Go: Nebraska! | Day Drunk: Go: Nebraska!

May 1, 2013

Go: Nebraska!

It was (I imagine) a typically windy day in Nebraska as we crossed the state lines from a brief jaunt in Wyoming. For those of you reading who aren’t familiar or yet aware, this demarcation means a heck of a whole lot to me:

Why do I feel this good about entering the Cornhusker state? Because it is the first time ever that I am visiting Nebraska and I am ever so excited about what is in store. 

We entered Nebraska heading east on Route 88 towards Scottsbluff as the day was rolling towards its close. After scoping out a possible campsite in the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area (and deciding it was a little bit too hot, windy, and exposed for our tastes), we headed on to Lake Minatare to endure yet another windy night at camp. We attempted to set up a wind-break for our tent, but mostly just ended up looking like foolish, non-natives trying to catch some wind with our tarp sail.

In the art of campfire cooking, I am a Master.

Before leaving the next morning, we checked out Lake Minatare’s unique feature, its lighthouse—in fact, it is the only lighthouse in Nebraska! Which makes sense, considering Nebraska is landlocked and probably has little need for anymore!

Lake Minatare
The lighthouse of the prairie!
Cassin's Kingbird
And then it was on into the grasslands with my heart a-flutter at the flat awesomeness of it all. Yes, you should realize by now that I am a total weirdo when it comes to flat expanses of land, probably dominated by some sort of monoculture or at the very least, grass. I especially love driving for hours on end through the rural heart of it, daydreaming about something-or-other while gazing out the window trapped in field-hypnosis and feeling totally at peace with myself. 

View of the Pine Ridge in the background...
Our first stop was the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in northwestern Nebraska, famed for its well-preserved Miocene (over 20 million years ago!) fossils and an incredible Lakota Sioux museum of artifacts collected and preserved by the Monument's previous owner, James Cook. We took a short tour of the site and saw some incredible fossils, including the Daemonelix, a fossilized, corkscrew shaped burrow dug by the land beaver, Palaeocastor.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Prickly Poppy

We dipped north into the Oglala National Grasslands, a 94,520 acre preserve of our nation’s most endangered and dwindling natural habitat, towards Toadstool Geologic Park where we were planning on spending the night. While many of you who will find and read this blog may never make western Nebraska one of your travel destinations, Toadstool Geologic Park has been one of the most spectacular natural destinations I have encountered in my travels. The campsite, situated at the base of the badlands-toadstool formations on the edge of the grasslands is not only affordable, but offers amazing hiking opportunities, not only into the geologic heart of the park, but also to the Hudson-Meng BisonKill excavation and archaeological dig site (which we hiked to, but could not enter because we forgot our wallets!!).

Sod house at the campground with a roof cactus!
View of the Toadstool campground

Why do these rocks look the way they do? Toadstool Geologic Park is situated at the southern edge of the Badlands formation, the largest of these formations being preserved in the Badlands National Park near Wall, South Dakota, about 100 miles to the northeast. In these geologic areas, the soft, sedimentary rocks have been eroded away by water and wind to form magnificently colored gullies, peaks, and spires. While this small section of Nebraskan badlands are not as pronounced and expansive as the South Dakotan badlands, Toadstool gets its name from some particularly quirky formations that look like, you guessed it, mushrooms!

After getting our fill of toadstools, grasslands, and bison kills, AGP and I headed evermore north into South Dakota. Such adventure and magic awaited us that I became inexorably entwined with the state, the environment, and the people here, that I have visited a number of times since... more on that later.

Here is the map of our Nebraskan adventures:

A: Boulder, Colorado
B: Lake Minatare State Park, Scottsbluff, Nebraska
C: Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska
D: Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska

Ever so shortly, AGP and I will be entering the magical state of South Dakota, so stay tuned!

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