From Yellowstone we set off south through the Grand Teton (big t*ts in French) National Park. Driving south the Grand Teton’s form a line of spectacular peeks away to the right and in the right light they do remind me of Eva Green.
Jackson is not a Hole
Our next destination was Jackson Hole, a pleasant ski and tourist town. We booked into the 4 Winds Motel for one night but booked in for a second after we decided to go white water rafting. That night we visited the Cowboy Bar, a great rustic American bar with saddle bar stools and a country and western band.
The next day we hit the Snake River. The river was high and definitely not so wild – nothing like the rampaging white water we’d experienced in Queenstown, New Zealand years before. Mind you, we did lose one passenger during the final rapids. He was over the side and yanked back into the boat so fast he barely got wet.
Jackson to Cody
We left early the next morning for Cody. Unfortunately this meant backtracking through Grand Teton to Yellowstone. This threw us a little so we pulled over and rechecked the GPS, but no, to get to Cody we needed to go back through Yellowstone and turn east.
At least we got to see Yellowstone Lake.
East of the lake we drove for hours through an eerie landscape of dead trees. Heightened thermal activity in the subsoil boils the roots of the trees, devastating large swathes of forest. Ironically we were listening to the audio book of “World War Z” by Max Brooks about a zombie apocalypse as we drove through the dead zone.
We arrived at Cody in the early afternoon. Cody winds along a ridge overlooking the Shoshone River. We drove through the town to get our bearings before pulling into a dinner to grab a late lunch. The food was cheap, the portions enormous and the quality dubious. We then drove back down the highway to find lodgings. Although there was an abundance of motels, most were already full or unreasonably expensive. Eventually we grabbed the last free room at a somewhat dodgy old motel.
Cody is named after the town’s founder, William “Wild Bill” Cody, the famous bushman. There is a large, modern museum and visitors centre dedicated to his legend. It was informative and worth a visit. We also took in the daily ‘gun fight’, visited an antique store, had ourselves a couple of beers and then went to the rodeo. Cody features a nightly rodeo and it’s no mean, tourist affair either. Rodeo’s are a tough sport and there is a real risk of serious injury to the participants. To put on this sort of show every night of the year is a serious effort.
After an hour or so of watching the rodeo we headed back into town for something to eat. We ended up having Mexican as most of the restaurants were closed.
The next morning we headed over to Old Cody which comprises an old township of homesteads and buildings salvaged from ghost towns out on the plains. Two buildings were the former homes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Several important graves were, such as Jeremiah Johnston’s’ were also moved here. It was a great little open air museum.
From Cody we headed east towards Deadwood. A little outside Cody we came across the little town of Greybull. On the outskirts of the town I spied the glint of metal away in the distance. As we came closer I recognised a row of aircraft and the distinctive shape of their craft’s tails said “World War Two.” As we drove closer I recognised a Boeing Stratocruiser, the post war civilian version of the Second World War Super Fortress bomber. I pulled over into a rest stop to take a closer look. Officially this is called the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting, but it’s basically just an aircraft graveyard on a disused section of Greybull runway. There was no one around the little office at the rest stop was closed. The Stratocruisers, which I really wanted to see, were parked way across the airfield. A sign said “no trespassing.” I’m sure no one would have stopped us if we decided to drive over to the planes but, this being America, we decided against it. I was forced to admire the aircraft from behind the fence.
Liberator bombers converted into civilian transports. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/14707
Cody – Greybull - Bighorn (WH Macy) – Deadwood
From Greybull we drove through the Little Big Horn National Forest. This isn’t the site of the famous battle between General Custer and the armies of the Sioux Nation. The battlefield is some 70 miles north of here in an area of open plain. The landscape of the national park was dramatic with twisting red rock gorges.
As we wound our way over a mountain pass I saw a scenic look out and pulled over. A lone motorcyclist had also pulled in and was surveying the view. As I drove past I caught his eye and thought. ‘God, I recognise that guy.’ I parked, got out of the car and took a couple of photos of the river winding its way through the gorge below. The motorcyclist was trying to capture the scene in a selfie – always something of a challenge. I got back in the car and was about to pull away but could see the guy still trying to catch ‘the shot’ in my rear view mirror. I said to Shelly, “Doesn’t that guy look familiar?” She looked and said, “Yeah.” I opened the door and called out, “Do you want a hand?” He looked over and said he was alright, then thought a second and said, “Sure.” As I walked up to him I recognised who he was, but being a bit of a moron I couldn’t quite articulate it when it counted. “You’re that actor guy…” I said, sounding every bit an idiot. “I am,” he said. “Bill Macy. William.” We shook hands. He was riding his Harley-Davidson west. It was certainly spectacular country for a ride. I took a couple of photos for him, standing with his bike. We had a short chat about our respective travels, shook hands and bid each other adieu. Maybe I should have asked for a photo, but that would have been weird. It was certainly an unexpected encounter out in the middle of nowhere.
Bill headed west and we continued east. Not more than half an hour outside the National Forest we saw dark clouds looming ahead. Shortly the heavens opened in a torrential downpour of the type only experienced in the US and tropical Asia. The rain was so heavy we couldn’t see through the windscreen with the wipers on FRENZY. We pulled over until the rain passed. I would not have liked to have been on a motorbike in that weather!
As we drove on towards the Black Hills of Dakota we decided to take a little detour to visit a site made famous in one of my favourite movies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, by Steven Spielberg (back when he was good). Devils Tower monument is the larval core of an extinct volcano. The volcano’s cone eroded away eons ago leaving behind the hard, granite larval tube. It’s quite a striking sight and is visible from quite a distance away. Although Devils Tower itself has NOTHING to do with aliens, alien abductions or anal probes, its appearance in Close Encounters has irrevocably associated the monument with all things extra-terrestrial. And by that I mean tacky and illogical souvenirs, almost none associated with Close Encounters itself – undoubtedly for reasons of copy write.
From Devils Tower is was only a short (relatively) drive up the Black Hills to Deadwood. Possibly to improve road holding in the wet or snow, the roads were grooved and our tyres screeched, rumbled and slipped. I twice got out of the car to check that we hadn’t blown another tyre.
Deadwood is a pleasant little late 19th century silver mining town up in the Black Hills. This was once Indian country. In 1868 the US Government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty with the Lakota, guaranteeing them possession of the sacred Black Hills. Like all US-Indian treaties (and many other besides), it was a worthless sheet of paper as the US government revoked the treaty when gold was discovered in the area in 1874. The government sent in troops to drive the Indians off their land (ethnic cleansing is the modern term) which ultimately led General Custer to his date with destiny.