After two outstanding weeks in Missoula, we still weren’t ready to leave, but our time at the Airbnb had come to an end, and PK&O deserved a break. So we packed up the Subaru and headed east on I90.
Approximately 60 miles into the drive, a small sign adjacent to the railroad tracks that paralleled I90 caught my attention (Bill was driving) – something about railroad completion site and final spike. Sufficiently curious, I googled it and learned that the spot marks the location of the final spike that connected the east and west branches of the Northern Pacific Railway on August 22, 1883. A couple of weeks later, hundreds of dignitaries from all over the world gathered for an elaborate ceremony marking the accomplishment. The arrival of the railroad played a crucial role in opening up the Montana Territory to population growth and economic development. The site was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in August 1983. This historic tidbit resonated with me, because my great grandfather worked on the construction of the Northern Pacific Railway in the 1870s, primarily in Minnesota.
Our first stop was at Sacajawea Park in Livingston for a stretch break and picnic lunch – a lovely setting on the banks of the Yellowstone River.
Traveling south from Livingston leads to the stunning Paradise Valley where P&K got married two years ago and eventually to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Sadly, Yellowstone wasn’t on our itinerary for this trip, so we continued east on I90 for another hour or so, exiting at Columbus and traveling southwest through the town of Red Lodge and over Beartooth Pass on the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byways All American Road.
During our 30+ years living in Colorado, we have experienced our fair share of beautiful (and scary) mountain drives and therefore had high expectations for the Beartooth Highway. I’m happy to report that we were not disappointed – this 50+ mile road experience was among the very best! Topping out at 10,947 feet, it’s the highest elevation highway in the northern Rockies, traveling through a massive wilderness area that features 20 mountain peaks higher than 12,000 feet.
Close to the end point of the Beartooth Highway, we turned onto the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. This 47-mile long highway, which follows the route taken by Chief Joseph as he led the Nez Perce Indians out of Yellowstone into Montana in 1877 during their attempt to flee the U.S. Cavalry and escape into Canada, also offered spectacular views on the way to Cody, Wyoming.
We arrived in Cody around 6:30 p.m., roughly 10 hours after we left Missoula. Taking the scenic backroads added at least two hours to the journey, but it was well worth it.
After checking into the Cody Cowboy Village, our home for the next two nights, we went in search of food. Bubba’s BBQ was close and had received good reviews on Trip Advisor, so off we went, only to discover that there was a 20-minute wait for a table. But the pulled pork was good, and there was plenty of it, so that met our sustenance needs for the night.
The attraction for staying in Cody was to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West – a complex of five museums devoted to western life. The original attraction – the Buffalo Bill Museum – featured all things William Cody, after whom the town of Cody was named. The other four museums included the Draper Natural History Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, and Cody Firearms Museum.
We arrived at the Center about mid-morning and immediately split up so that we could each spend time in the areas we were most interested in. As advertised, there was far too much to see in one day, but we packed in as much as we could, including the special exhibit of Albert Bierstadt paintings. It was an enjoyable and educational day, with the biggest takeaway for me being an appreciation for “Buffalo Bill” Cody, an historical figure about whom I previously knew virtually nothing. After learning more, I believe he could rightfully be featured in a Dos Equis commercial as “the most interesting man in the world.” For a quick summary, check out this list of Top 10 Things You Don’t Know about Buffalo Bill Cody.
After a quick stroll up and down Cody’s downtown streets and a nice dinner at a Cody restaurant called The Local, we called it a night.
After indulging in the free continental breakfast the next morning at the Cody Cowboy Village, we hit the road for the final leg of our trip – Cody to Fort Collins. As always, the drive through super windy Wyoming went on and on and on. Other than the scenic views in the Wind River Canyon between Thermopolis and Riverton, there wasn’t much to see. The highlight was our picnic lunch at a rest stop!
We arrived home around 5:00 in the afternoon and quickly unloaded and unpacked, and made a trip to the grocery store in preparation for our houseguests that arrived for a five-day visit later that evening – my brother Ken and his wife Gloria!