Leaving Custer, SD, we crossed over the Wyoming border into NW Nebraska. Many think Nebraska is nothing more than a “flyover” state, but we saw some really cool things! For instance … in Alliance, Nebraska, it’s NOT Stonehenge … it’s Carhenge!
A to-scale replica of the famous and mildly mysterious English landmark, it’s made entirely of 38 old cars, rescued from nearby old farms.
It was made in 1987 for a family reunion (and you thought all you had to do was bring a jello salad!). The guy who made it clearly had too much time on his hands, and figured out that the dimensions of cars from the 1950s and ’60s nearly equaled the dimensions of the stones that made up Stonehenge.
So he built his monument with a 96-foot diameter to match the proportions of the original.
A short walking path has some other (mostly car-related) artworks. It’s all free to visit!
Near Crawford, Nebraska, Fort Robinson was operated in many different capacities, from the early days of the Old West until after World War II. This included being a cavalry remount station, K-9 dog training center, German P.O.W. camp, beef research station and more. It is also known as the place where famed Indian warrior and leader Crazy Horse was killed by the military, in a sad tale of deception and violence.
“Hmmm, tell us Tessa, is Nebraska a prairie or a plain?” A prairie is just one kind of plain, so therefore prairies are plains, while plains are not always prairies. A prairie is a more specific plain that is mostly short and mid-length grasses. Lots of those grasses here, but more relevantly: moths. Lots and lots and lots of moths. No biggie until you lie down in bed at night and turn on the light of the TV — suddenly you’re in a moth tornado, no matter how hard you tried to keep them out. Sadly, none of the butterflies on the trails came to visit the RV.
They would have up to 14,000 horses stationed here at any given time. They also trained HALF of all the dogs who served in WWII here … 5,500 dogs who each had their own dog house in an enormous field … rows upon rows upon rows of dog houses. Only 1 in 4 “made it” through training, which makes me feel better when 7-1/2 month old Finn starts barking at grasshoppers and acting like a dang fool.
Many original buildings survive and remain in use at the park today, and others have been reconstructed, so there are a variety of hotel rooms in former army barracks, large entire houses, cabins in officers barracks, and campgrounds from which to choose. They even have horse “condos” available where you can rent a stall in their barns for your horse while you are staying at Fort Robinson! Many (most) people visiting Fort Robinson come for the endless horseback trails.
The park advertises 60 miles of trails, but we found them to be mostly suited to horseback riding; In fact, we were only able to find one trail, Turtle Rock, which wasn’t nearly indistinguishable because of the tall weeds obscuring the path.
Fort Robinson recreation includes live theater, trail rides, jeep tours, buffalo stew cookouts, stagecoach rides, an old-fashioned rodeo, museums, a large indoor, heated pool, and lots more. There is plenty to do here, which is maybe why this state park is a popular place for family reunions and group events.
Lastly, in Gering, Nebraska, the chiseled butte of the 800’ tall Scotts Bluff National Monument recognizes this important stop for emigrants make the long and dangerous journey west. Indians called it “Me-a-pa-te,” or “hill that is hard to go around;” other travelers called it the “Nebraska Gibraltar.”
These five sandstone and limestone rock formations were a rest stop for Native Americans, and pioneers migrating west, primarily to California and Oregon. An estimated 350,000 people traveled past Scotts Bluff during what was called the “Great Migration” between 1841 and 1869, using ancient monuments like Scotts Bluff not only as trail markers, but also as shade and a place of rest and socialization. Wagons would usually go 16-20 miles a day in this type of terrain.
Other travelers included fortune seekers heading to Montana in search of gold, and fur traders in search of “soft gold.” This path was also used by Mormons heading to the promised land in Salt Lake City. Generally, they did not have draft animals with them and pulled or pushed their wagons themselves. If you died on the journey (which was a real daily possibility), they buried you right in the middle of the path so subsequent wagon wheels and animal hooves would run over you and pack the dirt down tighter.
For more Oregon Trail and pioneer history, check out City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Utah!
Why is it called Scotts Bluff? It’s named for a fur company clerk, Hiram Scott, who was too sick to continue traveling with his party in 1828. They were, like, “Bye, Felicia,” and went on without him. When they returned a year later, they found his bones in the same place they had left him, and in the ultimate too-late-gesture, named the bluff after him. You can drive to the top for a couple of long-range lookouts. That’s the road below, circling through the rock through a series of tunnels.
It’s not only cars that have to go through tunnels to get to the top. Looking up, you might not want to hike the 500 vertical feet to the steep top; however, they have constructed a nicely switchbacking trail which makes this doable.
The Saddle Rock Trail is 3.5 miles round trip, pet-friendly, and at one point you go through the monument in a short tunnel carved in the rock. Fun!
While in Gering, we accidentally stumbled upon a bike race. It used to be called the “Quick and Dirty,” but that sounded, well, just a little too dirty, I guess, so now it’s the Robidoux Rendezvous.
This is a relatively new race, just 5 or so years old, and held completely on gravel roads. It was a small, homey event, but still filled with lots of young, eager, fit people. Philip glanced around at the competition and knew there was at least one participant that he was sure to beat to the finish line.
They even had their own batch of brews for the event, with the ubiquitous covered wagon at the heart of the logo (though of course the pioneers didn’t have 40c rubber or disc brakes, so the steep descents were much easier on a bike). The race had options as long as 100 miles, and portion of it even went along the ruts of old wagon trains, which still exist in this area. Afterwards, food, music and R&R. It was a great time in a small town!
This part of Western Nebraska does not get a lot of attention, but there are lots of outdoorsy and historic things to see and do here! “Wagons ho,” we’re rolling down the ruts in the road, heading to the twin towns of Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming.