Autumn color at Black Elk-Neihardt Park

Black Elk – Neihardt Park in Blair is a great place to go leaf peeping, and autumn color is at or reaching its peak in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa.


Trail opens acres of park land to view

New vistas are open to view at  Black Elk Neihardt Park in Blair thanks to volunteers who have carved out a new mountain bike  and multi-use trail at the western edge of the park.  The trail opens up acres of park property that have been nearly inaccessible due to dense trees, grass and brush.

Cool rides turn out for Cruise Night

The weather was fine and so were the rides on Saturday night for the final cruise night of the season in Blair.

Hello Autumn 2020

Tuesday afternoon  I grabbed a lens that I haven’t used in awhile and headed down to California Bend to commemorate the first day of autumn 2020.

Looking for landmarks

Chimney Rock near Bayard, Nebraska is the signature landmark on the Oregon Trail.  The stone column rises nearly 300 feet above the North Platte river valley.  The national historical site  and visitors center is maintained and operated by History Nebraska. The museum inside the center has been expanded and updated. The exhibits are interesting and the staff is knowledgeable and helpful.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska 9-12-20
Conestoga wagon and oxen display at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Scotts Bluff National Monument is another must see attraction. The setting looks much the same as the scene in William Henry Jackson’s painting of a westbound wagon train crossing beneath Scotts Bluff.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska 9-12-20
Mitchell Pass

Fort Laramie just across the state line in Wyoming was built at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers in 1834 as a trading post where the Lakota traded tanned buffalo robes for trade goods. In 1849 the US Army bought the old post which was called Fort John and renamed it Fort Laramie.
“This ‘grand old post’ witnessed the entire sweeping saga of America’s western expansion and Indian resistance to encroachment on their territories.”  (US National Park Service)

Oregon Trail in Nebraska 9-12-20
Fort Laramie in eastern Wyoming located at the confluence of North Platte and Laramie rivers.

West of Fort Laramie near Gurnsey, Wyoming is the locationof what the National Park Service describes as the most spectacular ruts along the entire Oregon-California Trail. Wagons crossing a ridge of soft sandstone in exactly the same place carved deep ruts to more than five feet in some places that are preserved in the stone.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska 9-12-20
Wagon wheels carved deep ruts into soft stone along the Oregon Trail near Gurnsey, Wyoming.

Also located near Gurnsey is Register Cliff where travelers carved their names into the soft rock.  Unfortunately there is more twentieth century graffiti than signatures from the 1840’s, 50’s and 60’s.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska 9-12-20
Pioneer graves in the foreground and Signature Cliff in the background near Gurnsey, Wyoming.

In Search of the Oregon Trail

After reading “The Oregon Trail A New American Journey” I knew where my next road trip would take me. The book is the story of the author Rinker Buck’s,  “crazy ass passion” to make the first unassisted covered wagon crossing of the Oregon Trail in over 100 years. I was totally captivated by the personalities of Brinker Buck, his brother and sidekick Nick, Nick’s dog Olive Oyle, and the three mules. The writer’s theme of  “journey as destination,” and learning to find comfort in living with uncertainty resonates with me.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska
Hazy morning sun at Lake McConaughy

I have traveled west on I-80 countless times but seldom leave the Interstate for the scenic and historic byways that follow the old Oregon Trail through Nebraska and into Wyoming.  In early September I decided to remedy that.  I don’t have a 19th century covered wagon and mules, but I do have my Wander Wagon – a pop up pickup camper and Tacoma pickup truck.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska
My modern day version of a covered wagon at at Lake McConaughy.

After a 350 mile drive from Blair I found a secluded campsite on a sandy beach at  Lake McConaughy just before sunset. The next day I set out to view some of the landmarks Buck describes in his book.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska
Sunflowers along the sandy beach at my campsite at Lake McConaughy.

In the 1840’s through the 1860’s, thousands of covered wagon immigrants crossed the South Platte near Brule and  climbed the steep hill which came to be known as California Hill heading for the North Platte and Ash Hollow.  A marker on Highway 30 marks the site and by traveling ¾ mile on a minimum maintenance road, the deep ruts left from the wagon wheel can still be seen. From the top of the California Hill one can see a panoramic view of the South Platte river valley and  the stream of traffic moving along Interstate 80.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska
Deep ruts made by thousands of wagon wheels can still be seen on California Hill in western Nebraska between Brule and Big Sprin

Following the ridge line for about 20 miles,  the wagons would make a steep dissent down what came to be known as Windlass Hill to Ash Hollow.  Ash Hollow provided the emigrants access to fresh spring water and lush grass for livestock and an opportunity to mend harness and wagons before moving on.

Oregon Trail in Nebraska
Deep ruts carved into the hillside by thousands of wagons making the descent to Ash Hollow can still be seen on Windlass Hill.

Highway 92 from Ogallala to Scotts Bluff and into Wyoming parallels the old Oregon trail.  I think I felt a bit of the excitement that the pioneers might have experienced as the terrain changes and  Jail House Rock and Court House come into view on the horizon.

To be continued…

Oregon Trail in Nebraska 9-13-20
View of Jail House and Court House Rock from Highway 92 in western Nebraska.


Blair Graduation Scrap book

Blair Class of 2020 graduates finally were able to savor success and gain a sense of closure during commencement exercises held at Krantz field on August 1.  Classroom learning and school sports, activities and events including graduation were all postponed or suspended during the final quarter of the school year.

In his commencement address, Principal Tom Anderson challenged graduates to think of positive lessons brought about by the pandemic. “Don’t take anything for granted. When you get to be around your friends, enjoy the moment. Slow down. It’s OK to enjoy nature and all the beautiful things around us.”