We moved from Montana traveling down I-90/US87 to I-25 along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains, arriving in Buffalo Wyoming the last day of the county fair. This trip included no mountain driving or tunnels. I reserved our week long stay at Indian Campground and RV Park two months earlier, having no problem locking into a full hookup pull-through spot under shade trees. At about 4,600 feet in elevation we found the daytime temperatures still warm but at least the night time temps came down. Buffalo was on our radar for a visit as long ago as 2013 when Karen decided touring he Occidental Hotel was a must see event. There is plenty to do in the area.
Our Stay at the Indian Campground and RV Park
At about $44 a night this might be the most expensive park we have stayed at in the past two years. It was a rare occasion that I made use of a swimming pool. Karen appreciated the commercial size laundry room with plenty of machines, a decent office/gift store and a huge dog area off a small mountain stream where Wyatt could play and run through the water. Our section of the park was mostly occupied by those staying over-night or for a few days. Many stop here before going over the mountain on US 16 Highway towards Cody Wyoming and eventually Yellowstone National Park. Neighbors brought their motorcycles having come from the Black Hills and Sturgis in South Dakota. Rides into scenic countryside are plentiful.
Visiting Downtown Buffalo and the Occidental Hotel
Shortly after arriving in Buffalo we headed downtown to visit the hotel and try and find a fishing guide so Karen could check off a bucket list item which was learning to fly fish – in Wyoming. We had checked several sources online earlier with no luck. It seems seeking out a spot to fish somewhere up in the mountains was what individuals do. Neither of us have ever touched a fly pole and would need a guide. The campground manager recommended stopping at the local sporting goods store and ask about guided trips. At the store we learned the guides were not working because it is so hot the fish are not biting. I had checked different areas of Wyoming known for fly fishing and in the back of my mind I knew someday we should travel west of the Bighorns into more popular tourist and fishing areas. Unfortunately, there would be no fishing on this trip.
Buffalo Wyoming is the county seat of Johnson County. If you are a western movie fan you probably have heard of the county. Home of much western history to include the Johnson County Wars. Wyoming remains the least populated state in the country. In the early days the land was public domain where ranchers allowed cattle to roam free. In time there was competition for grazing land and water. Cattle rustling was common and a “war” would erupt and hired gunmen were brought in. The US Army put an end to it. The cattle barons had gone too far and lost a lot of their power after the war. Because the cattle barons no longer had as much power, smaller ranchers and homesteaders were able to flourish.
According to Webster’s, the word Occidental derives from the Latin occident-, occidens, meaning “the west” or “the part of the sky where the sun sets. The Occidental Hotel was established in 1880 and became known as the place to stay near the Bozeman Trail which connected the gold mine area of southern Montana to the the Oregon Trail in eastern Wyoming. You will recognize photos or names of its famous guests scattered among the hotel walls. Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, Teddy Roosevelt, Tom Horn, Earnest Hemmingway, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to name a few. Over time the hotel was rebuilt and remodeled. During our visit we found the hotel attached to a restaurant and salon. You can still rent a room!
Karen headed into the salon to check it out and get a couple dark beers for us to go while I walked our dog Wyatt (Earp) outside. She returned to announce management says we can bring the dog through the salon then out the back door to a wonderful seating area along the mountain creek. We had the entire yard to ourselves.
Day Trips Near Buffalo
Good thing the interstate speed limit is 80 MPH as there is plenty to see miles from town. I should add we pulled the camper at 65 MPH through sparsely populated Montana and Wyoming with no issue. We have seen no highway vehicles working in the area and for the first time in hundreds of miles saw our first state troopers – at a Mexican restaurant. As a side note, our truck has a fuel range when towing of about 320 miles. We have had no problem finding refuel points if needed.
A short list of possible day trips from Buffalo Wyoming could have included: TA Ranch where the final shootout happened during the Johnson County Range War, drive over the Bighorn Mountains to the Thermopolis hot springs or Ten Sleep, some will drive back to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Hole in the Wall (gang) lookout point, Crazy Women Canyon up the mountain and Dry Creek Petrified Forrest. We took time for two trips that are not among this list.
US 16 goes over the Bighorn Mountains and is considered a safe route. We did see one rig broken down on a hill climb and another at the RV park waiting for parts having not made the climb. Both were older tow vehicles. Semi trucks made their way down the steeper grades at a low speed with their flasher on. You can also take US 14 further to the north. Although peeks can reach to just over 13,000 feet, the pass on US 16 maxes out at 9,666 feet. Along the drive up from the east side of the mountain we found just one runaway truck lane. Karen and I also discovered we did not feel well once we went over about 8,000 feet. I’ve been worried about the effects of elevation as later in life I’ve experienced dizziness when flying and the doctors can’t find the source of the problem other than to say it’s caused by anxiety. Personally, I think its an inner ear or pressure issue I’ve developed over time. On this trip we have been living at around 5,000 feet and last year we were at the same elevation with little issue. Common sense dictates that I keep this all in mind should we find ourselves pulling the trailer at higher elevations. Fine – now I know elevations over 8,000 are an issue and I don’t like tunnels! I’ll work around it. I doubt I’ll find enough opportunities to just get used to it.
The views were amazing and varied on the mountain. There are plenty of side trips down mountain roads. It took some time but I found an excellent mountain guide in PDF form:
Our second day trip was spent in small town Kaycee Wyoming. From here some will drive out to the Hole in the Wall lookout point but after researching the drive and how far away we would be from the actual entrance to the Hole in the Wall Pass we decided it was not worth the trip. I wanted to see a small but informative museum in town. By chance we arrived the day before their annual bus tour of historic sites surrounding the Johnson County Ranch War, lead by the man that wrote the book. At $90 to include lunch at TA Ranch would have been worth it but I could not fit it into the next days schedule. As is usually the case, as I entered the museum I asked an employee what was the most fascinating article in the place. She said there are at least three items not to miss. She had time and gave me a personal tour. What luck….
I told the museum employee I was not much interested in American Indian artifacts (they had several displays) but was most interesting in the the Hole in the Wall Gang and ranch wars. In photos, here was my personal tour.
Located within walking distance of the museum is a well landscaped pocket park featuring country singer and rodeo champion Chris LaDoux who is from Kaycee. This is a small town, so about everything is within walking distance. There was a local motel – its a doublewide trailer.
RV Tip for this Post – Bugs
I might have issues with driving through tunnels or elevations above 8,000 feet, but I’m thankful the fear of bugs is not among my concerns. Over the past two years our home has been infested by mites, nates and other small flying insects. So far, we have been lucky and the ants have not made it inside with great numbers. With trial and error I’ve come up with the best defense for us. Although I try hard to limit chemicals we haul around, anything goes for bugs. Sprays that kill on contact are best. I bought a tiny handheld sprayer to mix chemicals and think I’ve found the best ant traps with the help of friends. We vacuum bugs inside the trailer, in the worst cases using our one gallon shop vac with a bag. All flies die ASAP by way of a fly swatter. I try and not leave outside basement doors open where insects can get in and every now and then spray grass/weeds or around any place where the camper touches the ground. Some say Comet powder cleaner helps to prevent ants from moving up the campers leveling jacks but I’ve not used it. I’ve thought about getting disposable hanging fly traps for outside when we are stops for a week or longer. We have not found a way to stop the nats outside, especially when parked near trees. When the bugs bite its usually time to go inside.
After our weeklong stay in Buffalo, we moved the RV to a tiny RV park (Peak View) near I-25 and US Highway 26 along the Oregon Trail. Peak View is best described as a homeless camp for RVers. But the view of Laramie Mountain was nice. New owner who I suppose will improve the place. We decided to skip finding the wagon ruts along the Oregon Trail and tour of Fort Laramie near Wheatland Wyoming. We are currently in Scottsbluff Nebraska.