Leg #20... Chasing Apollo through Cody, Wyoming to the Little Big Horn

  • Friday, June 13, 2014

Leaving Yellowstone on Highway 20, we shook our heads at the sad sight of fire-stripped mountainsides until we entered Shoshone National Forest. We followed the turbulent Shoshone River along the beautiful Wapiti Valley (“wapiti” means “elk”) seeing big horn sheep, antelope, bison and Jim’s first moose. We camped in the Buffalo Bill State Park below their dam (of which they are mighty proud and have both a tour and visitor’s center) before heading into Cody to visit the museums.

Actually, it is five museums in one: the most comprehensive and well-done is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and so worth the trip to Cody. It has a natural history section with raptor recovery and demonstrations daily, a firearms museum, a Whitney-Vanderbilt Western Art museum, an Native American museum and Life of Bill Cody museum. It takes two days to get through it all. We went to a chuck wagon display and demonstration while there. If anyone wants the sourdough biscuit receipt that “Cookie” used to build his reputation, let me know.

Additionally in Cody, is Old Trail Town, 26 historic buildings which have been moved to the original town site of Cody and give you a real feel for the Old West. We drove through the idyllic countryside along South Fork Road, where the “deer and the antelope played” with the horses and cattle in green, rolling pastures between the lake and the river. We even saw two pronghorns racing a ranchers truck along a back L-shaped road. Guess which one was winning? But the best thing about Cody was the rodeo!

Every night at 8 p.m. during the summer, Cody has a rodeo, a real, patriotic (with flag girls on horses doing dressage maneuvers), Christian (with a prayer for the event participants, the livestock, our country and soldiers, and the audience that almost brought me to tears), full events rodeo. The clowns were funny and capable; the participants ranged from the 12-year-old girl who won barrel racing to cowboys and girls from across the states. The bulls were loud, smelly and scarey; calf roping was funny, and bronc busters were skillful. We were thoroughly impressed and entertained and would go back every night if we lived in Cody.

We were blessed with a visit to the Little Big Horn, the site of “Custer’s Last Stand,” outside of Billings, Montana (way outside). Like Gettysburg, and all national cemeteries and battlefields, a heavy cloud seemed to rest on my shoulders and in my soul walking the five-mile interpretative trail with white crosses for the 7th Calvary fallen and red for the Native Americans defending their way of life. I have come away with a different perspective than the one I left home with. I admire the Native Americans, not Custer. But the loss of life on both sides is heartrending. I deplore what has been done to Native Americans as much as I deplore Buffalo Bill Cody helping dwindle the American buffalo herds from 35 million to less than 1,000 in 1860. We ask ourselves if that can be possible, but it’s true. When we see this beautiful country, we understand why the Native Americans didn’t want to give it up and why the two cultures fought for it. I understand why someone born and raised out here would be claustrophobic with the people, noise, traffic and pollution back east. I love South Carolina and Virginia, but I also love Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

Before leaving Wyoming, we stayed a night below “The Devil’s Tower.” Some say it is another “Natural Wonder of the World.” You may remember it from the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Actually, it is a gigantic volcanic vent that never exploded and there are still questions as to how it was formed. But the Belle Fourche River and other elements of erosion have stripped all sediment away from the columned volcanic rock, leaving a surreal structure from science fiction hovering over the stunning Black Hills farmland on Scenic Byway 16. In the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, Gutzon Borglum blasted and chiseled 400 million tons of granite from the Mount Rushmore National Monument for 34 years until its completion in 1941: Wahington in 1930, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937 and Roosevelt in 1939. It is an awesome sight in the daylight and the laser show each night sends goose pimples up one’s spine. In 1948, Polish sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started what is to be the largest mountain sculpture in the world at the invitation of Native Americans. Lakota Chief Standing Bear said, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also.” They invited Zoilkowski to carve Crazy Horse (who, when asked where his lands were now, replied, “My lands are where my people lie buried”) five miles from Rushmore. Though Zoilkowski died in 1982, his work continues according to his plans, and the land beneath the sculpture houses the Indian Museum of North America, the Indian University of N. A., a medical training center, and a visitors’ complex. And finally, we camped in Custer State Park in South Dakota to view the largest single herd of bison in America: 1,300 strong and growing fast if all the spring calves survive.

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