Buffalo Bill Center of the West – Part II

Our third pick for museums was the Whitney Western Art Museum and I would say that of all of the five museums in the center this was the least interesting to us. We have had the privilege of visiting some pretty spectacular art museums in our travels and this just didn’t compare. Still it was worth a walk through if pressed for time I wouldn’t put it at the top of the list.

My favorite section of the museum was dedicated to Alexander Proctor. He was a leading animalier which is an artist known for realistic portrayals of animals. They had a giant plaster statue he used to create a famous statue of Teddy Roosevelt and lots of his other work.

Along with the art museum there was also a special exhibit area dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone. It was a bit of an eclectic mix, but I did enjoy some cool paintings of waterfalls in Yellowstone.

We had covered a lot of ground but at this point I was starving. We wanted to have the Chinese buffet in town because none of the cities in this area have one but unfortunately it is closed on Sundays. Instead we went to the Irma Cody hotel and lucked into their Sunday buffet. It had ham, fish, prime rib and a very nice salad bar. I thought it was a great value for the money and eating in the historic hotel was really cool.

While we were there we heard that the roulette wheel from the hotel was actually in the Buffalo Bill museum so when we headed back that was the first thing we saw. I have to say that museum was very well done and the life of Buffalo Bill Cody was pretty interesting.

His father died when he was young and he started working for a freight company when he was only 11 years old. He did a brief stint with the pony express and gathered buffalo for the army to eat.

He married very young and ultimately outlived all of his children. He and his wife did become grandparents though and they founded Cody, WY. His big claim to fame was his Wild West show which was pretty amazing. Over time the show included riders from all over the world and did residencies in New York and London. Unfortunately the show seemed to constantly be in financial trouble and he made and lost fortunes several times over. Still we were lucky enough to see some movies from the show itself and it looks pretty spectacular.

The diversity of his show was really unheard of for its time and based on what we read did quite a bit for Native American / White people relations. It also promoted the American West to Europeans. There certainly is more to the Native American story in the West though and I will save that for my next post about the Plains Museum.

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Buffalo Bill Center of the West – Part I

I have had several friends talk about this museum so it was high on our list, but because of the three hour drive we weren’t sure how we could make that work with the dog. Finally we learned from some folks Lee works with that there is a reasonably priced doggie day care in Cody so on Sunday we headed over. Because the dogs had to be brought in by 8:30am that meant a 4:30am wake up time for us. To be honest driving through Yellowstone in the dark and heavy fog wasn’t that great but we made it in time to drop off Jack and head to the museum.

It’s actually five museums in one massive set of buildings and since we weren’t sure how long it would take we visited them in order of our level of interest. Since I took over 900 pictures on this day I am going to divide the visit into a few posts. Lee picked the Cody Firearms Museum first so that’s where we started.

To be clear, Lee and I both support reasonable gun control, but we also find the history and engineering of guns pretty fascinating. This collection has over 7000 guns and was really spectacularly done. In particular I appreciated that the rhetoric is pretty balanced and the facts were presented with the focus being on the guns themselves. Overall I thought it was an excellent museum.

The museum was a bit of a maze and its easy to get lost but one of my favorite sections was where they showed the different guns (with examples) through history in a nice long timeline.

I also really liked the gun library that had so many guns grouped alphabetically by manufacturer or by military. They were in these big sliding drawers and it was a cool way to see guns by lesser known manufacturers. Lee was amazed by this library and counted the vertical sliding cabinets and determined that there were over 1000 long guns just in this one section.

I also enjoyed several of the unusual historical guns many of which were owned by past presidents or other famous people. You could spend an entire day going through this collection, but since we had other museums to see mainly hit the highlights.

I was also particularly interested in some advertising posters they had including one which marketed to women for self defense much earlier than I would have thought. Also the poster that talked about a gun being a months salary. You think of guns being somewhat ubiquitous in the west based on the movies but a months salary is no joke.

My choice was next and I chose the Draper Natural History museum. I have been to many natural history museums and this one (for its size) was really well done. First off you were on a path the entire time so it was easier to see everything and they had lighting and sound effects that made you feel like you were in nature. It was extremely well done and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Of the five museums this was definitely my favorite for both the content and the environment. So if you don’t have time to see them all I would definitely put this at the top of your list.

The research center was really cool in particular the golden eagle information. I have actually never seen a golden eagle but later that day when we were driving outside of town I saw my first one. There was also another research library in the basement which had all sorts of historical documents about the area. The gun museum also provides historical research information and authentication services which is pretty cool.

Ok I am going to stop right there and pick up in the next post. Stay tuned!

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First Time Work Kamping in a Retail Environment

Even though I didn’t work kamp this summer, Lee has given me permission to write about his experience and I will also be adding in some anecdotal information we have heard from many of our friends who have work kamped in a retail setting. I make the distinction because work kamping is not the same as having a regular job in a retail environment and I will get into some of those differences as I go along.

First and foremost the major difference in work kamping is generally you get your campsite either free or partially funded. In general the more desirable a region is the less likely you will get the RV site totally for free but in our case it was fully funded. Since Lee was a solo work kamper (I am working remote in a corporate job) his options were more limited. Not all retail employers will take solo workers because essentially that doubles the cost for them on RV spaces.

Unlike campgrounds who own the spots, retailers almost always have to pay someone else for their sites and although they get a discounted monthly rate it’s still not cheap. Our discounted rate is $1200 a month and when you multiply that by X number of employees that’s a hefty additional cost per month for the employer.

Those costs are offset somewhat by paying the work kamper much less than the going local rate. It’s above minimum wage but still very low for the experience and expertise of the employees they are getting. An example would be if the employee’s site is $1000 a month and they make $10 an hour assuming a 40 hour work week the person is getting roughly $16.25 an hour. It’s slightly better than that because no tax is paid on the RV site but you get the point.

The major problem is many work kampers don’t really count the site as the same value as the hourly rate. This is a source of frustration for the employers which I understand but I also get the work kamper problem with that. First we don’t get to pick where we stay, and in many cases the sites themselves are less than premiere. That is not the case for us at this location, but it has been in the past. Many people I know have walked away from work kamper jobs because the sites they arrive at are not as advertised and I think its fair to say in general that they are rarely sites we would pay for if given the choice. There are exceptions, of course, and we have been extremely lucky to have a very nice site this summer. The quality of the site and the campground go a long way towards increasing the value proposition and make it more likely we will want to return the following year.

Which leads me to what I think is one of the major drawbacks of the retail positions. Because they are seasonal many employers (not all) will only guarantee a range of hours (30-40 hours a week) and the schedules are extremely variable. Again, your mileage may vary on this, but most things we have seen and heard talk about wildly varying schedules that involve lots of changes. Some people don’t care, they will work whenever as long as their days off are together, but for us we like to plan things a little out in advance and the changing schedule makes us a little nuts. In all fairness its more complicated for us because I only have the weekends off (prime retail days in most cases, although again, not for this particular location) so it took some work for Lee to ensure he always has one of those two days off every week.

More importantly, the pay is variable and we have known many people whose season was cut short due to lower than expected sales or had to work more than they wanted to to account for being short staffed. So if you have to have the money to live this may not be the best choice for you, but if you are working for a free site and a little supplemental income it may be a good choice.

Which leads me to the working conditions. In a retail environment you are standing on your feet for most of your shift and since many of the buildings are older that means wood floors or thin carpet. I also found the environment during rush periods to be somewhat claustrophobic as there are way too many people in too small a space. That being said there is lots of downtime in the non peak periods and if you like talking to people this might be a great job for you.

In many tourist towns people are “just looking” and often are more interested in information than the products being sold. A good salesperson can turn the request for information into a sale and folks with those personality traits are highly valuable. If you aren’t that crazy about people and would rather work outdoors obviously this might not be a good fit, but for those who can multi task, who like people, and who enjoy a lot of variety in their day retail might be a good job for you.

Like any other work kamping job you have to be really honest with yourself going into it AND really clear upfront about what your expectations are. We have always had good luck with getting employers to honor commitments they made in advance, but not so much if we just show up and ask while we are there in person. Plus its just better for everyone if you can determine if its a good fit beforehand. Obviously they are going to stress the positives of the job and you need to ask the right question to make sure you don’t have any unpleasant surprises.

For more information on other work kamping jobs we have worked please check out our Work Kamping page.

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Yellowstone – Wraith Falls

Since the Labor Day crowds finally died down we headed back into the park in search of some animal sightings. Lee heard about a buffalo carcass at work that wolves were hanging around so we got up really early and headed north towards the Roosevelt Tower area. Unfortunately it is a long drive and despite the early (for us) start we missed the wolves by a half an hour. More importantly the carcass was super far away and although I brought a book to read just in case Lee didn’t really want to sit there in the hopes they would come back.

As I have mentioned before many of those great wolf pictures are from very far away and only visible through a super long lens or spotting scope. Folks will sit for hours peering through those scopes for their shots but that’s not really of interest to me or it turns out Lee. We like our wildlife close enough to see with the naked eye and with wolves in particular that is pretty rare.

Still it was a beautiful day so we popped over to see the petrified tree. This is the remains of a Redwood tree which shows that at some point Yellowstone had a tropical climate. It was pretty cool although I wouldn’t make a special trip just to see that.

Since we didn’t have anything special in mind we decided to check some smaller items off our list, but first I needed to stop and go to the bathroom. When we stopped at the gift shop near Tower Fall we saw a big crowd and walked over and I got some cool shots of a black bear. That was a nice bonus!

Next we decided to go to Wraith Falls but along the way we saw the Blacktail Plateau Road was open. This road has been closed every time we have passed it, so it was cool to travel along it. It was a huge wild stretch of gravel road traveling through grassland and then forest and although we didn’t see any animals it definitely seemed like a great spot for them. I highly recommend ALWAYS taking these side roads if they are open, because they are open and closed throughout the season and every one of them is pretty cool.

 

We finally made it to Wraith Falls although unfortunately it was largely dried up. We have been really lucky with waterfalls this year and I definitely want to visit this one again earlier in the season. The walk is about a half mile up and the ground is pretty rocky but the viewing platform is nice and we had a great time watching a chipmunk go crazy eating berries.

Lee’s animal guide is the Chipmunk and we always love watching them. Mine by the way is the female deer in case you were wondering 🙂

On our way back towards West Yellowstone we got really lucky though and saw a Royal elk (10 tines; between 7-9 years old) close to the road. We stopped and took a bunch of pictures and even got to see him lay down in the grass. I was amazed at how an animal that big could “disappear” in the grass and his antlers just looked like sticks. Based on that I wonder how many times we have passed right by moose or deer because it was extremely well camouflaged.

Yummy Grass
He bugled for us. Much higher pitched than we thought it would be

We probably should have left it at that, but Lee wanted to see the Ranger Museum at Norris Basin and that parking lot was PACKED. We got lucky enough to find a parking spot but the crowds were pretty crazy and a little overwhelming. The ranger museum was nice though and I particularly loved the diversity of the park rangers going back to the 1930’s. I highly recommend a stop but would definitely plan a visit on a less crowded day.

It was a nice day but to be honest we probably won’t be spending many more in the park itself. Our season is starting to wrap up and we have lots of tasks and errands that need to be completed before we leave. Because you never know about the weather (as of this writing we have had two consecutive freezing temps overnight) we need to be ready to leave at any time. Lee’s contract is until Oct 15th but the agreement is we can leave if a significant snowstorm heads this way. Basically we are playing it by ear from this point forward and our planned route allows for the flexibility to leave at any time. I’ll keep you updated as events warrant.

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Cabin Creek Trail

In the hopes of seeing moose we also visited the Cabin Creek area in the National Forest. No luck with the moose but we did come across a really cool area. There is a NFS campground in the Cabin Creek area, but across the road from that there is also a day use area down Ghost Village road. A forest ranger told me about it and although we had a little trouble finding it (look for Day Use signs) once we did it was super cool.

The road goes along a beautiful river with mountains in the background. The area is called Ghost Village and we did see several shacks that had collapsed on themselves across the river. The road ends at a trail that goes into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area and since bikes are allowed on the trail can’t wait to go back and explore a little further.

Unfortunately because of the lighting my pictures don’t come close to capturing the majesty of this area and it really felt like we were in the wild. After staying for a bit we went back across the street to try out the Cabin Creek Trail. The Forest Ranger in the Hebgen Lake Ranger District recommended the trail although she said the first couple of miles were the best part in her opinion. Unfortunately it got pretty hot pretty quick and the trail itself was VERY rugged. It was also multi purpose so between watching my footing, avoiding the steep drop off, and dancing around horse poop I felt like I had to watch my feet most of the time.

The path was also at a decent incline so between the heat and trail factors I only made it a mile or so before wanting to turn around. There were some nice views though and if you are a more expert hiker I am sure you would enjoy it. Deb this one is definitely for you!

Beautiful canyon
With all the berries and close growth I also felt pretty nervous about potential bear activities

All in all it was worth the drive just to see the road but again proceed at your own risk and be prepared. National Forest trails are generally not as well maintained as National Park trails and always come prepared!

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Red Rock Pass and Wilderness Area

In an effort to avoid the crowds, Lee and I have been exploring the National Forest areas looking for moose. Based on a recommendation from his boss we headed towards Henry’s Lake one afternoon and while we were traveling around the lake we saw a small sign that said Red Rock Pass. In the spirit of adventure we thought why not and traveled 27 miles along a dirt road until we reached the Red Rock Wilderness area.

Sometimes when you take the road less traveled it is only so-so but this trip was really special. So special in fact I was surprised by how few pictures I took because I was really caught up in the moment. It wasn’t that the vistas were the best we have seen, or the animal sightings. It was the complete remoteness of the road and we literally never knew what would be around each corner.

One of the weirdest things is we were in this heavily wooded area and cows were free range grazing kind of everywhere. They also shared the area with moose, and we saw one grazing right near them. The moose had a full rack which Lee said was spectacular but I only saw its backside as it ran back into the trees. The cows on the other hand could have cared less and we had to be pretty careful as we turned corners because they were near or on the road.

After a pretty steep climb we saw a small campground of sorts and a sign saying we were at Red Rock Pass. We continued on and ended up in a stretch of grazing land with a few ranch houses along the road. This area had no cell coverage at all but people were definitely living there. I can’t imagine being that isolated personally because this road is not cleared in the winter so you could be stuck in that valley for chunks of time.

Eventually we reached the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge which has several large lakes and a small research facility with families living there. Again no cell coverage the entire trip but I imagine they had some kind of connection in the small town. This area was pretty wild with antelope, gorgeous mountains, and a lake known for trumpeter swan nesting. We drove as far as we were comfortable going and then when it started to get darker we turned around and drove back the other way. We didn’t come close to exploring it all and I definitely want to go back on another visit sometime.

One our way back out we saw the weather station up on a hill and I realized that the area we had passed we had seen from Sawtelle Peak. As much as I enjoy the views from above nothing quite beats seeing things from the ground and I am really glad we got into the thick of things.

Radar station on Sawtelle Mountain seen from the road
Henry’s Lake and surrounding area from the peak
You can kind of see the road we traveled on in the distance

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Hanging out near Town

The weather here has been much warmer the last couple of weeks, and is uncomfortable in the afternoons on several days. It’s not the overall temperature so much that direct sun is really hot so there were several days we really didn’t want to go out into the park. We certainly didn’t want to do the geologic features, because for me walking around in full sun looking at boiling water not so appealing 🙂

Thankfully there were still several things in and near West Yellowstone we hadn’t seen yet, so here are a few of the things we did..in no particular order. First was the West Yellowstone Museum which is located in the beautiful old train station here in town. Although I thought the $10 entrance fee was a bit steep for what the museum had I looked at it as a donation to preserve the gorgeous buildings. Original windows and floors in many places and because it is closed in the winter (too expensive to heat) it is in remarkably good condition for its age. Plus if you are into fly fishing they have a small fly fishing museum inside which was pretty interesting.

The absolute best part of the museum though was the stuffed bear Old Snaggletooth. He was a renowned Grizzly who ruled the local dump in the 1960’s until he was unfortunately killed by poachers. Some bears here gain iconic status and Old Snaggletooth was one of them.

Like I said the Museum was ok, but we learned about another historic site not that far from town where we might see some moose! So one morning we went to Big Springs an Historic Natural Landmark. The springs are really beautiful and the spot was so majestic that Johnny Sack built a cabin here in the 1930’s with his own waterwheel. He leased this gorgeous spot (seriously my pictures don’t come close to doing it justice) from the Forest Service and built everything from scratch. Again this building is in remarkable shape and although we weren’t able to go inside the pictures I have seen are beautiful as well.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any moose but we are definitely going back when the crowds die down a little. This is prime ATV country and since we went on a weekend it was pretty crowded for such a remote spot. So no moose but I did learn about an Osprey nest a couple of miles outside of town and another day Lee and I stopped and I got some great pictures. There is so much to see and do here I don’t even think one summer is enough to do it all and I am officially claiming this as my favorite National Park we have seen so far.

Oh and one last thing.. Lee really enjoys returning to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center and one day got some awesome video of two bear sisters arguing over a big bone. Enjoy!

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Yellowstone -Lake Village and Natural Bridge

Yellowstone National Park is not very bike friendly, but there are a few trails to try so Lee and I took the bikes one morning to try a couple of the paths. Based on some information I got from a ranger, we decided to head out towards Lake Village. This was an area we had driven by several times, but it either wasn’t open or the timing wasn’t right. This day was bright and sunny though and the breeze coming off the lake was awesome.

Despite the directions I had we still couldn’t find the path, and ultimately stopped in the gift store to ask for directions. I think this is the last of the gift stores we hadn’t seen in the park and I really loved the old building with the nautical theme.

The people at the gift store were very nice but even they weren’t sure exactly where the bike path was so we took the bikes out and went on a search. Finally Lee found the trail which was a mile long and pretty overgrown. It was pretty though, with great views of the lake, but to be honest it was quite a bit of fuss for a small payout. We did stop on our way back though and went into the Lake Village hotel which is really beautiful. One of the newer hotels in the park it had nice views and I really liked its layout and proximity to the lake.

Our second bike ride wasn’t that far away and we were headed to the Natural Bridge. Again this was roughly a mile, but in this case I am glad we had our bikes. It was a beautiful ride through the forest ending in a nice view of the Natural bridge. We had just missed some marmots in the area, but we saw lots of ground squirrels and there were berry bushes galore.

We could have left our bikes at the base of the bridge and walked up a rocky path to the top, but neither of us was really feeling it. It was getting pretty hot and the terrain was pretty rough so instead we headed back out after taking our pics. We were both glad we gave the bikes a try but I have to say in general bike riding in the park itself was just ok. I will talk more about why we cant just throw the bikes in the back of the truck in my upcoming Lectric Bike review, but suffice it to say they require both of us to get them in and out of the truck, which is a bit of a hassle for a short ride.

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Flagg Ranch/Grass Loop Road

After visiting Moose Falls we headed for our actual destination that day. Flagg Ranch or Grass Loop Road (I have seen the names used interchangeably on maps) is in the John D. Rockefeller Memorial parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. This 47 mile gravel road is closed in the winter and seems to be maintained by the BLM or National Forest Service in different sections. So be warned the road is in variable condition as you travel it, but if you are looking for a place off the beaten track this is definitely it.

The initial stretch of the road actually had several BLM and NFS rustic campsites and we did see many families camping there. The road was also grassland, then a burned out section from a forest fire, and ultimately dense forest. Grass Lake is also a popular spot and we saw several people fishing there. You sort of get a feel for what is a local hangout versus tourists and this was definitely locals.

One of my favorite parts of the day (and the reason we spent so much time on the road) was it was berry palooza. I have been looking for berries for awhile now and there were TONS along the road. I kept stopping and tasting…probably not the best idea…and many of them were so-so and others were bitter. Keeping in mind I have no idea what was toxic I took a tiny taste of most. I soon realized that I really needed a guidebook (I had no idea there would be so many varieties) and when I got home I ordered the Rocky Mountain State Wild Berries & Fruits field guide from Amazon.

I have to say I am a huge fan of this book. It is thick but carry sized and the berries are grouped by color for easier identification. Turns out LOTS of berries look the same and its really the leaves that helped me identify. As a disclaimer many of these berries look really similar (hence my issue trying to do this with the internet), but here are some of my identifications after the fact. Thankfully I only ate one that was mildly toxic and believe me it tasted like it. Here are a few of the MANY varieties I saw.

Saw lots of these Bush Honeysuckles which the book says are inedible but not super toxic

Never seen anything like these twinberry honeysuckles. VERY bitter on the tongue.
Mountain Ash edible but astringent. I didn’t try these
Rose hips, edible but bitter seeds
These bilberry’s were DELICIOUS!!! Ate lots of these.

Overall I am really excited I found a good berry in the wild and with my new field guide I will be ready next time! As great as that was though it wasn’t the best part of the drive. On a whim Lee stopped at the Cascade Creek sign (not far from the dam heading west) and we walked over to the edge and saw a really cool canyon with cascades. We took an old path along the water (not the trail itself) and went right down to the edge. It was absolutely gorgeous and what an unexpected surprise.

There were tons of berry bushes along the creek and best of all you could walk right out into the water and the stones were not super slippery. I was really surprised when Lee took his shoes off (a rarity) and went into the water. I joined as well and we had a great time walking around. It was a wonderful moment. If you know Lee you understand how unusual this was for Lee so enjoy the moment as I captured it.

Getting into the water barefoot. This was the hardest part

The water wasn’t that cold just strong current. LOVE the look on Lee’s face

It was great that the stones weren’t very slippery

Tada!!!

I loved it!

After the cascades the road went through more mountains with tons more berries. I was getting hungry though so I was glad when we saw the farmland up ahead that meant we were getting close to Ashton, ID. It was crazy how it went from dense forest to farmland, but it did and we stopped in the small rural town at an old fashioned drive through for a sandwich and some excellent ice cream! Overall really nice day just us and the dog and I thoroughly recommend it if you are in the area for awhile.

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Yellowstone – Moose Falls

My last post was about a well talked about area that was a bit of a disappointment but this one is all about a hidden gem. Moose Falls is the first thing you enter when coming into Yellowstone from the south entrance but it was only on our fourth trip past the area I even noticed the relatively small sign. Since we were headed in that direction I said I definitely wanted to stop and even knowing roughly where it was we almost passed it again.

There was a relatively small parking lot (with only one car in it) and the path was not immediately obvious. Since Jack needed a potty break anyway we decide to walk down it and came out at the top of a waterfall. From the top the view was pretty nice (including an old stone bridge) but it wasn’t until we walked down a very old stone carved path that the real magic happened.

View from the top
View downstream from the falls
Cool old stairs …I was glad I had my hiking boots on
And then voila

It was totally amazing and really like being in a fairy glade. We were the only ones there and there were no signs against anything. We could get into the water, we let the dog off leash, and the roar of the waterfall blocked out any road noises. I LOVED it!! So much that I am giving it its own blog post which I rarely do. Here’s the best of the many pictures.

Jack loved it
I loved it
And Lee loved it

Jack is Lee’s new favorite subject

It did start to get a little crowded at some point so we took off but I will definitely come back. I just kept saying how have we never heard of this place and Lee just shrugged as if to say who knows. I think my point is for every place that doesn’t live up to its press that are 2-3 that completely exceed them (if you can find them) which is what makes our National Parks such magical places.

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