Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Unexpected Bonus

So we've been a few days in Colorado, visiting our peoples along the Front Range, and our daily plan goes like this: What are we going to do today? And then like this:    .

So, feeling a little restive, I decided I would strike out toward the east and visit a few of the less interesting counties in the country; specifically, two of the five counties in Colorado that I haven't already been to. And then, since I'll be out that way and already bored, I'll go up into Nebraska and travel through three of the remaining counties in the western part of that state, before stopping off in Cheyenne to visit the grave of someone who was, in life, very important to me.

My wife decided to come along. So we drive over to Yuma county and up to Sedgwick county, and into Nebraska, to Garden county. Then we turn left along the North Platte River, planning to head west to the next two counties, then to Cheyenne.

So there's a "police emergency" on the road, and we have to detour along a couple of mud roads (they've had way more rain than usual out this way lately), then up a paved road, across the railroad tracks, back to the road we were on.

What we hadn't realized was, the paved road we took at the end of that detour was the road we'd planned to turn onto going the other way. Of course, there was no sign at the mud road's end, so we didn't realize that until we came to a sign that said "Chimney Rock, 12 miles."

At that point we checked the map and learned that we were off course. But (1) travelling in this casual fashion means every intersection is an opportunity to change plans; and (B) the general rule of thumb, only recently articulated but long in effect, is that if you are close enough to see a sign like that, you're close enough to go see it. So we went to see Chimney Rock.

I've known for decades that Chimney Rock is a locally important landmark, and that it had something to do with the Pioneers. That's about it. Now I've seen it, and understand why it's an important place in our National story. Out there on the treeless plains of this continent, there are very, very few reference points; and very few Conestoga wagons were equipped with GPS. And this was all before cellphones, you know. So having a distinctive and easily visible landmark would have been very important to those folks trudging the plains alongside their oxen. And this is, certainly, distinctive.

There's nothing else out there that it might be confused with.

So that brought a little interest to this county-counting drive that I'd expected to be barely a distraction.

Then, in order to get back on course for that last county in western Nebraska, we had to go up the road a piece --- not very far --- to Gering. And there, on the far side of Gering, was Scotts Bluff. Not the town of Scott's Bluff, which I'd been to 30 years before (by accident), but the National Monument. Well. Who, in their right mind (a classification which, I like to kid myself, includes me), would pass within three miles of even the most meaningless National Monument and not at least get a stamp for the ol' National Parks Passport?

Scott's Bluff, it turns out, is big and beautiful and interesting, and all of you should go. It's actually two bluffs, separated by Mitchell Pass. There's a nice road that takes you up to the summit on the northeastern side, where you can walk the easy paved trails and soak up an appreciation of what travelling was like for those people who settled this country. Well worth the $5 car permit fee.


Mitchell Pass, between Sentinel Rock and Eagle (?) Rock

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