Cody, Wyo.: A still-small town in the big American West

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February 2014- Have you ever traveled through a town in a hurry and thought to yourself, I ought to come back here sometime when I can stop and smell the roses...?

During my NetJets days, flying here and there across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, I saw a lot of country but didn't have time to stop and look around. Assignments were mostly of the "drop the owners and move on quickly to the next destination" type.

This was also the case when I first flew into Cody, Wyo. Cody is located in the northwest corner of the state and at the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. After putting the Citation to bed late one afternoon, we got a crew car and drove five minutes into town, had a quick dinner and went to bed.

The next morning we fortunately did not have an early scheduled departure, and I asked the desk clerk where he would recommend we go for a good breakfast. Without missing a beat he recommended that the only place for breakfast was the Irma Hotel's restaurant.

We drove downtown and parked near the Irma. The restaurant—approximately 50 by 90 feet—was full of people in what was once the hotel saloon. The food was excellent and the price was reasonable.

Driving back the airport, I knew that Cody was a place where I wanted to return to spend time enjoying the sights and atmosphere.

Trip to Cody

My wife Sara planned a professional education trip for Las Vegas. As we were preflighting for our departure to Henderson Executive Airport (KHND), I whispered in our trusty airplane's static port, "Bill, how would you like to fly to Cody, Wyoming after Las Vegas?"

Bill's reply was, "Oh yeah! Back to the mountains and cowboy country! That will be great!"

Creating a flight plan out of the Las Vegas area, I used the ForeFlight Route Advisor to help create a route that would keep us clear of all the special use and military airspace to the north.

This was in August, and the departure temperature at 9 a.m. was 100 degrees F! Climb performance was anemic and the oil temperature was very high. This was before I'd installed an Insight Instrument Corp. engine monitor and improved Bill's cowl seals. (For more information about the improvements to Lloyd's aircraft, take a look at his three-part series "Look Inside Your Engine—From the Cockpit!" published in January, February and July 2013. —Ed.)

Vegas Departure grumbled at our 100-200 fpm climb to keep airspeed at 120 knots-plus to improve cooling. The magic words to say in this situation are "operational limitation;" that will make the grumbling abate—for a while.

We made a fuel stop at Nephi, Utah, and the temperatures were cooler for the remainder of the trip. We passed Provo and were in the mountains for the remainder of the flight. Forest fires and weather made the ride bumpy and the visibility near Pinedale, Wyo. was reduced to the point that we couldn't see the Tetons just 60 miles to the west of our track.

Cody came in sight and we landed and taxied onto the Choice Aviation Ramp. The Choice FBO occupies the former airline terminal building and its spacious location creates a welcoming feel.

Our rental car magically appeared beside Bill, and the lineman helped unload our baggage. Then we were off to the Best Western Premier Ivy Inn.

The Ivy is an upscale Best Western facility on the west side of town with 75 rooms and 22 suites. The rooms are spacious and the restaurant has many delicious items on its menu.

Cody's sights

The next morning we headed straight to the Irma Hotel. There were motorcycles parked everywhere on the streets and traveling in both directions on Sheridan Avenue. The Sturgis South Dakota Motorcycle Rally was in full swing, and the warm summer weather brings Harley riders out in droves. The Irma's breakfast room was again crowded and the food was again fantastic.

The immense cherry wood bar at the Irma Hotel was a gift from Queen Victoria to express her gratitude to Buffalo Bill for the Wild West Show's command performance for her in London.

The bar is 31 feet long and 13 feet high, and was fabricated in France. It required two years to complete at a cost of $100,000 in 1900. Today the bar is worth over $1 million, and it's the centerpiece of all the hotel's period pieces and décor.

Strolling down Sheridan Avenue, visitors will discover many interesting shops. I especially enjoyed the galleries full of fine art photographs and paintings of the American West. Sara found a number of shops that had beautiful feathers, yarn, antler lamps and other interesting items. There were excellent restaurants in every block.

Cody Trolley Tours

The Cody Trolley Tours start at the Irma Hotel and travel to many points of interest in the area. We chose the guided tour that travels through many historical parts of the city.

Christ Episcopal Church is the oldest church in Cody and had a unique beginning—one that labeled it as the "Poker Church."

Here's the story: Bill Cody and his friends were in a poker game at the Purcell Saloon in 1900 when the stakes elevated to the astronomical sum of $530. Cody strongly recommended that the winner donate the pot to build a church.

George Beck had the winning hand and pledged the winnings to build an Episcopal Church. Mrs. Beck and other church ladies held bake sales, raffles and other fund-raising events to bring the donations up to $2,000.

Christ Episcopal Church opened its doors in 1902, and services during the summer and fall are still held in the original sanctuary next to the larger, modern church facilities.

Other sights along the trolley tour included Sears Catalog Homes. Homes were hard to build in this remote western area as timber and building materials were scarce but the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog offered a prefabricated wood home for $8,000 shipped by rail to your location. The trolley tour passes by Sears homes that are still well maintained and situated in the close-in Cody residential areas.

Nightly melodrama

What would be more appropriate for Cody than an American West-themed melodrama that ends in a gunfight? At 6 p.m. every evening during the summer months, a 30-minute show takes place in front of the Irma Hotel. It's free and about 500 visitors show up. The Trolley Tour ticket booth sells reserved seating for the nominal price of two dollars.

The cast includes the sheriff (the good guy); the dance hall and saloon owner (the heroine); and bank robbers (the bad guys). A saloon and a bank are the two settings for this open-air performance.

There are four different shows rotated throughout the summer, and the one we saw began with everyone seated at the saloon. Then the bad guys rob the heroine and the bank. The sheriff confronts the bad guys, gets the money back—and dispatches the bad guys. The moral is that truth and honesty win out in the end and crime did not pay in the Old West.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is the region's cultural jewel. In front of the center is a large bronze statue of Bill Cody—the scout—atop his horse with his rifle extended.

The center is divided into five sections: the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum and the Plains Indian Museum. To see all five areas in depth and absorb all of the information within the center's walls will take you a day or more, so be sure to allot enough time.

One entertaining exhibit asks visitors to prioritize the institutions and utilities necessary to establish a thriving town in the American West. You then get to see how your choices stack up. Some of the items listed are "school," "church," "hotel," "railroad," "hospital" and "water," but I'm not telling—you will have to go to the center to find the answers.

Buffalo Bill Dam

Buffalo Bill was a showman and promoter supreme—and a visionary. Bill Cody and other investors formed the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Co. and acquired Shoshone River water rights to irrigate a 90,000-acre region in northwestern Wyoming for farming.

The area was so dry that it was one of the last regions of the United States to be settled, and the project proved so expensive that eventually the federal government helped with the irrigation project.

After Cody transferred his water rights to the Secretary of the Interior in 1904, exploratory drilling began and the area became the beneficiary of the world's highest concrete dam (when completed in 1910).The 325-foot engineering marvel was the highest concrete arch dam in the world.

A hydroelectric generation project completed in 1922 brought electricity to this remote area and still generates electricity today.

Beartooth Highway

We took a side trip to Red Lodge, Mont. and enjoyed this town's shops and galleries. The town of just 2,000 is a quaint former mining town and is nestled against Montana's highest mountain peaks.

The treat was returning via U.S. 212, the Beartooth Highway, and through Beartooth Pass at 10,947 feet. Nice in the summer... and closed in the winter. This highway abuts Yellowstone National Park and spans 68 miles through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming.


Cody offers a laid-back, small-town-in-the-American-West atmosphere where you can slow down and relax. There is plenty to see and do in Cody and the surrounding area, including side trips to Yellowstone National Park.

From Cody you can fly quickly to Jackson, Wyo., West Yellowstone, Mont., and into Idaho on the western side of the Tetons.

Will we go back again to this beautiful area? You bet we will—and we hope to see you there!

Charles Lloyd has logged 10,000 hours since his first flying lesson in 1954. He worked for Cessna Aircraft for 16 years. Lloyd retired as captain of a Citation Encore Plus for a major fractional aircraft ownership company. He flies a tricked-out 1966 Cessna 182—also known as Bill—that is a great business tool for his real estate investment company. Send questions or comments to .


Airport information


Yellowstone Regional Airport (KCOD)

Choice Aviation – Cody

(307) 587-9262

Attractions, museums and tours

Irma Hotel

(307) 587-4221

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Buffalo Bill Dam

Cody Trolley Tours

Yellowstone National Park

Further reading

More about the Irma Hotel

The “Poker Church” facts