Before I get started today I’d like to throw out a big thank you to the people who’ve responded by e-mail to the columns I’ve written the last two weeks. Evidently there are quite a few readers of the Metro News who either grew up in Nebraska or have family members who still live there.
I gotta be honest with you. When I came up here I really didn’t expect much. Actually, I figured I’d hate the place. Well, like usual, I was wrong. I’ve been here almost a month now and I’m starting to understand why so many people wrote me about growing up here. And why so many of you still think of it as home. It’s just a really cool place with a lot of really good people.
Last Sunday, rather than sit around my motel room, I took another road trip. It was another trip back in time, so to speak. I took Hi-way 26 west out of Ogallala. It pretty much follows the North Platte river to the Wyoming border. It’s the same route the settlers traveling the Oregon Trail used back in the mid 1800’s. But it’s a little easier to do it today than it was back then though.
Once you get out into the panhandle of western Nebraska, the scenery starts to change. About 90 miles west of Ogallala, close to Bridgeport, is about where the bluffs that are so famous start. Just south of the hi-way is where two formations known as Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock sit. You’d have to see them yourself. I pulled off the hi way long enough to take a couple of pictures but didn’t stay long. The things I really wanted to see were a little further down the road. Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff.
About 15 minutes later, there it was on the horizon, Chimney Rock. It’s funny, I was really excited to see this thing. As a kid, I’d seen it in the background of so many western movies and the whole time I figured it must be in Arizona or some other mountainous state. Nope, there it was straight ahead.
It was still pretty early in the day so the Visitor’s Center hadn’t opened yet but there was a road that led around to the back side of Chimney Rock. It was just a small dead end road that took you within about a mile of it. At the end of the road is a small cemetery that became the final resting place of some of the travelers of those early days on the Oregon Trail. It was kind of sad but very interesting. I got out of my truck, took a few pictures, and just stood there trying to imagine how difficult things must have been back then.
About 25 miles to the west of Chimney Rock is another formation known as Scottsbluff. It’s a huge bluff that stands about 800 feet over the plains that surround it. The Indians of the day called it Ma-a-pa-te, or “hill that’s hard to go around.” To the travelers on the Oregon Trail, they saw it as a sign that they had finally reached the end of the Great American Desert. They were now about a third of the way into their 2,000 mile, 6 month journey to Oregon.
To get this to this point, they had traveled so far and had faced so many challenges, I’m sure they considered it quite an accomplishment But I really doubt that many of them had any idea what to expect once they finally reached the Rockies, which lie ahead of them.
Today you can drive right up to the top of Scottsbluff and once you get there you can see for miles in any direction. About 90 miles to the west you can see the mountains. I still think there were enough people back in those early days who just decided they had gone far enough and decided to call Nebraska home. And I think the descendants of those early pioneers are the people who live there today. Very proud and very independent. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
I’ll be heading home to Kansas tomorrow and don’t know when my travels will take me back to Nebraska but I’m very glad to have gotten to know the place and some of it’s people. I’ll never forget it. Stop on by the blog this week and join in on the conversation www.rm235.blogspot.com or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org