Rocky Mountains & Western Frontiers Land Tour
8/30/17 to 9/12/17

Due to the length of the review, it is in 5 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.

Page 1 - Denver, CO to Cheyenne, WY to Rapid City, SD
Page 2 - Rapid City, SD to Billings, MT to Cody, WY
Page 3 - Cody, WY to Yellowstone Nat. Park to Jackson Hole, WY

Page 4 - Jackson Hole, WY to Salt Lake City, UT
Page 5 - Salt Lake City, UT to Vernal, UT to Steamboat Springs, CO to Denver, CO


Day 5 – Rapid City to Billings

This would be one of our longer driving days of the tour, so we had to have our bags out at 6:45 AM and be on the bus at 7:45 AM.  We also would be stopping at several interesting places during the day.  On the way to our first destination, we would pass by an area where we might be able to see Devil’s Tower in the distance.  This was the mountain that was featured in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I have wanted to see it in person since I first saw the movie 40 years ago.  I can’t believe it has been that long.  Unfortunately, and as expected, the smoke in the air prevented us from seeing it.  We would be going through the town of Sturgis on the way to our first stop.  It is a relatively sleepy town other than when the motorcycle rallies are happening there.  There wasn’t much to see other than the name of the town on the side of the mountain.

The scenery was getting very pretty, as we traveled to our first destination, Deadwood, SD.


As we entered the town, it felt like we were coming into a real wild west town of old, for the most part.  It was early in the morning, so it was very quiet; plus, we weren’t visiting during high season.


Scott had told us that we should visit the Old Style Saloon #10, since it has displayed what is purported to be the original death chair of Wild Bill Hickok.  Hickok was assassinated in the Old Style Saloon #10, while playing poker and holding a hand with Aces and Eights; but that was in a different building that burned down in 1879.  A different bar is now in that original location.  It is still a very interesting place to visit.  The floors are covered with saw dust and there is memorabilia all over the place.



Just above the main door of the bar is the death chair. 

I left the bar to walk around town, since it looked like a fascinating place to explore. 



I got a kick out of the models in the windows above a bar.  I guess they were trying to make it look like a house of ill repute.


I kept walking around looking at all the interesting buildings.

I ran into one of our friends from the bus.  He asked if I had seen the Wild Bill Hickok statue down the street.  Since I hadn’t, I went in the direction he told me to go.  I soon found it.


I continued looking around and found some more lovely buildings.  I also came across a shop that had several very old cash registers.


We got on the bus for our next destination, which was Tatanka: The Story of the Bison ( This is an exhibit that was established by actor Kevin Costner.   Scott showed us a video about it on the way there.  Costner had commissioned an artist to create a sculpture of bison being chased by Indians.  It was originally going to be the centerpiece of a $200,000,000 resort/casino complex; but opposition by the Lakota Indians stopped the development.  Instead, Costner set up the Tatanka center to tell the story of the Bison and display the artwork.  He was moved to tell the story of the Bison and how the herds of 30-60 million bison were reduced to less than 1,000 in the late 1800’s. 

When we arrived at the center, we first went into a meeting room, where a Lakota Indian told us about the bison and how each part of the bison was used in Indian life.  It was truly fascinating.  He showed us samples of how the body parts were turned into cooking utensils and other useful things.

After the presentation, he took us out of the building to walk to where the bison statues were displayed.  They were impressive statues.  I wish that the undergrowth hadn’t been so long, since it did hide some of the features.




I noticed that some people were climbing up a small mound across from the statues to take photos.  It looked like a good idea, so I went there too.  It was a better way to view the total display.

We then walked over to a teepee display and were told about how they were quickly assembled and easily taken down to move to their next destination.  Since the Lakota’s were a migratory tribe, they needed to be able to up and move easily.

When we returned to the welcome center, we checked out the shop and some of the displays.  Since Kevin Costner’s film Dances with Wolves was filmed in the general vicinity, they had some film memorabilia there also.

Our next destination, Little Big Horn, was a long drive away; which gave us an opportunity to watch a video about Custer and the battle.  During the drive, we were passing through some pretty terrain; but the smoke greatly reduced our visibility. 




When we arrived at the Little Big Horn Battlefield welcome center (, I first went up to Last Stand Hill.  Scott had told us that the park ranger’s talk would be starting shortly after we arrived; but I wanted to get photos first then listen to the story again, that we had just seen on the video.  I could see the memorial to the 220 soldiers, scouts and civilians that lost their lives on top of the hill.  The grave markers were placed where they supposedly died.

When I got to the top of the hill, I looked at the monument with all the names on it.


From the top of the hill, I could look down and see the grave markers.  I spotted the grave of Boston Custer, youngest brother of George Armstrong Custer.  Boston was a two-time medal of honor recipient that was also killed with his brother during the battle.


The marker for George Armstrong Custer himself, is highlighted in black to make it easier for visitors to find.

Looking out at the peaceful rolling prairies makes it hard to imagine a battle raging on that spot.

Close to the graveyard is the Indian Memorial.  It is a large circular structure that has been cut into the ground.  The way it is done provides a sacred and spiritual feeling.  On the top of the circle are spirit warriors.  Along the inner wall are panels for each tribe that fought in the battle, that list the names of the fallen warriors.



I liked where the cut in the circle opened to where the other memorial could be seen through it, which joined the memorials in harmony.

I went back to the welcome center to listen to the park ranger telling the tale of the battle.  He was very animated and told a great tale.  I listened for a while; but since I had heard the similar story in the bus video, I decided to leave before it was finished.

I went into the welcome center and looked at their historical displays and walked through the store.


After leaving the welcome center, I walked behind it to the Custer National Cemetery.  This cemetery, like Arlington National Cemetery, is the final resting place for those who served the country in military service.


We have visited US National Cemeteries around the world.  They always have special peace about them.  It is an honor to walk among the graves of heroes who gave their life for our freedom.

We still had about an hour and a half drive to Billings, Montana, where we were staying at the Best Western Plus Clocktower Inn (  We pulled in at 6:45 PM.  It had been a long 11-hour day of touring.   The hotel Operations Manager boarded the bus.  In addition to welcoming us to Billings and his hotel, he informed us that because the next day was Labor Day, the hotel restaurant would be closed.  Breakfast had not been included in our rooms; but the manager told us that since we couldn’t go to their restaurant and enjoy their famous cinnamon buns, they would put out a complimentary breakfast in one of the meeting rooms for us.  Everyone cheered.  That was very generous of the hotel and most appreciated.  But it sure made me crave one of their cinnamon buns.

For some reason, I didn’t take any exterior photos of the hotel; but I did take some of the lovely pool area with its many colorful flower boxes.


Our room was very comfortable, especially the bed.  This was the first hotel room we had been in that had bright lights in the rooms.  It was such a pleasure to not have to turn on every light in the room to be able to see.  It also had a heated floor in the bathroom; which in this part of the country must be a welcome bonus to guests in the winter. 



For dinner, we went to one of the restaurants Scott had mentioned that was couple blocks away, the Montana Brewing Company (  It was a nice looking popular restaurant with a diverse menu.


They also had a very effective salesman as a waitress.  In addition to an excellent local beer, she sold me on their Fried Enchilada Bites, by raving about how delicious and popular they were.  Well, she was right.  They were quite good.  Carol ordered a hamburger that she thoroughly enjoyed.  Once again, I took the waitresses recommendation and ordered the Cheeseburger Mac.  It was a tasty meal.  We were quite pleased with this restaurant.


It had been a long and most enjoyable day.  We were really pleased that the weather had been so good.  The temperatures were in the low 80’s with low humidity; and most importantly, we hadn’t had any rain.


Day 6 – Billings, Montana to Cody, Wyoming

In the morning, we went to the meeting room for our breakfast.  The operations manager was standing outside the room, so I chatted with him.  He told us that we had been in one of the recently renovated rooms.  They still had about 20 more to go.  I told him how much we enjoyed the room and appreciated the breakfast.  He was very gracious and seemed to be a very customer focused manager.  It certainly showed with the friendly and helpful staff.  For breakfast, they had a delicious egg casserole and a hash brown casserole.  Both quite tasty and filling.

We had a late start, with bags out at 9:00 AM and on the bus at 10:00 AM.  The drive through the Montana and Wyoming countryside was most enjoyable with interesting formations; although the distant mountains were obscured by smoke.



Our only destination for the day was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (  ).  It is a large facility with five separate museums in it.  There is a statue of Buffalo Bill in front of the building.


The main lobby area, in addition to a shop, it has an assortment of objects from the various museums.


The first museum I visited was the Cody Firearms Museum.  It had a huge assortment of firearms displayed throughout the various rooms.


They even had a Gatling Gun; which has always been a weapon that has fascinated me.

Throughout the museum there were other displays trying to catch your attention away from the weapons.



In the Smith & Wesson area, they had busts of the founders of the company.


There was a large collection of weapons that were owned by former Presidents and foreign heads of state.


One of my favorites was the Thompson Submachine Gun.  Ever since I watched The Untouchables TV show when I was a teenager, I have wanted to shoot one of those.  Perhaps someday; but this day, I at least got to see one in person.  This was a world class weapons museum.

I next went to the Draper Natural History Museum.  They had some stuffed animals and dioramas; but this was not that impressive of a natural history museum.  Perhaps, I didn’t see all of it; but I think I did.



I then moved on to the Buffalo Bill Museum.  Now this was an interesting museum that I could spend a lot of time in.  Even the stuffed animals were more interesting than in the natural history museum. 


There was just a lot to see and it was interesting stuff.  They had a video in one section that showed old clips from Buffalo Bill’s show.  They were funny to watch; but he did put on quite a show.  He even performed his show in front of Queen Victoria in London in 1887.

They had a saddle owned and used by Theodore Roosevelt with his initials on it.  This was also a very good museum.  I guess it should be, since it is the Buffalo Bill Center.

I next visited the Plains Indian Museum.  This was also quite an interesting museum, with so many interesting displays.



There was also within that museum, an outdoor courtyard with Indian art.  With the weather being so good, it was a pleasure to walk around outside to enjoy everything.



After returning inside, I went over to the Whitney Western Art Museum.  This was a beautiful museum with gorgeous western art on the walls and other floor displays.  Some of the sculptures were quite nice.



I hadn't realized at the time, that the painting behind elk statue was of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, that we would be seeing in person the next day.

In one part of the art museum, there was a large window that looked out onto statue of a cowboy on horseback at the entrance to the museum grounds.  Somehow, we didn’t come in that way, so I was glad I got to see it from the museum.

Other than the natural history museum, visiting these museums had been quite enjoyable.  Their subjects were unique to the area and they had unique displays that we haven’t previously seen.

With the Buffalo Bill Center being in Cody, it was a short drive to our lodging for the night, the Buffalo Bill Village Cabins (  I was concerned when I saw the description for the nights accommodations.  It said, “you will overnight in lovingly restored rustic cabins.”  I am not excited when I hear the word “rustic” used to describe a hotel room, especially when it is combined with “cabin.”  We had enjoyed the accommodations so far, so I would hold off my opinion until we had actually experienced the rustic cabins.      

The hotel office looked like an old west building.  It was a sharp contrast to the new Holiday Inn that was across the parking lot from it.  They apparently have common ownership, since the Holiday Inn employees unloaded our luggage and we were told that we could use their restaurant for breakfast; but it wasn’t an included breakfast.

It took Scott a long time to come out with the keys.  There had been a problem.  Apparently, they had the names of people on the keys for the next tour that was coming in, not ours.  So Scott had to manually change them, so we could get to our cabins.  Once that was cleared up, the bus took us to a drop off point next to the cabins.  The cabins did look cute from the outside, and there were a lot of them.


There were a few hiccups with the rooms, including ours, where the keys didn’t work.  But that was quickly fixed.  Someone else had another couple in their room, so that also had to be corrected.  This was one place where we were glad we had a handicap room, since it had a ramp for Carol to drive her scooter up to the room.  She could have taken the steps if we hadn’t had a ramp and I could have carried the scooter up some steps, since it only weighs 35 pounds; but the ramp was appreciated.

The room itself was OK; but there was an unusual odor that didn’t go away.  I guess it was a rustic smell.  The cabin also only had one available electric outlet other than in the bathroom.  With all the electronics people have these days that require charging, it could be a problem.  We had to unplug some of the lights to charge our phones and camera batteries.




Although we had a short day of touring, this was a day that had an optional evening tour, a chuckwagon dinner and show.  Earlier in the season, guests also go to the Cody Stampede Rodeo after dinner; but the rodeo had shut down the week before we arrived.  I must say that YMT has very reasonable prices for their optional tours.  This tour only cost $39 per person.  If we had booked it on our own, it would have cost $30 per person.  The bus ride alone was worth more than the $9.00 upcharge. 

We got to the Cody Cattle Company ( well before the dinner and show started.  The facility was a large open building with lots of tables with wooden benches.  Knowing now that we would be there for almost 2.5 hours, I wish that I had bought the seat cushions they were offering for sale when we walked in. 


Being there early gave everyone a chance to get drinks, unwind and chat with each other.  Since I like to drink beer when on vacation, I asked Scott which of the local beers he liked.  He told me he liked one called Moose Drool.  It didn’t sound that appetizing; but I went for it.  It was a good recommendation.

When it was time to eat, the greeter, master of ceremonies and lead singer told us the routine we would use to make an orderly entrance to the food line in a separate room at the side of the building.  He called up one of the women on our tour to ring the dinner chime.  He hadn’t realized that he had picked out a real character, Pat.  She was hilarious.  In addition to being about half his height, she stole the show.


The food line had green salad, cornbread, roasted chicken, brisket, baked potatoes, coleslaw and creamed corn.  For dessert, they had some delicious brownies.  Although, the brisket wasn’t smoked, they had Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce available on the tables to give it a smoky flavor.  All the food was quite edible and tasty.

The entertainment for the night was the Triple C Cowboys.  I have to say that when the show started, I was a bit disappointed.  But as they got going and I started to get used to the different personalities of the musicians, it was pretty enjoyable.  All in all, it was an enjoyable evening and I was glad we went.


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