Buffalo Bill's Hotel in Cody, Wyoming
My First Stay
I've been curious about this hotel since Don returned from a business trip 20+ years ago. "You wouldn't believe this place!" He said, describing the creaky old hotel on a cold windy night. There had been a door in his room leading out to the terrace. He woke in the night when the door flew open. I loved the image of the deserted town and nearly empty hotel. But when we arrived last September it was not so quiet. The porch area was crowded with eager tourists.
Back in the Day
The Irma, named for Bill Cody's daughter, was built not long after Buffalo Bill Cody co-founded the town. He'd made a lot of money from his Wild West Shows that took him all over the world. There were no cars in this photo from 1908 ... just horses, wagons and carriages.
No Cars on This Day
Cars weren't present on the afternoon when we arrived, either. That's because, the streets were blocked off, as they are every evening from June through September. Tourists can rent a chair for $2.00 and enjoy a little shoot-out with Buffalo Bill and some outlaws. I don't want to sound like a "been there, done that snob", but on a 4-week road trip out west, you actually see a lot of these mock shoot-outs. We enjoyed a brief view and photo, as we crossed the street to head away from the crowded hotel for a while.
All Lit Up
When we returned, the neon Irma Grill sign was all lit and the streets were open again. Time to settle in and enjoy our fun little hotel.
We passed by numerous mounted friends on the wall, before heading up the stairs to find our room. There were a lot of celebrity friends of The Irma that I would like to have met, but they are long gone. Wild West guests like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane would have kept things lively. I imagine the artist, Frederick Remington was a very different kind of guest. But what do I know? His paintings and sculptures depict some of the wildest scenes of the west, so maybe he whooped it up like the rest of 'em!
The Irma Suite
We wandered the flowery halls searching for our room. Floral wallpaper, floral carpets... and wonderful door-sized windows.
We didn't just stay in one of the historic rooms, we were guests in the very room that Irma once called her own. Irma's mother owned the hotel until her death in 1925, and I'm not quite sure what became of Irma. But, she was looking down on us from her portrait above the bed. And she looked pretty pleased, as if she had just finished decorating the suite with its mighty fine mix of patterned wallpapers, fabrics and carpet!
Our corner room was comfy and clean, with radiators and a chain-pull toilet, to keep things feeling old. There were nice updates with retro tile and a nice flat screen TV mounted to the exposed brick wall. There was lots of space to spread out and if we'd come for a week, we could have put the very large closet to use. It was an interesting storage space, with no pole or hangers. But I did count 14 hooks.
I always try my best to appreciate any room view. Our front windows had a nice little view of Sheridan Avenue and the Art Deco theatre across the street. Best of all we had the fine, Irma Restaurant and Grill sign! I guess Mr. Cody never had the fun of seeing his hotel with neon. Luckily we also had sturdy blinds, for when we didn't want to enjoy the neon glow.
Looks Like a Saloon
There was a tin ceiling and a moose looking down at a few cowboy hats. There was a chandelier made of antlers and best of all, the Cherrywood Bar that I'd heard about. But we were told, "No this is The Grill, the saloon is through that doorway."
Silver Saddle Saloon?
This wasn't part of the saloon either. These wonderful wooden booths with little buffalo shaped hat hooks and framed portraits and lots and lots of flags, was all part of the big Irma Grill with the cherrywood bar. I don't have a photo of the saloon because it wasn't photo worthy. Just a '60's era bar, glowing with Monday night football TVs. But we did have a drink and a nice chat with locals about how friendly Cody used to be back in the day... and how frustrated the ranchers get when they lose their livestock to the wolves...and how there's nothing you do when you meet up with a mama grizzly...
Queen Victoria's Bar!
We finally got our chance to sit at the beautiful carved bar that was a gift from Queen Victoria to Buffalo Bill. She fell in love with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show when it performed in London. Don and I absorbed the beautiful details as we ate a French Dip sandwich and taco salad, served by a terribly serious young summer worker from Bulgaria.
So Many Buffalos
As I stared up at the sweet carved critter on the top of the bar, I began to wonder just how many buffalo figures there were in the hotel. Then I started to wonder what Buffalo Bill would think if he saw these tourists sitting at and near his beautiful cherrywood bar. A display case of old rifles took over the space where whisky bottles would have been at home. Glass shakers of sugar, salt and pepper cluttered the bar counter instead of mugs and shot glasses. I guess maybe he would be glad to just know the hotel was still there.
Dreaming of Buffalo
It was a treat just walking up that old stairway to our room that night. Luckily all was quiet on the streets below, on a Monday night. I expected to dream of buffalo since we'd seen so many buffalo reminders in the hotel. Besides, we'd started our day driving through a meandering herd as we left Yellowstone Park. But I don't think I encountered a single one in my dreams.
Bill Cody made his money playing to the tourists and his hotel is still doing that. I guess that makes it all work out. I'm just glad we weren't there in the summer with carloads of traveling families or caravans of bikers. And maybe I'm glad we weren't there on a cold and windy winter night!
"Wylie's Lake Camp"
Before this lodge was built in 1920, William Wylie ran a camp here, for tourists who slept in colorful, striped tents on wooden platforms. Eventually they built this lodge for dining and recreation. There are still no guest rooms in the lodge, but eventually the sleeping tents were replaced with cabins.
Our Pioneer Cabin, C-14
Don and I checked in at the lodge and took our key up the hill to the "Pioneer" and "Frontier" cabins. In 1929, there were 250 cabins and today there are about 180. The Pioneer cabins were the older, less updated of the two cabin options.
I'm always game to stay in the less modernized rooms. But the weeds and worn steps made the little cabin seem a tiny bit neglected.
But Don and I were more amused than concerned about our dated room. It was perfectly clean and that's really all I cared about. The fishing themed bedspread looked like something June Clever would have picked for Beaver and Wally's room. The window, above the bed was actually pretty charming, with a view of pine trees.
Sink & Water Heater
The wall near the bathroom was cluttered with important things. Between the ceramic sink and the hot water heater, there was a maze of connecting pipes and covered electrical cords. In fact the whole room had intriguing connections.
Plumbing Pipes and Locking Gadgets
The bathroom revealed more pipes. Again, all was clean, but the paint on the inside of the metal shower stall was peeling. The door locking system was a curious one. But no worried, since Yellowstone is incredibly safe. Unless bears can operate those locks!
I must go back and focus on that sink one more time. A two faucet requires a little extra work for face washing, unless you don't mind using icy or scalding water on your face. I have to give them credit for providing a stopper plug, so I could mix the water. And then I had an option of soaps! National Parks steer away from wasteful individual soaps and disposable bottles. But I had big choices here! The pump bottles provided nice quality facial soap and lotion AND I had a "real" soap in the shape of a bear. He traveled home in my suitcase.
We actually didn't mind our little cabin at all. It was especially nice since we were traveling with ukuleles which can be a problem, when you have thin walls. But the best place to spread out and enjoy some free time, was at the lodge.
Corner Bar and Fireplace
There was a small bar that opened in the evening and there were two fireplaces which were in use. In the morning we enjoyed some coffee in front of the rock faced hearth. We didn't even have to share the fire with anyone.
The Dining Room
This spacious old dining room had big windows looking out towards the lake. The food was served cafeteria style, so we opted for a trip up the road to another hotel for dinner. However, breakfast was perfect. After two weeks on the road, we were getting tired of being served. It was nice to just pour our own coffee and pay for a yogurt and sit wherever!
The ritzy Lake Hotel was just one minute up the road. The The old Colonial looking hotel was quite ritzy in comparison. The guests were wearing nicer clothes than us and the menu prices were a bit steeper. I'm sure the rooms didn't look like our cabin, either. Funny though, the hotel had the the same lake view as our lodge, but where were the rockers? I don't even think they had a real porch.
Luckily we made good use of our lodge porch before we went to dinner. We grabbed 2 "front row" rockers and stared out at the water across the grassy field.
Pretty soon the porch chairs were all in use and we had a pretty nice time sipping our drinks and chatting with our fellow rockers...
...or at least some of them.
The couple to my right talked about how their Yellowstone Trip was planned around spreading a relative's ashes. We rocked and talked and it felt oddly like we were residents in a home for the aged... in a peaceful, not gloomy way. Then "Debbie Downer" sat down next to Don. She started a monotone conversation with Don by asking where he was from. "Oh you're from Texas? I'm sorry..." She used this as an intro to her poorly executed joke, with a punchline that I'm guessing was supposed to make fun of Texas. She'd obviously been waiting to meet a Texan so she could try it out.
Safe at Sunrise
Don and I were determined to catch sunrise over Yellowstone Lake the next morning. We were also determined to lug along our protection since we promised our kids we would be smart travlers in bear country... and not make them orphans. Our son had visited Yellowstone a couple months earlier, the same week a park employee was mauled to death by a grizzly. Scott gave us his unused bottle of Bear Mace, which was a requirement for wilderness camping. I carried extra protection, a primitive jingle instrument which would hopefully scare any bears away, before mace was needed.
It was so lovely and peaceful as we walked along the shore. I spent part of the walk trying to mute the annoying jingle sounds coming from my bag as I walked. We clearly were not in an area where bears hang out.
The sun rose over the mountains and it was officially morning! It was such a stunning view and so very different than 24 hours earlier when we saw the sun rise through the steam of Old Faithful geyser. I liked this sunrise even better.
Back to Camp
We hiked back to the lodge... which is really not a camp. But it so reminded me of two camp memories from my youth. The first, was a 2-night cabin stay with my Campfire troop... lanyards and poison ivy is about all I remember. The second was a two month experience as a camp counselor at Camp Waziyatah (for wealthy girls from New York) in Harrison, Maine.
My memory of our stay at Lake Lodge will always be a blend of two cozy worlds... the cabin and the lodge. It was an odd combination of Summer Camp and Old Folks Home! That sounds bad, but there was something sweet and simple about it! The fall travelers who filled up those lodge rockers were mostly retired. They had the time to stop and enjoy and chat with each other. Back at the cabin, I felt like a kid at camp. I wanted to move in a bunch of cots and gather my friends to join Don and me with flashlights and ghost stories!
Yellowstone National Park
I grew up imagining Yellowstone Park from images I had seen on The Wonderful World of Disney and Yogi Bear cartoons. In more recent years I've spent a lot of time studying a large framed print that Don and I acquired. It's a painting of the original "Old House" with its steep, gabled roof. Less than two months ago, I finally got to lay my eyes on the real thing.
We arrived about 4 pm and the grounds were bustling with tourists. The eight fluttering flags on the roof seemed to add to the giddy atmosphere. The Old Faithful geyser was already sputtering and teasing a crowd that gathered on the walkway. When the geyser finally erupted, there were cheers and cameras clicking and I had to remind myself this was real and I wasn't at Disney World. There's one piece of drama that we didn't get to see. We were 67 years too late to see the geyser illuminated at night. They removed the "searchlights" from the roof walk in 1948.
I had to wait till late at night to get a picture of the red doors opening to an empty lobby. I wish I had also gotten a photo of the crowds earlier. It was quite a sight to see the lobby floor, buzzing with guests, holding luggage handles or cups of coffee or ice-cream cones... all looking upward.
Enjoying Every Angle
After checking in, Don and I couldn't stop wandering. We had to view the interior from every level and angle.
I had seen photos before, so I knew about the impressive 7-story interior. But I felt like a little kid, gasping at the sight of Santa for the first time. How is it possible that a 29 year old man designed this? And how is it possible that they had the knowledge and equipment to start building such a structure in 1903?
Eight Hearths and a Clock!
And there were 4 large hearths on each face of the chimney, with 4 more tiny ones at the corners! (Enough space for every child-guest to hang a Christmas stocking!) Only 2 of the original 8 hearths still operate, but the original custom ironwork clock still tics and tocs.
Love Them Stairs!
We did a lot of stair climbing, looking for the best views and best seats. The crooked railings and swooping banisters were just comical. I could picture Yogi and BooBoo sliding down that polished wood! Actually, many of the logs were once covered in bark. I wonder how much bark was peeled off by curious kids... or banister riders?
Don and I tried out rockers and cozy leather sofas on both of the levels of balconies. Peering down over the railing, it felt like we were in an old opera house watching a show of people below. Actually, later that night we did see a "show". We sat near the clock's hypnotic pendulum and enjoyed the sound of music coming from a piano tucked into a corner across from us. It was late and there were mostly empty chairs. It almost felt like a private concert. Then the performer, closed her piano and took out a cello. She moved to a chair by the railing and ended her performance with the most beautiful piece, that I vaguely recognized. The lovely sound was dreamlike as it floated into the open space. She finished and Don and I raised our hands high to clap. Others in different areas of the lodge joined in.
So Much to Study
Early and late when there were fewer people to watch, we still found much to study while sitting in those fabulous chairs. The whimsical supports and beams were constantly reminding me... "Yes, wood comes from trees." You can't forget that. It's hard to imagine how many trees were cut down to make this lodge, yet how wonderful to see the character of each tree revealing itself, with all its twists and curves! And look how they clean those endless poles and beams! What a surprise to spot the young man using a towel and rope to dust, where no white glove would ever reach!
breaks from college, 40 years ago. She said she remembered sneaking up there at least once per summer. "...even though we knew we'd be fired if caught."
What About Accommodations?
Original rooms in the "Big House" can cost over $500. 00, if you want a bathroom and view. If only Don and I had known to request one of the rooms along the "loggy" hall downstairs. The hall itself was charming, like a Lincoln Log house! If you're willing to put up with a shared bath down the hall, you can have a room with log walls and some original fixtures and furnishings. Some won't put up with sharing a bath, but I peeked at the Ladies Room and it was classic! They had marble stalls and spacious showers with fancy tile work! I would have gone for that.
Our room was in the west wing, which was added in 1927. The price was almost twice the cost of an old "loggy room" and we had to hike down numerous halls and down a few sets of stairs to get there. There was nothing lodge-like about our remodeled room. It could have been Holiday Inn Express. The space was perfectly okay, with tidy Mission Style (new) furniture and a window looking at trees (and parking lot) We were fine with no phone or TV and we were amused by the stuffed buffalo on the bed. But I would have given up our very mediocre bathroom with shower stall, to have had one of the rooms in the Old House. Next time!
Spending Time... Outside the Room
With a crowded lodge, we were surprised to find open bar stools at the Bear Pit Lounge, with a great view of the etched glass and the carved wood panels. I wish I could have better captured the whimsical animals in the glass. These lively images of dancing moose and a bear squirting seltzer were inspired by the etched wood murals that decorated the original bar, built at the end of prohibition.
This view is from the balcony that looks down on the lobby as well as the dining room. It's also a spot where years ago musicians performed for diners, before they moved to their higher perch, in the Crow's Nest. We looked down and studied the room, hoping our 8:30 reservations would be in the more rustic front room, not the back addition.
We lucked out and had a great table with a view of the bar's etched glass and the fireplace with the Old Geyser painting.
Love the Plate!
I ordered rotini with parmesan, mushrooms and vegetables. Don went for some bison bratwurst, pheasant & chicken sausage with sauerkraut. All was pretty tasty and the old plate design made it extra fun. When we finished dining, the room was quiet enough to share the cookbook with Christoph. He didn't roll his eyes at my Baby Boomer Nostalgia. He was actually delighted and showed other servers... who were playfully, happy to pose!
The Great Outdoors!
It's important to focus on the outside as much as the inside at Old Faithful! The laziest, most decadent way to enjoy the outside is from the observation terrace. The deck gets jammed when crowds want a view of the erupting geyser. But it was perfect before sunset, with a glass of wine. ..
lodge so we saw windows open and curtains fluttering. We also got to watch the flags being removed from upper walkway. I wanted to run up and see if they needed help!
Views Old Faithful
The rows of rigid benches were filled during dramatic Old Faithful eruptions. It was a nice elevated view, but we preferred to be down on the ground...
With the Crowds
This photo doesn't even capture the immense size of the crowd. It was pretty amusing listening to the voices rise and fall each time the geyser faked a big display, then fizzled. "Oh come on baby, you can do it!" One elderly woman encouraged.
But the absolute best time for viewing was at sunrise, when the air was still and chilly. The sun made the geyser look like it had caught fire. Once again I was brought back to a childhood memory. I half expected to see the image of "The "Great and Powerful Oz" appear behind that steaming flame!
More Steam... and Critters
We wandered the wooden walkways on the grounds that next morning. There were such dramatic images of steam and clouds and eerie morning light. But the biggest treat was spotting some furry friends enjoying the morning with us.
Two coyotes trotted through the grass not far from us. One coyote must have read the same sign we read, that warned us about the thin crust that covers the boiling springs and scalding mud. A dozen people have been killed. Mr. Coyote climbed onto the wood path and seemed to be content playing it safe, like us. The lone buffalo across the Firehole River, wandered a bit, then napped comfortably.
Good-Bye Geysers and Lodge
I was delighted to be able to conclude, the lodge was as charming as the old picture I've been staring at for years. We had a less than a 24-hour experience, but that was enough time to observe the lodge from different angles and at different times of day. The Contrast! That's what I'll always remember. I was sort of amused by the carnival atmosphere when busloads of tourists filled the lobby and grounds at peak hours. But I adored the peaceful wee hours, viewing the historic inn without distraction. Only then could I really imagine 1904, with long dresses and steamer trunks, the hats and cigars... How lucky we could actually enjoy a little of both.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!