Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Nebraska

I'm gonna fudge a little here. A lot has happened since I've last written, but I'm going to jump backwards in time and just write about our trip in Nebraska for now. I'll explain more later...

The night before departing Fort Collins, we were still staring at maps trying to determine where to go. The original plan was to head straight to Fort Robinson, but whenever I asked someone for recommendations on what to do in Nebraska I always heard "Chimney Rock" and "Scotts Bluff", and lo and behold it was on our way! So we decided to visit Gering, NE so we could tour both of these historic landmarks. Driving through Nebraska is quite flat and without much to look at for distraction. So it was easy to imagine early pioneers actually getting excited when they saw Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff and knowing that it was the end of the prairie lands' mind-numbing boring trail ride. Once they saw Chimney Rock in the distance it still took them three days to reach it. Can you imagine? Andy started complaining after watching it for 15 minutes, crying "when will we get there?".
One of the best things about staying at Robidoux RV Park was being able to bike from the campground to Scotts Bluff National Monument. A bike trail picks up at the western end of U Street and takes you the three miles through grasslands to get there. Once there you can choose to take a shuttle or hike the 1.6 mile trail to the summit. Bikes weren't permitted on the park road during the day due to the narrow and winding nature of the road. So we opted for the hike. With a vertical change of 800' it was challenging eventhough it was paved. It offered great views along the way. From the summit you could see in all directions. We could even see Chimney Rock which was about 25 miles away. On the way back down we found it easier just to run the trail due to the steep grade. The only problem was slowing down on the turns...otherwise we could've run clear off the ledge.

On the way to Fort Robinson we took a little side trip to Agate Fossil Bed Nat'l Monument. The visitor's center not only has a great collection of fossils, but a wonderful display of indian artifacts. We walked the Fossil Hills Trail, but there are no longer any fossils that we could find. The Niobrara River runs through the park. It is listed as a Wild and Scenic River. Here the river is narrow, but it provides enough water to create a lush, green valley in an otherwise brown prairie.
Fort Robinson State Park is very large with lots of activities for guests: tubing or kayaking the White River, horse-back riding, wagon rides, hiking and mountain biking trails, a rodeo, a playhouse, two museums, and more. There's a pasture for a herd of bison and a field that the long-horn steer share with pronghorn antelopes. The fort has held many roles over the years including Red Cloud Indian Agency, equestrian training center, war dogs training center, a German POW camp, and other uses. A fascinating history and a pretty location with a line of bluffs on the northern end of the park.
Taking a drive one afternoon we actually saw (what I believe were) some young bighorn sheep. I was very excited, but I'm still waiting for the day to see a ram with a fully-curled set of horns.
Pronghorns are one of the most beautiful animals, in my mind. The coloring, pattern, and those dark eyes. And they appear so delicate. Pronghorns are the fastest mammal in North America, topping speeds of 60mph.
We took a day-trip to Toadstool Geological Park. This geological wonder was created by layers of clay and ash which has eroded over the years into these fantastical shapes. It felt like we were dropped on the moon.


While we were at Fort Robinson we realized that the Sturgis Bike Rally was going on the same time we were expecting to reach the Badlands. Although we were only 50 miles or so from South Dakota, and we have several friends who ride Harleys (we still love ya Gail/Merle/Rod), we really, really didn't want to be there at that time. So we began considering Voyageurs (MN) and Apostle Islands (WI) or go west into River Country of Wyoming. But we were also worried about Andy's father, who at that time was not well and went into a hospital in PA. We decided it was more important for us to be near a major airport, so we turned around and headed back to Denver. This time we chose to stay in Golden, CO putting as close to the airport as possible.

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