Day 240 – Nebraska Heartland (Part 2)

Day 240 – Nebraska Heartland, August 13, 2011

Another enjoyable day in Nebraska…though most of the
interesting sites I’ve seen have been within 100 miles of each other, and I
have driven over 600 miles over a few days to see them!

We started out today at Fort Robinson where I camped last
night.  The campground is the site of one
of the most tragic events at the fort, the Cheyenne Outbreak.  Forcibly sent to Indian Territory in
Oklahoma, a band of Northern Cheyenne, led by Dull Knife, escaped and fled
across the plains of Kansas and Nebraska.
The 149 men, women, and children were finally captured by troops from
the fort in October 1878.  Told they
would have to return to the Indian Territory, they tried escaping again on
January 9, 1879, and the men opened fire on the guards with the few guns they
had hidden away as the women and children fled toward the White River.  Many of the Cheyenne fell in the battle, one
of the last of the Indian War.

Permanent buildings at the fort, originally a camp which was
established due to Indian unrest in March of 1874, went under construction in
June of 1874.  Sioux warrior Crazy Horse
surrendered 889 members of his tribe at Camp Robinson in May of 1877.  He was later killed when he tried to escape
in September of the same year.  The
buildings included barracks, a barn, officer’s quarters and the like.  Many still stand today and line a horse shoe
shaped parade ground with a manicured green lawn.  Petey and I took a stroll around the fort
area before taking a scenic drive in another part of the park to see some
bison.  We also spotted a few mules.

After driving 19 miles on a dirt road littered with muddy dips
and rock chips and yet may have been the smoothest dirt road I’ve ever been on,
VANilla delivered us to Toadstool Park. 
We visited a 1984 sod house replica of one built in the 1930’s by
Kenneth Pelren and Segard Anderson.  The
early settlers used a plow to break the sod into strips 12 inches wide and 4
inches thick.  The strips were cut into
three-foot lengths and stacked on each other like bricks to construct the

While I found the house interesting, my attraction to the
park was its peculiar landscape.  Petey
and I walked the mile loop through hills of sand and clay devoid of vegetation
and severely eroded.  Harder rocks
perched atop softer material that has eroded to create toadstool
formations.  These formations were
created 34 million years ago when ash from Great Basin volcanoes in Utah and
Nevada blanketed the land.  An ancient
river carved the valley as the landscape changed to semi-arid.  The rocks and clays are also home to several
fossils that could be seen from the pathway.

From Toadstool Park we headed back to the east past fields
of sunflowers and into the Central Time Zone, this time losing an hour, to visit
Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge.  We came
to enjoy a lovely waterfall that cascaded over a rock ledge and as an added
bonus spotted some more bison and drove through a prairie dog town.

Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge was our last stop in Nebraska
before crossing the border into South Dakota, a state I have never visited
beyond driving through one corner on my way to North Dakota a few weeks
ago.  We crossed a two lane highway that
led us through endless hay fields.  Bails
of hay dotted the rolling green hills which were occasionally outlined with
rock formations popping from the surface until we eventually reentered the Mountain Time Zone and reached Prairie
Homestead where a house of sod and log built into an embankment in 1909 still
stands.  This is a rare exception as most
sod houses have washed away.

Just next to Prairie Homestead is Badlands National Park, a
sea of moonscape.  Ridges, spires, and
canyons of volcanic ash rich with fossil beds from the Oligocene era dominate
the landscape.  We found a campsite in
the park as the sunset over formations and later enjoyed the full moon.  The moon appeared so bright that the stars
were imperceptible.  ETB

Day 239 – Platte River Road

Day 239 – Platte River Road, August 12, 2011

Today’s drive led me to a variety of rock formations.  Given rocks fascinate me, I was pleasantly
surprised with the western portion of Nebraska.
I probably drove close to 150 miles before I made my first stop.  Sometimes I like that, as I can zone out and
listen to music or to books on CD…Stephen King’s The Dome is the current
choice.  Not surprisingly, it is weird.

My first stop was Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock, two of the
most famous landmarks of the westward migration.  The rocks were located near the
Oregon-California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Pony Express Trail, and the
Sidney-Deadwood Trail and were the first of several natural “road signs” weary
travelers encountered.  As a result of
erosion, the rocks; composed of clay, sandstone, and volcanic ash, rise 400
feet above the North Platte Valley.  This
natural, historic site is also home to a geocache!

Further down the road stands Chimney Rock, a solitary spire
that punctuates the naked plains.  Rising
nearly 500 feet and visible from 30 miles away, Chimney Rock signaled travelers
along the Oregon Trail that they were about to begin the second leg of their
journey across much rougher terrain.  The
grasshoppers were out in force.  They
zipped back and forth in front of my camera lens with every click of the

As we continued northwest, we made a brief stop at Wildcat
Hills Recreation Area, opted not to stay, and moved on to Scotts Bluff National
Monument.  Scotts Bluff is over 500 feet
high and a half mile wide.  It was named
by fur traders for a fellow trapper who mysteriously died in an 1828
expedition.  Though travelers soon
discovered the Indian name meaning “the hill that is hard to go around” was far
more apt.  Wagons had to travel single
file through a narrow short-cut called Mitchell Pass which still displays wheel
ruts from over a century ago.  Petey and
I took a short stroll alongside the wagon display on the Oregon Trail and then
with the help of VANilla enjoyed the views from atop the bluff.

We ended the night at a campground in Fort Robinson State
Park that I am eager to explore in the morning!