6 Chapters
Medium 9781607321927

THE CODY ROAD

Michael A. Amundson University Press of Colorado ePub

1903 & 2008

1910

1. #613 Bird’s-eye view of Cody

GPS coordinates: 44 31.373n, 109 03.523w

The road to Yellowstone begins in Cody, and this view is a classic Stimson shot. As with many of his town photographs, Stimson composed this one from a nearby hill to give the viewer a “bird’s-eye” view of the town. The vantage point is the north side of Cody’s upper bench below the current community building. The photo looks to the northwest, with Heart Mountain on the right horizon, the Shoshone River in the center, and Rattlesnake Mountain to the left. The absence of the far distant mountains attests to the fact that Stimson’s dry-plate emulsions were very sensitive to blue light; thus they are washed out in his image. Stimson’s shot was taken in the early morning, as evidenced by the well-lit right walls and the long shadows. The lack of any trees taller than a person allows one to see into every property.

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Passage to Wonderland

Michael A. Amundson University Press of Colorado ePub

The road from Cody, Wyoming, to Yellowstone National Park has been called the “most scenic fifty miles in the world.” Officially designated the “Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway,” the road follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River to the high mountains of the Absaroka Range and the park’s East Entrance. Along this course it has no major exits or entrances—it is an expressway to Yellowstone. It first leaves Cody between Cedar and Rattlesnake Mountains, then winds its way past Buffalo Bill Dam where the Shoshone’s North and South Forks converge to form Buffalo Bill Reservoir. The road hugs its northern shoreline and then follows the North Fork westward, climbing through the broad Wapiti valley and past its many historic ranches. In the nearby forests live pronghorn, bighorn sheep, grizzly and black bears, elk, and moose. Continuing westward, the road enters Shoshone National Forest—the nation’s first—where the North Fork cuts through a volcanic landscape of fantastic rock formations, steep cliffs, and increasingly thick stands of lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, and aspen. Just past Pahaska Tepee, Buffalo Bill’s former hunting lodge and tourist stopover, the road leaves the North Fork and enters Yellowstone National Park, where it soon picks up the Middle Fork of the Shoshone and then climbs toward Sylvan Pass. After cutting through the pass, the road skirts two beautiful alpine lakes—Eleanor and Sylvan—before descending through meadows and forest along mountainsides toward Yellowstone Lake and the park’s Grand Loop.

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J. E. Stimson, Photography, Rephotography, and Me

Michael A. Amundson University Press of Colorado ePub

Between 1889 and 1948, Joseph Elam Stimson photographed Wyoming and the American West, producing more than 7,500 images of landscapes, mining, railroads, community life, ranching and farming, and tourism. Most of these shots were made on 8×10-inch glass plates and are artistically composed and incredibly sharp. They are not a cross-section of the Progressive Era West but instead promotional photographs, specifically composed and created for Stimson’s various employers—including the Union Pacific Railroad, the Wyoming state government, and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. On many of the images Stimson placed a small stamp, circumscribed by the boundaries of a sun, that proclaimed “J. E. Stimson, Artist, Cheyenne, Wyo.” He was indeed an artist, as he carefully composed and then often hand-colored his prints in an era long before the advent of color film.

J. E. Stimson was born in Virginia in 1870 and spent most of his childhood in the southern Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina. At age thirteen he moved with his family to Pawnee City, Nebraska, southeast of Lincoln, near the Missouri and Kansas borders. Three years later he left for Appleton, Wisconsin, to work as an apprentice for his cousin, photographer James Stimson. While in Appleton, he learned the requisite skills of portrait photography and the details of both the wet-plate and newer dry-plate negative processes. In 1889 Stimson moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, probably at the suggestion of two brothers who worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. At the time, he was only nineteen years old. Wyoming became a state in July 1890, and by that October Stimson had made a deal to purchase the studio and equipment of Cheyenne photographer Carl Eitner. He renovated the studio and within two weeks began running advertisements in the Cheyenne Daily Leader that read “Go to Stimson the Photo Artist for Pictures.” Four years later he married Anna Peterson, and in 1895 they had the first of three daughters.1

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J. E. Stimson’s 1910 Return to Cody

Michael A. Amundson University Press of Colorado ePub

J. E. Stimson returned to Cody in the summer of 1910 and made photographs of the Shoshone Irrigation Project and the nearby Big Horn Basin communities of Worland, Kane, Ionia, and Lovell. Since his 1903 visit, much had changed. The federal Bureau of Reclamation had carved a new road between Cedar and Rattlesnake Mountains west of Cody to access Shoshone Dam. Travelers marveled at its twists, turns, tunnels, and excessive grade. When that project was completed in 1910, the waters inundated the communities of Irma and Marquette, as well as much of the original path of the Cody Road as it swung around Cedar Mountain to join the North Fork of the Shoshone. To compensate, the bureau built another new road from the dam around the north side of the reservoir to the old road to the west. In addition to these projects, the state of Wyoming had carved a new county, called Park County for its proximity to Yellowstone, from Big Horn County and named Cody its county seat. As part of his visit, Stimson made a series of photographs of the new road from Cody to the reservoir. Access to some of these sites is now restricted because of issues of terrorism and safety, but I include four of them here.

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History of the Cody Road to Yellowstone

Michael A. Amundson University Press of Colorado ePub

When J. E. Stimson traveled the Cody Road in July 1903, he was probably one of the first fifty people to take the new route to Yellowstone’s East Entrance. His images record a brand-new highway cut through the wilderness. Except for his conveyance, a survey of his photographs shows no other tourist or wagon. Indeed, a close look reveals only a few wagon tracks embedded in the soft dirt. When I followed in his footsteps more than a century later, hundreds of cars whizzed by every time I set up the camera. But as I looked through the viewfinder, I found that most of the scenes Stimson had captured remained. Comparing his images with my own, I began to think about what it must have been like to be one of the first travelers on this new road. As I heard those cars and trucks rushing by, I thought about what had happened over the last century and why this route had become so popular. At the same time, I questioned how a place seemingly so different remained so much the same through my viewfinder. An overview of the history of the Cody Road, with special emphasis on what it was like in July 1903 and then in July 2008, is a good place to begin.

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