21st - 23rd June 2008

Nebraska landscape

As we crossed over the state line from Kansas into Nebraska, we were greeted with the sign, "Nebraska....the good life" and a picture of a cowboy.    On driving further into the state, it seemed that Nebraska life was mostly a rural, cattle rearing life.   Beautiful grazing pastures continued for mile after mile, interrupted only now and again by a nodding donkey drilling mechanism or the occasional unpleasant  intensive cattle feeding lot, which could be smelled long before it came into view.   Although the land had only a gentle undulating look to it, we were actually at four thousand feet, up there on the High Plains.
On stopping for fuel, we noticed something strange.   For the first time in any state we'd visited, the "Plus" higher octane unleaded fuel was considerably cheaper than regular unleaded.    This seemed to be due to its blending with ethanol.  Harvey seemed to enjoy his fuel, no matter what it was blended with.
By lunchtime we'd set up camp at Ogallala, a town with a colourful, true Wild-West history, named after a local Sioux tribe.    Lying at the end of long cattle drives from Texas, it was once famous for gambling, pretty girls and fast guns.   We got a real taste of the town's history at Front Street, which combined an informative museum about life in the old days, with an old-style saloon complete with showgirls.     Each evening there would be a shoot out in the street outside, relating to some cowboy dispute which seemed to occur regular as clockwork at 7.15 pm!    To avoid the risk from crossfire and excessive kitsch, we quickly absented ourselves and went to visit the nearby Lake McConaughy.

Ogalalla Front Street - Philly looks right at home!

The huge lake with a water surface area of 30,500 acres, lying a few miles out of town, was created artificially with the construction of the three and a half mile long Kingsley Dam.    The lake seemed to have three functions, providing irrigation for thousands of acres of farmland in south central Nebraska, creating electricity via the Kingsley Hydroplant and as a recreation centre for boaters, fishermen, campers and beach lovers.   Beneath the dam in the lower level Lake Ogallala, even the cattle seemed to be enjoying a cooling swim.

Huge Kingsley Dam at McConaughy Lake

Local cattle cooling their hooves!

On our way back to town, we made an unscheduled stop.    We came across a house we just couldn't drive by.    After all, the residents had gone to a lot of trouble making beautiful wooden signs to advertise the fact that they were Reeses.   OK, not the type without the final "e" like us but we just felt the urge to stop in and say hello.    

The Reeses turned out to be of German, not Welsh descent, but we were greeted like family and enjoyed spending a while exchanging tales with Dorothy and Dwayne.   Well, if somebody went to that much trouble to advertise their "Reesness", it would have just been rude to drive straight by!

At home with the Reeses

Last stop on the tour of Ogallala was a visit to Boot Hill Cowboy Cemetery, last resting place of several notorious cowboys killed in gambling squabbles, amongst others.    Although the remains from the cemetery had actually been re-located to a new cemetery, the original pioneer cemetery had been re-created in its original location and style.    It was interesting to learn during our visit the Ogallala, that around a third of all cowboys in the "wild west era" were not Caucasian but African-American or Hispanic, a fact we hadn't realised from our only previous experience of the history of the west, the movies. 

Next-to-last resting place of Pedro, Boot Hill Cemetery.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park.

Next morning we were heading west again on Highway 26, making our first stop at Ash Hollow State Historical Park.    Nearby Windless Hill proved a tricky spot for those westbound wagon trains on the Oregon Trail.   The descent was made by using either people-power or oxen to slow the wagons, or locking the wagon wheels to allow them to slide downhill.   There were surprisingly few accidents and from the crest of the hill deep ruts carved by the thousands of passing wagons were still clearly visible.

Next came the "Rock-Quest" part of our Nebraska tour.    First we wanted to visit Courthouse and Jail Rocks and selected a circular route on the map, which would give us chance to see more of Nebraska's scenic byways on the way.     We certainly took the scenic route and surprised a few local farmers unaccustomed to seeing motor homes pass through their farmyards!     Finally our destination was in sight and we decided to drive right up to the base of the rock following the signed route.    Unfortunately the signed route turned out not really to be a road at all, more of a rutted dirt track up a steep hill but with no option to turn around our beloved Harvey, had found himself having yet another unplanned adventure.    With careful driving we made it to the base of the rock where we found enough room to turn around and head back to the safety of the paved road.

Next stop Chimney Rock, which actually had a road and a visitor centre, making the approach far less challenging.    All of the distinctive rocks rising out of the surrounding plains must have made excellent landmarks for the pioneers.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - from a farmer's field.

Chimney Rock

Many of Nebraska's highways we travelled seemed to run alongside railroad tracks.    We were amazed at the number of trains we drove beside.    We wondered where they all came from and only later discovered that Nebraska is home to the Bailey Railroad Yard.   This yard is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the worlds largest reclassification yard, which would probably explain the frequency of the extraordinarily long freight trains.
Exhausted by our adventures we sought out a campground, finding a Nebraska State Park not too far away at Minature Lake.     This park boasted Nebraska's only lighthouse!    

At the lake Phil tried a spot of fishing, with little success.    We suddenly found ourselves in blizzard-like conditions, the air thick with white fluff.  On further enquiries of locals, this was explained as seeds blowing off the lakeside cottonwood trees.   It wasn't hard to understand the name when we found Harvey blanketed in the cotton-wool like seeds.

Campsite view at Lake Minature

Last stop in Nebraska was un-missable.    We'd heard of a famous landmark near the town of Alliance.   Carhenge was a replica of the original Stonehenge historic landmark, this one created from old cars.   

The landmark was built by artist Jim Reinders and his family as a memorial to his father, who lived on the farm where it is located.   The idea was conceived following his father's death and the family agreed to gather again in five years to create their masterpiece.   

Since the dedication of Carhenge, fittingly on the summer solstice in 1987, other car sculptures have been added to the remarkable Car Art Reserve.  

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