Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Crossing Nebraska

Friday, June 30, 2017; from Valentine, Nebraska to Pawnee Buttes, Colorado.

In the morning I headed south on Hwy 97, and breakfasted a few miles down the road next to a small water called Alkali Lake  (I found out later).  Here showers came and went and observed the local birdlife while eating.  Here there were White Pelicans; a first for me.  We are now in the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska, and in this part of the Sand Hills every low spot between the rounded hills there are ponds, small lakes or marshes, and while not conducive to crops, it is perfect for grazing.  Continuing on through intermittent showers, this Sand Hills topography remained similar until, Mullen, forty miles or so further south, after which the Hills were drier.  In Mullen I crossed the railroad tracks just in time to miss being halted by an extremely long coal train, probably from Wyoming.

Alkali Lake … breakfasted here.

White Pelicans at Alkali Lake.
In the Sand Hills.

Four or five miles south of Mullen, I turned right onto the Dismal River Road, which turned out to be a single track road, for the next forty miles, ten miles of which were dirt.  I loved every minute of it, enjoying the solitude (I met only two vehicles, one at the beginning and the other just before the end), and seeing a few herds of cattle, and the odd pronghorn antelope along the way.  Turning West at the end of the Dismal River Road onto State Hwy 92, I immediately passed a picturesque lake (Schick Lake, I later discovered), and stopped for a few photos.

The Dismal River … not so dismal today. 

Cattle herd in the Dismal River Valley.
The 10 mile dirt road section began at th Dismal River.
Some sort of White Poppy, I’ve been told. 
I hope to ID my flower photos at some future date,
when I get access to a reference source.

Wild Rose.

40 Miles of single track road.

Where I’ve been.

Where I’m going.

A few miles farther on was a grove of Cottonwoods and Junipers with a pull-off and a picnic table and a small regular shape lurking amongst the trees, looking suspiciously like a loo.
  And it was(!); a one-holer of the old school … not many of these about these days … especially in a public situation.   I availed myself of the facility, bringing my own TP with me, so as not to use the little that was supplied, and arming myself with a stick to beat off errant spiders, insects or larger varmints, that might feel an urge to rush me through the various cracks and holes in this venerable establishment.  It was not as unpleasant as it might have been, since odors were almost non-existent … I suspect it is rarely used, not just because of the loneliness of this highway, but also because of the ancientness of the structure.  Dodgy sheds over a hole in the ground are not easily found anymore.  There must be many a folk who have never seen, much less used such a treasure, but I for one am thankful that it was there.  Looking back on it, I must say I was remiss for not taking the odd photo of it. 

Schick Lake at the end of the Dismal River Road, on Hwy 92.

Outside of Lewellen, off of US Hwy 26, I attempted to find the Bluewater Battlefield (also known as the Battle of Ash Hollow), marked on my map.  I knew nothing about it, and in the end one could not actually get to it, but it was probably along the creek in the distance in the photo.  I later found out about it later.  In a nutshell, it was a punitive expedition in 1855, for the Grattan Massacre of the year before, when inexperienced Lt. John Lawrence Grattan and 29 troopers were killed by the Lakota, when the soldiers attempted to arrest one of the Indians responsible for killing a cow belonging to a Mormon emigrant heading for Salt Lake.  The Bluewater fight took place here when Brigadier General William S. Harney and 600 men attacked a village of 250 Lakota, killing 86 people and capturing 70 women and children.  Not the Army’s finest hour; but sadly, an all too frequent occurrence, in those days.  Those interested may read more about it here        

Blue Creek … I believe the site of the battle was
beneath the buttes in the distance.

From here I joined the Oregon Trail and came upon Chimney Rock about 60 miles on.  This was a famous landmark for those pioneer emigrants heading west on their way to Oregon, or California.  I was interested in seeing it as Albert Bierstadt painted it more than once.  More about the rock may be found here.  My first sagebrush were spotted on my approach to Chimney Rock … another sign I’m back in the West.

Chimney Rock, Nebraska.

Petrol and some few other supplies were onloaded at Scottsbluff a few miles further west, and then turning directly south my road led to the Pawnee National Grasslands.  Just over the State line into Colorado.  The Pawnee National Grasslands is divided into an eastern and western sections, but this belies the fact that only 30% or so of the actual Grasslands are Federal property; thus for every acre of the National Grasslands two are held in private hands.  Also the eastern section has a lot of oil or gas wells and wind-farms ensconced on the land.  But the most interesting geography is to be found here, in the form of Pawnee Buttes, and so that is where I headed, with the Sun setting into the west, as I entered this industrial eastern section.  In the darkening of the night I made several abortive attempts to reach the Buttes, before I found the right road.  At quarter of eleven I pulled into a dispersed camping site overlooking the trail to the Buttes, passing two other campers back down the road, and turned in for the night.

The crossing of the Great Plains was a surprisingly interesting journey on the back roads of Nebraska, and only 60 0r 70 miles to go, before I reach the Colorado Rockies.  I highly recommend the Outlaw Trail (Nebraska State Highway 12), and the Dismal River Road as well, to gradually ease oneself into the West, from the agrarian eastern part of the Great Plains.

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