Back of beyond

I went to Cody to collect a new painting truck—and to scope out a new workshop.

My new painting truck, photo courtesy Jane Chapin.

“Why did you go all the way to Wyoming to buy a pickup truck,” a reader asked. Well, it was a good deal and a known quantity, but even more than that, why not?

Wyoming is one of my favorite states, but I’d never made it to Cody. It’s home to 9700 people, which makes it the 11th largest community in a fabulously-empty state. Park County is an area of outstanding natural beauty, close to Yellowstone. It’s no surprise that its major industry is tourism.

High Pasture, oil on canvasboard, 8×10, by Carol L. Douglas

I immediately put my new truck through its paces, driving it as far up into National Forest lands as I could get. I painted two small studies from its bed, and I think it will suit me just fine. I’ve climbed off-road through snow and it hasn’t hesitated. Nor was it troubled by the 80 MPH speed limits in Wyoming, or climbing to 9666 feet on the Powder River Pass.

One of my first off-road adventures was to the abandoned homestead of Bull Creek Ranch.

I was itching to paint and do nothing else, but Jane Chapin prevailed on me to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This unusual museum includes Plains Indian ethnography, Buffalo Bill hagiography, natural history, art and firearms under one roof. Each of the collections is superlative.

The art includes delicate, sensitive plein air works by Albert Bierstadtand Frederic Remington. There are fabulous animal paintings by Carl Rungius, but my favorite was by an archetypal easterner, N.C. Wyeth. At the tender age of 22, he went west to learn about the life of the cowboy. “The life is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal—it seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home,'” he wrote in a letter home.

Hunters with Bear, 1911, by N.C. Wyeth for Winchester.

This is grizzly country as much as its cowboy country. Bull Creek, which tumbles down through the ranch, has bears, along with quail, mule deer and a ferruginous hawk who sits on top of a pivot irrigator scanning for prey. There are herds of horses and cattle in the bottom lands.

North Fork of Shoshone River, oil on canvasboard, 11×14, by Carol L. Douglas

All of which are highly paintable. My second reason for visiting Cody was to assess the practicality of a workshop there. It’s got an airport and the accommodations and vistas all lend themselves to a great painting experience. I’ll be announcing dates soon.

Razorback ridge on Bull Creek Ranch, photo courtesy of Jane Chapin.

In every trip comes that sad moment when one has to turn around and head home. I stopped at Thermopolis. Soaking in a hot spring in a winter snowstorm has long been my ambition, but sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate—it was much too mild. Still, the hot springs were fine, it was an appealing little town, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes traveling back roads.

Tomorrow’s plan is to paint in the Badlands, but I’m keeping an eye on a storm sweeping in from the west.