Our trip through the Midwest in the summer of 2017 was a diverse one to say the least. 10 states, 5000 miles and 15 days on the road allowed us experience a lot of different environments, weather conditions and landscapes. For the most part, we experienced what we expected from all the states, but one.
We were on day three of our trip and we had just spent a sleepless night, due to severe weather, in Arrow Rock, Mo. It was an early morning and a wet start and we only had a few things on our mind. Coffee, Adventerure Motors in Kansas City and Toadstool Geological Park. With warm coffee finally in our bellies and the kids situated in the back of the Cruiser, we made the short jaunt to Kansas City to visit the guys at Adventure Motors. They were lending a helping hand in replacing a faulty piece of equipment in our rig. After a tour of their facility and some great conversation, we hit the road and hit it hard! We had 665 miles to travel to make it to Toadstool Geological Park in the northwest corner of Nebraska.
Nebraska. What can I say. The state is full of long and painfully straight roads, surrounded by corn fields as far as the eye can see! Exactly what we expected and were dreading. As we made our way across the state, it became painfully obvious that we were not going to make our destination unless we drove long into the night. We had a decision to make. Keep going or find another place to camp. I for one, was not to willing to make camp in a remote area, late in the evening, after a sleepless night. So at our next fuel stop, we decided to look for alternatives. Fueling up on the outskirts of Bridgeport, Ne, Jennifer discovered a State Recreation area on the other side of town. With exhaustion setting in, we decided to go have a look.
Driving through the quaint little town of Bridgeport, named for the bridge just north of town that was constructed in the late 1800's and crosses the North Platte River, we made our way toward the Recreation area. There wasn't much activity in town and it almost seemed as if the town of 1500 was more like a town of 500. Once we pulled into the Recreation area we discovered why. It was as if the entire town was camped there! We made our way around the lake looking for any resemblance of an open site. Being a Friday night though, we were not having any luck. Campers, tents and RV's littered the camp sites and it appeared we would have no choice but to continue on. As we were rounding the lake, we noticed that the designated campsites ceased, yet people were still camped along the shoreline of the lake. We pulled into a open gravel area and reassessed our options. As we were sitting there, we noticed several tents set up on the gravel lot which was obviously the parking lot for the boat ramp. Not only were they set up, but they had campfires going. A short time later a Park Ranger and a Game Warden drove by. After witnessing the Ranger passing by without issue and taking into account how tired we were, we made the decision to pull the Cruiser into a grassy area adjacent to the parking lot and set up camp. We deployed quickly and decided to enjoy our first night, in camp before sunset, with a walk to the pay box and around the lake. The views were absolutely breathtaking as the sun faded over the horizon!
The next morning Jennifer and I awoke early as normal. Enjoying our coffee and our lakeside view, we discussed the plans for the day ahead. During our conversation, we noticed we had received a message through our Instagram account suggestiong a place to see in the near by area. With our curiosity peaked, we decided to wake the kids and get a move on! Back on the road, we followed the signs, as suggested, to Scottsbluff. Driving through the the Nebraska countryside, we began to wonder, what could be so amazing out here that someone felt it was something we couldn't miss? Then we saw it, Scottsbluff!
Scottsbluff is just another small Midwest town. However, Scottsbluff National Monument, just south of town, looks like something that is more suited for monument valley in Utah. than rural Nebraska. Ascending the bluff on the Park's paved road to the top, we took in the amazing views. Towering 800 feet above the surrounding North Platte River, the views were stunning! Off in the distance you could see Courthouse Rock, Jail Rock and the unmistakable Chimney Rock. We took our time exploring the hiking trails on the bluff and made sure we took in the views from every vantage point possible. Once we had our fill, we made our way to the bottom and stopped at the visitor center. There we discovered that not only does the historic Mormon Trail run on the north side of the bluff, but our Cruiser was parked exactly 50 feet from the legendary Oregon Trail! Needless to say, we couldn't leave there without walking at least part of the trail. Once on the trail we met a Park Ranger that gave us a historical walk through of what it would've been like walking the Oregon trail. Dressed in period correct clothing and using wagons and fake oxen they had replicated on the trail, did wonders to give us real insight into the humongous under taking the pioneers accepted on by traveling west. Passing between Sentinal and Eagle rock at Mitchell pass, we found the wagon wheel ruts were still present in the dirt below. A marking that has forever changed the landscape and tells the tale of the thousands of people who tempted fate as they traveled west.
Approaching lunch time we decided to have a quick bite to eat and get back on the road. Northbound and on our way to Toadstool Geological Park, we passed through a rural area that had been devastated recently by a tornado. Most likely by the same storm we experienced in Missouri. As we drove through the the countryside, we looked around with a sobering awe at the damage. Homes and barns had been ripped a part. Tractors and machinery had been tossed about and the irrigation sprayers in the fields were twisted up like pretzels. Debris was everywhere! The families were walking about their properties, assessing the damage and trying their best to clean it up. What an amazing testimate to them and the human spirit for forging on in the face of tragedy!
We Turned off the hightway just north of Crawford, Ne and made our way through the countryside. Traveling down a long and dusty road that mirrored the adjacent train tracks, we couldn't help but get lost in the beautiful surroundings. The landscape was changing from the flat prairies to a small valley with rock formations that closely resembled the badlands of the Dakotas. Making our way into the park, it felt as if we'd just landed on some distant planet. The landscape was like nothing we'd ever seen before. Stepping out of the Cruiser we made our way through the gate and onto the 1 mile trail loop that runs through the geolgic park. One of the most amazing things about this park is that it is completely open to exploration. Meaning you can pretty much venture away from the trail at anytime to explore. The trail itself was marked by steel poles with numbered placards attached, driven into the ground. If you didn't pay attention, it was very easy to get lost in a few sections. But that only added to the mystery and the adventure of the park, in our eyes! Walking up and down the rock formations and standing next to shear drop offs, we saw firsthand how Mother Nature's power had slowly eroded these landscapes and created the amazing formations before us. The deeper into the park we traveled, the more we felt as if we were on some distant planet exploring it for the first time. Fossils could be seen all around us in the rock faces. It's quite an experience to be able to touch history rather than view it behind a pane of glass in some museum. It was truly something we had never experienced before.
After making our way back to the trail head, we loaded up into the Cruiser and drove all of 100 yards to a Pioneer sod house adjacent the parking lot. The summer sun was unrelenting and we were ready to get out of the heat. But we'd be remiss if we didn't take the time to explore this historic recreation of a pioneer house. As we approached the house, the thick mud walls stood out more and more. The walls had to be at least 12" thick! Once inside, we found the air was rather cool and the living area was somewhat spacious compared to other pioneer homes we had visited. The mud walls actually acted as a thermal barrier and kept the house fairly comfortable! Walking to the back of the structure, we were amazed by the view of the geologic park. Could you imagine? Being the only one for miles? Living in a sod house with such an amazing view? We're sure during the times it was looked at more along the lines of survival and with less of a romaticized tone. But we still couldn't help but pose the question, was it really all that bad?