Nebraska 2017

We hiked to the top of sandstone bluffs, around weird rock formations, through grass covered ancient sand dunes, and to waterfalls.
We saw bison, antelope, prairie dogs, bald eagles, and fossils of bison and mammoths.
We went tubing and tanking, played in a river, and swam in a lake with an empty white sand beach.
On the day of the eclipse, we drove west to Wyoming to escape the clouds, and watched the sun go out for over two minutes.

from Denver to Nebraska and Wyoming

We drove north from Denver into Nebraska. We stopped at Scotts Bluff until heavy rain chased us back into our car. We saw a full rainbow on our way north towards Fort Robinson, now a state park.

Road trip underway: Evan glued to the Shield

We're driving north, just after entering Nebraska.

Rain ahead on the road to Scotts Bluff National Monument

We stopped at the Scotts Bluff visitor center.

It started pouring just after we parked at the top.

We saw a full rainbow on our way north.

Fort Robinson

We had bison for dinner, then checked into our cabin. The Band Master cabin is at the end of a row of officers' houses built in the late 1800s. It looks onto a former parade ground and backs onto sandstone bluffs.
We went horseback riding, had a picnic at a lake, and hiked into the sandstone bluffs north of the fort. We had breakfast outside and watched lightning from our porch.

Our first morning, Evan and Kimberly went horseback riding.

Our horses took us up a ridge south of the fort.

We had breakfast outside our cabin.

Our cabin was at the end of a row of former officers' quarters.

Our porch looked across the parade ground to the reconstructed enlisted barracks, site of the Cheyenne Outbreak. Nearby is a monument where Crazy Horse was killed.

We got a picnic lunch from the lodge restaurant and had lunch on the lake.

Evan spotted these antelope along the road on the way to the trailhead.

Grasshoppers flew off in multiple directions when we walked. Evan: "If you like big bugs, you should come to Nebraska."

The park didn't really have a trail map, but we found a trail leading up into the bluffs.

Is this loop trail steep or gently sloped? Depends which way you go.

View from the top of the bluffs

Looking south across the fort

These two mammoth fossils were found locked together near the park.

One of the mammoth fossils found nearby

The Trailside Museum had a selfie booth with props.

Window at Staab's Drive In just outside the park

The stuffed animal herd has increased: Buffy the buffalo and Wooly the mammoth

Toadstool and Hudson-Meng

We drover north of the park to Toadstool Geologic Park, and walked and climbed through strange rocks. We stopped at a restaurant miles along a dirt road. After lunch, we walked around a fossil bison excavation and Evan tried throwing a spear with an atlatl.

We drove 11 miles on an improved dirt road to Toadstool Geologic Park.

This reproduction sod house was really small.

starting on the Toadstool Geologic Park nature trail

Wind and water eroded claystone faster than the sandstone, leaving weird rock formations.

Visitors in the late 1800s called these formations "toadstools" and the name stuck.

snack break in the toadstool forest

On the way back from Toadstool Geologic Park

9 miles on a dirt road later, we stopped at the Drifter Cookshack for lunch.

The lunch menu choices were burrito, taco salad, or hot dog.

Cow crossing between the Drifter Cookshack and Hudson-Meng Bonebed.

A sign in the visitor center helpfully used a Huskers football field for scale.

10,000 years ago, hundreds of bison left their bones here. Scientists aren't sure if it was a natural event or if they were herded here and butchered by people.

View of the enclosure over the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center

The ranger showed Evan how to use an atlatl to throw a spear at a wooden bison target.

There were sunflowers everywhere along the roadside.

back at the Fort

We traveled by truck-towed tram to a picnic area, where we ate buffalo stew and cornbread by a campfire. We drove to see the park's herd of bison, and saw some antelope along the way.

For dinner, the park staff towed a tram out to a picnic area.

Park staff set up buffalo stew and corrnbread for dinner.

We saw a rabbit in the grass on our walk back to our cabin.

We saw antelope on a ridge near the Fort Robinson buffalo pasture.

We stopped on our way out of Fort Robinson to see the park's herd of bison.

through the Sandhills to Valentine

We went east from Fort Robinson on the Bridges to Buttes scenic byway. We left the pines behind, and drove into the Sandhills, ancient sand dunes now covered in grass. We had Nebraska steak for dinner in Valentine's best restaurant, Peppermill.

We left the pavement again to visit Arthur Bowring Sandhills Ranch, a state historical park.

The museum had a wall devoted to the many varieties of barbed wire.

A reproduction of the Bowring's sod house includes many original items from the early 1900s.

tubing on the Niobrara River

We drove east to Smith Falls State Park, and then took a shuttle back west to the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. We loaded our cooler into its own tube, then set off a 6 hour float down the Niobrara National Scenic River back to our car. We floated past sandstone bluffs, stopped to play in waterfalls, and saw two bald eagles along the river.

launching our tubes on the Niobrara River

We had lunch on our tubes while floating down the Niobrara River.

Evan spotted a bald eagle below the steep bluffs along the river.

lounging on the tubes after lunch

We saw a second bald eagle sitting atop a bluff.

Berry Falls

The water in the falls was much colder than the river water.

Smith Falls is Nebraska's tallest waterfall at 63'

We left our tubes for a short walk to Smith Falls.

in and around Valentine

Back in Valentine, we tried all 6 beers at Bolo Beer (plus a root beer). In the morning, we drove a few miles out of town and walked across a former railway bridge over the Niobrara, now converted to a trail.

We tried all 6 beers at Bolo Beer in Valentine.

Evan had a root beer.

We drove a few miles outside of Valentine to walk on a former railroad bridge, now a trail.

start of the bridge across the Niobrara River

The former railroad bridge is 140 feet tall.

View of the railroad bridge from the modern highway bridge.

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge

We went back to Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge to explore from the land. We walked to Fort Falls, saw prairie dogs along the scenic drive route, and hiked through the prairie to play in the river.

We walked to Fort Falls in the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

We stopped to watch prairie dogs on the scenic drive route.

Evan says prairie dogs are way cuter than squirrels.

We took the Wilderness Access Foot Trail toward the river. We didn't see any other people.

We could tell we were going the right way when it turned toward the river.

We walked across Buffalo Bridge and played in the river. A bald eagle flew over us, maybe the same one we'd seen from the river.

back in Valentine

We had dinner at the Coachlight Cafe in Valentine. Except for the flat-screen TV, it looks like it hasn't changed much in 50 years.

Evan's stuffed animal collection has grown to include a prairie dog.

south through the Sandhills toward Mullen

We planned to watch the eclipse from the small town of Tryon (pop. 157), right in the center of the path of totality. Tryon doesn't have anywhere to stay, so we had a reservation at the Sandhills Motel in nearby Mullen (pop. 526). We also made a reservation for tanking (floating downriver in a livestock tank) on the Middle Loup River. Along the way, we stopped to see Snake River Falls and to play on the beach at Merritt Reservoir.
The weather forecast for Tryon said mostly cloudy for eclipse day, so we topped up our gas and snacks, downloaded offline maps, and made a plan to drive west to Wyoming from Mullen.

We headed south through the Sandhills toward our hotel room in Mullen.

We stopped to see Snake River Falls.

We had a snack and played in the water at Merritt Reservoir about half an hour south of Valentine.

We didn't see many other cars driving though the Sandhills between Valentine and Mullen


The Chuckwagon 'n Jug was the only place open for lunch in Mullen. They're not usually open Sundays, but were serving tacos for the eclipse visitors.

We went tanking (a new-to-us form of river transportation) on the Middle Loup River just outside Mullen. Our livestock tank was outfitted with seats and paddles. We floated down the river for a couple of hours, and saw two river otters.

We couldn't really steer the tank, but we could spin it by pushing a paddle against the bank.

We floated through a section of fast moving water.

We had to duck to get under this bridge.

When we saw this bridge, we thought our takeout point would be just before it, but it was after. We aimed for an opening and ducked.

We stayed at the Sandhills Motel in Mullen. The restaurant and grocery store were both closed because it was Sunday. We dinner in our room from our cooler.

Eclipse day

We rechecked the weather forecast, and it still said cloudy in Nebraska but clear in Wyoming. We planned to go west until the clouds cleared and we found a good spot to stop and watch the eclipse.

6am: leaving Mullen headed west for Wyoming and sunny skies

7am: west of Ellsworth and leaving the Sandhills behind

8am: west of Alliance and starting to see people parked along the road to watch the eclipse

We finally ran into a lot of traffic in Torrington, just over the Wyoming border. Shortly after 10am, we decided to stop at Guernsey State Park. We passed several hilltops full of cars before being directed to drive into a grass field on top of a plateau. The park had lots of volunteers directing cars.

We could see in every direction from the plateau.

Looking toward the reservoir; cars eventually filled in along the edge of the field, leaving the middle area open.

By 10:45, we could see the moon starting to move across the sun.

The sun was a fat crescent at 11:15

At 11:30, the sun was a thin crescent viewed through the hand pinhole.

A few minutes before totality, the light looked different.

Low clouds on the horizon lit up like sunset.

About 11:45, the moon completely covered the sun. We took our glasses off to see a black hole in the sky, surrounded by three long wisps of corona.

A little over two minutes later, the sun made a brief flare as it started to come back out.

We had a picnic, then joined a long line of cars leaving the state park. We took county roads for part of the way to avoid the slow traffic on I-25 south back to Denver.

We walked around the Capitol and went to the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, then had dinner.

Back in Denver, Evan's eyes were red from a long day in the wind and sun.