Do you ever hear a song that speaks to your soul? The one you turn up a little louder every time you hear it. You catch yourself humming along to it even when it is not playing. This summer that song for me is Highway Vagabond by Miranda Lambert. I can’t get it out of my ears…
I wanna go somewhere where nobody knows
I wanna know somewhere where nobody goes
Following gold lines on the ground, northbound, southbound
There’s something ’bout the way I feel when the wheels go round and round and round
Highway vagabonds, living like hippies
Moving right along to the next big city
Okay, jump off the exit
Truck stop, rest stop, next stop Texas
Caravan like a wild west show
I don’t care, man, as long as we go
Get off one and get on the other
For us, the next stop is not Texas. It is Cody, Wyoming and I did feel like we were caravaning like a wild west show. Partially because we were caravaning. Three big trucks pulling three big travel trailers down Highway 16, also knows as Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway, that goes up and over Bighorn National Forest. Partially because we were heading west to a town made famous by a man who made wild west shows famous. Partially because we were on no time table and we found ourselves leisurely wandering from one destination to the next; just like a vagabond.
We took one highway to the next winding our way to Monster Lake Ranch just outside of Cody, Wyoming. Pulling into Monster Lake, I did feel like we were somewhere where nobody knows and we had found a place that nobody goes. But, that really isn’t true. People do go to Monster Lake. It is known for its world-class fly fishing and bird hunting, which is exactly how we ended up landing there. But, in the moment of being there (the only guest on property) it did feel like we were in a secret location. A place just like Miranda sings about.
Fishing at Monster Lake has been on my husband’s bucket list for a couple of decades. His father and uncle have raved about the monster trout they caught on their trips out there and he wanted his own shot. We offered to let the group go ahead of us and we would meet up but they all decided that Cody had enough things to keep everyone entertained and when we found out they had RV sites we quickly made plans to stay three days/two nights at Monster Lake, 8 miles south of Cody, Wyoming.
On our only full day at Monster Lake Ranch, we each went a different direction and experienced different things. So, go find that Miranda Lambert song, turn up the radio, and follow along as we walk you through our time in Cody, Wyoming.
Monster Lake Ranch (Wayne’s Cody Experience):
Visiting the wild west sounds fun, but for some of us, visiting it is simply not enough. If you want an activity a little more hands on for a chance to call victory of the wild in the west then Monster Lake Ranch is where you should go. If your bucket list includes bird hunting, fishing, trail riding, pistol or rifle shooting on a beautiful, scenic ranch surrounded by mountains, then this is the place to visit.
Monster Lake Ranch is a 10,000 acre working ranch with a nearly 200 acre lake stocked with monster sized cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout. When I say monster size, I mean easily 6 pounds, often over ten pounds, 15 inches or more girth, and shy of two feet long. These are the type of fish you dream of catching. Monster Lake is a private lake. The price to fish here is steep: a half day rod fee is $150 and a full day is $200. Guided trips are available starting off around $450 for a half day. You can bring your own personal water craft, rent one from Monster Lake, or the guide will take you out on a drift boat.
Before I even went, I got some advice from my uncle and my dad who had fished Monster Lake before me. They recommended a five or six weight rod, full sinking line, and 2X leader and tippet. My Uncle Dave even gave me a large box of flies that I have never fished with before. I was also able to purchase an “old” fishing raft hat he had previously used at Monster Lake.
The night we arrived, three of us spent a few hours casting into Quick Lake, which is significantly smaller and at the entrance to the property. We found ourselves casting the full sinking line into the wind, which proved to be a game changer for my fishing buddies and I soon found myself the solo fisherman the next day.
I started off deciding to do the full day unguided trip. I took my all made over for monster sized trout rods and my “new to me” inflatable fishing raft with foot flippers to maneuver the lake. The guide, Mike, met me early that morning and actually repeated all the advice my uncle had given me. Mike then gave me a few top water flies, a quick Monster Lake entomology lesson (that is life cycle of bugs in case you wondered), a quick layout of the lake, a few specific casting techniques for this area, he even told me what birds to look for, and sent me on my way.
I started casting. I started to notice a few of the signs Mike had told me to look for. I saw a few insects and I mean a few. I saw a few of the birds he mentioned. But the birds could not find the few insects that showed up. Which also meant there were no fish showing up. I kept casting.
Around lunch time, my wife called to check in. I was feeling pretty discouraged. I was not sure if I was missing the signs or they were not there to see or if my technique was off. My wife could not give me any advice on the fishing but she did one of the most important things ever; she told me to call Mike and hire him as a guide.
By early afternoon, Mike was back. I was out of the inflatable raft and in his drift boat. He took me all over Monster Lake. He had confirmed that my technique was right on. Man, that was a relief! A few hours later I threw a dry fly (afternoon fishing the insects come back and lay eggs) close to one of the few rising fish we had seen that day. I saw him take the fly so I set the hook. This was my moment. After nearly a full day of discouragement I was so ready for this!. As soon as he took the fly, it felt like I snagged a log. He took the fly straight down, shook his head twice, and I felt the line go slack. I stripped the line to check my fly and I was surprised to see it was still there. But then on closer inspection I could see that my hook was nearly straight. Total defeat. Fisherman 0 Trout 1.
Shortly after this near miss, Mike and I called it quits. Mike was super discouraged that the insects had failed to show up that he volunteered to take me back out the next morning. I went back to the RV to ice my now sore arm. Mike felt pretty badly I had a crappy day of fishing so he graciously offered to show my family around Monster Lake. He took us back to Cowboy Camp. We walked up to a huge cliff and watched a storm move in. A giant rainbow appeared over Monster Lake Ranch that evening. I had hoped that would mean a better day of fishing in the morning.
The next morning, Mike and I hit the lake fairly early. We only had a half day to fish because we were packing up and heading to Yellowstone. I wish I could say that our second morning was more successful than our first. The weather was perfect; sunny, hot, not a cloud in the sky, with little to no wind. The rest of the group called it perfect, the first nice day of our vacation. But those perfect days make the worst days for trout fishing. I am pretty sure I am the only person who has ever come to Monster Lake with the hopes of catching a monster trout and who walked away with nothing but a sore arm from all that casting.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West (The Master’s Cody Experience)
We decided to tour The Buffalo Bill Center of the West while in Cody. The cost of admission was pricey ($19 for adults and $12 for children ages 6-17) but the admission covers two consecutive days to the museum. This museum is huge and you could definitely use two days to explore the entire thing. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West houses six different museums in one building: Buffalo Bill Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, and McCracken Research Library, as well as special time limited exhibits. We explored all of the museums but not the library. The exhibit was closed for set-up during our visit. I’m embarrassed to admit, but as we entered the center it dawned on me that this was the first real museum the kids had ever ever really been in. Our biggest worry was what the kids would think and how they would behave. We were pleasantly surprised – they were both well behaved and they both LOVED it. When I asked the kids what their favorite part was they simply said “all of it!”
We started our exploration in the Whitney Western Art Museum. Each painting was tied to a number and you had access to headphones and recorder that provided a recorded information on the artist and the painting. The kids loved this – they walked around the entire art area typing in the numbers and listening. We loved looking at the paintings of Yellowstone knowing that was the next stop on our road trip.
After the art museum we explored the Cody Firearms Museum. This was amazing; truly a sight to see. Sadly I didn’t take any pictures of the guns because there was just so many it was almost overwhelming. There were guns of all shapes and kinds. Guns from years and years ago to present. My husband and I really enjoyed this area. During our time here, we kept thinking about our loved ones not on this trip with us. I know my father-in-law would have also been fascinated.
Next we journeyed through the Plains Indian Museum, which was probably my second favorite area. Looking at the items the Indian people made and the details in these items were fascinating. My girl loved the baby carriers the Indian people made and transported their babies in. My boy enjoyed learning about the Bison and all the things the Indian people used from the Bison. Bison have become his new favorite animals.
Next we explored the Buffalo Bill Museum. We traveled through this section very quickly because the kids were anxious to get to the Draper Natural History Museum. There were many interesting things I never know about Buffalo Bill and his life; he was really quite accomplished. The Natural History Museum was probably where we spent the most of our time. There was an area you could see the animal habitat and see what they eat, touch their horn or antlers, and touch their hides. There were all sorts of animals in this area from chipmunks to elks, to bears. The kids really like this.
Overall we really like Buffalo Bill Center of the West. There was a great deal to see and I’m sure we missed plenty in our short visit. If I had the opportunity to go again I would and I would want want to explore my two favorite areas more thoroughly – the Plains Indian Museum and the Cody Firearms Museum.
Old Trail Town (The Taylor’s Minus Wayne’s Cody Experience)
During our visit we got to help Old Trail Town celebrate it’s 50th anniversary of being in business. They gave us a gold sticker to wear around for the day. We even left our anniversary sticker on after we left. Old Trail Town is more than a collection of historic buildings. Although it is exactly that; a collection of old buildings. You will also find relics throughout the restored buildings that give you a glimpse of what life was like for early western settlers. My ancestors were not western settlers but I recognized several antiques that my great grandparents had in their homes.
Old Trail Town collection has 27 buildings, which date from 1879-1901, one hundred horse drawn vehicles, as well as extensive memorabilia from the Wyoming frontier and Indian artifacts. Some of the homes can be entered and others you can’t. Several homes had beds in them. We can’t help but wonder, were people really that small? My husband and I have a king sized bed and when I am looking at the beds in these homes, I am shocked at how small they look! Have we supersized our entire lives?
Three of the buildings located at Old Trail Town are buildings used by “The Hole in the Wall Gang” which Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were apart of. You will still find bullet holes in the door of the saloon. I think I need to do more research on my wild west villains. I kinda need to admit I thought Butch Cassidy was a good guy, maybe because Robert Redford was in the movie and he can’t possibly be a bad guy, right?
In addition to the buildings and relics, several historical figures are buried at Old Trail Town including Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnston. Maybe you have seen a movie also starring Robert Redford? Jeremiah Johnson? It is one of my favorite western movies. I think I just realized how infatuated I am with Robert Redford. Anyway, after the release of the movie, Jeremiah Johnston was relocated from his pauper’s grave in California to Old Trail Town. Robert Redford even served as a pallbearer in the largest burial service in the history of Wyoming.
Ticket prices to visit this attraction are $8.00 for adults and $5.00 for kids 6-12 years of age. My parents took me to Old Trail Town on my first visit to Cody. I would not say much has changed. It remains a place where the wild west lives. Even if it is contained to two acres.
Buffalo Bill Dam (The Todd’s Cody Experience)
The Shoshone River runs right through Cody, Wyoming. Six miles west of town, on the way to Yellowstone, you will drive through a series of tunnels and then pass the Buffalo Bill Dam. It was built in 1910 and was the highest dam in the world, at that time. We also found it interesting that the dam was originally built with no reinforcing rebar.
We found ample large space parking in the parking area just west of the dam and visitor center. We were greeted by a man driving a golf cart who offered us a ride up to the visitor center. He told us after the 9/11 bombings they put up barricades and no longer allow parking close to the dam. We would not have minded the walk, but the gentleman driving us was a treat to spend time with.
On the way into the visitor center we learned that the water level was as low as it has been in the past 20 years. At the visitor center, we wandered around outside. The sound of the water rushing through the spillway is loud. The sun bounces off the falling water and created rainbows. The water on the other side of dam is calm and quiet. We lingered outside to enjoy the views.
Inside the visitor center we watched a movie about the making of the dam. Our daughter was fascinated by the number of people injured or even killed during the building. I think the movie made a huge impact on her. We got our national passports stamped and walked back to our truck. There are a few artifacts on the way to/from the parking lot to the visitor center; namely a ball plug and a hydraulic valve.
Sadly, we were in Cody just days before the start of their summer season which meant that the nightly rodeo’s Cody is known for had yet to start. I do wish we had been able to attend a rodeo but we picked our dates to beat the large summer tourist season at Yellowstone National Park. Life is certainty about balancing choices.
We spent two nights and a few days in and around Cody. We enjoyed the “down” time before our next stop. Thanks so much to the staff at Monster Lake for helping make our time in Cody what we had hoped it would be.