buffalobilltoppicI pulled out of Buffalo at the crack of dawn and aimed the Hobbit SUV toward Route 16 and a straight shot to Yellowstone National Park. With one important stop: The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is actually five museums in one. There is the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, The Buffalo Bill Museum, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Western Art Museum and The Draper Natural History Museum. I’d planned just to see the Plains Indian Museum. I ended up visiting all five, plus the live raptor exhibit in the courtyard. I could have spent the second day there that my ticket allowed. Each museum is more amazing and complete that the last. For instance, name any famous painter of Western Scenes from Alfred Bierstadt to George Catlin to Audubon to N.C. Wyeth and Charlie Russell. They are all represented including some very interesting contemporary Western artists. I’d planned to skip the firearm museum but got lured in by an expert talk about Annie Oakley. I ended up sticking around for the guns. Finally, I had to force myself to leave, get on to Yellowstone and to make my 5PM dinner reservation at Old Faithful Inn. Not that I was able to rush once I entered the East Entrance and drove through the Sylvan Pass. If I’d thought I would start my Yellowstone sightseeing the next morning, I was sadly mistaken. I had enough scenery and wildlife encounters to make it feel like a full day in the park.

Everywhere still are reminders of the terrible summer of 1988 when nearly every area of Yellowstone was affected by raging wildfires. I panicked when I thought I saw smoke.

Everywhere still are reminders of the terrible summer of 1988 when nearly every area of Yellowstone was affected by raging wildfires. I panicked when I thought I saw smoke.

Only to turn a corner and find out — DOH! — this place is full of geysers!

Only to turn a corner and find out — DOH! — this place is full of geysers!

This place is AMAZING! Especially in the late afternoon sun.

Yellowstone is AMAZING! Especially in the late afternoon sun.

Did I mention that the Little Hobbit has performed marvelously? I thought that deserved a beauty shot.

Did I mention that the Little Hobbit has performed marvelously? I thought that deserved a beauty shot.

And, of course, within ten minutes of entering the gate, I saw buffalo and fools getting much too close for a picture.

And, of course, within ten minutes of entering the gate, I saw buffalo and fools getting much too close.

I skidded into Old Faithful Village in time to make my reservations, but too late to snap a shot of that geyser.

I skidded into Old Faithful Village in time to make my reservations, but too late to snap a shot of that geyser.

Interesting factoid: The Old Faithful Inn is the largest log structure in the world.

Interesting factoid: The Old Faithful Inn is the largest log structure in the world.

I had an excellent dinner at the Old Faithful Inn: smoked salmon as an appetizer and trout hash for an entree. Which was the first break from beef or bison since I hit the Nevada border. I contemplated waiting for the next Old Faithful eruption, but I had a long way to go to my cabin and I didn’t want to risk driving in the dark and hitting a buffalo or a bear. The Old Faithful area can seem like a little city, but I had booked a cabin at the Roosevelt Lodge.  The website makes it look all nice and cozy. The more accurate impression is of a particularly ramshackle mining camp of tiny wooden log shacks. Inside my shack…er…cabin was perhaps not as luxurious as our tent cabin in Sonoma, with the exception of a small Franklin stove that I was to find barely took the chill off the room when night temps plunged to 33 degrees. But no complaints from me. The Roosevelt is in the most remote corner of Yellowstone near the Lamar Valley, which is known as The Little Serengeti of America. And since my Yellowstone adventure was to be all about the animals, I was willing to brave a little discomfort to escape the selfie-stick wielding hordes and see some real back country.

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Note: I can’t recommend the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West highly enough. And the town of Cody is a lot of fun with some great cowboy shopping to be had.

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