Stop seventeen of thirty seven on our USA tour was the Buffalo KOA in Buffalo, Wyoming. Oddly enough, the name of the town is not from “where the buffalo roams” as you would expect, but from a name picked out of a hat. In 1879, Buffalo began to take shape near Fort McKinney. The U.S. government established the fort to protect travelers along the Bozeman Trail. The new town was just off the post premises, and soldiers needed a place to spend their paychecks. Before long, tradesmen and merchants started up beer halls, saloons and a place or two to get the lesser necessities of life, like food. According to local lore, as the town grew, one evening the owner of the Occidental Hotel held a meeting for the purpose of naming the little settlement. He instructed all present to submit a name on a slip of paper. The name pulled from the hat would become the town’s name. The winning name was submitted by a young man named Will Hart, who was from Buffalo, New York!
So, the town started because of the location close to the trail. I don’t think that has changed except now the trail is the intersections of Interstates 90 and 25. And Route 16, advertised for miles as “the best and easiest route to Yellowstone Park and the Black Hills because of its low grade and gentle curves in comparison to other routes over the Big Horn Mountains.” Wait, what? Low grade?? Scenic and shortest I’ll give you but there are many, many, sections of this route with signs posting 7% and 8% downgrade. There is also a mandatory stop for all trucks, vehicles towing a trailer, and RVs to check their brakes. And if all that fails, there is a runaway truck ramp with a catch net cable system!
Since we stay mostly on the interstates, we didn’t drive across the entire route but did venture up into the hills for the scenery in the car. Albeit with a hazy view thru the smoke from the fires out West. I did manage to go back the next day for some hiking about thirty miles outside of town. Once into the Bighorn National Forest, I took fire road 20 into the Cloud Peak Wilderness, and found trail 040 up to Sherd Lake. It was a great day! What I love about hiking is how it affects all your senses. The sounds of your boots crunching on the trail, the feeling of your heart pounding in your chest, the smell of the forest that surrounds you, the sounds of the woodpeckers off in the distance and the wind whispering in the tree tops. And in the end, the satisfaction of knowing the only way to see Sherd Lake was to put myself up there. Sure it may seem like a crazy way to spend your day for some, but for me it is heaven.
“The world is big and I want to have good look at it before it gets dark.” John Muir
The actual town of Buffalo is a curious little town. There are no big box stores of any kind for hundreds of miles, so it has maintained that old West feeling. Main Street itself can’t be more than a mile long and all the stores and restaurants are individually owned. It is still home to the Occidental Hotel and Saloon. Back when it started in 1880, it was the social and political hub of the area. By 1890, it grew to be a saloon, card and billiard hub, and barbershop, with rooms costing $2.50 a day. The more famous guests include Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. It went through some hard times over the years until a ten year restoration in 1997, which brought it back to its 1920 era condition. Today, you can see the original features including the embossed tin ceiling, the twenty foot backbar, and the famous corner of the saloon where free live entertainment still takes place six nights a week. Now, the hotel is mostly a tourist attraction although you can spend the night. It’s just little more than $2.50. There are some great photos by Kathryn on the Post Cards 2021 page.
Scattered throughout the downtown are some beautiful, almost life sized, very detailed, bronze statues. They depict the western lifestyle of then and now. As you drive thru this area you come upon names like Crazy Woman Canyon, Lake Solitude, Hole-in-the-wall, Dead Horse Creek and Mistymoon Lake. Those names are not a marketing ploy. They celebrate what makes this place so special, wide open spaces steeped in Western history and settled by larger than life characters. For two years in a row, Buffalo has been named a top ten true Western town, a distinction that recognizes a deep understanding and pride in the Western heritage and communitywide effort to keep the Old West alive.
The KOA? A good place to get off the highway and enjoy the area. You can see how they are striving to keep improving. Our ratings: Kathryn 6, Paul 7, out of 10.
On to Livingston, Montana.