Wild West Wyoming Winter Tour

Buffalo Bill – The Scout Statue outside the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.

Over the winters I’ve gone to Cody, Wyoming for the ice climbing in the South Fork of the Shoshone River. Each of these trips consisted of arriving to Cody well after dark, driving up the canyon before sunrise, whacking ice all day, returning to town late, eating one pot meals off a single burner stove in a motel room, sleeping, then repeating the process until I was too tired to continue. The trips always ended with a bleary-eyed drive home to Salt Lake City without ever exploring the town and its surroundings. This February I fell into an opportunity to fix all that.

The North Fork of the Shoshone River, Park County, Wyoming.

Travel Wyoming had put together a Wild West Wyoming Winter Tour through the northwest corner of the state. Two days in and around Cody and one day in Thermopolis. Through luck, persistence, and perhaps a lack of oversight from Travel Wyoming, I managed to get an invite and before they could rescind or catch their error I was on the road rolling north through the sage plains of central Wyoming.

Sheridan Avenue, Cody, Wyoming.

Below the eastern slopes of the Absaroka Mountains near the banks of the Shoshone River is the town of Cody. The main drag through town, Sheridan Avenue, runs east/west and is lined with western themed hotels, cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops, all tipping their hats to the area’s frontier past.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.

The tour began by meeting the rest of the crew of Brandon Eckroth, Courtney Steeves, Jenna Spesard, and Tia Troy at the Yellowstone Regional Airport then heading down Sheridan Ave to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. At first glance you could easily write the center off as a tourist trap, but that would be wrong. Within its walls are five museums. And when I say five, I mean that each of them could easily be stand-alone destinations in any metropolitan area. The Cody Firearms Museum houses the largest collection of American-made firearms in the world. The Whitney Museum of Western Art is a fascinating look at the western United States through the eyes of numerous artists and mediums. The Plains Indian Museum is a comprehensive look into the evolving lives of the Plains Indians. The Buffalo Bill Museum is focused on the life of guide, scout, frontiersman, actor, showman, and founder of Cody who became an American icon. The Draper Natural History Museum is an in-depth journey that takes you deep into greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Our entire group agreed that there are so many things to see and study at the Center of the West that one visit is definitely not enough. Luckily, a pass to the center is actually good for two days. I will definitely go back.

English double barrel flintlock shotgun, Cody Firearms Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
The Scout Bronze Statue of Buffalo Bill Cody as seen from the Whitney Western Art Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
Teddy Roosevelt bust from the Rough Rider bronze, Whitney Western Art Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
Seasons of Life gallery, The Plains Indian Museum, Buffalo Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
Arrow Heads, The Plains Indian Museum, Buffalo Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
Dime Novels, Buffalo Bill Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
A-Frame Western Saddle, Buffalo Bill Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
Manaco Tree Slice, Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
Bobcat, Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.

After having my mind blown at the Center of the West we drove down the avenue to the Cody Firearm Experience. The owner Paul Brock, a former curator for the Cody Firearms Museum, had the brilliant idea of combining the history of firearms in America with a gun range, giving visitors a one-of-a-kind interactive experience. A prominent display of replica firearms at the entrance shows the history and evolution of the guns in the West. Visitors have their choice of which firearms to use, ranging from way back up to the latest makes and models.  Under Paul’s supervision we were allowed to squeeze off a few rounds. Our group settled on a Colt Walker Conversion revolver (cowboy gun) and a Winchester Colt 45 Rifle. Paul offered up a Gatling gun to test out, but none of us had the nerve.

Paul Brock demonstrates how to fire at the Cody Firearms Experience, Cody, Wyoming.
Colt 45 Revolver, Cody Firearms Experience, Cody, Wyoming.
Paul Brock demonstrates to Courtney Steeves how to fire at the Cody Firearms Experience, Cody, Wyoming.
Brandon Eckrpth at the Cody Firearms Experience, Cody, Wyoming.
Courtney Steeves with her target at the Cody Firearms Experience, Cody, Wyoming.

Day two began in the dark with a predawn drive up the North Fork Highway, not too different from my previous visits to Cody. But for this early start we were rewarded with a technicolor light show above the Shoshone River. After a quick photo snapping session, we met Terry Dolan from Gary Fales Outfitting in the tiny town of Wapiti then headed west to where they stopped plowing U.S. Highway 14. Terry would be guiding us on a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone. We suited up as he ran us through the operations of the sleds and the do’s and do nots of a winter tour in the park. Stay on the road, single file, obey the speed limit, and pull over as far as possible when we stop.

Jenna Spesard photographs the sunrise above the North Fork of the Shoshone River, Park County, Wyoming.
Terry Dolan, Jenna Spesard, Courtney Steeves, Tia Troy, and Brandon Eckroth out for a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Winter landscape of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Under cloudy skies we hummed into the park via the east entrance. Up to Sylvan Pass we wound our way along the snow-covered road and witnessed the scenery open up into swaths of evergreens, steep canyons, and stark ghost forests – loud reminders of wildfires from the recent past. Descending to Yellowstone Lake the horizon opened to an undefinable expanse layered with subtle hues of winter. Along the way Terry pointed out land marks and wildlife. Snowy bison, a lethargic coyote, trumpeter swans, and birds of prey. We stopped to eat lunch at the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut while Ranger Miller give us an update on the winter happening in Yellowstone. After lunch we made our way to the jaw dropping views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I’ve never really considered taking a snowmobile tour of the park before this trip but having experienced the undeniable beauty of Yellowstone in winter, without the crowds, the pressure, and expectations, I have to say that it’s something I won’t forget. If you have the opportunity I highly recommend it.

A frozen Yellowstone Lake in winter, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Two-headed bison, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
It’s mating season for coyotes in Yellowstone National Park. This fellow was seen relaxing near a thermal pond in Pelican Valley.
A popular lunch spot, Fishing Bridge Warming Hut, Yellowstone National Park.
A winter view of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

The temperature plummeted going into the third day of our trip making it the perfect time to head to Hot Springs County. A short 85-mile drive through snowy pronghorn country landed us in the energy and tourism town of Thermopolis. Surrounded by mountains and sitting just north of the dramatic Wind River Canyon, Themop, as the locals call it, is home to one of the world’s largest natural hot springs and dinosaurs. That’s right, dinosaur remains were discovered in the area in the 1990’s and soon after the Wyoming Dinosaur Center was created. This paleontological gem is filled with life-size replicas, prehistoric skeletons, and numerous dioramas, a visit to the center is an awesome look back to a land before time and makes for a perfect pre-hot springs outing.

A herd of pronghorn in the sage plains between Thermopolis and Meeteetse, Wyoming.
Bronze cowboy and horse in downtown Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming.

Water from the Big Horn Spring flows over beautiful mineral colored terraces into the river at the north end of Thermopolis. This spring, which has been used by native Americans for millennia, was sold to the government from the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes through a treaty in 1896 with the condition they remain free to the public. Hot Springs State Park with it trails, swinging bridge, flower gardens, boat launches, bison herd, parks, picnic areas, and free public bathhouse is the result.

The terraces flowing into the Bighorn River, Hot Springs State Park, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
The terraces flowing into the Bighorn River, Hot Springs State Park, Thermopolis, Wyoming.

Full disclosure; I’ve been to Thermopolis several times during summer climbing and camping trips to Ten Sleep Canyon. At only sixty miles away the free bathhouse offered a great rest day recovery activity with the added bonus of a free shower! But, soaking in the public bathhouse’s outdoor pool in the middle of winter, with a water temperature near 104 degrees and an air temperature in the teens, was more refreshing than can be described. Doing it alone on Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone had gone home to watch the game, was more priceless than the admission.

The indoor pool at the free-to-the-public Bath House at the Hot Spring State Park, Thermopolis, Wyoming
Courtney Steeves and Brandon Eckroth enjoy the outside pool at the free-to-the-public Bath House at the Hot Spring State Park, Thermopolis, Wyoming

After having a good long soak, I opted for a quiet walk in the park while the rest of the crew headed into the Wind River Canyon. Watching the steam rise over Smoking Water Park is as amazing as the ice formations that cling to the mineral terraces. Making my way across the swinging bridge, over the Big Horn River I was given a fabulous vantage point of the entire park.

Trees at the Smoking Water Park, Hot Springs State Park, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Bison silhouettes at the Smoking Water Park, Hot Springs State Park, Thermopolis, Wyoming.

The final morning of our trip was spent with Barb and Merlin Heinze at their place in Thermopolis. The visit was an incredible look inside the handcrafted fur and leather clothing trade. Merlin’s Hideout is a tannery, sewing studio, and custom clothing retail shop with a reputation for buffalo fur coats. Quick trivia: Merlin made eight buffalo coats for Kurt Russell’s character in the Quentin Tarantino movie “The Hateful Eight”. Stopping in and being shown around opened my eyes to a world I knew very little about and hearing Merlin’s story of making a pair of beaver gaiters for himself that quickly led to making a whole line of fur products for others was incredible. We concluded the visit with trying on a few of their jackets, being blown away by their warmth and comfort, and then promptly being turned down when asked if they would be willing to trade one for my nappy jacket.

Fox pelts at Merlin’s Hideout, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Merlin Heinze at the sewing machine, Merlin’s Hideout, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
The sewing process at Merlin’s Hideout, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Courtney Steeves with a coyote vest and hat, Merlin’s Hideout, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Tia Troy with a suede jacket and coyote hat, Merlin’s Hideout, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Jenna Spesard with a beaver vest, Merlin’s Hideout, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Brandon Eckroth models a coyote fur coat, Merlin’s Hideout, Thermopolis, Wyoming.

And just like that the trip was ending. Back in Cody after loading up the car and waving good bye I asked myself “why”. Why come to the northwest corner of Wyoming in the dead of winter? By default I’d be coming back for the ice climbing, but would I return for the history of the Wild West, Yellowstone, paleontology, or the hot springs? Or might I come again to meet and be inspired by folks living their very own American dream? While these thoughts ran through my head I recalled a quiet moment from the first day of the trip.

Brandon Eckroth walking Sheridan Avenue, Cody, Wyoming.

Before meeting the rest of the crew, I’d walked east along Sheridan Avenue leaving the shops and restaurants behind. At the top of a short hill I looked west over town to the Absaroka Mountains then turned my gaze north to Heart Mountain. Soaking up the scene I was startled by a prairie falcon sitting on a fence post not 20 feet from where I stood. At first the bird gazed at me with one eye then rotated its head and looked at me with the other. It repeated this a few times shaking its head before taking flight.

Prairie falcon on a post, Cody, Wyoming.

I’ll definitely be coming back to Cody and Thermopolis for the climbing and so much more. And next time it’ll be for a lot longer.

#WildWestWY

Recommended lodging –

Holiday Inn Cody at Buffalo Bill Village

Best Western Plus Plaza Hotel, Thermopolis

Recommended restaurants –

Wyoming Rib and Chop, Cody, Wyoming

The Local, Cody

Irma Hotel Restaurant and Saloon, Cody

Brewgards, Cody

Rawhide Coffee Company, Cody

One Eyed Buffalo Brewing, Thermopolis

 

Make It Look Like…

Moon Star camp, Stough Creek Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

“Louie, you should try and make it look like you’re actually doing the activity. If it’s camping make it look like you’re actually camping, if you’re running make it look like you’re really running…” Five years ago I received this advice from a friend who had been working in the outdoor industry for nearly 30 years. I believe he was talking about authenticity and not suggesting my work was too staged, unbelievable, and ultimately, shallow… err, at least I hope he wasn’t.

Kaitlyn Honnold and Chris Call explore Stough Creek Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

Fast forward to July 2016. The Scarpa North America team had hatched a plan to create new backpacking imagery for their 2017 season. Being big proponents of authenticity the plan was basic – go backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and make photos of people using their products in the field.

Backpackers Alexa Ault and Kevin Luby explore the Stough Lakes area of the Wind River Range, Wyoming.

Fully loaded for a night out under the stars five of us set out for the 9-mile hike. We wandered through scenic meadows and vibrant forests before being deposited into Stough Creeks Basin – a lake-filled canyon hovering near tree line with the summits of Atlantic Peak and Roaring Fork Mountain towering along the continental divide above. Stough’s was a fantastic mountain setting that we called home for a day and a half and also the perfect place to, “make it look like we were actually backpacking…”

Above it all. Backpackers Chris Call and Kailtyn Honnold soak up the view of Stough Creek Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

Winter’s Sunrise.

I have never regretted waking before dawn… Especially in the snowy months.

Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It's been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don't ask me why.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It’s been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don’t ask me why.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
April 2014. It's funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. It’s funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.

The road to Tensleep, Wyoming

Carissa Gold Mine, South Pass City, Wyoming.
Carissa Gold Mine, South Pass City, Wyoming.

I had been sitting on my hands for most of the summer. With a large sailing trip planned for September I convinced myself to lay low for the months of June and July. By the time August rolled around I could sit still no longer. I reached out and invited myself along for a few climbing trips. One to Saddleback Peak(Elephants Perch) and the other to Tensleep, Wyoming.

Shiho Kobayashi at the Carissa Mine, South Pass City, Wyoming.
Shiho Kobayashi at the Carissa Mine, South Pass City, Wyoming.

As the dates grew closer for the Tensleep trip the forecast took a turn. A few people backed out, but others, having taken time off from work were committed. As for me, my schedule was clear because it was a week before the trip to Europe and besides I was excited for time away from the desk and nights of sleeping on the ground. The morning we left the Salt Lake Valley it was raining heavily. Into Wyoming on I-80 we managed to pull out in front of the storm. Knowing it would eventually catch up to us we decided to take it slow and made a couple of stops along the way.

Dave, the barkeep, at the Atlantic City Mercantile.
Dave, the barkeep, at the Atlantic City Mercantile.
Phonograph, Atlantic City Mercantile.
Phonograph, Atlantic City Mercantile.
Cash register at the Atlantic City Mercantile.
Cash register at the Atlantic City Mercantile.

Just west of Lander, Wyoming are the small mining villages of South Pass and Atlantic City. I’d driven to Lander, Cody and the Wind Rivers before and each time had ignored these signs. My impression was that it would be a tourist trap. This time driving to Tensleep, knowing a rainy camp was the only thing we had to look forward, I figured, “Why not?”

The Carissa gold Mine of South Pass City was our first stop. Mining in the South Pass erupted in the 1860’s. The Carissa Mine operated into the 1950’s. At the turn of the 21st Century the State of Wyoming purchased the mine and reconstructed it for the public to see. During the summer months they offer tours. Turning off the main highway we rolled down the improved road until this mine interrupted the horizon of the high plains.

Scrabble at out rainy camp in Tensleep Canyon.
Scrabble at our rainy camp in Tensleep Canyon.
Pancake breakfast in Tensleep Canyon.
Pancake breakfast in Tensleep Canyon.

After Carissa we made the short drive to small collection of old cabins and eclectic homes in Atlantic City, where the city sign read, “Population about 54.” We stopped at the Atlantic City Mercantile for sarsaparillas. This bar and grill is filled with antiques and memorabilia and was brought back to the public’s attention by Robert Redford and National Geographic. Built in the late 1800’s it was shuttered in the first half of the 20th Century then reopened in the 1960’s with its original name and look. Dave, the barkeep for the last twelve years, informed us they were fresh out of sarsaparilla so we had to settle for barley pops instead. Yes, it felt like I was tourist, but man it was till cool to stop and check out the history.

Camp fire at Tensleep Canyon camp.
Camp fire at Tensleep Canyon camp.
Sleeping in the mud in Tensleep Canyon.
Sleeping in the mud in Tensleep Canyon.

We did eventually make to Tensleep Canyon and did wait out the rain for another day before actually climbing. I stayed away from the desk, slept in the mud and did get a little climbing in to boot.

Paul on Happiness in Slavery, Tensleep Canyon.
Paul on Happiness in Slavery, Tensleep Canyon.
Shiho on Number One Enemy, Tensleep Canyon.
Shiho on Number One Enemy, Tensleep Canyon.

Plan B

Cindi Grant hikes along Mocassin Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming.I just returned from a trip to Wyoming where I had a blast with split-boarders Kordell Black, Zach and Cindi Grant. With rain and snow happening in the Wind River Range for much of the month we waited for the forecast to improve. Unfortunately this also put us a few weeks late to enter the Wind Rivers from the Dickinson Park trail head. Starting at 9500′ we were in the mud and patches of slushy snow. After a few miles we got a view of Baptiste Cirque, nice and snowy, but the rest of our approach looked to be 15 miles of the same muddy and punishing terrain. With the addition of boards, skis and boots on our backs we decided to retreat to the Tetons for plan b.Zach and Cindi Grant and Kordell Black view the Tetons.Down time at Shadow Mountain Camp with Cindi Lou Grant, Tetons.
The fact that we could see plenty of lies from our camp at Shadow Mountain made choosing our objectives easy.
Day one was a four am start that put us 300 feet below the summit of Buck Mountain on its east ridge before turning around, concerned with daytime heating.
Day 2 was a 3 am start leading up the Spoon Couloir and on top of Disappointment Peak in good conditions and great views.
Day 3 We slept in until 330 am and leisurely made our way into Garnet Canyon for a stomp up and down the West Hour Glass Couloir.Dawn Patrol in the Tetons with Zach and Cindi Lou Grant.Kordell Black makes a stream crossing in Stewarts Draw, Tetons.Cindi Lou Grant on The boot track up the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.The boot track up the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.Korrdell Black on the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.Zach and Cindi Grant booting up Disapointment Peak, Tetons.Zach Grant rides the snowfields of Disapointment Peak, Tetons.Cindi Lou Grant drops the Spoon Couloir in the Tetons.larevalo_wyoski1_0514_0272

Maybe next year we can get into the Winds earlier, but first we’ll need to catch up on some sleep and get back to our summer work…God's light over the Tetons.

Damn toes.

larevalo_moran14_0114_0026I have strange feet. Morton’s toe, sixth toe, fat toes, and eeee width. Usually I don’t notice them, but when it comes to putting them in climbing shoes, boots and ski boots I am well aware of them and have tried to take care. This past January I did a terrible job.

larevalo_moran14_0114_0055It was during an outing in the Tetons. We hoped to snag the first winter ascent of the Triple Glacier Route on the north side of Mt Moran. On day one our group skied across Jackson Lake and climbed up to a camp on the north shoulder. No feet problems.

larevalo_moran14_0114_0082The second day we woke to fierce winds and sub-zero temperatures (in Jackson they reported -20). Bundled to the max we made our way to the Triple Glaciers, spied a possible path from the glacier, up the snow tongue to a section of rock that connected to the upper snowfields. If we could make it there we hoped to make it to the summit. Above the glacier we wallowed in waist deep faceted snow in a 50-degree couloir. We searched for protection and positive edges in the glacially polished rock next to the couloir, but never found any. The guidebook had described the rock as unpleasant. After some back and forth and up and down, we chose to retreat. So much standing around and my toes had gone numb.

larevalo_moran14_0114_0094Going up had been relatively easy, but for my friend from California, going down was a bit more daunting. He deliberately set each of his limbs in the sugary slope. Left foot, right foot, left ice ax and right. I marched in place trying to will the blood back to my toes and spoke to him calmly about sunshine and women. I didn’t want him to rush. An accident up there was out of the question.

larevalo_moran14_0114_0140Eventually we were back on the glacier, moving, blood pumping and out of harms way. In the tent I found my toes to be white and insensitive. The next morning the big toe of my right foot was swollen. I gritted my teeth and stuffed my foot into my boot. There was only one way back to the car so I grinned and went down. It hurt.

larevalo_moran14_0114_0206The following night, in a warm bed, I didn’t sleep. My toes throbbed. Closer inspection revealed a blister beneath my big toe nail and two pea-sized white spots that eventually turned black. The rest of the toes were still numb despite being warm to the touch. This was not happiness.

Three months after the fact I finally lost the nail on my big toe and have regained sensation in all my toes. My feet may be weird, but I hope they stick around.Bare feet after a season in ski boots.