Ruts: Make Your Day On Nebraska’s Oregon Trail
Oregon Trail? In Nebraska? Got that right, and you can see for yourself, ‘cos you’ve got an extra day on this road trip and you’re bored.
Not to mention, curiosity is niggling at you, and the interstate has bent you into chronic buckled-up position. You’re not in a rut, but close. Plus, you can count on Muddy Boots to provide—umm, insist on?—some exercise to get you going ’til you can stand up straight again.
Oregon Trail it is…
You’re driving your proverbial dusty car, though, get that? Not flying first class in a window seat. It’s the limited-budget stinge-binge plan.
So, here’s the deal. It’s I-80 in western Nebraska, nearish to Ogallala. You’ve always gone zooming by. Not this time.
Time to Exit
You need Exit 126. You’re going on Route 26, almost due northwest, and you’re primed for something different: an out-of-the-blue DCMBer’s kind of adventure.
While you’re in range of convenient wi-fi, consult the NPS site for the Oregon National Historic Trail. You’ll find loads of information, driving maps, links for related federal and state agencies, history, photos….
You’ve got picnic food stashed in the trunk? A thermos of coffee? Plenty of water (not to mention gas)?
And then you’re on your way. Stay on Route 26, following the North Platte River.
The less than exciting I-80 gave no hint that surprises were close by. Soak it all in with your eyes. Take your time…
Screech of Brakes
You almost missed it: you’re that super-focused on the landscape. Over there on the left: a sodhouse low-slung and nestled into a contour, as soddies normally are. There’s a convenient parking lot right in front. You’re at Windlass Hill.
Time to get out already?
Yuppers! Exercise. Stall while you check out the soddy. Although Oregon Trail west-bounders left messages and hung out there for a while, relieved that they’d made it down the hill you’re evidently going to climb, restrain yourself from doing likewise. Leaving a few words of complaint for Muddy Boots re the pending hill-haul or a valentine for a love one abandoned on the interstate is not recommended owing to the it’s-seen-better-days aspect of the hovel.
Find the hardtop trail
And head upwards. Marvel that Oregon Trail pioneers had a tough time going down this nub and gouged it up with wagon ruts. While you catch your breath, take solace in the views. Look far and wide, not an especially difficult matter since you are quite out there, exposed to the full pioneer-prairie, wind-blown, rain-battered, sunshine-tormented, experience. If summer prairie grass doesn’t hide the wagon trail, note the ruts in the distance as well as right beside your driving-stiff feet.
Smug and invigorated
From your hill panorama, mosey downwards. Now you owe the state money for your mini-adventure. You vow to pay up, and have the opportunity to do so for not a whole lot ($5 for a day of State Park visits in 2015) if you continue on your way to Ash Hollow State Historical Site, a favorite watering hole for west-bound wagoneers.
Into the self-same Ash Hollow waterhole for your picnic. Wallow, paddle, and get your feet wet. Take a nap under a tree, on the picnic table, or in your dusty covered wagon to get the full breeze-by-the-river Ash Hollow pioneer experience.
As you ogle at landmark after Oregon Trail landmark. You’ve seen photos before, but now they’re for real. Drive up close if you feel inspired. Consult your watch, mindful that your afternoon destination—Scott’s Bluff—is still a ways to go, and it keeps NPS time.
With two hours to spare
You arrive at Scott’s Bluff National Monument and make the most of NPS savvy. Take the shuttle ride, listen up at the all-important Ranger talk. Perhaps another walkies? A second picnic? A third nap?
For Muddy Boots’ opinionated review of near to Oregon Trail camping, read: Sleep Somewhere But NOT HERE: Bridgeport NE.
Photo credits. Featured image and top, Covered wagon: Public Domain by BLM via Wikimedia. Chimney Rock from the air: Public Domain. Ruts at Windlass Hill: Public Domain, By Ammodramus. View from Windlass Hill: Public Domain by Steve and Bobbi Olsen. Chimney Rock: Public Domain. Scott’s Bluff National Monument at sunset: Courtesy NPS.