with their wild freedom and majestic beauty. They are a part of our living legacy,” he said. He reminded that “these wild mustangs are on public lands and are part of our Western heritage.” They belong to the land and to us.
Make your reservations, grab your hiking boots, and be prepared for a wonderfully wild, haunting encounter with the mustangs of McCullough Peaks.
Blackwater Creek Ranch
Blackwater Creek Ranch is the answer to every wannabe cowboy or cowgirl’s prayer. Located minutes from Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance and less than 40 minutes from Cody, it offers the ultimate family vacation and Western experience.
With an emphasis on horseback riding and excellent cowboy grub, the ranch's horses take guests on some of the most beautiful, breathtaking trails in the country. Teddy Roosevelt once called this area “the most scenic 50 miles in the United States.”
I was admittedly a tad nervous about my riding skills, but our experienced wranglers – Bill and Hawk – soon put my mind at ease. (Both looked as if they might have come straight off the set of an old Western flick.)
I was matched with a horse to reflect my interest and ability. “Bob” was sturdy, yet gentle, and took care of me during our ride to the mountaintop. Even though I was saddle-weary after our 2-hour ride, this was a trail ride par excellence.
Singing Cowboys and More!
For some of the best in family entertainment, be sure to save an evening for Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue. Located in the historic Cody Theatre across from the Irma Hotel, it’s a summer-season music varietal show featuring traditional Western music, cowboy poetry and great guitar playing.
The host – Dan Miller of Nashville fame – simply wins you over with his harmonious melodies, great looks and magnetic charm as he sings the classics of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and more. Accompanied by his talented Empty Saddles Band, this is a wholesome show for all generations to enjoy.