Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ponca State Park, Nebraska

May 24 - 29, 2017:

It’s a short 30 mile drive to Ponca State Park traveling through Sioux City, Iowa on routes 77 - 20 - 12.  We crossed over the Missouri River into Nebraska and then passed through some beautiful hilly farm country.  I found the shapes and contours of the hills and fields to be especially beautiful.  On route 20 we came upon a group of historic Windmills that I return to later for a closer look.

That's what I talking about

And This

I must admit I am a little confused at the gas pumps

We arrived at Ponca State Park wondering if our annual Nebraska State Parks pass was still good.  We bought one last year and hopped it would to avoid the daily entrance fee.  As expected it was expired as they go strictly by calendar year, not by purchased date.  So, we bought a new pass as we are staying six days, near the break even point, and there is a good possibility we will stay at another park.  There are many open first come / first served campsites here and we are covered through the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.  Arriving on Wednesday was a good move as campers started pouring in later in the day and by Thursday afternoon the campground loop was filled.  

There are eight multi-purpose trails here, a swimming pool complex, picnic areas, a shooting range, a horse area, playgrounds, a beach / fishing area on the river, boat ramp and a visitors center.  We immediately take a loop hike on the Old Oak Trail, passing the Old Oak Tree that we didn’t find that amazing, although it is very old, but the trail was good.  We are seeing a huge variety of birds here and the forests are covered with flowers and a large variety of trees and plants.

We just wanted to take their land and their life

Beautiful "Towers of Time" monument at
the Ponca State Park

The tree isn't very large considering it is
about 350 years old

 We hike practically all the trails over our stay here although none are long or hard.  In particular, the “Buffalo Run” Trail was great one with a section following the edge of the bluffs several hundred feet over the Missouri River.  One thing we thought was very strange, although the campground was nearly filled, we did not come upon any other hikers on the trails.

View of the Missouri River from the trail 

It's a dense green forest

Nice wildflowers on the trails

The nearby town of Ponca is a throw back in time being a quiet, small, clean community with flags flying on Main Street and where everyone waves at you and probably knows your name.  Ponca is named for the Ponca Indians who previously inhabited this area.  They have the cemetery fully decorated and manicured for Memorial Day.  Sadly, there is not much to see or do in Ponca, but you can be in Sioux City in less than an hour.  They also have a beautiful Carnegie Library, still used as a library, that was expanded a few years ago.  The former librarian filling in for the day told me that Ponca is the forth oldest town in Nebraska, settled in 1856, and used to have several stores for shopping.  The Walmart opening about 20 miles away in Sioux City, has forced most out of business.

The Carnegie Library

The Eagle Ferry Boat

Old Bank building in Ponca

Old blacksmith shop in Ponca

The flags were flying at the Cemetery

Chief Standing Bear Park in Ponca

I return to the Windmill display on route 20 for a better look.  This is a collection of rare Windmills, mostly from the mid west, that a private individual has collected and reassembled here.  Many of the signs are now on the ground, but the Windmills are being maintained, there is evidence of blades being replaced and a few were still turning.

Many great old Windmills here

Another Windmill angle

The Red Cross Windmill was a beauty

Liked the Rooster weight on this one

Manure Spreaders can be beautiful too !

Great Northern Caboose

Back at the campground, there is an elderly couple across from us and another couple behind us (all locals) who seem to be having a family reunion.  They all congregate in front of the RV and talk and eat all day.  We can hear much of the conversation from our RV, but I suppose it could be worse, they don’t stay out late, don’t play loud music, aren’t drinking beer or doing drugs, etc.  I feel kind of sad for the old guy, he appears to have had a stroke or something and he sort of sits in this electric cart all day looking a bit out of it.  The weekend camping crowd is sort of foreign to us, it's mostly families with children, lots of sitting around smoky campfires eating and drinking.  Actually, I believe we are the weird ones as we rarely eat outside or have a campfire.  

I take a ride on Memorial Day north on route 12 through the towns of Newcastle and Maskell.  In Newcastle, I learned the history of the “Ionia Volcano” which really wasn’t a Volcano at all, but rather the natural oxidation of shale which caused enough heat for the ground to be hot to the touch.  Lewis and Clark were there and noted it in their journal.  Eventually, the Missouri River swallowed it up and it is now hidden.  It also had a small downtown with a couple of nice old structures.  The small hamlet of Maskell claims to have the smallest City Hall in the US.

General Store in Newcastle has bait, hooks and pop for sale,
what else do you need ?

The Bank looks substantial

I liked the brick design and coloration

The flag still flies on the old derelict looking Cafe

Smallest City Hall in the US  in Maskell ?


I turn onto route 15 which takes me to the "Mulberry Bend Overlook" on the Missouri River.  Many of these roadside overlooks are disappointing, the view being not that special, but this one was worth the stop.  The Missouri River here has a huge oxbow bend which is quite a sight which the photo doesn’t begin to do it justice to.

View from the overlook

The Missouri is huge here

Leaving the overlook, you cross the river into South Dakota and in a few miles come into the city of Vermillion.  Vermillion has the University of South Dakota and the usual amenities found in a college town.  The downtown is beautiful with several good looking restaurants, bars and stores, street sculptures and a strange mural.  Vermillion was originally located near the river, was a river boat port, but a flood in 1881 wiped out most of the town and it was relocated on top of the bluff.

History Museum in Vermillion

Downtown mural

The street is lined with nice shops

Liked the sewer drains

Beautiful downtown view

Another downtown mural

On the return to the State Park I had to stop for this view

We will continue from here on Nebraska route 12, called the “Outlaw Trail” which parallels the Missouri River.

Next stop is the Nebraska Tailwater’s campground;

Twinkles and Slick

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