Things to see and do in and near Buffalo, Wyoming
within 2 Hours Drive From The Occidental Hotel
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Custer National Battlefield
The catastrophic end of George Armstrong Custer and 210 of his soldiers has become one of the great mythic events of American history. Overly confident as he always was, Custer led his men straight into the center of the largest concentration of hostile Indian warriors ever assembled on the high plains, and did not live long enough to regret it. Driven back in a chaotic retreat, Custer feverishly tried to find a defensible position and consolidate his troops, but was annihilated before he could do it. Recent archaeological research has made an accurate reconstruction of Custer's defeat and death possible for the first time, and the facts are very well explained at the Custer Battlefield visitor's center. If you ever wondered what really happened to Custer, this is the place to find out
The Sheridan Inn - Once Home to Buffalo Bill Cody
The pride of Sheridan, Wyoming, the Inn is both an amazing piece of architecture and a building that has seen much history transpire within its walls. First opened in 1893, it soon became known as "The House of 69 Gables." Buffalo Bill Cody was a member of the group that financed the construction of the hotel, and for a time he leased the premises and ran the business. Oldtimers recalled that Buffalo Bill would sit on the sweeping veranda in front of the building to audition acts for his famous Wild West show. He also ran a stage line that ran from the Inn to Deadwood, South Dakota. For many years, big ranchers and their wives would come to the Inn for elaborate parties, and many of them came so often that they started to keep their party clothes in trunks at the hotel, so they would always be ready to celebrate.
Bradford Brinton Museum
For anyone who loves Western Art, the Brinton Memorial is a delight. Here you will find a stunning collection of first-rate paintings and sculptures by the likes of Remington, Russell, Borein, and Audubon. They were all collected in the early 20th Century by Bradford Brinton, a wealthy rancher, businessman, and art connoisseur. In addition to the fine art, Brinton also collected Native American crafts, including woven rugs, deerhide garments, beaded saddlebags and cradleboards, which are also on display throughout the rambling ranch house. Indeed, Brinton's entire house is a kind of artwork in itself, filled as it is with rare furnishings and surprising objects. During the summer, the Museum also hosts exhibitions of important contemporary artists.
Trail End State Historic Site - Kendrick Mansion and Museum
The home of John B. Kendrick offers its visitors an exceptional look into the lifestyles of the rich and famous in Wyoming between 1913 and 1933. Built in the Flemish Revival style,, the large mansion is filled with things that illustrate daily life, entertainment, interior design, and changing technology during the period. Kendrick began his astonishing career as a penniless cowboy and became the owner of a 210,000-acre cattle empire in Southern Montana and Northern Wyoming. He was elected state senator, governor, and then United States Senator, and became one of the wealthiest — and one of the most influential — men of his time in Northern Wyoming. In addition to its outstanding collection of original Kendrick possessions, Trail End has also become well known for its special exhibits illustrating various aspects of Wyoming life.
The Ucross Foundation
Part of the famed Ucross Foundation, the Big Red Barn plays host to distinguished exhibitions of art and photography throughout the year. Because the Ucross Foundation has an artist-in-residence program that brings some of the most talented and innovative artists in the world to the ranch country of Wyoming, the gallery often displays art that would not be out of place in some of the best galleries in New York or Paris. Located on a 22,000-acre working cattle ranch, this surprising gallery is only 30 minutes from Buffalo.
Lake DeSmet (Medicine Lake)
Before the coming of the white man, this lake was a favorite place for Sioux and Crow Indians to seek visions, and something of this mystical past seems to cling to the place even today. Crazy Horse, "the strange man of the Oglalas," came here many times to build sweat lodges and seek spiritual guidance during the course of the wars with the U.S. Cavalry.
To the Indians, the lake was known and "Medicine Lake." But during the 19th Century, it was re-named in honor of after Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, the first catholic missionary to Indians in the region, who followed the Indian trails north past the lake on his way to Montana in 1840.
Dry Creek Petrified Forest
In less than an hour, you can drive back 60 million years, as you make your way across the gently rolling hills of ranch country east of Buffalo. Your destination is a small stand of petrified cypress trees that lived during the Eocene Period, just after the dinosaurs became extinct.. Along with the signs that explain the history of the petrified trees, there is an 8-station ecological trail that will tell you about the animals and plants that make their home on the site today.
The Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum of The West
Just one block away from the Occidental Hotel, the Gatchell Museum is a great place to get a rich overview of the Indian Wars and of the entire history of Powder River Country. The collection was begun in the early part of the 20th Century, when local pharmacist Jim Gatchell started trading prescriptions and sundries for Indian artifacts, cowboy gear, guns, and historic memorabilia. Since Gatchell's customers and friends included such famous figures as Curley (Custer's favorite Crow scout) and Frank Grouard (who may have caused the murder of Crazy Horse), Gatchell was able to amass an incredibly important collection that soon filled the walls and shelves of his drug store. Since Gatchell's death, local citizens have continued to donate their most precious historical possessions to the Gatchell Museum — and the result is a collection that may be the best of its kind in the American West.
Crazy Woman Canyon
An enchanting and leisurely drive through an exceptionally scenic part of the Bighorn Mountains. Starting at the top of Crazy Woman Canyon, you wind your way down through picturesque rock formations. Most of the way, the road stays close to the cascading waters of Crazy Woman Creek — but there are many charming spots off the road to stop for a delightful picnic, or for a fine view of the towering canyon walls. As the road emerges from the canyon, be sure to look back for a wonderful view of the mountains!
Dull Knife Battlefield
After the defeat of Custer at the Little Bighorn, the large army of Indian warriors that had won the Custer battle broke up into smaller tribal groups. The Cheyenne warriors, led by their great war chief Dull Knife, traveled south along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains with their women and children. They intended to go into winter camps and fight no more that year. At the same time, an army of 1,000 U.S. troops and Pawnee scouts led by General Ranald Mackenzie was coming north along the Bozeman Trail, under orders to find the Cheyenne and force them to surrender.
It was Mackenzie's plan to accomplish this by destroying the camps of the Cheyenne and their winter food supply, making it impossible for them to continue fighting. On a cold and snowy November day, Mackenzie's Pawnee scouts found a large camp of Cheyenne on the Red Fork of Powder River, at the south end of the Bighorn Mountains. Mackenzie attacked, and even though the Cheyenne fought gallantly, they were ultimately forced to flee into the mountains without their possessions and without much food. Many Cheyenne, mostly women and children, froze to death in the snow. Shortly after, Dull Knife surrendered and Cheyenne resistance was ended forever.
Hoofprints of the Past Museum
The small town of Kaycee, Wyoming boasts a remarkably fine museum of local ranching history and the outlaw past. Located close to the Hole-in-the-Wall country, Kaycee was well known to the likes of Butch Cassidy, "Flat Nose" George Curry, the Sundance Kid and other members of the famous Wild Bunch. It is also the place where a small army of 50 big cattlemen and hired gunslingers from Texas killed Nate Champion, "the bravest man in Johnson County," during the infamous Johnson County Cattle War in 1892. All of this, and more, is documented and commemorated in the museum collection
As the name implies, this cave was once used by outlaws as a hideout. Located in a remote canyon, where the Middle Fork of Powder River cuts through some rugged country, Outlaw Cave was an ideal spot to hide stolen cattle, horses, and other booty. Since there was only one way to reach the cave, a handful of outlaws could defend it against a larger number of men trying to gain entrance. The area around the cave is one of the most scenic in central Wyoming, and the Middle Fork in this area is a "blue ribbon" trout stream containing abundant brown and rainbow trout. Nearby is Rock Art Cave, where you will find unusual petroglyphs created by prehistoric Indians,
One of the most beautiful regions in Wyoming — with massive walls of red rock defining its boundaries — this was also prime outlaw country. Hidden behind its red walls, rustlers did a roaring business in stolen cattle and horses. And because most lawmen were afraid to enter "the hole," many a wanted man was safe from pursuit here. In the early 1890s, Butch Cassidy owned a ranch here, and later the area became a way station on the Outlaw Trail, used by Cassidy's Wild Bunch and by many others who found themselves in need of a perfect hideout. The actual "hole in the wall" is a niche in a canyon wall that was used to move stolen cattle and horses east and west, through a seemingly solid barrier of stone.
This awe-inspiring volcanic monolith juts up 867 feet above the surrounding prairie, and has been a sacred place for Native American peoples for many hundreds of years.
It was formed when a very hard core of magma cooled within a softer volcanic cone. As the cone was gradually worn away by erosion, the hard core was exposed.
Native American legend says that the striations on the sides of the tower were made by the claws of a giant bear, as it tried to climb to the top of the tower. Following in the footsteps of that bear, many rock climbers make their way to the top of the tower every summer.
This fine little museum is located in Gillette, the "capital" of the Coal Belt in Wyoming and a major stopping point on the Burlington Northern Railroad. In keeping with its location, the museum features exhibits on early railroading and open pit coal mining (the largest open pit coal mine in America can be found just north of Gillette). There are also excellent collections of early printing equipment, saddles, household items and clothing from pioneer days, guns going back to the Great Sioux War, and numerous Indian artifacts and arrowheads. don't miss the magnificent 1890's horse-drawn hearse and the Burlington caboose!
Keyhole State Park & Reservoir
Some of the largest fish ever caught in Wyoming were landed at KeyholeLake, and it's a wonderful place to watch birds. The lake is stocked withwalleye, channel catfish, Small mouth bass and northern pike, and morethan 225 different bird species have been seen in the area. Located at thewestern edge of the Black Hills, not far from Devil's Tower, the lake is named after the Keyhole Ranch, one of the great cattle-raising operationsof early Wyoming.
Thunder Basin National Grassland
More than 572,000 acres of prairie grassland in the middle of Wyoming's Powder River country, Thunder Basin is one of the largest intact grassland habitats left on the Northern Great Plains. Here you will find broad ranges of short grass prairie populated with rare species like the ferruginous hawk, swift fox, mountain plover, burrowing owl, and black-tailed prairie dog. And it's a great place for viewing golden eagles and bald eagles as well. It's possible to get far enough away from civilization here to know the land as it was before the first settlers arrived, and to experience the true "soul" of the High Plains.
High Plains Museum - Spearfish
This wonderful museum is dedicated to preserving the art, artifacts and memorabilia of the pioneers who settled on the high plains of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska. Here you will find an amazing selection of all the things that defined the lives of these rugged ranchers, farmers, cowboys, loggers and pioneer women: saddles, tools, firearms, barbed wire, a turn-of-century farm kitchen, an old time blacksmith's shop — and don't miss the beautiful stagecoach that once made the Spearfish to Deadwood dash! A remarkable place to Get "the feel of the old West."
In it's day, Deadwood was a wide-open town on a par with Dodge City and Tombstone, filled with gold miners, gamblers, easy ladies, and outlaws. It is probably most famous as the town in which Wild Bill Hickok met his end, holding the infamous "dead man's hand" of aces and eights at the time. You can still see the spot where it happened in Old Style Saloon #10, and visit Wild Bill's grave (and Calamity Jane's) in the boot hill at Mount Moriah Cemetery — but that's just the beginning of things to do in Deadwood. You can pan for gold at the Broken Boot Mine, tour a mining millionaire's 1892 mansion, learn the history of the Bison in North America ... or gamble away the night in one of the dozens of gaming parlors and saloons that still line the Deadwood Gulch in this "Las Vegas of the High Plains."
Crazy Horse Memorial
The world's largest sculpture is slowly emerging from the hard granite of the Black Hills. Begun in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, and continued to this day under the direction of his wife and children, the Crazy Horse statue is a fitting memorial to the great Oglala Sioux war chief and medicine man. At the base of the statue is a complex of museums that includes the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Cultural Center — two of the finest museums of Native American culture in the United States. This is also an excellent place to acquire authentic Native American crafts and hard-to-find books on Native American subjects.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area & The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range
The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Formed over millions of years by the abrasive flow of the Bighorn River, this deep and rugged canyon is more than 70 miles long. In 1967, with the completion of the Yellowtail Dam, the waters of the river began to fill the canyon to create Bighorn Lake. The scenery here is impressive and dramatic. In places, the sheer limestone walls rise more than 1,000 feet above the surface of the lake, and the views from the water's surface or from the top of the cliffs are often breathtaking. A second canyon, called Devil's Canyon, connects to Bighorn Canyon on its eastern rim. This smaller canyon has many amazing limestone caverns, where paleontologists have found remains of woolly mammoth, steppe bison, primitive horses, and even camels. Almost deserted at certain times of the year, this entire area is a wonderful getaway spot for anyone who loves fishing, hiking, or boating... or just seeing wonderful scenery.
Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Refuge
For horse lovers, this is a place to see wild American mustangs in their natural habitat. The Pryor Mountain herd runs free in the open spaces near Bighorn Canyon, and is one of the few groups of "Spanish Type" mustangs that survive in America today. Descended from horses that were first brought to the Americas by early Spanish settlers, these were the type of horses that were first domesticated in this area by Native Americans of the Crow, Sioux, and Cheyenne tribes. The warriors who fought the U.S. Cavalry at the nearby Custer Battlefield were probably riding horses of similar breed.
Big Horn County Historical Museum
Located on 24 acres not far from the Custer Battlefield, this museum of Montana's past gives you a remarkable opportunity to "walk back" into history. On the site you will find superbly restored historical buildings and artifacts of many different kinds, from Indian teepees to a trapper's cabin, from a homesteader's house and barn to an old country store, from a stage coach station to a one-room country school. There is the 1906 railroad depot from Lodge Grass, Montana, with several antique railway cars parked on the tracks outside. There is a 1930's gasoline station with original old style Texaco pumps.
There is a wonderful steepled church and a completely equipped blacksmith shop. Everywhere you look, there are tools and equipment and household items that you have probably never seen before. It's a place for the whole family to learn and to have fun — just a marvelous place to visit!
The Medicine Wheel
High on a mountain ridge in the Bighorn Mountains you will find one of the most sacred monuments of the Plains Indian Culture, built by Native Americans at least 200 years ago. The great Medicine Wheel is a circular arrangement of stones measuring 80 feet across, with 28 rows of stones radiating from the center of the circle to its rim. No-one knows for certain what the purpose of the great wheel was, but many people have noticed that the structure of the Wheel resembles the Sun Dance lodges built by many Plains tribes for religious celebrations. Others suggest that the 28 "spokes" of the wheel may symbolize the days of a lunar month, and that the wheel may have been used as a kind of astronomical observatory.
Shell Canyon & Shell Falls
Cut out of solid granite over millions of years by the roaring waters of Shell Creek, this sheer-walled canyon and plunging falls can only be called spectacular. They are marvelous examples of nature's engineering skill and sheer persistence. To slice through the gray and pink granite — some of the oldest and hardest rock on earth — the rushing waters had to gradually wear away the walls of naturally occurring fractures in the rock. You can actually feel the ongoing pounding of water against rock through the soles of your shoes as you walk near the falls. A layer of softer sandstone on top of the granite contains 550-year-old fossils of some of the first shelled animals that lived on earth — and this gave Shell Creek its name.
Museum of Flight & Aerial Firefighting - Greybull
In the world of aerial firefighting, the firm of Hawkins and Powers is well-known — and they have recently become equally well-known as restorers of vintage aircraft. These two activities have led to the formation of this unique museum, which combines an outstanding display of firefighting aircraft with a growing collection of World War II and other vintage aircraft. Here you will see planes that were used by intrepid smoke jumpers as they parachuted into the middle of raging forest fires... giant water tankers that were used to drown fires in remote mountain locations... and a wide variety of unusual and even rare war planes.
Wagon Box Fight
To build the stockade and buildings of Fort Phil Kearny, the soldiers needed thousands of tree trunks. These were cut at some distance from the fort and transported by wagon. This was always a dangerous task, and after the Fetterman Massacre it became even more dangerous. In the summer of 1867, Indian forces, attempting to repeat the Fetterman victory, attacked woodcutters and soldiers camped about five miles from the fort. The soldiers had taken some wagon boxes off wagons and arranged them in an oval as a stock corral. Twenty-eight soldiers took cover behind the boxes and tried to defend themselves against more than 1,000 Indians. Luckily, the soldiers had just been issued new rapid-fire rifles, and they were able to hold off the Indians until relief arrived from fort. Only three soldiers were killed, while the Indians suffered many casualties.
Fort Phil Kearny
Right after the Civil War ended, the U.S. Army began to expand its presence in the West. One of the "hot spots" at that time was the Bozeman Trail, which ran north from Fort Laramie, Wyoming into the newly opened goldfields in Montana. Since the trail took settlers and gold seekers right through the middle of prime hunting grounds that a treaty had promised "forever" to the Sioux and Cheyenne, there was a great deal of violent Indian resistance to the passage of wagon trains, and the Army decided to build a series of three forts along the trail to protect travelers. Largest of these was Fort Phil Kearny (pronounced "Carney"), which was erected near the present site of Story, Wyoming.
During its brief two-year existence, Fort Phil Kearny was the target of almost continuous Indian attacks and harassment. The Indians were determined to drive the white man out of the region. Finally, the troops were removed and the fort was closed down — and shortly after that, it was burned to the ground by the triumphant Indians. Today, you may see a partial restoration of the fort and visit an excellent visitor's center that explains one of the most violent episodes in the Indian wars.
Some of the Army officers who came to Fort Phil Kearny were "fire-eaters," who hoped to prove their courage and win recognition by battling the Indians. Foremost among these was Captain William Fetterman, who boasted that if he were given 80 soldiers he could "ride through the entire Sioux nation." One day, Fetterman was sent out with 80 mounted troopers to protect a column of soldiers that were bringing wood to the fort. A party of Indians led by Crazy Horse appeared on a ridge near the fort and, contrary to orders, Fetterman led his troops in pursuit of the Indians, over the ridge and out of site of the fort. On the other side of the ridge, Fetterman found himself in the midst of a thousand hostile Indian warriors. Fetterman had been lured into a trap, and he and his entire command were quickly and totally wiped out.
Cloud Peak Scenic Skyway & Cloud Peak Wilderness Area
Cloud Peak Scenic Skyway - Highway 16 west of Buffalo takes you through some of the most unspoiled and un-crowded high country scenery left in America. Most of the year (and sometimes even in the summer), the majestic high peaks of the Bighorn Mountains are white with snow, and abundant wildlife can be seen everywhere you look. Keep your eyes peeled for groups of deer and elk, plentiful bird life, and the occasional giant moose that may come right down to the edge of the road. Along the route, you will see markers identifying the various rock formations, some of which are more than 3.5 billion years old — among the oldest rock exposures in North America. On the west side of the mountains, you will descend through Tensleep Canyon, with its spectacular limestone cliffs.
Cloud Peak Wilderness Area - Accessible only by hiking and horse trails, this high wilderness area of 189,000 acres at the core of the Bighorn range offers excellent opportunities for rock climbing and mountaineering. It's highest point is Cloud Peak, which soars 13,175 above sea level, and most of the remaining wilderness area is above 9,000 feet. The area was covered by 19 glaciers during the most recent ice age — 6,000 to 9,000 years ago. Remnants of the last of these glaciers can still be seen on the east side of Cloud Peak, in a classic glacial cirque. Black bear and mountain lion are often seen here. This is an area for experienced outdoors men and women, and special permission from the U.S. Forest Service is required to enter it.
Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site
For more than 10,000 years, Native Americans used this site at the base of a 40-foot sandstone cliff as a camp site. Archaeological excavations during the last 35 years have revealed evidence of 60 different cultural levels. Different types of artifacts found on the various levels have provided important documentation of the ways that Indian lifestyles in the region changed over a very long period of time, and this is explained at an excellent interpretive center.
During the long period of Indian habitation, many wonderful petroglyphs and pictographs were created, and these can be seen almost everywhere you look in the 200-acre archaeological area. Medicine Lodge Creek is also a fine place to observe wildlife, which includes mountain lions, prairie dogs, and more than 100 species of birds.
Ten Sleep Canyon
On the west side of the Bighorn Mountains, Highway 16 descends through a majestic limestone canyon on its way to the small town of Ten Sleep, working its way through a series of switchbacks that will take you down approximately three thousand feet in less than 10 minutes. The layers of handsome Dolomite stone in the canyon walls were first formed millions of years ago on the floor of an ancient sea. Later, they were thrust up by the formation of the Bighorn Mountains. Finally, the downrushing waters of a cascading stream, augmented by the run-off from melting glaciers, began to cut through the rock to reveal the marvelous black, blue and tan walls of Ten Sleep Canyon. In recent years, this canyon has become a favorite destination for rock climbers, because it offers a diversity of different climbing challenges. The climbers have christened various rock faces with wonderfully descriptive nicknames, such as "Home Alone," "Plea Bargain," and "The Wall of Denial."
Wyoming Dinosaur Center
If you have ever dreamed of digging up dinosaur bones, this is the place to do it! The Wyoming Dinosaur Center has many active dinosaur digsites, at which you can become a paleontologist for a day (or more) and help scientists to excavate exciting and valuable dinosaur fossils.
Over the years, more dinosaur bones have been dug out of the ground in Wyoming than in any other state, but most of them have been shipped to museums outside of the state.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center was organized to find spectacular dinosaur fossils in Wyoming and then keep them and display them inside the state. The center's museum in Thermopolis is a 16,000-square-foot complex, with an excellent selection of mounted dinosaurs and a state-of-the-art laboratory where you can watch scientists preparing dinosaur fossils for display.
Thermopolis Hot Springs
"The world's largest mineral hot spring" is the centerpiece of the charming town of Thermopolis. (In Greek, Thermopolis means "hot city," but the town is really very cool.) The giant springs are a pleasure to behold, and even more of a pleasure to experience — what you might call a "total immersion" experience. Every day, 18.6 million gallons of scalding hot water flow from the springs, and are channeled into ponds where they cool down to a soothing 127 degrees. The waters contain at least 27 different minerals, and are said to be very healthful for those who bathe in them and/or drink them. You can bathe in your choice of several indoor or outdoor pools, enjoy the water slides, or relax in Jacuzzi tubs. Tanning decks, massages, and saunas are also available, and the state bath house is free. Some geologists believe that the underground rock formation that supplies the waters in Thermopolis is the same one that provides the geysers and other thermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park.