Chimney Rock, Coal Trains, Courthouse Rock, Jail Rock, Nebraska, Runzas, Sandhills, Scotts Bluff
HELLO EVERYONE!! Nope, we did not fall off a cliff and yes this is an Ed & Marti on the road blog post, but first apologies and explanations 😊 Those of you who follow us might remember that last spring (2018) we were in Utah when Ed had emergency surgery in Provo for a detached retina. Our son Kevin and DIL Za bought their first house in the middle of all this. A fixer-upper in Washington D.C. with a lot more fixer than anticipated. Ed, in particular, was very frustrated he was not there to help or at least commiserate in person. (Right off they tackled the biggest problems themselves, handled them very well and will someday with more work have a real gem.) After clearance from the Utah surgeon we booked home, checked in with a D.C. cataract surgeon (a guarantee to be needed after detached retina surgery) and headed north to mostly Quebec, Lake Superior, and the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Back home in the early fall of 2018, Ed had successful cataract surgery as expected. While traveling we have always kept an eye on land and houses back home. This time however we both acknowledged that unexpected health issues that have brought us home over the 4 years on the road, an OK but not wonderful summer of travel, missing our children and friends and just not having a true home with our stuff, had finally weighed too heavily. After a lot of intense looking, we bought a house in Adamstown, Md pretty much in our life long stompin’ grounds. SO… the reason we’ve not been blogging is because we’ve been painting, building walls, tearing out fireplaces, oh and more painting, etc. etc. But now we are out on the road again in our beloved Whack-A-Mole Wheels for we figure 2 ½ months. We’ve got our fingers crossed you’ll forgive us for “disappearing” and that you’ll once again enjoy riding along on our adventures!!
After a quick visit in Sharonville (Cincinnati) with sister Judy, we headed for Nebraska. ONE, because finishing the Utah trip that was interrupted is our main goal and Nebraska is on the way; TWO, because we’ve not seen the rocks this post is about, and THREE, our kids say we have to try Nebraska Runzas.
On Interstate 80 after Des Moines, the countryside changes becoming more hilly. Continuing on the hills get big and this time of year with the ever-present corn fully grown, the steepness of the hills and the terracing of the fields is more evident. Being folks who like farm country we found it very pretty. We spent the night at Prairie Oasis Campground in Henderson and found it fine for the night, albeit a bit pricey. I will say that looking as we drove past Mormon Island State Rec Area in Grand Island, we should have stayed there!
Next morning at Grand Island we took RT. 2 West. At first, it’s just corn and soybeans, mostly corn, which looks really sad. Clearly too much water and this part of the state wasn’t as hard hit with rain as other parts. Don’t let anyone ever tell you farming is easy. After a while, the hills start and as we come into the Nebraska Sandhills the crops stop. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1984 the Sandhills cover about a quarter of the state. Mixed grasses covering these sand dunes anchor them naturally. To our surprise, the Sandhills is the largest and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the country with thousands of ponds, lakes, the Loup and Niobrara Rivers, and the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest, underneath. The fragility of the sand makes it unusable for crops, but cattle, originally longhorns and now (by our observation) mostly Angus are raised across this landscape.
It is huge, empty and beautiful. It’s quite unique, so for that reason put it on your MVL (Must Visit List)
Our stop for the next two nights was at Robidoux RV Park in Gering (recommended but bring your bug spray ☹). The RV park has a nice view of the reason for our visit… Scotts Bluff.
Named after Rocky Mountain Fur Company clerk, Hiram Scott, who had the misfortune of dying near this impressive rock, Scotts Bluff can be seen for miles on the eastern flat prairie. In fact, it is the second most mentioned landmark in pioneer journals and diaries.
The gap between the two prominent bluffs, Scotts to the north and South Bluff, to the south 😊 was actually too difficult to traverse. The Oregon Trail went to the south and the Mormon Trail went to the north around both piles of rocks. However, in 1850 a road was constructed between the two and later named the Mitchell Pass, which became the preferred route for both the Oregon and California Trails by 1851. The Mormons stayed on their northern trail.
The number one most mentioned pioneer landmark was Chimney Rock.
The Oregon, California and Mormon Trails run to the north of this nearly 300 foot tall spire. Based on drawings (which can be seen at the visitor center) and written reports the “elk penis” as it was referred to by the Lakota Sioux (who had never seen a chimney) has been eroded a good bit over the years.
Just a few miles away in the Pumpkin Valley we drove out to see Courthouse and Jail Rocks. Mentioned by hundreds of westbound immigrants these two prominent rock formations were also landmarks for the nearby Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, as well as the Pony Express.
Traveling west is easy now. In fact, it is SO EASY, we highly recommend if you are coming this way, put these places on your MVL and take some time to ruminate on what these men, women, and children faced and overcame. Pretty damned impressive!!