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Roaming Wyoming

Rocky Mountain Exploration:

Part 7: Roaming Wyoming
By Jack M. Turner
Photos by John C. Turner

    Our next destination, Wyoming, features three key tourist destinations – Jackson Hole/Grand Teton National Park; Yellowstone National Park; and Cody - which also happen to be three of our favorite places to visit in the west.  Although none of these locations is directly served by passenger trains, reminders of passenger train days are still evident at many locations we visited as well as other locales we were not able to experience.

    The drive from Ogden to Jackson took us north through Logan, UT then along huge Bear Lake whose deep blue waters and mountain setting made this one of the most scenic views of our trip.  The lake stretches into both Utah and Idaho and stands right alongside US Highway 89.  North of Bear Lake we passed through Montpelier, ID and passed above the Union Pacific line linking Green River, WY and Pocatello, ID.  This route serves as a shortcut from UP’s transcontinental mainline to its route to Portland, OR.  The 1961 Official Guide of the Railways shows both the “Portland Rose” and the “City of Portland” stopping at Montpelier.  When Amtrak assumed Chicago to Portland and Seattle service via its “Pioneer”, this line was bypassed in favor of the longer route via Ogden.  Continuing north we came upon the Snake River whose whitewater attracted many rafting enthusiasts while providing fabulous views to accompany our journey north.  By late afternoon we reached Jackson, WY, one of the west’s iconic tourist hotspots. 

A cave and stream along US 89 north of Logan, Utah

Bear Lake straddles the Utah/Idaho border along US 89

The scenic Snake River south of Jackson, Wyoming

    Jackson is the southern gateway to magnificent Grand Teton National Park which we would visit the next day.  However there was much to see and do in and around Jackson on our overnight stopover.  The number one activity in the area is, in our opinion, a visit to the Bar J Chuckwagon located out in the country just west of Jackson.  Early arrival at the Bar J will give the visitor a chance to enjoy wagon rides and motorized train rides around the peaceful property, witness the baking of fresh biscuits in a Dutch oven and shop in the ranch store.  Not long after we finished enjoying those activities the ranch hands rang the supper bell and approximately 750 guests took their seats in the comfortable dinner hall.  Guests then went through an amazingly efficient serving line where they were served beef or chicken, baked potato, applesauce, ranch beans, and spice cake on tin plates.  Sitting at community style tables provided a chance to visit with other guests from around the world while enjoying a great meal like those served on the wagon trail.

Entrance to the Bar J Chuckwagon

The gift shop sells excellent CDs by the Bar J Wranglers

One of the Bar J Ranch’s horses

An old wagon at the Bar J

Guests pass through the serving line before supper

    Once the meal ended, the Bar J Wranglers took the stage and performed several favorite old western standards as well as a bunch of lesser known songs that are equally melodious.  Two of the Wranglers, Scott and Bryan Humphrey, are sons of founder Babe Humphrey and the pair not only display their ability to sing and play musical instruments but also are talented and family-friendly comedians.  In many ways we felt as if we were watching a Sonny and Cher comedy routine with Scott making some off the wall observation a la Sonny Bono while Bryan would fire back a funny retort as Cher would have done during their popular comedy program years ago.  The result is very effective resulting in a night filled with good humor, laughter, and of course great music.  The Bar J Wranglers also include long time member Tim Hodgson, a national champion fiddler, as well as the talented Danny Rogers and Donnie Cook.

The Bar J Wranglers
(left to right) Tim Hodgson, Scott Humphrey, Danny Rogers, and Bryan Humphrey. 
(Not pictured: Donnie Cook).

Tim Hodgson and Scott Humphrey

Danny Rogers and Bryan Humphrey

TrainWeb photographer John Turner with Bar J founder Babe Humphrey

    Bar J Chuckwagon was founded in June 1978 by Babe Humphrey who had performed cowboy and western music for several years at various chuckwagon properties in Colorado and other locations as well as during his time in the United States military.  It had always been Mr. Humphreys’ dream to own his own chuckwagon facility and eventually he felt called to locate such a place near Jackson Hole.  The Bar J has through the years become a mainstay in the popular Jackson Hole region attracting visitors as well as area residents, many of whom are frequent repeat customers.  One of the drawing cards for this place is its family atmosphere and the fact that dinner and a great show come at a very reasonable price just over $20 per person. 

    Through the years the Bar J Wranglers have recorded many excellent CDs containing such mainstays as Ghost Riders in the Sky, Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds, Streets of Laredo, and Cool Water as well as other catchy western tunes such as Roamin’ Wyoming, Utah Trail, and Strawberry Roan.  The railroad classic Orange Blossom Special is even contained in a couple of the group’s CDs and finds its way into the set list on many occasions as it did during our visit.  A personal favorite, Wyoming Wind was written by Bryan Humphrey and is one of the best western songs this writer has ever heard.  These excellent CDs are sold at the ranch gift shop as well as on the Bar J web site and are sure to satisfy the lover of western music.

    Our overnight lodging was at the new Hampton Inn in Jackson, a beautiful hotel located in a quiet area separated from the highway by stands of trees.  The hotel features an indoor pool and our room sported a nice view of the surrounding mountains.  In the evening guests enjoyed sitting in the outdoor sitting area beside fire pits that provided an ambiance fitting the setting and in the morning a delicious complimentary breakfast was served.

Hampton Inn, Jackson, Wyoming

    In pre-Amtrak years Jackson was served indirectly by Union Pacific whose passenger trains offered through cars to Victor, Idaho, just west of Jackson.  Connecting buses transported visitors to Jackson where they could enjoy Grand Teton National Park, skiing at Teton Village, float trips and whitewater rafting on the Snake River, and the restful atmosphere of Jackson Hole.  Today the same activities are still available however train travelers will have to drive a rental vehicle north from Salt Lake City or south from Whitefish, Montana in order to access the area.

The famed antler archway in downtown Jackson

    Departing Jackson one enters Grand Teton National Park almost immediately.  While it is possible to enjoy commanding views of the distinctive jagged mountains from US Highway 191 that cuts through the park, it is wise to take time to take the Jenny Lake loop road that follows the edge of its namesake lake.  By parking our van and walking a few feet we were able to savor the beauty of Jenny Lake with the Tetons rising from the opposite shore at elevations up to about 13,000 feet.  A path leading to the lake provided a different perspective as we took in the awesome views.  A few miles to the north US 191 traced the edge of massive Jackson Lake which parallels the highway for several miles.

The Grand Tetons are known for their sawtooth appearance

The mountains as seen from the entrance to Grand Teton National Park

Wildflowers frame this view of the Grand Tetons

A one-way side road offers access to beautiful views of Jenny Lake

The view from the parking area is breathtaking

The Grand Tetons from water level

A short trail takes visitors to the edge of Jenny Lake

Looking northward at Jenny Lake

Jackson Lake provides the foreground to the Teton Mountain Range

A glacier is visible across Jackson Lake

    North of Grand Teton National Park we entered Yellowstone National Park which is known for its unique geothermal features, waterfalls, beautiful vistas, and abundant wildlife.  During three days of visiting Yellowstone by road and foot, we enjoyed eruptions of the famous Old Faithful geyser twice, hiked around numerous geyser basins which also featured colorful hot springs and interesting steam vents, and enjoyed several cascading waterfalls.  Wildlife was plainly visible in numerous places headlined by a herd of buffalo and grazing deer and elk then topped off by a chance to watch a grizzly bear fishing for dinner in the Yellowstone River.

The Lewis River in southern Yellowstone National Park

One of many springs in West Thumb Geyser Basin
with Yellowstone Lake in the background

A colorful spring in West Thumb Geyser Basin

Fishing Cone, a distinctive feature in Yellowstone Lake at West Thumb

Old Faithful erupts during the predicted time

Crowds watch an eruption of Old Faithful

Another eruption of Old Faithful

White Dome Geyser, located along Firehole Lake Drive

Artesia Geyser, located further along Firehole Lake Drive

A mule deer spotted in the woods

This mule deer was relaxing along the side of the Madison River

A spring located between Madison and Norris

A grizzly bear wanders the edge of the Yellowstone River. 
A large crowd watched from the opposite side of the river
under the guidance of a National Park Service ranger.

The grizzly bear wades into the river to fish for dinner

   The road serving Yellowstone is basically a large figure 8 and it is wise to plan to spend at least a day and a half seeing the sights within each half of the twin loops.  While many sights may be seen from the road, the only way to truly see the geysers, hot pools, and other geothermal features is to venture out on the trails and boardwalks serving the various geyser basins.  Most of these walks are relatively simple with minimal elevation gain along the way and the payoff in memories and photos makes the effort well worthwhile.  If time is limited, it is advisable to concentrate on the lower loop  to allow visits to the Lower Geyser Basin (including Old Faithful), and Midway, Norris, Biscuit, and West Thumb geyser basins as well as the magnificent waterfalls at Canyon Village and along the road south of Norris.  Firehole Lake Drive and Firehole Canyon Drive are two short loops off the main road south of Madison that should not be missed.

Gibbon Falls

Herd of buffalo roam a large open plain

Buffalo are plentiful in Yellowstone

Rustic Falls, located along the highway near Golden Gate,
just south of Mammoth Hot Springs

The highway hangs over the valley in the Golden Gate area south of Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs in northern Yellowstone National Park

Tower Fall in northeastern Yellowstone drops 132 feet

Yellowstone Falls

Norris Geyser Basin

A small geyser in the Porcelain Basin section of Norris Geyser Basin

Firehole Falls, located just south of Madison in Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring shows off its rainbow of colors

Grand Prismatic Spring, located in Midway Geyser Basin

A geyser located  in Midway Geyser Basin

    Our two night stay in the area was at West Yellowstone, Montana, a small town catering to Yellowstone tourists.  West Yellowstone was actually established by the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad which brought tourists to the doorstep of the national park aboard its seasonal passenger trains from 1908 until the 1960s.  UP built a striking depot in West Yellowstone along with a large dining hall, baggage building, and dormitory space for its train crews.  Most of these buildings survive today along with the water tower used to refuel steam engines before diesel power took over.  The old station building today is the Yellowstone Historic Center which contains numerous artifacts from the town’s passenger train era along with other transportation and cultural reminders from earlier times including a stage coach, railroad china, airline memorabilia, and displays telling the story of waitresses who worked at the UP dining hall.  Nearby the baggage building today houses the police department, the impressive dining hall is used for other civic purposes, and the water tower still stands.

West Yellowstone’s former Union Pacific depot, now the Yellowstone Historic Center

Behind the Yellowstone Historic Center one can see a section of track and the UP water tank

A UP shield displayed at the historical center

Union Pacific china is included in a display about the UP dining hall at West Yellowstone

A stage coach used to shuttle passengers from the train to the park
before tracks were extended to West Yellowstone

An old snow plow displayed outside the old depot

Union Pacific’s old baggage building

The UP dining hall in West Yellowstone

    Two other “must see” sights while staying in West Yellowstone are the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center and the Yellowstone IMAX Theatre.  During our visit to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center we observed a pair of huge grizzly bears that were rescued when they were cubs. We also were fascinated to watch two wolf packs housed at the center while learning a great deal from one of the resident wildlife experts.  This facility is notable because in addition to watching the grizzlies and the wolves, visitors can learn a great deal by speaking with the wildlife experts who staff the center and exploring the displays within the on-site museum.  Meanwhile, the IMAX theatre showed movies about Yellowstone National Park and about the region’s wildlife in larger than life views that provided a wonderful overview to the sights we were seeing in Yellowstone.

A grizzly bear at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, MT

A white wolf at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana

    Our chosen lodging at West Yellowstone was the Holiday Inn hotel.  This hotel is located within one block of the former UP depot which now houses the history center and is within walking distance of the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center and the IMAX Theater.  The entrance to Yellowstone National Park is just a few blocks from the hotel and most of the village of West Yellowstone is within easy reach by foot or automobile.  Our suite at the Holiday Inn was clean, comfortable, and quiet and we appreciated the hotel’s indoor swimming pool and its laundry facilities.  This hotel also pays tribute to West Yellowstone’s railroad heritage as a pair of crossbucks stand sentinel at the entrance and a historic rail passenger car is housed inside the hotel.  Former Oregon Short Line executive car # 1903 was built for the vice president of the OSL and was retired in 1935.  Since 1995 it has been housed at the Holiday Inn and can be toured by guests along with an interesting display of railroad advertisements touting travel to Yellowstone.

West Yellowstone Holiday Inn

Former Oregon Short Line executive car # 1903 is housed inside the Holiday Inn

Inside one of the rooms aboard the executive car

The observation lounge area of car # 1903

Advertisements for rail service to Yellowstone

    After our third day at Yellowstone, we exited the park on scenic US 14 to Cody.  This historic town once was a gateway to Yellowstone for passengers arriving on Chicago, Burlington & Quincy trains with a bus connection from Deaver, WY; today it remains a popular gateway to the park for motorists.  During the evening we attended the Cody Night Rodeo, a popular event that takes place nightly during the summer months.  All of the usual rodeo events were staged during the two hour rodeo and we also enjoyed the sunset over the mountains adjacent to the rodeo grounds on the outskirts of town.

The view from the north shore of Yellowstone Lake along US 20

A buffalo strolls along US 20

A scenic view near the east entrance to Yellowstone en route to Cody

Buffalo Bill Reservoir near Cody

Stampede Park, home of the Cody Night Rodeo

Calf roping at the Cody Night Rodeo

Another cowboy chases a calf at the rodeo

    Our lodging was unique as we stayed at the Buffalo Bill Village Cabins, a group of historic log cabins located close to downtown Cody.  Our cabin was clean and comfortable and was equipped with television and wireless internet access.  Being able to park right beside the door to our cabin was super convenient as we had to repack for the train trip home.  Cabin guests also have access to the swimming pool and other facilities at the adjacent Holiday Inn.  There are many other things to see and do in Cody including the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and Old Trail Town.  Cody is a couple hours driving time from the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park and is on a direct driving route from Denver to Yellowstone.

Buffalo Bill Village cabins, Cody, Wyoming

Buffalo Bill Historical Center

    The drive back to Denver took us through the scenic Wind River Canyon near Thermopolis, WY.  Here we paralleled the BNSF route linking Denver and Billings, MT.  This line was once served by CB&Q trains # 29 and 30, a nameless overnighter that carried coaches and a sleeping car according to the 1961 Official Guide.  Later in the drive we came upon the town of Douglas, WY where the local visitors bureau is housed in the former railway depot.  On the grounds a well maintained collection of railway equipment includes CB&Q 4-8-4 steam locomotive 5633 and UP Railway Express Agency box car 1897, built in 1911 for the Oregon Short line and used on local trains # 31 and 32.  Passenger cars on site include CB&Q dining car “Silver Salver”, Great Northern/Empire Builder 16 duplex roomette-4 bedroom sleeper “Agassiz Glacier”, and C&NW open window coach 1886.  A CB&Q wooden caboose and UP double deck stock car round out the collection.  There is no charge to tour the exhibits at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Center and the short detour off the interstate was time well spent.

The BNSF line through the Wind River Canyon once hosted CB&Q passenger trains

The Wind River flows through its namesake canyon
while the railroad passes through the mountain across the river in a tunnel

Great Northern sleeper “Agassiz Glacier” is displayed in Douglas, Wyoming

Burlington dining car “Silver Salver” at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Park

    After a lengthy drive we spent the night in Fort Collins, CO and prepared for the journey home by Amtrak.  That trip will be covered in the final chapter of this travelogue.


Bar J Chuckwagon
Grand Teton National Park
Hampton Inn Jackson, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Historic Center
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
Yellowstone IMAX Theatre
Holiday Inn West Yellowstone
Buffalo Bill Village Cabins
Cody Night Rodeo
Douglas Railroad Interpretive Center{63CFBE16-2DAF-4FF9-AFB0-6598ED6C4323}

Click Here for a Slide Show of all Images used in this Report.

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