Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 3 of the 2014 Condo Week Pre-Trip

Drove up from Kansas into Nebraska today. This is the part of the country people think of when they hear the term "Flyover Country" but it's actually quite pretty, in a sedate sort of way. First stop was in Gothenburg, Nebraska, where there's an old Pony Express station that was relocated to a city park and restored. Nice little tidbit of American history. Always surprising how the pony express fixes itself into the national consciousness, even though it only lasted a few months. The three originators of the idea went bankrupt after 9 months of service, but the people who would later create Wells Fargo took it over and operated it at some profit for a further 9 months (by cutting the price of mail by 80%, which vastly increased volume and thus revenue), until the telegraph lines were completed coast-to-coast; at which point it became moot.

Just north of the tiny town of Arnold, Nebraska (where I made a short detour for the sole purpose of visiting Logan County), the northbound highway ended, but a city street that becomes a county road runs north. I took that. A couple of miles along, the road suddenly (and I mean suddenly) rises into the Sand Hills, several hundred feet higher and starkly gorgeous: rolling grass-covered hills with deep valleys, vistas in every direction. This goes on mile after mile (especially along the route I took), with only a few small towns to interrupt.  I wouldn't mind living in a place like this, if it never got colder than it was today (60 degrees when I left Kansas, 70 by late afternoon), or hotter. But that's pretty unlikely.

East of Valentine, Nebraska, I went out to see Smith Falls, the highest in the state. You reach it by 15 miles of good road under construction, followed by 4 miles of washboard gravel road, which must keep a lot of people away. The web site for the park claims the height of the falls to be 63', but there's a certain amount of unnecessary puffery in that. The main cataract, where a stream cascades off a cliff in a fascinating bell shape, is only about 30 feet high. The rest of the advertised height is made up of an unimpressive series of small cataracts dribbling away into the Niobrara River, a couple of hundred yards downstream. If they were bigger you might call them rapids.

see the other pictures
Still, it's a beautiful sight. The water on the left side of the falls courses down the rock in small sheets; in the middle, it falls through space in a bridal-veil cascade that spreads wide as it comes down; while on the right, the water is funneled into a sort of flume that gushes out and down, so the three parts of the falls seem to all be moving at different speeds. They all flow into a basin at the bottom and a stream carries it along to the nearby river. The whole falls is contained within a circular hole in the sandstone, making it seem utterly remote from the world. Certainly worth the drive, even if I didn't get a new county by going there.

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