The weather was fine and so were the rides on Saturday night for the final cruise night of the season in Blair.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.”
While many summer activities and events have been canceled due to covid pandemic concerns, the 2020 Washington County Fair was held pretty much as scheduled. Featured events included a rodeo, 4H shows, mud volleyball, tractor pulls and a livestock auction. Fair Board President Jason Cloudt said the 2020 fair was successful considering the circumstances.
This summer reminds me of the first time I retired many years ago. After a satisfying 32 years of teaching I was looking forward to new opportunities. Like most retirees I had a long list of things I was going to “get around to” after I retired. A good share of those things are still on that list.
One thing led to another. I was taking some advanced photo classes at Metro when I saw a help wanted advertisement for a reporter/photographer at the Enterprise. Soon after starting to work at the paper I took advantage of an opportunity to teach photojournalism at Metro Community College as well. A friend and fellow Metro instructor commented that my wealth of photo opportunities as news photographer was “an embarrassment of riches.” I had never heard that phrase before, but it fit my situation perfectly.
My career at the Enterprise has been rich with experiences and friendships as well as photo opportunities. As you may have noticed, my photos are still showing up in the newspaper. The beauty of my new arrangement is that my photo assignments are pretty much by invitation.
On the last day of June, the Fort Calhoun staff asked me to come down to photograph a teacher parade to honor retiring superintendent Don Johnson. I of course gladly accepted the invitation. One of my first beats as a reporter was covering Fort Calhoun Schools and Johnson was middle school and high school principal at that time. In my opinion Don was always the epitome of what a good leader should be. I could give a dozen examples, but what always impressed me was that no matter the time of place, if there was a significant project underway Don was there leading the charge.
The last day of June also commemorated the ten year anniversary of the closing of Dana College. Preparing my column gave me an opportunity to look through my time capsule of Dana images from 2010 to the present. While Argo and Elkhorn residence halls were demolished and others need to be renovated or removed, it is still a lovely campus. After so many false starts it is good to see that the Durham Center and Trinity Chapel have been renovated and occupied, and athletes are once again playing baseball on the ball diamonds.
While so many events have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 Virus, Arlington, Blair and Herman still were able to hold their annual fireworks displays. For me, setting up to photograph a fireworks show is kind of like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. When I press the button for a long exposure I never know for sure what I’m going to get.
I was particularly happy with the results from the Herman show. My intent was to capture the spirit of that small town community celebration and I think the photo on the front page of the paper communicated that pretty well.
Another summer event that I regularly attend is the Wolfe Country Quilt Show and Garden Walk. On the third Saturday of July for eight of the last nine years, the Wolfe family has hosted this beautiful show as a free gift to quilt lovers and gardening enthusiasts. I’m not much of a gardener and know nothing about quilting, but strolling through the farm yard gives me an opportunity to make images that capture the mix of people, flowers and fabric. Thank you Wolfe family.
I don’t know about “embarrassment” but I do know that I am thankful over the years to have had a wealth of opportunities to make images in Washington County.
The Nebraska Press Association released the results of the 2019 annual Better Newspaper contest on June 30. The Washington County Enterprise, Pilot-Tribune and Arlington Citizen earned 24 first-place awards. The Citizen and Pilot-Tribune were both awarded First Place General Excellence in their circulation divisions.
Personally, I was pleased to earn the First Place Class D Breaking News photo award for “Semi swept into floodwaters” photo, First and second place photo page awards for Fort Atkinson living history days and Tower of the Four Winds, and first place feature series award for my North-West Adventure travel column series.
Congratulations to all Enterprise Media editorial staff, artists, and design team members for their outstanding work.