Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Johnson County

From Gillette we headed west on Interstate 90, landing in Buffalo, Wyoming, a town of about 4500 people. After we got the motorhome situated, we went and did a little exploring. The town has a lot of historic buildings left over from the period between1880 and 1920, mostly red brick construction. There are a couple of quite impressive mansions in town as well as a classic courthouse.

Occidental Hotel
The Occidental Hotel was originally built as a log structure in the 1880s and was more or less the center of the community for many years.  Owen Wister hung out in the hotel saloon chatting up the characters that came and went, people like Tom Horn, Buffalo Bill and Teddy Roosevelt, and used these personalities as the basis for the characters in his famous book "The Virginian". The current brick version of the hotel was constructed in several stages between 1903 and 1920. In the mid-20th century the hotel was reduced to being a cheap boardinghouse but is now restored to its 1910 condition and is operated as a hotel and museum.

Down a block around the corner is this building:
Not a library
Contrary to what you might assume, this is not the county library. It was originally one of the hundreds of libraries built by Andrew Carnegie all over America but now contains the Jim Gatchell Museum. Gatchell ran a drugstore in Buffalo during its early days. He was friendly with the local Indians who considered him a "medicine man" and presented him with numerous gifts and artifacts. These, along with more modern works of Western art and historical displays and dioramas form the bulk of the museums exhibits. Browsing through the somewhat eclectic collection was a pleasant way to spend an hour or so.

The fellow out front is Nate Champion, one of the casualties of the Johnson County Range War. He is apparently something of a local hero for standing up to the cattle barons. He ended up getting pinned down in a log cabin by about 50 hired guns. He held them off for about eight hours, delaying them long enough for the local residents to arm themselves and fight back. In the end, his attackers set fire to the cabin and the statue depicts the moment that he made his final run, cutting out the back door of the cabin with guns blazing. The statute does not depict the fact that 10 seconds later he was bleeding from 28 bullet holes. If you want to learn more about the Johnson County War, you can check out the wikipedia article here.

The next day we decided to take a scenic drive through the Bighorn Mountains. We got up fairly
early and drove up to Sheridan where we spent about an hour and a half eating breakfast. Well, actually we spent about 15 min. eating breakfast and an hour and 15 min. waiting for breakfast. Service was a little slow. On the bright side, when we got out, this was sitting in front of the restaurant. I have no idea what it is exactly but it looked like a reasonably cool vehicle.
We took Highway 14 up over the northern part of the Bighorn range. The eastern side was much more green and forested, which is kind of the opposite of what I would've expected. The western slopes are more of a desert, presumably sitting in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains. I just don't know why Sheridan is not sitting in the rain shadow of the Bighorn Mountains.

Shell Falls
Anyway, we made it over the summit and then stopped to look at Shell Falls about halfway down the western slope. This is a waterfall over a drop-off created by an earthquake maybe 50,000 years back. Good for a 15 min. break and some nice pictures.

We continued down to Greybull and then turned south to Worland where we turned east on Highway 16 headed back to Buffalo over the southern part of the Bighorn range. The section of mountains between these two highways, the Cloud Peak Wilderness, is much higher and stands right in the way of interstate 90, which is why that road goes off around the north to Billings, MT. Tourists from the East headed for Yellowstone can save themselves from going 150 miles out of their way by taking either Highway 14 or Highway 16 to get over the big horns. Highway 14 is much steeper on the Western slope, so when we leave Buffalo we will be taking 16 across even though it is a slightly longer route.

Along Hwy 14

Extreme entropy

Fallen City rock formation

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