Friday, June 8, 2012

Exploring the 'hood

For the folks at Paradise Ranch, ‘town’ is Buffalo, 16 miles down the road at the intersection of Highways 25 and 60. I was expecting a whole lot of nothin’, a hokey backwater where you might, just might, be able to buy essentials ... but instead have discovered it to be a really cool, fascinating place where I’m happy to hang out and spend time exploring.
For a start, it’s incredibly pretty, with the downtown section listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are more than a dozen historic buildings on Main Street, and it still has the ambience of the Old West, when it was a favourite haunt of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and other famous characters from history who travelled the Bozeman Trail.
Being a western hub, there are several shops that sell horse tack and western clothing, namely Sports Lure and ReRide, which stocks secondhand shirts, boots, jeans and even saddles. I spent hours scouring the racks here, picking up some really cute retro shirts for under $10 each. 
Galleries, gift shops and antique stores are also in abundance; there’s an excellent museum, the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum of the West, with more than 15,000 artifacts from the Old West; and there’s even an organic smokehouse and holistic health centre. Plus, for bargain hunters, there are a couple of thrift stores in town; I scored a cowboy hat for $3.50, cheap enough to warrant me looking like a fraud.

But the jewel in Buffalo’s crown is the Occidental Hotel, dating back to 1880 and taking up a whole block of Main Street. It features a fine-dining restaurant, The Virginian - named after the character in Owen Wister’s novel The Virginian, which was set in the hotel; the saloon, with its original bar brought in by wagon and walls lined with dead things and bullet holes; and the magnificently restored hotel, a gorgeous piece of the Old West at its grandest. 
The hotel is now a veritable - and literal - museum of life in the early 20th century. Walk into the lobby and you step back in time, from period antiques to its embossed ceiling and etched windowpanes. Each guest suite - and yes, you can stay here - is decked out with antiques, from claw-foot bath tubs to magnificent old beds decorated with handmade quilts where the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and the ubiquitous Ernest Hemingway all slept. 

The hallways are lined with old photographs as well as a display of original clothing from the early 1900s donated by local families; plus there’s a library, a little museum, archives - you can spend hours poking around here, soaking up the history of the place.
My pal Sarah and I wandered upstairs the other night, gasping with delight at each uniquely decorated room and trying to choose which one we’d stay in. We then ran into a bunch of French tourists, hanging out in a kitchen area besides a room labelled The Bordello. Pointing to the sign, they invited us in for a drink, thinking perhaps we were the hired help for the night...
Rescued from demolition in 1997, the Occidental Hotel is today a jewel amongst the grand hotels of the West. I couldn’t think of a cooler ‘local’ to hang out in during my summer in Buffalo.

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