|I hadn't planned on us staying too
long, but there was a lot more to look at than I'd imagined. For hundreds
of years, Native Americans passed by as they hunted the massive herds of
buffalo. Explorers took note of the bluffs as they first began mapping
the area. Scott's Bluff was a landmark for thousands of people making their
way west. Between 1840 and 1869, perhaps half a million people fell under
the shadows of the bluffs.
One can only imagine the experience of the pioneers heading for the Oregon Territory. After weeks of seeing only flat, featureless prairie, it must have been amazing to see those bluffs suddenly rise up on the horizon. Scott's Bluff is still very impressive.
||We came down the narrow road off the
bluff and followed Highway 92 back through town. There were no signs that
I could see, so it was only by sheer luck that we were on the right path.
The highway led us north through town, and turned east at the railroad
tracks. I didn't see any signs until we were miles down the road, by which
point I could clearly see Chimney Rock straight ahead. Still, the turnoff
was not clearly marked, and we had to turn around to find the little road
out to the visitor's center. The little museum is privately owned, so it
was a $3 fee to get inside.
Chimney Rock had a small but sincere little museum; it seemed like a lot of love went into keeping it going. We took some pictures, watched part of the movie in the theater, then got back on the highway.
Down the road, a hawk hunting along the shoulder swooped mere feet past the van, a wingtip waving in greeting. There was some road construction west of Oshkosh that slowed us down. A new bridge over the railroad tracks was being built. Twin railroad tracks followed the road east of Scottsbluff. Every few minutes, a train would pass by, dozens of cars full of coal. Minutes later, a train would pass going the opposite direction, pulling dozens of empty coal cars. We crossed the tracks and entered Oshkosh ("Two Cool Museums"), population 1,060... or, if you were traveling westbound, population 986. It made me wonder what happened to those 74 people. There's probably a science fiction story there somewhere. I finished the last of the peanuts I'd bought way back in Custer.
We traveled through the little town of Lewellen: "Small
Town, Big Heart." Big grain elevators, too. That was where the road turned
south briefly as it climbed the bluffs overlooking the North Platte River.
We climbed through the lovely, rocky, wooded hills of Ash Hollow State
Historical Park. The Oregon Trail went through Ash Hollow, where people
have been living since prehistoric times. Beyond a long, slow upgrade,
the road turned east and the landscape flattened out again. The crosswind
was merciless. We passed acres of farmland, and the wind made waves in
the oceans wheat before us. We passed farmers on lonely tractors, working
fields the size of small countries. At Mile Marker 126 we passed the turnoff
for Big Springs, not to be confused with my birthplace, Big Spring, Texas.
Highway 26 circles around the south of Lake McConaughy, but we didn't glimpse it until Mile Marker 141. It was along this stretch of road that Satori clicked over 140,000 miles. The road turned south to Ogallala, winding past Searle Field of the Ogallala Municipal Airport, and pulled into a BP gas station to top off the tank. A sign said it was 73 degrees out. At 1:18 local time, we pulled onto the 4-lane Interstate 80 for the long road back to Omaha. We'd been on 2-lane roads since leaving Rapid City, 405 miles behind us. The speed limit on the interstate was 75, but Satori was doing good to reach 70. The interstate ran east to west, and shadowed the bluffs overlooking the North Platte River. At 2:41, just west of Mile Marker 150, we passed back into the Central Time Zone. About 25 minutes later, we rolled through the city of North Platte. I saw a Harley Davidson dealership that had a service bay just for... Yamaha motorcycles? They were either very open-minded Harley bikers, or that was the dump zone.
At Gothenburg, we pulled off the road. There were a couple of things I wanted to see. We crossed the Cozad Canal. The town's motto: "Grow With Us." In the town's charming little city park, we visited an authentic Pony Express station. The route of the Pony Express came right through the area, and back up the trail we had just traveled along the North Platte River. Back near the interstate was the Sod House Museum. Zack and I looked inside an authentic sod house, just like settlers used to live in when they first came to Nebraska. The house looked bigger than it really was. The interior wasn't much bigger than a two-stall restroom, but it wasn't unusual for an entire family would live inside there. Outside was a life-sized model of a buffalo, made entirely of barbed wire (four miles worth, they said). Zack took my picture next to the World's Largest Plow. For future reference, the Sod House Museum is just off the interstate exit, behind the Shell station and across from the Pizza Hut.
We made one more stop in Kearney to visit the Great Platte
River Road Archway Monument. It's a museum and interactive multimedia center
dedicated to the exploration and settling of Nebraska. What makes it unusual
is that the monument spans over the width of Interstate 80. Nebraskans
are very proud of their history. It was already after 5 PM and near closing
time, so Zack and I didn't pay the $10 admission, but we did treat ourselves
to a buffalo burger in the snack bar. Outside was a mural, teepees, a maze
and an oversized stagecoach. Someone had put a Miss Piggy doll inside.
We headed east again right at 6 PM, passing right under the monument. At
6:45 we passed over Beaver Creek. We ended up passing over it four times
before going through the town of Beaver Crossing. At 6:56 we were still
60 miles from Lincoln, and the sun was starting to go down in the west.
While going through York, we passed a water tower that was painted to look
like a big, colorful hot air balloon. At 7:34, we passed the exit for Milford,
and off to the north of the highway I could see the World's Largest Covered
Wagon. It apparently used to be a tall gas station at one point. The wind
was pretty fierce, and I started to see warning signs: "Watch for Wind
on Overpass." I kept seeing tumbleweeds roll across the highway in front
of us. There were even wind socks mounted alongside the bridges, to give
drivers an idea of just how hard the wind was blowing. I didn't know how
many cars get blown off of Nebraska bridges every year, but I wasn't about
to be a statistic.
|We made Lincoln, Nebraska just before
8 PM. Interstate 80 circles the long way around Lincoln, and tall buildings
on the horizon were as close as we got to downtown. Less than an hour later,
as the last rays of the sun were disappearing in the west, we finally
rolled into Papillion. After some supper and checking my email, I went
on to bed. I didn't have any trouble falling asleep. Zack and I had traveled
469 miles that day.
In our three days on the road, Zack and I traveled 1,298 miles.