Wild West And Encounters -> A Drive Across Northern Wyoming
It was the first snowfall of the season and we were driving in it. Flurries of the white stuff hit the windshield intermingled with sheets of rain and sleet. What we didn’t know was that they were about to close the pass, but sometimes ignorance is bliss and “the beast” sneaked her way through with seconds to spare and barely a blink. Despite the slick roads and poor visibility this was actually fun!
We’d just left Yellowstone under one of her notoriously fickle weather blasts. It happens this time of year, especially this far north, but normally the fits are short and fast. This was no exception, and would be over within a few days. Besides our handy dandy weather app promised us warmth and blue skies a mere ~200 miles east.
Wild West In Cody, WY
Our destination was the Wild West, East that is, to the Western town of Cody, WY located in Northwest Wyoming. Got that? Once we passed the snow our trip plunged us into a stunning canyon, bounded by meandering rivers, wide multicolored valleys and finally towering spires of white and bronze rocks. We rolled into spacious Buffalo Bill State Park, picked a spot with 360-degree views and almost no one around us, and all piled out of the RV and onto the grass to soak up the warmth. Ahhhhhh!
Not only was this place FAR prettier than I ever imagined, but we were going to see some Wild West history which always gets my heart-strings fluttering. The Buffalo Bill Center of The West had been recommended by so many people on our original travel plan, that we decided to switch up our route to come see it. Well, that and the fact that it was warm here and we’d fallen behind on our original schedule (waaay too much dilly dallying in the Tetons you know), forcing us to cut out North Yellowstone and head due East.
We visited the museum that very next day, and I admit it was well worth the stop. Far from just a history about Buffalo Bill (who was I grant, a master personality, preservationist and showman of his time), it was a 5-in-1 Exploratorium that included an outstanding Plains Indian section, as well as a wonderful Natural History section. The latter two were particularly good and took several hours for us to explore. Excellent recommendation, my dear blog readers!
We followed our visit with a few beers at Pat ‘O Haras the local brew pub and eatery where, in complete jello unplanning a little red van and a man with a cane joined us. The van-man found himself close(ish) and had, rather impressively, dragged himself over from hot pools to see us. We shared beers and passed yet another great afternoon and evening shooting the breeze in “the beast” (sorry no pics, we were having way too much fun). Oh, and blog reader Smitty happened to be in camp too, so I met them and their lovely doggie the very next morning before we left too. Gotta love these random nomadic meet-ups!
But our time was ticking and we had miles to make….
Encounters At Devils Tower, WY
The very next day we embarked on another monster (for us) drive, traveling sheer across Wyoming to the northeast corner to see a bucket list item for both of us. It was yet another spec-at-cu-lar drive that took us past pastel badlands, up through billion year-old canyons and over a pass at 9,700 feet. If we weren’t on a time crunch I would’ve stopped a hundred times to set-up camp. Darn, this state is pretty!
But we were on a quest, and our goal was no less than alien encounters and mashed potatoes. Like all who come here, especially those of the X-generation, we’d been dreaming of this place for years. The form was etched in my mind, a thumb-like protrusion that rises out of nowhere, a mountain created of bizarre 867-foot, geometric columns. I’ve never quite been compelled to build a replica inside the RV, but I’ve certainly had an insatiable desire to see it.
Devils Tower, America’s very first National Monument (est.1906) sits ~33-miles north of Hwy 90 in the far northwest corner of WY and there is nothing out here, apart from this. You come here for one reason and one reason only, to bask in the wondrous shadow of her form, hike the rim trail, gawk at the crazy climbers on the rocks, meditate on the sacred ground and well…watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Well ok that’s technically 6 reasons, but they’re all kinda related, n’est ce pas?
She’s an igneous intrusion, and although scientists aren’t exactly sure how she formed, all agree it was volcanic activity and most believe she formed underground and the earth around her eroded to reveal her form. She’s sacred to the local Indians, known as Bear Lodge, but her Devillish name was given by to her by Col. Richard Dodge in 1875 and it’s stuck ever since.
That’s the low-down on the facts of her. In person, she….is…WONDROUS!
I grew up in the time of Close Encounters, and have always been obsessed by this rock, but I have to say the reality is even better than film. When you first meet her, she touches you in a most profound way. She so dominates the landscape that you can’t help but focus only on her, and there is a quiet and spiritual aura around her which engages just about everyone who visits. I can’t quite explain it, but you just feel different here. We sat outside and just stared at the tower for hours, and when we hiked around the rim we probably said “wow” about 800 times. I can totally see why the Plains Indians consider this area sacred.
We planned one day and ended up staying two, mostly because one just wasn’t enough. We passed the time gazing at her beauty, photographing the thousands of prairie dogs by camp, re-watching the movie (naturally) and just soaking in the wonder of nature. Folks, you’ve gotta come here at least once in your RV lives!
Today we move on east, yet again. Our appointment at the South Dakota DMV is waiting early tomorrow AM, and then we start a mad rush (even madder now, with all the extra dilly dallying we’ve done) down south towards New Mexico. Who know what we’ll encounter next?
Doggie Notes/ The State Park at Cody is 100% dog-friendly, but the museum in town is not. Devil’s Tower allows dogs in the campground, day-use areas and main roads, but does not allow dogs on any of its trails. Reviews of both campgrounds coming soon…SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Luke Alexander says
All Monacos MUST stop by the Corn Palace. If you miss it this year, you will have to go back next year.
HA! I had to look that one up. We won’t be going quite that far east on this trip (stopping at Rapid City), so we’ll just have to put it on the list for the future.
The Corn Palace is seriously underwhelming — just a tourist trap, as far as I’m concerned. You were much better off spending extra time at Devil’s Tower, which really is, as you found — special.
Greg Miller says
Seriously, skip the Corn Palace, or keep your expectations quite low. I made the mistake of building it up for my family before visiting. We are still joking about that one over a year later. Can’t get that side trip back.
We’ll keep it in mind We tend to focus mostly on nature stuff so if we do go it’ll be because it’s on the way to somewhere else. I enjoy road curiosities, but only every now and then. Paul has less interest in them than I do.
Jeff T. says
Sounds like places we need to explore! Currently sitting in Wall SD, tomorrow Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore. Thursday visit the Badlands and go to Wounded Knee Museum. Went to the National Grasslands Interp. Center today here in Wall. Very much worth the time if your path is taking you a little further east here in SD.
We spent several weeks in the Custer/Black Hills area our first year on the road. Unfortunately we’ll only have 2 days in SD this time around before we have to head on south. LOVE this area though. There’s just so much to see…
Jeff T. says
Started following you and Paul when you were in Florida. Suppose it would be a good thing to go read your adventures from the first year. However… so many ideas to pursue, so little time. In the last few days I’ve seen several items that make me curious to investigate the changing landscape of manufacturing and employment. We will see how that goes though. LOL.
Well I’m super impressed you’ve been following us that long!! The blog has definitely evolved a bit over the years. Hopefully your explorations will lead to more freedom?
Jerry Ericsson says
I once worked in Philip SD on the PD. Philip is just miles from Wall but we never stopped there, in fact having been raised in SD, we never visited Wall Drug till this year, in fact just this month. A Dr. Appointment took me down to Sturgis and Fort Meade. That is 175 miles from home and we drove our Motor Home down, then drove through Spearfish Canyon (Wonderful Drive!) then overnight at Sturgis (Days End Campground) and the next morning, drove to Wall and took in Wall Drug, then through the Badlands, then back through Philip for gas and an Ice Cream Cone, and on home to Lemmon. Hadn’t been through the badlands of SD before either, much different then those in ND that I have visited many times, and Wall Drug was so different then I had imagined. All great fun, and the Motor Home ran very well except for the lack of Air Conditioning from the Dash – Knew that when we purchased, have a voucher to repair, in fact dropped it off this morning.
Sounds like a superb trip! You hit lots of excellent sights, including several we have yet to see ourselves.
Chey (WA coast) says
WOW, Nice move smooth through possible black ice my friends. Great country and thanks for the view. Been following your post and RVSues for a while until all is squared away…March? Where are you headed?
Headed to the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque in Oct, then making our way slowly towards San Diego for Christmas. Next year…who knows? Still VERY jello.
Gail Docter says
Please make a note for when you get near the Corn Palace–just north of there is the *true* gem! Hansen Wheel and Wagon! http://www.hansenwheel.com/store/wagons-carriages/stagecoaches-mudwagons.html
You’ll thank me!
Hmmm…might be the perfect time for a new toad LOL.
Nina and Paul,
I have been following your blog for a few months now and have to tell you “wow”!!!
You do a great job, have given me tons of ideas for places to go and we really appreciate your campground reviews! I can say that with all your posts on Wyoming, which we have been to many times (10 times for Yellowstone and 5 for Tetons) that your reviews and comments are spot on. Just a mild correction, Devils Tower is in NE Wyoming not NW. We camped at the some of the same campgrounds this year and a few last year. Cody is one of our favorite towns to visit. So, thanks for sharing! We hope to follow your recommendations for Oregon next year on our first visit to the state and our first workamping job at a fish hatchery.
Argh! Yes I’m directionally challenged. I try, but commonly fail. Thanks for catching the mistake. I’ll correct it now!
Mary Thompson says
What?! You were here?! We’re workkamping at the Devils Tower KOA this summer…you drove right past us! I’m so bummed. You guys were the first blog I started following when we decided to make this change in our lives….you’ve been an inspiration and encouragement. Would’ve love to give ya’ll a hug!
Oh bummer! Sorry we missed you!! We were only there for 2 days at the campground inside the park. What a great place to workamp for the summer!
How awesome to see the places you’ve encountered recently. I know how the weather can be this time of year in Yellowstone. Been there seen that, but loved it also.
I’ve been to Cody several times. I spent a week there once while exploring and adventuring around the whole area. I’d go back for another visit in a heart beat. The Cody Miseum was just beginning a major remodel and expansion while I was there last. I’d love to see it again. Highly recommended.
The Badlands geology east of Cody is quite interesting, especially with some extra time to explore.
And then the Bighorn Mountains. Another favorite of mine. (I know, I have to many favorites, right?) I’m not sure I’d ever get enough or to much of them. Sheridan, Buffalo, Story, and other small towns around there are just wonderful.
I hiked all the way around Devils Tower in December one time. There was no one else around. The place grabbed me, kinda as you described. It is a real phenomenon, I can’t explain it, but it’s so good. I’m so happy for you that you went there, experienced that, and stayed another day.
Best of successes to you both while taking care of business in SD. 🙂
We drove thro’ those Badlands on our way East and they were a total surprise. What colors! Textures! And we also drove thro’ the Bighorns. Soooo wanted to stop there and set-up camp for a few weeks. Lots and lots we didn’t expect to see on this trip. Wyoming has definitely surprised us.
Mark Elliott says
Another nice write-up on your travels! I can hardly wait for the day I’ll be able to visit all the little corners of America that you write about. One thing I’m curious about, you often mention chance meetings with acquaintances along the way but you never mention RVillage so do you know about this great web resource and if so, what’s your opinion of it and do you use it?
In the reader comments of your various posts like the comment here from Mary Thompson at Devils Tower KOA I see people write that they were in the same area of the country as you and were sorry to have missed you which wouldn’t happen if you used RVillage unless you wanted to. I suppose you guys might value your privacy a lot and not want to be bothered by others constantly intruding on your travels. Just curious…
We’re on RVillage and have used it on and off for the past months, but I have to admit we haven’t really looked at meeting folks thro’ it. Most of our meet-ups come thro’ the blog and/or people we just randomly connect with on the road. We have enough “connections” on the road that we don’t really need another outlet at this point. That said, I DO think RVillage serve a purpose and definitely think they’re a great resource for folks just starting out who want to connect with others on the road. I recommend them!
Jim and Barb says
We absolutely love this time of year when the “off-season” starts and the parks are virtually empty. There is nothing like pulling in having a park almost to yourself with the cool mornings, fall in the air and the changing of the leaves.
The Tetons and Yelllowstone were packed, but our last 2 parks (at Cody & Devils Tower) were exactly like that…relaxed, mostly empty and very quiet. It’s a treat!
You hit our favorite spots. That drive, those places, all the best. We felt the same way at the tower, it’s a wonderful place for sure.
I was soooooo surprised by how scenic both those drives were. I knew there was some pretty country out here, but the landscape was even more gorgeous than I imagined….badlands, valleys, mountains…amazing! I’m so glad we made the drive.
Incredible last black and white shot of the Tower!
Thanks! The Tower inspired me to do some moody shooting.
My wife Deb, and our vicious little dawg Poppins, and myself – really enjoyed meeting you. Thanks for taking the time when you had such a long drive ahead of you!
Sounds like you went ‘up’, what we came ‘down’ (Thank you Jake Brakes!), from Cody over to I90 via 14! Really a cool drive, and it was 8 day after we came West, so suspect the colors were even more splendid. (And you were right, about Gros Ventre and the surrounding mountain slopes, the colors are like a post card, or, a Nina Picture!)
So, you got to see Mash Potatoes Mountain without snow and a alien suspicious constant cloud surrounding it. Good for you guys, great shots…
Travel safe, have fun. And remember, them balloons that go up, will come down…
It was really a treat to meet you too, and vicious doggie was such a cutie 🙂 Maybe we’ll meet again in San Diego!
J. Dawg says
Your post brought back some good memories for me. I was there in 2012. I loved that drive from Yellowstone to Cody. Very scenic, but I wouldn’t want to do it in the snow. Cody is on the return-visit list for me. The Buffalo Bill Museum took me two days to go thru. Biggest gun collection I’ve ever seen. Too bad you missed the Cody rodeo (stops after Aug 31st). Its a fun night out.
The museum was so much bigger than I imagined. It’s nice that the entry ticket is valid for 2 days. Most folks need at least that much time to see it!
Totally FANtastic photo at the end. I had the same experience that you did when I visited there. It isn’t that the Plains Indians considered her sacred, they still do. I personally think it’s time to give all Native Americans back their names which in pretty much every case proceeded ours Denali and Bear Lodge are two that come to mind.. I also think we should honor their request for no climbing on this magnificent formation. There are many mountains to climb. This one doesn’t have to be one of them. We can’t please all the people all the time IMO.
You guys really have been beating feet but still you manage to do so much that it takes me forever to read your post since I definitely must also read all the links. You’re the best!
I definitely agree this rock deserves to get back its original name. Much more suiting to it, methinks. If you click on my links on the name there’s a petition going to get it changed. Hopefully it’ll go though.
I understand your fascination with Wyoming. Cody and Devil’s Tower were both wonderful stops for us. As for Yellowstone, every month of the year one can find snowfall within the park, which I found fascinating as well. Stunning photos Nina!
I remember you telling us about the famous Yellowstone it-can-snow-anytime weather. Just another part of its wild charm!
Jerry Ericsson says
Glad you liked Bakers Hole, we loved it but only stayed 5 days. We were at Devils Tower a few years ago, you are so right about being there. The taste of snow must have been refreshing, I know I used to love snow till I began shoveling it.
Welcome to my home State of South Dakota. A wonderful place to live, you can drive a couple of hundred miles in any direction from my home town of Lemmon and be in places most folk only dream of seeing. My Great Grand Father was right in settling here when he came over from Sweden.
Everytime we come to SD we tell each other we’ve got to come back for a longer visit. We’ve only got 2 nights here in Rapid City and I’ve already seen at least 4-5 things I would have loved to do (but can’t due to our time constraints). Definitely lots to see around here.
Jodee Gravel says
Very high on our bucket list, we can’t wait to see the Lodge in person! I totally heard the tones when looking at Paul’s hand signals :-))) what an icon that movie has become! Glad you made it over the pass in those conditions, not something on my bucket list ever 🙁 We’ve been enjoying the John Day area the last few days, unfortunately didn’t get to Blue Basin when the lighting was right for the blue, but the rest of it has been beautiful, and the heritage house in JD was very cool! Another great spot found on your blog :-))))
When we re-watched the movie we were surprised how well it’s held up. Still a great film, all these years later. And such a treat to see this mountain in person!
David and Kathy says
Just missed us too, we are at Americas mailbox right outside of Rapid City in Box Elder. On your way down south check this place out, Lewis Park, you can stay there for a donation.
We stayed there on our way up to Rapid City. They have electricity and also a place to dump and get water. Be safe!
Nice tip! We’re taking a more direct route south (thro’ Nebraska) so we won’t be swinging that way, but it’s great to know it’s there. I LOVE all the city parks in this area of the country.
nikki wynn says
We missed Devils Tower earlier this spring due to a snow storm and while I was bummed about it then, I’m even more bummed after reading this! Dang it, now we really have to plan another trip that direction. Thanks for the motivation and great write up.
Great blog as always! Felt like we were riding with you guys. Definitely on our bucket list! Makes me want to spend the whole month in Wyoming some time!
With the right weather, a month here would be EASY. So many differing terrains to see from valleys to badlands and mountains. Lots of boondocking up in the Bighorn mountains too.
When we did a day trip to Spearfish from Rapid City, I was tempted to continue the drive over to Devil’s Tower, but decided to save the experience for next year. That last photo says it all…. awesome! BTW, just made a batch of those yummy chocolate chip cookies (recipe you posted a few months bake)… delish.
Safe travels to NM and can’t wait to see your photos of all the balloons.
It definitely takes an extra effort to do that Devils Tower side-trip. An extra ~60 miles round-trip off hwy90, and only if you happen to be in that northeast neighborhood. I definitely recommend it for the future!
Oh, and glad you enjoyed those cookies. They are Pauls favorite indulgence food.
Just had the great fortune of visiting Devils Tower a few weeks ago as well. Your post captured my sentiments exactly! Great writing and photography 🙂 I’m not the best at taking pics , so I sketched the tower instead ! Best wishes and looking forward to your next post .
… We passed through Cody last year and I also thought that The Museum of the West was a hidden treasure. The country-side views in that area do indeed “take your breath away”! Such a super means of reminding us about our heritage in American West.
… My daughter-in-law showed my your blog a few years ago and I’ve been a regular ever since. I love to read your thoughts and see your pics of the places we’ve already been … and of the ones we’ve yet to enjoy! I always look forward to reading of your next destination!
I totally agree the countryside is gorgeous here. There’s much more depth to WY than I ever thought, including on the eastern side. Lovely to have opt out along for the ride!
Whoa — so cool! Cody and Devil’s Tower were on our plan a couple of years ago, but serious winter weather intervened. Your photos really capture the magic. How in the world are we ever going to get everywhere we want to go??? It’s a wonderful dilemma. 🙂
I always have the dilemma of wanting to see more, but not having the time. I guess that’s why we’re still full time RVing 6 years later 🙂 I think we could travel for 20 years and not see it all!
It’s great when you change plans and it works out so well. Your trip looks fantastic and it is inspiring me to head that way again.
We were in Cody in 2010 on our three month sabbatical trip around the country in a 22′ TT. We were lucky enough to be there for the opening rodeo of the rodeo season on July 3, 2010. What a great time! I’ve been following the blog along with your husband’s investing blog for some time and just want to thank you for allowing me to live vicariously. Both of you do such a great job. In fact, in part because of it, I gave my notice the other day which then turned into an offer for a different role within the company that would allow me to work from the road with an easy schedule. We’ll upgrade to a class A and start down that path in January. Thanks for the inspiration! We’ll be looking for you along the way to say thanks in person someday.
Oh sweeet! I love how life works out that way. Congrats on the new job and I wish you the best of many happy road trails!
Pam Wright says
We so need to get to Devil’s Tower. It is always a little far away from our route. But I need to see this!! Thanks for the great narrative and wonderful photos. One day soon!!
Karen Hazlett says
We are printing out most of your latest posts as a quid to our North West trip. Thank you so much, again, for your blog.
Vicki Schaefer says
Hi, Nina. I think we’re following your path in reverse – North Dakota a couple days ago, Cody, WY, and now the Tetons. Maybe we’ll see you in Albuquerque in a week or so!
Just FYI, we spent two nights at the other campground at Buffalo Bill SP. Very nice. Not as far off the road, but virtually no traffic at night, so quiet. And beautiful lake views. Three circles, one with electricity ($5 surcharge). The only downer was our first ever “oh s#@t” moment at the dump station – but at least the guy who had just dinged his new RV on a post had a good laugh.
On your advice, we saw the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and enjoyed it very much. Thanks for the recommendation.
Thanks for the great posts and useful information! I always look forward to them.
Oh s**t indeed LOL. I can only imagine what happened. We all have one of those stories. Hopefully it all happened outside the RV and not inside?
I’ve had many buddies stay at the North Shore campground and everyone rates it well. Lovely views of the lake, plus the easy water access too. Cheers for adding your take on it.