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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.