Southeast of Cody, Hwy-120, a prettier alternative to US-20, angles south over the rugged foothill badlands of the Absaroka (“ab-SAR-uh-kuh”) Mountains, historic homeland of the Crow people but now equal parts cattle ranches and oil wells. Thirty miles along this lonely highway brings you to Meeteetse (pop. 326), one of the oldest settlements in central Wyoming and still much the same after 125 years. The broad Greybull River—and an occasional cattle drive—runs right through town, which still retains wooden boardwalks and hitching posts for cowboys’ horses.
Besides being wonderfully evocative of an earlier era, Meeteetse also has a great museum documenting diverse aspects of the region’s past: the Belden Museum (1947 State St., 307/868-2423, Tues.-Sat. 10am-4pm, free), which holds an extraordinary collection of cowboy photography that includes the first Marlboro Man ads, shot on the nearby Pitchfork Ranch by Charles Belden, a local rancher and commercial photographer. The building also houses the Meeteetse Museum, which has the stuffed remains of an eight-foot-tall grizzly bear, one of the largest ever found in the area.
Along with an old but fully stocked general store, tiny Meeteetse has a pair of saloons side by side on State Street as well as the Oasis Motel and RV Park (1702 State St., 307/868-2551, $60 and up, $30 and up for an RV space), with camping and a Conestoga wagon, right on the Greybull River. The Oasis also owns the Vision Quest Motel (2207 State St.), with the same rates and phone numbers.
One of Wyoming’s most significant collections of petroglyphs, Legend Rock State Petroglyph Site contains over 300 images dating back some 2,000 to 10,000 years, carved into sandstone cliffs in the oil-rich foothills of the Owl Creek Mountains. Legend Rock is administered by Hot Springs State Park (538 N. Park St.) in Thermopolis. A series of road signs make the petroglyphs pretty easy to find. That said, getting there requires a serious investment of time and attention. Follow US-120 for 21 miles from Thermopolis, or 33 miles from Meeteetse, then turn south at the Hamilton Dome turnoff and follow the dirt road for 8.5 miles. You will arrive at an unforgettable scene: High above Cottonwood Creek, hundreds of images cover a 400-meter long sandstone wall, connecting contemporary visitors with the ancestors of the Shoshone people who lived here millennia ago.