The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center – WWII Japanese American Confinement Site

Vicki’s and my plan for today was not going to be much fun, but it was necessary. We visited the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, which was a Japanese American confinement site or concentration camp, depending on who you speak to, during WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. More than 130,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two thirds of whom were American citizens, were uprooted and displaced away from the coasts. The northernmost camp was at Heart Mountain, near Powell, Wyoming.

The centre is privately run and really well laid out, giving a full portrait of the injustices and racism the Japanese Americans faced that culminated in their internment. I had a lot of prior knowledge and Vicki almost none and we both felt that the material was at our level. I alternated between anger and grief as I moved through the exhibits and then went above the centre to do the walking trail and tour the ruins of the hospital complex.

The internees spent three years in the camp, which sounds like so little time, but their lives were destroyed. Even release from the camp did not bring freedom because there was still such a strong anti-Japanese sentiment. The younger folks did better than the elders since they were sheltered from the harsh realities of camp. They were able to be children while the adults fought against boredom and scarcity. There were many suicides before and after release.

Some internees tried to return home after the war, but found there was no home to go back to. With just $25 and a ticket to anywhere in the US, they were released back into a world that did not want them. Wyoming’s governor went on record to say that he did not want the Japanese to stay in Wyoming. The stigma of internship has remained through the generations, with these American citizens passing on to their children that they were somehow inferior to the Caucasians. Most of the adults interred in the camps chose to pretend those three years did not happen.

What the United States did to the Japanese during World War II is not unique. Canada did the same thing, a little known fact that the lady at the centre said she had only just very recently found out. What distresses me is that the current climate in the United States feels very ripe for this sort of thing to happen again. Please, please, please go visit Heart Mountain if you are in the Yellowstone region or the Manzanar National Historic site in California.

This post was fact checked by Vicki. Thank you!

Lunch at The Irma

The ladies at the Cody visitors’ centre told me that I really should “do lunch at The Irma,” the restaurant attached to Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel. I checked the menu online and found prices very reasonable, so I decided to do that today. I had to stop at an optometrist’s first to have a screw replaced in my sunglasses (free service), so by the time I got to The Irma, it was almost 2:00.

I started by ordering a beer since I haven’t had one since Moab. The Irma offered a number of beers brewed at the nearby (60 miles away) Red Lodge Brewery in Montana. I went for the very “grapefruity” Bent Nail IPA, which was delicious!



The restaurant was updated in the ’70s to meet health codes, but would have fit in 100 years ago.


The ceiling is an exact reproduction of the original:


I had a fantastic patty melt with “Irma fries,” which are cubed and sautéd red potatoes with seasoning. Much better than frozen fries! At $9.99, this meal was priced right around what I’ve paid for a patty melt in many locations, but the potatoes really elevated the dish. Excellent food at a fair price. Rather unexpected for such a touristy location.


I went upstairs to check out the hotel:




This is the original bar, which was a gift from Queen Victoria:


And here’s a random shot of the pest who has insisted on cuddling with me all week:


Center of the West, Cody, WY

I’ve had no trouble filling the last three days in Cody.

Sunday was a bit of a down day for me. Vicki left for work around 7:00 and I got up very shortly thereafter. I got started on some work due Monday and didn’t go out until the afternoon, walking up and down Sheridan Avenue (main street) to get a sense of Cody’s tiny downtown.

Cody is, of course, named after William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the man who brought the Wild West to the world. It is my favourite kind of tourist town, similar to Dawson, as it is a robust community that exists outside of its tourism draw. There’s lots to do, plenty of good food, and the locals are very friendly.

Monday and Tuesday were eaten up by my visits to the massive Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This centre is actually five separate and unique museums. The centre is so large that your admission ticket ($19 for an adult) is valid for two consecutive days.

I started with a visit of the Draper Natural History Museum, all about the geography, ecosystems, flora, and fauna of the Yellowstone region. I liked how it was laid out, starting at the top of a mountain at about 6,000 ft, and then gently guiding you down to lower elevations. I especially liked the video on how to deal with a bear encounter and the giant mosaic map of the region.

Next, I went to the Buffalo Bill Museum. This was my favourite of the five! I really didn’t know much about either the man or the actor and this was a very comprehensive exhibit, full of artifacts from his life and shows. My favourite part was that there was actual video of one of his 1910 shows! This was so amazing to watch (especially the bit where we could hear him speak!) that I came back the next day and watched the video again! The video showed among other things, the popular “attack of the Deadwood stagecoach” portion of the show… with the actual stagecoach right behind me, restored to brilliant yellow! I saw a lot of myself in Buffalo Bill and I’m glad that I got to know him here.

Then, it was time to break for an early lunch. There was a coffee and sandwich bar at the museum that I decided to check out since I would otherwise have to walk back to town (not a long distance, maybe half a mile, but I didn’t want to spend the time). I was pleasantly surprised to find gourmet coffee and custom made sandwiches at a reasonable price and enjoyed my lunch so much I had the same thing (with different sandwich fillings) the next day!

I finished my day at the Plains Indian Museum. I kind of went quickly through this one, planning to do a second circle of it the next day since I was getting a bit tired. Lots of beautiful beadwork on exhibit and I liked learning about how the coming of the horse didn’t so much change local culture, but rather enhanced existing practice.

Before heading home, I stopped at the centre’s gift shop, where I picked up a pair of moose stud earrings. The cashier said that they were the most Canadian thing she’s ever seen, LOL.

By the time I got back to the campground, it was close to 2:00. I worked a bit until Vicki came home and then we did the grown up thing and went out to do laundry. We were supposed to have leftover soup from Sunday for dinner, but by the time we got done with laundry we were beat and instead decided to try the restaurant attached to the business where she works since she gets a hefty discount. The discount was enough that I went ahead and had the steak and prawns!

Tuesday was very similar to Monday. I got up and did some work, then headed out late morning to the museum. The man at the ticket counter recognised me (!) and thanked me for coming back.

I started with the Whitney Western Art Museum which had not appealed to me for some odd reason. No idea why since it was filled with sculpture and paintings of my favourite landscapes. I might not have been born in the West, but I always knew I would live there on the open plains. This museum had an audio guide, so I spent a lot more time than I thought I would.

Next, I went to the Cody Firearms Museum, of which I had about zero interest, but which gun nuts could easily spend a day or two in! So many firearms, from the mid 1400s all the way to today, and by all the major manufacturers. I tried my hand at “shooting a pistol” (no ammo in it) and did like the older weapons with a lot of carvings that made them works of art, but really didn’t spend much time.

Coming out of the firearms museum, I noticed a gallery along the walls of the mezzanine holding the administration offices, so I went up to check it out. I was perplexed to find a painting depicting a scene from Vancouver Island!

It was a bit early for my final exhibit, so I went back to the Buffalo Bill Museum to rewatch all the videos of him and then did a final circuit of the Plains Indian Museum.

Finally, I attended the raptor demonstration outside, where I saw a great horned owl, a peregrine falcon, and a red tailed hawk. This was an informal talk where the raptors sit on their handler’s hand and do not fly or perform tricks. It was very informative and I liked seeing the birds up close.

I’ve traveled all over this continent and have been to all manner of attractions. Cody’s Buffalo Bill Center of the West ranks right up there for me with Montréal’s Biodôme, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., and the City Museum in St. Louis — a destination unto itself.

I’m not sure what I will do Wednesday. I have work to do in the morning and there’s not really anything more for me to see in town (the lovely gals at the vistors’ centre all pointed me to things outside of town), so I’ll probably just pop into the Irma Hotel and then walk around off the main drag. Vicki and I do have plans for Thursday a short distance from Cody!

Running Errands in Cody

Vicki doesn’t have a toad, so our Saturday plans involved running errands so she could get some work clothes and groceries, as well as getting an idea for the layout of the town and finding something good for lunch! We didn’t head out until about 11:00 since it was bitter cold out and it took a bit of motivation to get us out the door. That and my having to take some things out of the truck so there could be room for a passenger and her shopping bags!

We started off at a used clothing store a few blocks from her campground. It was having a 50% off sale so we were very motivated to shop! 😀 I picked up a few pieces to replace tops that are worn, a nice pair of jeans, and… a Yucatán-style dress. Seriously. It’s turquoise and has embroidery at the yoke. I priced dresses like that one while I was in Mérida and they were around 500MXN (probably the Gringa price). I bought mine for 2.50USD. Too funny.

For lunch, Vicki was interested in trying an Italian restaurant, but they were closed. She likes “Mexican” food and I’m always up for good Tex-Mex, so we ended up at Zapata’s. The meal started off well with a really good salsa that had some kick to it. Vicki had a cup of tortilla soup that she said was quite good, but much thicker than expected (more like a stew), along with pork in salsa verde, which was yummy and very heavy on the cumin (definitely a north of the border salsa verde since cumin is generally not used in genuine Mexican cuisine). My favourite Tex-Mex dish is fajitas, so I splurged on that, going with chicken, and the meal did not disappoint! The marinade on the meat and veggies was quite “limey,” and I got rice, beans, sour cream, and guac too. We both elected to go with corn tortillas and I was pleasantly surprised that they were as good as any I’d get in Mexico, very soft and slightly charred. Not an inexpensive meal, but worth every penny. I think Vicki will be going back. 🙂

Cody is quite a small town, with most of what there is to see being along the main drag (Sheridan). So we saw quite a bit as we drove across town to Walmart. I’ll be doing the main museum here on my own one day while she’s at work.

By the time we got in from getting the groceries, it was already going on four. We were frozen solid and glad to be back in her cosy rig. We didn’t need any dinner after the lunch we had, so we just hung out and caught up, then had an early night since she had to be up very early this morning.

I’m now enjoying a lazy morning and will eventually get up to do some work. Maybe. I might choose to just read all day. 🙂

Thankfully, the weather is going to improve every day and by the time Vicki’s day off comes along, we should be able to go exploring without needing a million layers.

A Harrowing Drive — Rock Springs to Cody, WY

I had a good night’s sleep in Rock Springs and awoke to SNOW. There was over an inch of it on my truck and visibility was poor. I wasn’t in a rush, having only about a five-hour drive ahead of me, so I hung out in my room for a bit before dressing to brave the weather and schlepping to the motel dining room. There, I had a fortifying breakfast of a waffle and sausage with terrible coffee. It was really tempting to plunk myself down when I got back to my room around 8:45, but I knew the weather wasn’t going to improve and that I just had to bite the proverbial bullet and get on the road.

The drive to Lander, my first stop, was very difficult. There was almost zero visibility leaving Rock Springs and things just got worse as I climbed to the summit of South Pass because, there, the snow was sticking to the ground. My truck has really good winter tires (Michelin Nordics) with tons of tread on them, but because there isn’t much weight in the back end, it absolutely sucks in snow. I avoided take it out on days with snow on the ground when I wintered in SK and really wanted to avoid driving in snow on this trip north… Even though I took my time and slowed to a crawl, I was fishtailing all over the place and grateful that there wasn’t much traffic. The only reason I didn’t go over an embankment a couple of times is because I was going very slowly.

Taking my time going over the pass and driving for the conditions added a mere six minutes to my driving time, according to my GPS. It felt like an eternity!

Thankfully, conditions cleared somewhat as I descended into Lander, where I pulled over at the McDonald’s to get a huge coffee and actually sat inside for a bit to soothe my nerves and check upcoming road conditions. Fortunately, the way north was clear from that point. I am just done with winter driving, especially since my vehicle can’t handle those conditions at all!

The rest of the drive was uneventful and the weather cleared up a little as I pushed on into a landscape of rolling olive green hills that made me realise just how close to home I was! I made it to Cody around 3:00ish and my friend Vicki was waiting for me at her “cramped ground.” I stayed with Vicki last year and it was almost like being home in that I didn’t feel like a guest. So when I got in yesterday there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders knowing that I could take a break for a few days. Hard to believe I was not even in Culiacán at this time last week! I really did marathon this trip.

More after the pictures.

Vicki introduced me to her lovely neighbours and colleagues, we hung out for a bit, and eventually ordered pizza for dinner, which we were able to pick up since the Domino’s is just a couple of blocks away. I was going to have pizza for dinner in Rock Springs and Vicki’s suggestion that we do it last night came in literally as I was placing an online order. Talk about good timing! We both like to cook, but she’d had a long couple of days of work and I was zapped from driving, so it was the perfect night for a treat!

I’ve been awake for about an hour now and enjoying a lie-in with a cup of coffee. Vicki isn’t a morning person so she’s still out for the count. She’ll eventually get up and we’ll start to plan our day. She has a bunch of errands to run since she has access to a vehicle (she doesn’t have a toad) and we might hit a museum if we have time. Then, she’s working for a few days, so I’ll do the same, although I’m planning for tomorrow to be a lie in bed with a book kind of lazy day… 🙂 I’ll probably be here through to Friday morning. That will give us Thursday, one of Vicki’s days off, to spend more time together since otherwise, we’d just have the evenings. I had planned to get home in one day from here, but the time is too tight. Instead, I’ll probably get as far as Glasgow, MT, Friday, and be home by noonish on Saturday, two weeks after leaving Isla.