The Wild West of Wyoming
Searching for the authentic in a land built on legend? In Wyoming, the two coexist in the most beautiful way.
The nightly summertime tradition, going strong since the 1950s, earned Cody the title of Rodeo Capital of the World, and it draws large crowds looking for cold beers, a starry sky, and the chance to watch some of the best bull and bronco riders in the country. Each event features about half a dozen high-adrenaline contests, like steer wrestling and barrel racing.
HOT SPRINGS FEVER
The next day, we load up on homemade biscuits and gravy, sausage, and home fries atPeter's Cafe Bakery and then go in search of Western shirts. The Traditions West Antique Mall on 12th Street delivers. Among the racks of rusty signs and silver belt buckles, we find a trove of flashy cowboy shirts with snaps down the front and embroidered flowers.
Eighty-five miles down the road, past abandoned ranches and abundant patches of purple irises, we arrive in Thermopolis, a small town with a huge mineral hot spring gushing 3.6 million gallons of water each day. Josh and I put on our swimsuits and take a tension-melting dip in the 104-degree waters atHot Springs State Park, a free public recreational area with indoor and outdoor pools fed by the spring.
About an hour and 45 minutes south, after passing through tunnels carved from 600-million-year-old granite, we pull into the town of Lander at 9:30 p.m. and are disheartened to find most everything closed. The owner ofCowfish, a restaurant with an on-site microbrewery and an organic vegetable garden, takes pity on us and puts in our order as the last one of the day. We spend the night at thePronghorn Lodge, a no-frills motel next to the Popo Agie River.
THE ACTION IN JACKSON
Rock formations are Lander's claim to fame, from the area's hundreds of challenging climbing spots to theSinks Canyon State Park, named for the way the Popo Agie River disappears into underground limestone caves for about half a mile before rising and reemerging. Josh and I don't have enough time for a climb, so we take a walk by the river's edge and toss fish food from a dispenser in the park to a school of trout who nose right up to the surface to eat.
On our way back west, we pull off at the one-road town of Dubois (pronounced "doo-boys") and grab a booth and a bowl of chili at theCowboy Cafebefore continuing on toward Jackson. Once we clear the Togwotee Pass, the snowcapped Tetons come into view. By the time we reach the resort town, at 6,237 feet above sea level, the temperature has dropped at least 10 degrees. As the sun sets, Josh and I walk under the town square's four elk-horn arches, made up of thousands of shed horns recovered on the National Elk Refuge.
With fancy new shops and cafés, Jackson threatens to become another Aspen or Vail, a little too glossy for its own good, but the 73-year-oldMillion Dollar Cowboy Bar, with antique rifles in glass cases and a bar covered by more than 600 silver-dollar coins, retains the best of the town's original spirit. In spite of its status as a well-oiled tourist trap, the bar is still popular with locals, who watch country bands six nights a week from leather-saddle bar stools. Out here, under these wide-open skies, there's plenty of room for a little artifice alongside the authenticity.
Old Faithful Inn
307/344-7311, travelyellowstone.com, doubles from $93
The Irma Hotel
1192 Sheridan Ave., Cody, 800/745-4762, irmahotel.com, doubles from $100
150 E. Main St., Lander, 307/332-3940, pronghornlodge.com, from $99
FOOD & DRINK
Old Faithful Inn Dining Room
307/545-4999, buffet $30
214 Yellowstone Ave., Cody, 307/527-5500, cassies.com, buffalo-and-elk burger $14
Peter's Cafe Bakery
1219 Sheridan Ave., Cody, 307/527-5040, peters-cafe.com, biscuits and gravy $5.50
Cowfish128 Main St., Lander, 307/332-7009, landerbar.com, sandwich $9
Cowboy Cafe115 E. Ramshorn St., Dubois, 307/455-2595, chili $3.50
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
25 N. Cache St., Jackson, 307/733-2207
Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center
Moose, 307/739-3300, nps.gov/grte
Yellowstone National Park Visitor Center
Buffalo Bill Historical Center
720 Sheridan Ave., Cody, 307/587-4771, bbhc.org, $15