Chadron, Nebraska to Cody, Wyoming (~400 miles)
The day got off to somewhat of a clear start – just some high, thin clouds – as we went west from Chadron. Just beyond Chadron is Fort Robinson State Park, an historic cavalry fort that we’d visited before but we got to too early to visit this time. After traversing miles of grassland dotted with cows, we crossed the Wyoming border at Van Tassell and joined I-25 at Orin, Wyoming. We could finally see real mountains – the southern end of the Wind River Range – on the far horizon. We took I-25 into Casper, Wyoming, along the route of four trails that fueled the westward expansion: Pony Express, Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Pioneer Trail. The speed limit on I-25 is 80 miles per hour (not that anyone felt they had to go THAT slow…), so we reached historic downtown Casper in time for a large, amazing breakfast at Sherrie’s Place. We then tried to walk off some of our meal by ambling over to Wind City Books to smell the cellulose. US20 departs from I-25 in Casper and we took it northwest to Shoshoni and then into the Wind River Canyon, where we had to wait out yet another construction delay. Then it was past the largest mineral hot spring in the world at Thermopolis, Wyoming and on toward our hotel in Cody, Wyoming. The weather had started to fail us before Shoshoni and by the time we reached Cody, it was raining again. Cody is the eastern gateway to Yellowstone Park so its downtown is more than a little touristy but we enjoyed a visit to Legends Bookstore and a good dinner (buffalo ravioli, yum!) at Adriano’s before succumbing to classic 1930’s monster movies on cable in our hotel room.
Cody, Wyoming to Ketchum, Idaho (~380 miles)
We had hoped that the weather would clear for our visit to Yellowstone but that was not to be – it was raining when we left Cody and went on with rain, clouds, and fog all the way to Idaho Falls, Idaho. On the upside, the Park was almost completely deserted and there were none of the paralyzing traffic jams we’d encountered the one time we’d been foolish enough to visit during the high summer tourist season. This eastern entrance to the Park closes for the winter in early November, so this was our last chance to do a drive-through on US20. The weather wasn’t great but we did see Yellowstone Lake and several buffalo, before crossing the Continental Divide (twice) and the Continental Divide Trail (once, CDT), and making a brief pass through Montana. We had a fast food lunch in West Yellowstone and pressed on west, hoping that there was some clear weather further ahead. Our weather wishes were granted when we encountered sunny skies as we descended toward Idaho Falls, Idaho. Other than the Idaho National Laboratory and Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, there aren’t many amenities along US20 west of Idaho Falls (most of those seem to have migrated south to I-86 and I-84). So after passing through Picabo, Idaho, we diverted from US20 to spend the night in the upscale resort/ski town of Ketchum, Idaho. After browsing the cellulose (book) store at the Iconoclast Cafe, we blew part of our budget on an excellent meal at the Town Square Tavern in downtown Ketchum. Ernest Hemingway’s last home (now owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy) is located here and more tourists to Ketchum request information for the Hemingway House than any other site in town. Contrary to popular belief, Hemingway was not much of a fly fisherman (but was a world-class deepsea fisherman), and it was autumn duck hunting, not fishing, that originally attracted him to this area. Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat (2011) takes an unique look at this immensely talented, complex, and difficult icon of American literature.