June 8 - 11, 2017:
Our longest ride in a while at 150 miles, but an easy one all the way on route 12 with practically no traffic and clear weather. This route is very scenic starting off in farm country, miles and miles of corn and hay fields and then becoming miles and miles of open cattle range land. There were several small towns along the route and I detoured through a couple of them to get a view.
|A rest stop|
|I always thought the prairie was flat|
|The cattle crowded around the stock tank|
|Really fried Chicken at the Cattlemen's Lounge ?|
We arrived at the Wacky West Camp Ground in Valentine, Nebraska in early afternoon to a very friendly welcome from the campground owner and quickly set up. It isn’t a very spacious campground and a little on the rough side but they accept Passport America (1/2 price) for our scheduled four day stay. They also are full hookup, something we haven’t had in over a month, excellant WiFi and are only a couple of minutes from downtown.
|We liked the Wacky West Campground|
Valentine began in 1883 as a rowdy, end of the track railroad town. It was named for E.K. Valentine, a Civil War Veteran who became a Congressman. It became home to many cattlemen and eventually clashes developed between the Cattlemen and the Sioux and Pawnee Indians resulting in the establishment of Fort Niobrara. Fort Niobrara is now a National Wildlife Refuge. Cattle ranching remains the main industry here along with excellent river canoeing, kayaking and tubing on the Niobrara River.
|Scenic view at the wildlife preserve|
|View of Fort Niobrara back in the day|
Valentine is the largest town in about a 150 mile radius with a nice folksey downtown and has no Walmart. They have red hearts stenciled on the downtown sidewalks along with heart shaped signs on the street lights. We found a great bookstore that specialized in local Plains history, culture and literature and I ended up buying a book titled “Zen of the Plains”. We also found the old Post Office built in 1936, now a Text book Library according to the sign on the door. It looked dark inside, but when I tried the door, it opened and we walked inside. On one wall was a great old mural, signed by Kady B. Faulkner in 1939 and much of the original post office interior remained intact. No one appeared and the lights were off, we thought it sort of weird to leave this unlocked (even in Nebraska) so we reported it to the public Library next door.
|Valentine calls itself "The Heart City"|
|A nice wide clean Main Street|
|Beautiful sculpted brick front on the Bank, the bank owner went to much|
effort to have this done, there was a big unveiling ceremony in town and
sadly the next day he, his wife and a couple others died in a plane crash
|Mural in the old Post Office|
|Youngs is a great western store, they carry everything|
|Great cowboy murals all around the walls in the back room|
|Equal time for the Indians too|
|The Corner Bar is your basic locals hangout|
|The kids here are started off with Tractors early, John Deere |
seems to be the favorite brand
There are several outdoors adventures in the area, we start with a ride to Smith Falls State Park and do the short hike to the 70 foot tall Smith Falls which is the tallest in Nebraska. We then do a short nature trail along the Niobrara River. The Niobrara River for 76 miles between Valentine and Norden is a National Scenic River and very popular with canoeists, kayakers and tubers. A few miles from Smith State Park is the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Preserve where we hike a beautiful trail past Fort Falls and along the Niobrara River. There is also a really impressive scenic overlook nearby and a tour road through the preserve to view Bison, Elk and Prairie Dogs.
|The Niobrara River is a revered kayak, canoe and tubing river |
|Fort Falls Trail along the river was a beauty|
Valentine has the oldest former High School in Nebraska, Centennial Hall, built in 1897, which is now used as a museum and a thrift store. It has an eclectic mix of donated items that are grouped together displayed in old classrooms. There is a military room, a bell room, a plate room, a fashion room, an old school room, the principals office and they even have a rumored “ghost”. Strange noises have been heard that have been attributed to a student in the 1940’s who died here, the victim of a poisoned clarinet reed.
|A wonderful building to save|
|A room full of bells|
|Looks like the graduates eventually bring their trophys back|
|Valentine doctor with photos of babies he had delivered, reported to|
be 5,000 total over a long career
|Americas Liberator was a fairly revolutionary Presidential candidate |
from Valentine, Nebraska
I also visited the Cherry County Historical Society Museum which has many relics from the past and stories to tell.
|The Creamery uniforms were cool|
|Original settlers sod house|
|Local flier who died in a mid air training collision|
|Huge donated handmade doll collection|
|A well used cowboy hat|
The “Cowboy Trail” passes within 100 feet of our campsite which is a “Rails to Trails” project, originally the route of the North Western Railway. The trail is open for hiking and biking from Valentine to Norfolk, Nebraska. There are many bridges along the route, but the highest one is a mile from Valentine, built in 1909-1910, at a height of 146 feet above the Niobrara River and a quarter mile in length. It was a thrill to walk across it and I would definitely be nervous going over it from the vantage point of a Locomotive cab.
|The Cowboy Trail|
|Lots of Yucca's along the trail|
|Dragonfly posed for me|
|Many Goats beards also|
|Coming to the Bridge|
|It seems more than a quarter mile long as you walk on|
those creaky boards looking over the edge
|Also seems more than 146 feet down to the river|
|Especially when hanging over for a better photo|
The historic Bryan Bridge on highway 20 over the Niobrara River is about a mile away which was built in 1932. It is the only Arched Cantilever Truss Bridge connected in the center with a single pin in the United States. (A good trivial fact to remember) It is on the National Historic Register and was honored as the most beautiful class C Bridge in 1932.
|The Bryan Bridge|
Almost across the street from the campground is the Valentine fairgrounds which was having a “Heart of the Sand Hills Ranch Rodeo on Saturday and Sunday. I went to it for a couple of hours to see what was going on as it’s a different kind of rodeo. It’s a team competition doing daily activities done on a real cattle ranch. They included Mug & Tie, Doctoring, Trailer Loading, Branding and Sorting. Also unusual were Women teams competing in this competition and these girls are tough, I wouldn’t mess with them ! I must admit it was interesting to see “real ranchers” doing rodeo rather than the mostly pro athletes at a big rodeos.
|This cow girl was good|
|This event is aptly called "Mug and Tie"and those cowgirls |
certainly did "mug and tie" that cow
|This is the branding competition where have to lasso a calf|
from the group and drag it out where they simulate a branding
|They learn to rope early here|
The Outlaw Trail, route 12, has been a great ride, although the outlaw presence might be hyped up a bit. The hideout of Jessie James and his gang called the “Devils Nest” and Horse thief, Doc Middleton’s hideout called “Rustler’s Roost” are the legendary ones. This road has been a massive collage of the Missouri River and its tributaries, the Sand Hills, the farm fields, the grass prairie lands, flavored with the legends of countless native Indians tribes, european explorers, fur traders, Lewis & Clark, Steamboats, Railroads, the homesteaders and ranchers.
We now turn north into South Dakota for another epic ride on the road they call, “The Road to Nowhere”, route 83.
Next Stop is Pierre, South Dakota,Twinkles and Slick