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Buffalo Bill Cody - The Real Deal

19 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Just a block from our campground in Cody was the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, so John and I and Jay walked there on Sunday for a tour. The Center is actually five museums - Buffalo Bill, Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Yellowstone, Plains Indian Peoples and Firearms. We spent about four hours in the museums, regrouping for lunch at the on site cafe. If you ever get a chance to visit, don't miss this world class offering. This blog article will just give you a taste...

Photograph, 1873, L to R: Eugene Overton, Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Texas Jack Omohundro, Elisha Green (all frontier scouts).

The Buffalo Bill museum was my favourite and it contained an astonishing collection of his personal possessions and other historic items including photographs and I was enthralled with his story. The museum displays provided the following interesting details of his life.

Cody earned his nickname 'Buffalo Bill' from his skill as a hunter. In 1868 he earned a whopping $500 a month supplying meat to workers on the Kansas-Pacific Railway. Guiding wealthy European and American sportsment on western hunts provided substantial extra income and contributed to his fame.

Cody's Buffalo coat and stetson hat (1880) and his ivory handled bowie knife (1860).

Cody became one of the US army's finest and best known scouts. Military reports credit his knowledge of western terrain, his marksmanship, his courage and endurance and his understanding of the Indian for his success. Most scouts and guides were hired for short periods of time, usually for single expeditions, but Cody was continuously employed from 1868 to 1872.

Buffalo hide coat with beaver trim (1871) and engraved nickel and gold plated Remington rifle (1866), both belonging to Buffalo Bill Cody.

In 1873, Cody formed the Wild West performing troupe that included Wild Bill Hickok and Texas Jack Omohundro, to re-enact Cody's frontier adventures. He appeared in theatres spring through fall and returned to scouting for the army in the summers. Audiences and newspapermen saw these men as the real thing, not actors, so the melodramas provided a foundation for the wild west myth.

Across Europe and America, the Wild West trains carried the show, its tents and equipment, to thousands of towns and cities. During one period, this army of performers and crew numbered more than 600, all of whom were fed three hot meals a day prepared on portable ranges more than 20 feet long. The show carried and cared for 500 head of livestock, including bison. Up to 80 Indians at a time performed in the troupe.

Lithographed posters such as this one were the principle means of show-business advertising in the 1800's. A one-sheet poster was usually 28" by 42". The Wild West show spent as much as $100,000 per season on posters.

As the Wild West toured the country, two train cars of advance men travelled one and two weeks ahead of the show, to arrange permits and licences, to buy provisions for the staff and feed for the livestock, to publicize and rent advertising space, and to paste up thousands of posters.

24-sheet lithograph printed 1898, Cincinatti. This is made of 24 separate lithographed sheets, pasted together into two large panels and would have been posted on the side of a barn or on a billboard fence called a 'hoarding'.

The show probably purchased over 1,000 copies of this billboard poster for the 1898 season at about $4 each and spent another $4 to install each billboard. In total the Wild West show used a half million poster sheets per year. Boy did they know how to market their business!

Photograph of Annie Oakley (1860-1926) the famous markswoman who starred in the Wild West from 1885 to 1901. Chief Sitting Bull called her 'Little Sure Shot'.

By 1901, more than one billion words had been printed about Cody. In the days before television, weekly 'pulp' magazines printed fictional adventure stories that used his face and name but little else that was true. And the legend lives on today!

Selection of period books and magazines featuring Buffalo Bill.

Gunfight in Cody

18 June, 2011 1 comment Leave a comment

We're glad we booked three nights at the Ponderosa Campground in Cody, Wyoming, because it is right in town and we can walk to everything. Our first full day there, after I did a fast four loads of laundry at the campground, we set out on foot to see what downtown offered.

First National Bank and Trust - Cody style! We admired this beautiful building with bronze sculptures of pronghorned antelope (shown here) and bighorn sheep (not shown). Cody must have a really strict bylaw to control the western look of the town.

The town of Cody was founded by 'Buffalo Bill' Cody and other folks in 1895. Evidently he was the best known American in the world during his lifetime. He worked for the US army as a scout and was well respected by the native people. In 1883 he created a travelling show depicting the frontier experience called 'Buffalo Bill's Wild West' which toured the US and Europe for 30 years.

Buffalo Bill built the Irma Hotel in 1902 as a rest stop for visitors to Yellowstone National Park and kept two suites and an office there for his personal use. The hotel is still in use today and we had lunch in the dining room there.

This cherrywood bar in the Irma Hotel was built in 1902 and is the most photographed spot in Cody. Notice the tin ceiling too.

Six nights a week, a mock gunfight is performed in the street outside the Irma Hotel, so of course we had to see it. The show is put on by volunteers from June to September each year and visitors can stand and watch for free or pay $2 to sit in a chair. The actors have great costumes and use real guns with blank ammo so the performance felt authentic.

First of all, the bad guys strut around and plot to rob the bank...

The the sherrif confronts the bad guys and asks them to leave town...

Then comes the obligatory poker game that goes sour and someone is accused of cheating...

And of course one of the bad guys ends up dead in the street.

All the characters pose at the end for photos. Well done!

Rodeo Capitol of the World

17 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

It's Friday night in Cody, Wyoming and our new friends Jay and Carol are keen to see a rodeo. The campground staff let us know about the Cody Cattle Company, which is a dinner theatre a few blocks away, right next to the Cody Nite Rodeo. The four of us bought tickets for the whole shebang.

The evening started off with a scrumptious chuck wagon style buffet dinner (baked chicken, slow roasted beef brisket, potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, applesauce, cornbread, salad, brownies and lemonade). We sat on long benches at trestle tables. Then the entertainment came on - three world class guitar musicians playing a selection of bluegrass, rock'n'roll and western songs. Man, could they play!

"Foot-Stompin', Hand-Clappin', Live Western Music Show starring award-winning Ryan Martin and the Everywhere West Band!"

After the concert we donned our coats and moved to the outdoor rodeo arena, where rodeos are held every night in June, July and August. First on the roster was bronc busting (trying to stay on a bucking horse longer than anyone else). Not for the faint of heart I can assure you!

Did you know Cody is the Rodeo Capitol of the World? Who's gonna argue?

Some cowboys showed good form...

Most just held on for all they were worth...

But sooner or later they all fell off.

And lost their cowboy hats too!

Then came calf-roping.

Cowboys have to tie together three of the calf's legs to complete the competition. Note the horse is trained to keep tension on the lassoo rope around the calf's neck.

This cowgirl has lasooed her calf.

You just have to admire their skill.

And that was our taste of the west in Cody!

A Smokin' Good Time

17 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Yellow wildflowers carpet the Bighorn Mountains.

The Wyoming tourist info centre recommended we take our trailer through the southern mountain pass from Buffalo towards Yellowstone National Park. Apparently that highway had fewer switchbacks and steep grades, so we headed through the Bighorn Pass on Hwy 16. As it turns out, the northern pass on Hwy 14 was closed due to a mudslide so we had no choice anyway.

Still snow in the mountains in mid June.

We saw some great scenery and the temperature really dropped as we gained elevation.

The outside thermometer in our truck almost got down to the freezing point as we passed the highest elevation.

As we started the big descent, we caught up with a motor coach that was following a very slow moving tanker truck. We recognized the Jeep and kayak the coach was towing - the rig belonged to the Alaska-bound couple that we met at the Buffalo campground.  Their brakes were smoking and we were concerned for them because John said if they didn't stop and let their brakes cool, they would boil off their brake fluid and lose their braking ability.

That smoke is from their brakes overheating on this long descent through Bighorn Pass.

When the coach pulled off at an overlook, we pulled off behind them and they recognized us. We really hit it off and chatted with them a half hour or so until their brake lines cooled. They happened to be booked at the Ponderosa Campground in Cody for the same 3 days as we were. Their names were Jay and Carol, they were from Maryland and we exchanged cell numbers and email addresses.

View from the overlook. Notice the switchbacks and whitewater below.

So we followed Jay and Carol all the way to Cody (no more hot brakes!)and settled in at the Ponderosa Campground, which was right in town.

Dramatic scenery of Bighorn Pass. That is Jay and Carol's coach in front of us.

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Why Wyoming?

15 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Wyoming is one of the nicest states we have visited this summer. Why you say? It has lovely rolling hills, and with the heavy rains this spring the landscape is still green, not having faded to the usual dull gold of this dry region. While we were there the weather was mostly sunny and mild. And of course, Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, but more on that later.

Beautiful hills of Wyoming.

There is a feeling of prosperity in this state, so it did not surprise us to learn that the energy industry is thriving here. Wyoming has the largest coal deposits in the USA, and oil rigs and giant windmills dot the landscape here and there.

Open pit coal mining operation seen from Hwy. 16. Look how rich the deposit of black coal is! They just have to shovel it out of the ground.

We left Devils Tower in the northeast corner of the state and travelled west through Gillette, where we stopped for groceries at Albertsons and were really impressed. Lots of fresh meats and produce, although a bit pricey. I selected two fresh wild halibut filets for our supper and didn't notice until we left the store that they cost a whopping $26. Oh well...

The Indian Campground in Buffalo was our home for the next two nights and it is a wonderful shady place with huge cottonwood trees and large pull through sites. The campground store had an excellent selection of native southwestern jewellery that I managed to resist. After a walk towards downtown we grilled the fish on the BBQ and finally opened the bottle of champagne that had been in our fridge since we left home. The bubbly was to celebrate our first big voyage in our new Earthbound trailer. Brownies and ice cream finished off the delicious meal that we ate on the picnic table at our site.

That evening we walked around the campground and struck up a conversation with a couple who were camping in a motor coach and towing a Jeep with a kayak strapped to the roof. Turns out they are full time RVers on their way from Florida to Alaska this summer. We always enjoy meeting full-timers as they are well travelled, have interesting stories to tell and are full of helpful tips on RVing. Little did we suspect this couple would become good friends with us later on...

The next day we walked all the way downtown to visit the Sports Lure, which takes up 3 or 4 old storefronts in the historic section. Apparently fly fishing, hunting, kayaking and hiking are popular here in the mountains and this store had all the equipment you could ask for. I finally found hiking pants to fit me (the kind where the legs zip off to make the pants into shorts).

There was a fast creek running through the old downtown and on the bridge we saw a water level marker. It measured each foot up to 8 and instead of the 9 foot mark (which would have been over street level) it said "RUN!". The water was only at the 2 foot mark but we saw sandbags on the sidewalks in front of some stores near the bridge so apparently there was a flood watch of some kind.

We discovered a hiking trail that ran from downtown Buffalo along the river to near our campground. You can see the water is moving fast. No chance of us kayaking here I can assure you!

That evening we drove north a half hour to Sheridan for their monthly street festival. There was the usual array of sidewalk sale merchandise, booths from various businesses and charities, and two live music stages. One had a folk singer and the other had a country/rock band, both of which were quite good. We bought 'chicken fried steak' sandwiches from an outdoor food vendor and they were delicious. They are very close to schnitzel in our terminology. As we left the festival to drive back to Buffalo, it started to rain. Nice planning, JFR Tours!

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Wildlife at Devils Tower

13 June, 2011 4 comments Leave a comment

On our second and third days at Devils Tower we hiked a total of 8 km on the longer trails, which gave us some new views of the mountain.

John on the Joynes Ridge Trail, Devils Tower.

All we could hear was the wind in the pines and bird song - such a peaceful place.

There were dozens of trees knocked down in yesterday's thunderstorm and several blocked the trail so we had to climb over or go around lots of massive tree trunks.

Large Ponderosa Pines felled by the storm.

We found a shallow cave near the trail, carved by rainwater over the centuries.

John checking out a cave below Devils Tower.

We were lucky to catch a glimpse of the native inhabitants here and there, as these photos show.

Below Devils Tower is a large field called Prairie Dog Town.

Dozens of Prairie Dogs chirped to each other constantly, so the field was very noisy.

Our twin nephews Colin and Cameron tell me this is a mountain bluebird.

Deer in the woods.

This is the view of our campground from the mountain trail.

The river beside the campground obviously was high and running fast.

Belle Fourche River.

We very much enjoyed our few days at Devils Tower and recommend it highly to everyone passing that way. The next day we packed up and headed west a few hours towards the town of Buffalo, Wyoming.

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Devil of a Thunderstorm

13 June, 2011 2 comments Leave a comment

After our hike around Devils Tower we drove back to the campground for supper. While our potatoes were baking in the BBQ and our pork tenderloin was marinating, I took some photos of the dramatic cloud formations behind the mountain. Thunder and lightning filled the sky.

Thunderstorm over Devils Tower.

The clouds moved very fast in our direction and a few seconds after I took this photo, we ran for the shelter of our trailer because the hail started coming down and fierce winds and rain ripped through the campground. For about five minutes, horizontal rain plastered our trailer and truck with 1 cm hail and cottonwood leaves.

View out of our back window during the storm.

Remember I said we camped under a big shade tree? Not such a good thing during a severe thunderstorm! We heard a couple of big bangs on the trailer roof and could see branches on the ground. When the storm passed we went outside to assess the damage.

Our truck was so plastered with leaves that John said he had enough cammoflage to go hunting now!

I took this photo standing at the front of our trailer looking out onto the campground street. Note all the water and branches on the road. You can see the hood of our truck bottom right, plastered with leaves.

This big branch was lying behind our trailer and there is another one the same size lying on our roof. John climbed up on the roof, threw the branch to the ground and found no roof damage. Whew!

The storm quickly passed, the sun came out and we cleared all the branches from around our trailer into a big pile. Then we finished cooking supper and enjoyed a delicious dinner, but we did have to eat inside as the picnic table was very soggy...

After supper we took a walk around the campground and saw a half dozen large trees had fallen during the storm. Fortunately no trailers were hit and no-one was hurt.

Each evening the KOA campground shows the movie 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' in their outdoor theatre. This is the space alien movie that was filmed at Devils Tower back in the 1970's. We dressed warmly, took our lawn chairs and snacks to the outdoor deck and really enjoyed seeing the movie again on a big flatscreen TV, especially after touring the mountain earlier in the day. A very memorable day!

Devils Tower

12 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

From Deadwood we drove a few hours northwest, heading for Devils Tower, Wyoming. Along the way we chanced upon a 120 year old general store in the hamlet of Aladdin and stopped to have a look. It was full of antiques, new western style clothing and lots of touristy junk.

Second storey room in Aladdin General Store.

We had booked three nights at the KOA at Devils Tower and when we arrived, discovered to our delight that the mountain overlooked our campground. The KOA is really pretty, with lots of huge cottonwood and oak trees, and a small river runs along one side.

Our truck and trailer are on the right in the campground under a big tree and Devils Tower is on the left. Talk about a front row seat!

After setting up the trailer and having a quick lunch, we drove into the Devils Tower National Monument to hike around the mountain. We bought an $80 annual family pass that gives unlimited access to all US National Parks, Historic Sites and Monuments for the next twelve months.

Looking up at Devils Tower (back side).

There were four different trails so we started with the easiest one, which is also closest to the mountain, is paved and only takes 45 minutes. The weather was lovely and the views were spectacular!

View looking out from Devils Tower.

We went through the visitors' centre which told about the Indian legend of how the mountain was formed. As the story goes, seven Indian girls were pursued by a bear and jumped onto a big rock. The children begged the rock spirit to save their lives, so the rock grew so tall the bear could not reach the girls. The bear scratched the vertical grooves on the side of the mountain trying to climb. Trapped at the top, the girls became seven stars in the sky.

Painting of the Indian Legend of the origins of Devils Tower.

The scientific story is that the mountain is the remains of an underground lava flow 1.5 miles beneath an ancient volcano. The lava was plugged and slowly cooled in a vertical crystalline formation. The volcano and surrounding sandstone were slowly eroded away to reveal the plug. Which story do you like best?

Devils Tower (front side).

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Death in Deadwood

10 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

No, nobody died here recently, at least that I know of. But in 1876, Wild Bill Hickock was shot at the Number Ten Saloon in Deadwood and we got to see a couple of re-enactments while we were in town.

The actual Death Chair of Wild Bill Hickock.

We stayed two nights just outside of Deadwood at the KOA, a small but tidy campground constructed in tiers up the side of a mountain. Rather tricky to manoeuvre a big trailer around tight turns and very steep hills I thought, but John had no problem of course. The weather continues to be nice and mild (70's with occasional sunshowers). All of Deadwood is squeezed into little valleys so it looks like a small town but there are lots of casinos, hotels and stores and the western theme is very prevalent in their architecture.

Re-enactment of Wild Bill's Fatal Poker Game in downtown Deadwood.

In the morning I did four loads of laundry and right after lunch we caught the free hourly shuttle bus into downtown Deadwood. There was a hardware store with a owner-retiring-sale so we poked around in there and John picked up a few bits and pieces he needed for the trailer. We had a cold beer in a saloon, saw two re-enactments of the poker game and shooting of Wild Bill and enjoyed a display of famous movie cars in one of the casinos (James Bond car, the Love Bug, a Honda dirt bike owned by John Wayne).

We had overheard someone say the best burgers in town were at Mustang Sally's Cafe so we had a seat at their outdoor patio on the main drag. While we were enjoying our excellent cheeseburgers and draft beers, listening to live bluegrass music, a family sat down at the next table and they had a pet parrot with them. Some kids came over and the owner was very friendly and let them hold the parrot so I went over and had a go too!

Karen holding Crackers the Parrot, who is busy preening his feathers.

We caught the 6 pm shuttle back to the campground, just before it rained. We relaxed for the evening, doing some reading and playing on the computer. What a great day!

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Welcome to Wall Drug

09 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

South Dakota - gently rolling hills.

Continuing our westward jaunt through scenic South Dakota, we saw dozens of billboard signs, such as the one below, inviting us to visit Wall Drug.

John had been there before years ago while on a guys' motorcycle tour, so we pulled in to check out this complex of retail boutiques, cafes and historical displays. And we actually had a great time.

Front Entrance to Wall Drug, which takes up an entire city block.

Wall is a town on the edge of the Badlands and this attraction started out as a drug store in 1931. The business struggled during the Depression but when they started posting road signs on the highway advertising 'Free Ice Water' in 1936, the tourists began to flock there. Today during the summer, an average of 20,000 people visit Wall Drug daily. Omigosh!

We had lunch in the cafe and then walked around the shops, archades and displays. The highlight for me was that Wall Drug has over 300 original oil paintings of Western and Illustration art in their private collection and these pieces are displayed in the dining rooms and hallways between the stores. Unfortunately photography was not allowed, otherwise I would love to share with you some of the fabulous art works we saw grouped on the walls. There was also a display of black and white photo portraits of famous Indian Chiefs that intrigued me. Altogether, a very worthwhile and interesting spot!

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