As we drive over the Big Horn Mountain range, heading west
for the Big Horn Basin, we come to the Medicine Wheel site.
This pre-historic Medicine Wheel sits at 9,600 feet and is approximately ninety feet in diameter. Apparently used by ancient people for sun-sighting and religious purposes, there are alignments with the summer solstice sunrise and sunset, and star-sighting points distributed along the twenty-eight spokes of the wheel. It is one of the sacred places of the Native Americans of this area, who continue to use it as a place of prayer and meditation, often leaving personal articles in the fence that surrounds it.
As we crest the Big Horns and enter the windward side of the mountain range, the terrain becomes much more arid. This area is big sugar beet country.
It's also big sheep country, and shepherds still use horse-drawn sheepwagons to live in while they watch over their flocks in this vast land.
The town of Thermopolis (Greek for hot city) is the site of hot mineral springs said to have legendary healing qualities...whether you drink the water, or just opt to soak in it! ;-)
Herds of wild horses thunder through the Basin now, but at one time it was home to a very different thundering critter....the dinosaur.
Thermopolis hosts the Wyoming Dinosaur Center and Dig Sites, a 16,000 square foot complex with a museum, working dig sites and a lab, offering interpretive dig-site tours.
A somewhat less ancient but still impressively historic attraction is the Legend Rock Petroglyphs display.
Hundreds of yards of sandstone cliffs contain at least 283 pictures on 92 rock panels, representing the work of three different cultural groups spanning from 500 A.D. to the 19th century.
The town of Cody, named for William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and boasting a population of 10,000, is a popular tourist destination. Located only 52 miles from Yellowstone National Park, Cody hosts a rodeo every Friday night throughout the summer, and is also the home of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
A 237,000 square foot, 3-story complex of four internationally acclaimed museums plus a research center, the BBHS sees nearly 250,000 visitors each year. James Michener once called it "The Smithsonian of the West." The visitor's pass is good for two days....and believe me, you'll need them both if you want to see everything!
Now I know if you're like every other visitor to Wyoming, you're chomping at the bit to see Yellowstone. Can't say I blame ya, but I'm going to draw out the suspense just a little bit longer! Instead of shooting straight from Cody through the Park's East Entrance, we're going to take the "Sunlight route" to the Northeast Entrance. Trust me, you'll thank me later. Go use the bathroom before we leave Cody. (You'll thank me for that advice later, too!) ;-)
Twenty miles north of Cody, we find the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. The Chief Joseph Highway was named for the leader of a band of Nez Perce Indians that eluded the U.S. Army on a 1,500-mile trek from Oregon through Yellowstone Park (and through the Clark's Fork Canyon) and Montana to the Canada border in 1877. The Army had been sent after the Nez Perce to force them onto a reservation. Just miles from the Canadian border - and freedom - winter and starvation forced Chief Joseph to surrender with his famous, "I will fight no more forever" speech. The scenic highway that bears his name is one of the prettiest in the state, taking us through the Shoshone National Forest, the Sunlight Basin, and over the Sunlight Creek Bridge.
The Sunlight Creek Bridge, Wyoming's highest elevation bridge, spans the Clark's Fork River Gorge. The Clark's Fork River is the only federally designated Wild and Scenic River in Wyoming, affording it strong environmental protection. The views of the river and gorge from the bridge are breathtaking in every direction. So take a minute to soak it in...because now we're off to Yellowstone (we'll have to pass through a pretty little piece of Montana to get there, but I'm sure those friendly Montanans won't mind! Just be sure to tip your hat as we pass through...if it hasn't blown off yet!)
"Home On The Range"