Day 42

Wednesday, July 6 2005Gering, NE
Miles: 5047Oregon Trail
Today we left South Dakota behind. In driving through South Dakota, and today Nebraska, we learned that nowhere is deserted. We expected these states to have nothing in them but some large fields and tumbleweed, but there’s quite a lot out here. People are nice and friendly, and while there are fields, there hasn’t really been any time that the road has been deserted for very long. In South Dakota, this sort of made sense, since we stuck to the main highway and went to some pretty big attractions, but in Nebraska we’re sort of off the main path.

Anyway, today we packed up early and got on the road early, mostly due to the fact that we slept in the van and drank Instant Breakfast, hence there was little packing to do. Our first stop was the Mammoth Site, which was actually back in Hot Springs. Thousands of years ago, a bunch of boy mammoths who no longer listened to their grandmothers struck out on their own. They wandered around and found a nice hot spring to drink from. Oh, but it was a sinkhole! They fell in. They drowned. Their bones were covered in layers of rock. They were found in 1978 and Earthwatch began to dig them up for further study. The moral of the story: listen to your grandmother! (Only young males were found in the sinkhole. The rest of the matriarchal herd knew better.) We left the Mammoth Site only after getting information on how to volunteer for the dig.

Next on our agenda was Cascade Falls. This turned out not to be so much of a falls experience as a really cold swimming hole experience. Ceridwen swam for about two minutes (She’s feeling much better. Hurray for herbal remedies!) and then got out and played in the shallow bits. The pool was very clear and very deep, but ridiculously cold. This was our last stop in South Dakota and we pressed on for Nebraska.

Nebraska has a place called Toadstools Geological Area that is about 12 miles down a dirt road. We headed for it despite the dust and made it there in one piece. Sad to say, the area is really just a baby Badlands. Badlands with a little ‘b’ is the term for any area of similar geology, while Badlands with a capital ‘B’ refers to the really cool place in South Dakota. This was a cool place with a nice hike and some odd toadstool formations (clay washes away from under sandstone, leaving slabs of rock resting on tiny pillars), but having just come from the big B Badlands, we weren’t that interested. It was also very hot, so we continued on.

We drove on and tried to match the music to the scenery, a new game we’ve been playing. So far we’ve learned that Black 47 goes well with the Badlands, Shriekback complements the Black Hills and Sisters of Mercy is the perfect accompaniment to the plains and sand hills of Nebraska. Now you know.

Our next stop was Carhenge. In 1987, a man decided to build a tribute to his father in the form of 36 cars, painted gray, arranged precisely in the same manner as the rocks of Stonehenge. Why? To make people laugh. It’s a great thing, sitting in the middle of a field, under a huge open, western sky. The cars are all different types. Some have fins and some are little compact 70’s models. It was quite a fun sight to see. We tried to find the tourist information booth and Carhenge gift shop in the nearby town of Alliance, but had no luck.

After a nice drive through the scenic panhandle of Nebraska, we arrived at the Jail and Courthouse rocks. These served as markers for the pioneers traveling on the Oregon and Mormon trails. They are also quite fun to climb.

Just down the road is Chimney Rock. (Those of you who are contemporaries of Keath and Ceridwen, go ahead and free associate about the fabulous 16 color computer game, Oregon Trail. We certainly did. We even spun around in a circle, shooting pixels and trying to bag a bear.) The visitor center was closed for the night, but the woman at the convenience store up the road told us that there was a trail leading from a dead end road just beyond it. We drove up to the parking lot and took a look. Though we decided to forgo the trail through high grasses, we did stop to look at the cemetery where several pioneers, especially children, are buried. It was much more inspiring to see the landmarks that the pioneers used, to see the terrain on which they traveled and to think about what they left behind than it was to look at the Gateway Arch Memorial. It’s sort of like the difference between using a primary source as opposed to a secondary source.

After Chimney Rock, we headed for Gering, Nebraska, which is to be our only overnight in this fine state. We plotted our stops for the next day and then caught up on our blogging. We’ve been very naughty, mostly due to the lack of internet access. Sorry!!