Wanderings: Cody, WY

If you’re already familiar with the Wyoming town of Cody, chances are it’s because of the town’s historical namesake, Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, one of the wild West’s original showmen. Or maybe you’ve passed through on your way to Yellowstone National Park. And Western art buffs surely know the small town of only 9,000 residents by its incredible museums housed in the world-class Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

It’s the latter that draws some of the largest crowds to Cody each September for the Rendezvous Royale — a celebration of Western art centered around the town’s most prestigious events, including the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale, the historical center’s Patron’s Ball and the  Cody High Style design exhibition. The event has blossomed over the years into a weeklong communitywide festival, making it a perfect time to put on your cowboy hat and stroll Cody’s streets to check out the sights.

There is no shortage of hotels in Cody, but staying downtown puts you right in the middle of the action. My favorite is the Chamberlin Inn, built in 1903 and beautifully restored in 2005 by longtime Cody residents Ev and Susan Diehl. It’s easily the classiest place in town, and — how can any writer not love this — Ernest Hemingway stayed here in 1932 just before finishing Death in the Afternoon. You can still see his signature in the guestbook.

The historic Irma Hotel is another downtown accommodation. A little more rough-and-tumble than the Chamberlin, the Irma — named after Buffalo Bill’s daughter — once provided accommodation to such famous Western personalities as Annie Oakley, Frederic Remington and Calamity Jane. The building was designed by Alfred Wilderman Woods, a Nebraska church architect, and certain exterior walls are made of river rock and locally quarried sandstone. It’s worth it just to walk the halls of the hotel’s original section, or grab breakfast at the Irma’s restaurant in the morning. The original cherry bar in the restaurant is one of the most photographed features in Cody.

In the morning, grab a fresh cup of coffee and check out some local art at the Beta Coffeehouse. From here, it’s easy to wander in and out of the many galleries and shops that line Sheridan Avenue, Cody’s main drag. You’ll also be on the fringe of the Rendezvous’ less serious events, including the Boot Scoot ’N Boogie, a fun fashion show orchestrated by downtown merchants. Several downtown artists also host studio tours, and you can browse the Style West market on the corner of 13th and Beck, which features Western furniture, home accessories, clothing and art. Can’t-miss downtown galleries to check out include the Big Horn Gallery, Cody Fine Art and Simpson Gallagher Gallery.

Many of the Rendezvous events are held at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, a short drive from downtown. A shuttle often runs between downtown and the center, which itself houses five different museums — including the renowned Whitney Gallery of Western Art. A destination on its own, the center comes alive during Rendezvous week. Highlights include the Quickdraw Show and Sale, where more than 30 artists complete a piece in one hour, then sell them at a live auction; and the Cody High Style, which showcases decorative works by artisans from all over the country. The Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale is a must for collectors of contemporary Western art, with proceeds benefiting the center. The free Miniature Art Auction was introduced last year and is a great way to pick up affordable artwork, while the Patron’s Ball has been dubbed one of the premiere social events in the Northern Rockies and makes for an amazing finale to the week.

After a day of taking in the town’s artistic merits, downtown Cody comes alive in the evening. Western-themed events such as the Cody Gunfighters and Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue are fun for out-of-towners. Catch a live country band at the Silver Dollar Bar or Cassie’s Supper Club. The Wyoming Rib and Chop House is one of the most popular eateries in town, while the Mayor’s Inn offers an off-the-beaten-path experience Thursday through Saturday, with a reasonably priced set dinner menu in a bed-and-breakfast environment. The modern American food at the Geysers on the Terrace might be Cody’s best-kept secret — try the hazelnut shrimp or the spiced maple-and-orange-glazed salmon — and the bar here is a fun place to grab a drink.

If you come to Cody for the art, there are plenty of other sights that should be on your agenda as well. A trip west toward Yellowstone leads you through the scenic Wapiti Valley, where historic guest ranches beckon visitors, including Pahaska Tepee Resort — Buffalo Bill’s original 1904 lodge. Walking the boardwalks of Old Trail Town appeases history buffs with its collection of 26 structures built between 1879 and 1901, while the Heart Relocation Center provides a chilling history of the events surrounding the tragic internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Finally, a scenic drive on the Chief Joseph Highway toward Yellowstone provides a panoramic view of the Greater Yellowstone region and the surrounding wilderness.

One of the best things about Cody is the Western feel throughout the town, whether it’s the art or the rodeos or the real cowboys you’ll see on the streets. Whenever you choose to visit, the town will certainly leave a lasting impression, and if you choose to see it during Rendezvous week you just might take one of those impressions home with you to hang on the wall.

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