Trip Through Western Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Eastern Wyoming and Northern Missouri
My wife, Dawn, and I left the St. Louis, Missouri, area well before dawn on a Saturday morning in July. We endured pouring rain all the way from Columbia, MO, to well past the s.w. Iowa border.
With the sun finally reappearing, we stopped in Council Bluffs, Iowa (elevation 984’), where we took the museum tour of the General Grenville M. Dodge historic mansion. He was a famous Civil War General and the chief engineer in the building of the Union Pacific’s Transcontinental Railroad. His home, built in 1869, was known as the finest in all of Iowa. The tour actually starts at, and includes, the historic mansion next door. (For more info on the Dodge home, and other Council Bluffs tourist attractions, see: http://www.councilbluffsiowa.com/convention_and_visitors/visitors/
We also visited the relatively new and extremely well done Union Pacific Railroad Museum in the restored Carnegie Library Building a few blocks west of the Dodge home. It includes an excitingly simulated 180-degree immersion experience in a locomotive engineer’s seat for a rail trip through western mountain canyons. (For more info on this museum, see: http://tinyurl.com/4glae )
(The Union Pacific Railroad Museum is not to be confused with the equally admirable RailsWest Railroad Museum which is also located in Council Bluffs. For info on this alternate railroad museum, see: http://tinyurl.com/3o3q9 )
During a previous trip to visit the wonderful Henry Doorly Zoo ( http://www.omahazoo.com ) in Omaha, Nebraska, we stopped and took the time to check out Council Bluff’s excellent Western Historic Trails Center museum, and to hike its loop trail to the Missouri River site of a stop on the historic Lewis & Clark Expedition. (For more info on this museum, see: http://tinyurl.com/5p4dz )
Back on the road, we stretched our legs at an I-29 rest area a few miles south of Onawa, Iowa. There we talked with a few of the thousands of bicyclists who were gathering for the nearby start of the week-long annual RAGBRAI, the Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which is sponsored by ‘The Des Moines Register” newspaper. Driving northward on I-29 into Iowa, we had passed many bicyclists travelling to the RAGBRAI start in packed-to-the-gills vans and converted school buses that had been painted with bicycling “team” themes. (Check out these URLs for some representative photo examples – including “Team Shark” and “Team Cockroach” -- from RAGBRAI 2004: http://tinyurl.com/53889 and http://tinyurl.com/43exc and http://tinyurl.com/5lgym and http://tinyurl.com/56tk5 and http://tinyurl.com/5otta for Fitness Lynn’s RAGBRAI 2004 main web page.)
Unfortunately, we arrived after 5pm in Sioux City, Iowa (elev. 1,135’). That was too late to tour their fabulous Sioux City Museum, which is housed in a beautifully historic stone building. We also arrived too late for a visit to the Sergeant Floyd Museum/steamboat on the Missouri River. Sergeant Floyd was the only casualty of the Lewis & Clark Expedition; there is a huge/tall obelisk erected on a Sioux City bluff in his honor, too. We hope to get back there sometime for these two points of interest. (To see a picture of the Sioux City Museum, see: http://www.siouxcitymuseum.org/ And, to see the Sergeant Floyd Museum: http://www.siouxcitymuseum.org/sgt_floyd.asp )
We crossed the Missouri River westward from Sioux City, Iowa, into n.e. Nebraska following U.S. Hwy 20 over numerous rill hills almost all the way to Ashfall State Historical Park ( http://tinyurl.com/47wf7 ). Ashfall is a half-dozen or so miles n.n.w. of Royal, NB (elev. 1,869’). With a very pleasant 80F temp. and low humidity, we hiked all the trails there. After checking out the park’s indoor museum, we walked down to both the open-air bone-bed digs, and the covered, in-ground fossil displays. I was thrilled as I got to spend about a half-hour there talking with paleontologist Prof. Mike Voorhies. Professor Voorhies was featured in both the National Geographic and (England’s) BBC 2 “Horizon” TV programs which included information about the Ashfall site. (You can read the complete relevant transcript of the Feb. 3, 2000, BBC “Supervolcanoes” program here: http://tinyurl.com/mxcc )
(By the way, as a result of the current administration’s federal budget cut-backs, the University of Nebraska has had to halt sending a team of a half-dozen college students to help in the summer fossil digs at Ashfall. Therefore, Mike Voorhies was the only person getting “down and dirty” in the bone beds. As a result, important additional analytical information to be gained from these past supervolcano downwind ash-fallout events is being much delayed.)
From Ashfall, we drove n. on NB Hwy 14 to Niobrara State Park. It is located on the Missouri River border of Nebraska. Niobrara SP sits high on the bluffs overlooking both the Missouri River and the mouth of the Niobrara River. We hiked to the two highest points in the park for fabulous 360-degree river valley views. (For one of those views, see: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Niobrara_State_Park )
After reaching I-90 via SD Hwy 37, we ended that day playing miniature golf on the Wildwood Golf Adventure indoor 18-hole course at the Holiday Inn in Mitchell, South Dakota (elev. 1,310). We missed seeing the so-called “Corn Palace” in Mitchell. (But, you can see it here: http://tinyurl.com/3s76l )
A westward stop at the I-90 The Lewis & Clark Information Center rest area high on the Missouri R. bluffs at Chamberlain, SD (elev. 1,405’), provided expansive views of the wide river. The rest area has a free museum with a life-sized recreation of one of Lewis & Clark’s boats, too.
Northwestward from Chamberlain we followed a scenic, two-lane, paved road route via SD Hwys. 50 & 34 through the Crow Creek Indian Reservation territory atop and along the windy Missouri River bank bluffs. We stopped along the Missouri River to view the huge earthen Oahe dam and reservoir -- dramatically low; down 40 feet due to prolonged drought -- a dozen miles north of Pierre, SD (elev. 1,484’).
We returned southward to Pierre and to the State Capitol building, which was completed in 1910. With free descriptive brochures in hand, we took the self-guided tour. We went up and down its beautiful marble stairway and hunted down many of the elusive blue mosaic commemorative Italian floor tiles placed there by 66 Italian artisans. (To see the State Capitol building see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Dakota_State_Capitol )
Heading west from Pierre, we again crossed the Missouri River. Except for one lone cross-country bicyclist and a couple of far-apart small towns, we saw no people for the many vast-expanse miles of treeless hills. We finally briefly rejoined I-90 for our first distant views of the Badlands.
At Badlands National Park North Unit, we hiked a couple of miles -- with plenty of water consumed in the 95-degree heat – in both the Door and Window areas in the eastern end of the Badlands’ Wall area (not to be confused with Wall, S. Dakota’s “Wall Drug” store; see: http://www.walldrug.com/ ) with incredible, tall wind-eroded formations. Before visiting the park’s Ben Reifel Visitor Center -- which had terrible-tasting water, we also hiked the interesting high hillside Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. We made a point to stop at the park’s dozen scenic overlooks to view the many colorful formations along the 50-mile loop road, which ranges in elevations from 2,400’ to 3,200’. (For more info on Badlands National Park, see: http://www.badlands.national-park.com/ )
We had hoped to visit the must-see “gem” (according to our AAA Tour Guide) Museum of Geology ( http://tinyurl.com/3jpsm )at the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City, SD (elev. 3,220’). But, since it was almost 5pm at that point, we just continued n.w on I-90 farther into the Black Hills beyond Rapid City (and its 3-day run of 100-degree temps!) to Spearfish, SD (elev. 3,642’).
Before arriving in Spearfish, we passed the site of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ( https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sturgis_Motorcycle_Rally ). Last year’s motorcycle rally attendance was estimated between 400,000 and 450,000. They were expecting up to ½-million motorcyclists at this years’ rally, which was to take place over a week later. We noted small boxes each containing two “Sturgis Rally” earplugs for sale in Spearfish. Because of the rally, all the motel rooms for many, many miles throughout and around the Black Hills region will sell out -- at highly inflated prices -- for “the duration” of the rally.
(I should note that before my 95,000 miles of on-road bicycling years, I was, for many years, a long-haired/bearded, non-outlaw “biker,” going through 4 different motorcycles. I last spent 3 years riding a “pre-chopped” 1000cc Harley Sportster with pull-back handlebars, highway foot-rest pegs, step-seat, extended exhaust pipes, sissy bar, etc., on which Dawn and I put not too few miles. But, we purposely planned our trip to definitely avoid the road congestion – and noise – of the rally! As an aside, The National Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame has recently moved from Sturgis, SD, to Anamosa, IA, which is n.e. of Cedar Rapids. The museum has one of only two original, authenticated, “Easy Rider” motorcycles used in the production of Peter Fonda’s 1969 movie. You can check out the museum here: http://www.nationalmcmuseum.org )
Doing a day loop from Spearfish, we utilized part of sparsely populated SD Hwy 34 in the northern reaches of the Black Hills and onto WY Hwy 24. Before crossing the Belle Fourche River, WY Hwy 24 provided us with our at first distant views of the massive Devils Tower National Monument in n.e. Wyoming. On the way in to the monument, we stopped to see and hear the hundreds of prairie dogs bark right alongside the road. We hiked the Devils Tower circumferential boulder-field trail and observed a couple teams of technical-gear climbers slowly make their way up its incredibly tall sides, which soar 867 feet high. (For more info on Devils Tower National Monument, see: http://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm )
While travelling southward from Devils Tower on WY Hwy 14, we came across a strategically placed (as we were in need of a pit stop), intriguingly terraced Rendezvous Ridge Adventure Golf miniature golf course on a step hillside. We were its only patrons that sunny afternoon playing its unusual course, which included one hole that required you to defy logic and aim for a water hazard to carry your ball toward the cup.
The next day we headed deeper (literally) southward for the 20-mile drive via the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Highway (U.S. Hwy 14A), passing ephemeral Bridal Veil Falls along the way. In the heart of the canyon, we stopped at the Latchstring Village Restaurant. which is part of the rustic Spearfish Canyon Lodge resort ( http://www.spfcanyon.com/ ) at Savoy. From there we took a secluded hiking trail farther down into the canyon along Spearfish Creek to the much more impressive Spearfish Falls with its crashing water and curtain of mist.
Just west of Savoy, we also hiked the two-mile (round-trip) Roughlock Falls trail up beautiful Little Spearfish Creek. Roughlock Falls got its name after one of the pioneer wagoneers accidentally died while trying to lower a wagon -- with brakes locked and horses hitched to the rear -- down the steep incline by the falls. (For a good photo of one of the falls in Spearfish Canyon, see: http://tinyurl.com/3q5gf and for more pictures and info on Spearfish Canyon, see: http://www.spearfish.com/canyon/ )
At Lead, SD (elev. 5,280’), we toured the well-done Black Hills Mining Museum. While there, we also took the simulated, yet very informative, underground Homestake Mine tour. Due to lower gold prices, all the gold mines there have now been closed for a few years. (For info on the Black Hills Mining Museum, see: http://www.mining-museum.blackhills.com/ )
Up the road not far from Lead, we briefly stopped to check out the burial sites of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in the high, hilltop Mount Moriah (“Boot Hill”) Cemetery ($1.00/person admission) in Deadwood, SD (elev. 4,532’). While there, we walked to the edge of the hilltop cemetery’s bluff to get a good view of the Red Rock bluffs across the narrow gulch. (For info and pictures of Wild Bill Hickok’s bronze tombstone, see: http://tinyurl.com/3tqsb and http://tinyurl.com/6bypm )
Following U.S. Hwy 385 many miles farther southward through the Black Hills brought us to the man-made Pactola Reservoir ( https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Pactola_Lake ). With an ominous looking gathering thunderstorm, we took refuge for about an hour at the dam site overlook visitor center/museum. By chance, one of the previous residents of the small community that was now under the vast lake happened to be doing the same. He forlornly mentioned his happy boyhood days spent in that former valley before they were forced to move to make way for the now recreational lake.
We spent the next couple of days laying over at the Bavarian Inn ( http://www.bavarianinnsd.com/ ) in Custer, SD (elev. 5,301’). Our first day from Custer we drove a scenic loop to Mount Rushmore National Memorial near Keystone, SD (elev. 4,341’), traversing the northern part of Custer State Park. We saw that part of the park had suffered a forest fire back in July, 1988, but was slowly recovering. The most impressive part of the drive that day was via Iron Mountain Road (US Hwy 16A), with its picturesque “pigtail” bridges where the road spirals under itself, and it’s three narrow tunnels, one of which perfectly frames the four distant monumental heads of Mount Rushmore.
At Mount Rushmore, while hiking the loop Presidential Trail with its numerous vantage-point views of the monument, we stopped at the Sculptor’s Studio for an informative demonstration and display. At the memorial’s museum, in addition to seeing a film about the monument and viewing extensive historical material, we also got the rare opportunity to meet a now elderly gentleman who worked in helping to carve the monument. (For more info on Mount Rushmore, see: http://www.travelsd.com/parks/rushmore/ and http://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm )
(By the way, as far as we could determine, the only possible telltale sign of “Homeland Security” during our entire trip was possibly exhibited at Mount Rushmore: Apparently our car’s license plate number had been remotely scanned as the number was automatically printed on our parking lot receipt. We also suspect that all those arriving at Mount Rushmore were additionally scanned remotely via “face-recognition” monitors, too.)
The next day, we got an early start and drove south from Custer on U.S. Hwy 385 to Wind Cave National Park ( http://www.nps.gov/wica/index.htm ). After checking out the visitor center’s museum, we took the 90-minute, “Fairgrounds Tour” which covers two levels of the cave and exhibits many examples of unique “boxwork” formations on the cave’s ceiling.
On the underground cave tour I asked our tour guide (a college chemistry major) if she had heard of another type of unique, slimy, mucous-like cave formation known as “snottites.” Snottites form via extremophile bacterial microbes utilizing hydrogen sulfide and actually produced dripping sulfuric acid! I had first learned about snottites via a PBS television NOVA broadcast. (Check out this URL for the complete online transcript of the October 1, 2002, the NOVA "Mysterious Life of Caves" which highlights snottites. : http://tinyurl.com/3vly9 ) After noting that I was the first person -- other than caving professionals -- to ever to bring up the subject, she said that it was Wind Cave National Park ranger, Jim Pisarowicz, who first discovered snottites. She said it was a shame that Pisarowicz was sick and at home in bed with pneumonia as otherwise he would have been at Wind Cave that day and he would have really have liked to talk to us about his discovery.
After emerging from the underground tour, we followed a paved side path a short distance to view the only natural entrance to the cave. The extremely narrow, 1-foot diameter opening was accidentally discovered years ago when a couple of local area folks heard and investigated a rushing noise sound that results from changing air pressure by passing high/low fronts.
Wanting to take advantage of the welcomed persistent outdoor low humidity, we drove a few miles north in the park to hike the 1-1/4-mile Rankin Ridge Fire Tower (elev. 5013’) loop trail. The climb to the top was well worth the expansive view of the surrounding valleys and hills, and provided a great excuse to linger there, too.
Leaving Wind Cave NP via SD Hwy 87 we entered the immediately adjacent Custer State Park ( https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Custer_State_Park ). Instead of driving its Wildlife Loop Road – which provides an immersion within a major Bison habitat – we proceeded far north to drive the 14-mile stretch of the super-scenic Needles Highway, which is the northern portion of S.D. Hwy 87 within Custer SP. (By the way, if you do not stop anywhere within Custer SP, you do not have to pay the admission entrance fee; however, there is an entrance-toll fee -- $5/person, or $10/carload – to drive the Needles Highway.) In addition to the many tall, unique rock formations – including the famous “Eye of the Needle” namesake – the drive includes three narrow tunnels. The Needles Highway also takes you by the huge formations along the shoreline of the extremely popular Sylvan Lake. This beautiful site is in the shadow of South Dakota’s highest point: Harney Peak (elev. 7242’).
The next day, aiming for the extreme western end of Nebraska’s “Panhandle,” we again headed south on U.S. Hwy 385. Along the way, we briefly stopped right along the road in Hot Springs, SD, to see the picturesque bluff side water fall rushing into Fall River. Continuing southward on 385 to Chadron, Neb., we noticed increasing evidence of the extended drought conditions in these western plains areas as only those areas with artificial irrigation had any signs of vegetation at all.
From Chadron (elev. 3,383’) we headed westward on U.S. Hwy 20 a few miles past Crawford, Neb. (elev. 3,678’), to Fort Robinson State Park, which was established in 1874 to protect the Red Cloud Indian Agency. The fort is the site of the 1877 death of Oglala Sioux chief Crazy Horse -- some accounts say he was murdered – and a massacre. We did a self-guided walking tour around the grounds of this historic western outpost.
Fort Robinson has two museums. Being limited on time, we skipped the Trailside Museum with its exhibits on area geology, fossils and wildlife, and instead visited the fort’s most informative Post Headquarters Museum. We signed the visitors’ guest book, as did a family group of four Native American Indians from the relatively near Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which was the site of the infamous December 29, 1890, “Wounded Knee” massacre of Indians by the U.S. Calvary. It was rather poignant to observe their solemn and silent demeanor as they walked through the museum. (For an account of the massacre At Wounded Knee, see: http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/knee.htm )
Along with frontier history displays, we learned at the Post Headquarters Museum that Fort Robinson had also later served as an internment facility for World War II German war prisoners. The fort was also the site of the major training facility for the U.S. Army’s K-9 (dog) Corps, too.
Before leaving Fort Robinson and heading farther west on US Hwy 20, we drove the Smiley Canyon Scenic Drive. The drive was a contrast in vibrancy and starkness as part of the canyon exhibited the ravages of another forest fire. (For more info on Fort Robinson State Park, see: http://tinyurl.com/3m233 )
Paralleling the southeastern border of Wyoming while travelling southward on NB Hwy 29 from Harrison, Neb., we passed through 30 miles of rolling “ranch” lands. Further signs of the area’s persistent drought conditions were dramatically exhibited by the now-pervasive encroachment of vast stands of prickly pear cactus, along with sparse herds of cows searching for now virtually non-existent surface water.
Arriving at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, we took a well-deserved respite in the visitor centers’ air-conditioned museum. The site is internationally known for its 1904 discovery of fossils of a then unknown-to-science type of small rhinoceros that had two horns; along with many other strange creatures. The site is also the location of the discovery of strange, fossilized spiral columns that later turned out to be the never-before-seen petrified remains of vertical animal burrows. From the visitor center/museum we then hiked a couple mile uphill trail (95F temp. with no shade, but very low humidity) crossing the narrow -- only a couple of feet wide -- headwater stream Niobrara River to the original hillside fossil bed digs. It was well worth the expansive view of the surrounding hills and the Niobrara River valley. We finished the day another 50 miles farther south after reaching U.S. Hwy 26, and going few miles eastward to Scotts Bluff, Neb. (elev. 3,880’) (For more info on Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, see: http://www.nps.gov/agfo/index.htm )
We got an early start the next morning and went a few miles south on NB Hwy 71 and then a short distance west on NB Hwy 92 to Scotts Bluff National Monument. After orienting ourselves in the visitor center/museum, we hiked the 3-plus-mile (round-trip) switch-back Saddle Rock Trail to the top of Scotts Bluff (elev. 4,689’). The only shade on the upward climb was when the foot trail passed through a short tunnel. The views and rock formations along both the uphill trail and from the additional bluff-top north loop trail were spectacular. It was already 90F at 9am when we started the hike; the temp. rose to 95F by the time we finished the trail at 11am.
After we got back down to the Scotts Bluff visitor center, we also walked short distance out-and-back on the less-strenuous Mitchell Pass Trail which followed the original pioneer Oregon Trail wagon ruts. Before we left Scotts Bluff, we drove the optional paved road route – passing through three tunnels – a mile and a half to the top of Scotts Bluff for a another marvelous bluff-top view from the south loop. (See this URL for a map of these trails: http://tinyurl.com/5g8y3 Also see these URLs for good perspective pictures of Scotts Bluff: http://www.hikercentral.com/parks/scbl/ and http://www.nps.gov/scbl/index.htm )
Chimney Rock National Historic Site is only about a half-hour drive s.e. of Scotts Bluff via NB 92 / U.S. 26. The site’s visitors center was a welcome relief from the now-above 100F heat. There we saw an informative video on the historic Oregon and California wagon trails. Chimney Rock was a welcomed 500-foot-high, distant westward landmark to the pioneers who approached it from treeless eastern plains. The museum contains numerous displays exhibiting the pioneers’ many travails along the route. There is also a representation, via both historic drawings and photographs, which graphically shows the dramatic changes in both form and height to Chimney Rock -- due to both natural weathering and the U.S. military (Army and Air Force) incredibly occasionally having previously used it for “target practice!” -- since the 1800s. (For a good picture of Chimney Rock, see: http://www.nebraskahistory.org/sites/rock/ )
From Chimney Rock we followed U.S. Hwy 26 farther southeastward along the N. Platte River. Just before reaching I-80 at Ogallala, Neb. (3,214’), we stopped at Ash Hollow State Historical Park, which is the site of Windlass Hill where pioneers slowly lowered their wagons down the steep bluff side hill. The park’s visitor center/museum sits high atop the wind-blown bluff. We were very disappointed that we were unable to visit the museum and take a guided tour of a cave as a newly posted sign said that the museum was closed that day…due to recent cutbacks in federal fund-sharing to the states. There was an optional trail that went over 1,300 feet down to a spring, but we left that for another trip and a cooler time. (See this URL for more info about Ash Hollow State Historical Park: http://tinyurl.com/54csg )
From Ogallala, we traveled eastward on I-80 between and paralleling, both the N. and S. Platte Rivers to North Platte, Neb. (elev. 2,809’). At North Platte -- where the N. and S. Platte Rivers join to form the Platte River, and higher humidity levels resumed -- we visited the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was famous in his day for his exploits in the Old West and his later “Wild West” travelling show, which made crack-shot Annie Oakley world famous. The park is a self-guided museum which contains Cody’s 18-room Victorian home and his “Scout’s Rest Ranch” horse barn, both of which are full of memorabilia. In the horse barn we also saw a historical film with real motion picture footage of Cody in action. (For more info on Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, see: http://tinyurl.com/6zqhu )
Only a few blocks from the Cody home is the Lincoln County Historical Society Museum. Not only is the indoor museum chocked full with a wide variety of items, there are a number of outside buildings and displays to self-tour. One of the subjects prominently featured in the museum is “The Canteen” which was North Platte’s “24/7” effort back in World War II to provide free food and refreshments to all the thousands of U.S. soldiers that stopped there via rail transport. The display includes a video of this effort that was chronicled on CBS TV’s long-running feature, “Charles Kuralt On The Road.” It is a must-see stop. (For more info about the museum, see: http://npcanteen.tripod.com/canteen/lchm.html )
Before leaving North Platte, we stopped at Cody Park to check out the free outdoor Railroad Museum. On display is one of the world’s largest steam locomotives. There is also a diesel-powered Union Pacific locomotive and train there, too. It was particularly interesting getting to walk through the inside of the old mail train cars. (To see some excellent pictures of the Union Pacific Challenger No. 3977 locomotive steam engine in Cody Park, see: http://www.trainweather.com/up3977.html )
(By the way, another absolute must-stop in North Platte is the Hunan Chinese Restaurant. They serve the best Chinese food we have ever tasted! It is right next door to the Ramada Inn, which is just a few blocks south of I-80 on the east side of U.S. Hwy 83; not too far from the Visitor Information Center, too.)
Eastward from North Platte, we paralleled I-80 and instead took the historic, two-lane Lincoln Highway (U.S. Hwy 30). U.S. Hwy 30 was the first transcontinental highway in the U.S. According to AAA, it follows “a 3,389-mile, 12-state continuous route from New York to California,” and “was passable before the opening of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.”
We regretted not having enough time to be able to stop at the Pony Express Station museum in Gothenburg, Neb. (elev. 2,561’), and the 100th Meridian Museum in Cozad, Neb. (elev. 2,486’), along U.S. Hwy 30. However, we had planned on and did stop at the (free) Dawson County Historical Museum in Lexington, Neb. (elev. 2,389’). Among the many items and vehicles on display there, we were particular glad to get to see the one-of-a-kind 1917 McCabe “Baby Biplane” with its unique elliptically joined wings. (For more info on the museum and to see a picture of the “Baby Biplane,” see: http://www.dchsmuseum.com/ )
The next day, we rejoined I-80 at Kearney, Neb. (elev. 2,149’), until we reached Lincoln, Neb. (elev. 1,148’; nicknamed “Star City”, the state capital.) We managed to just catch most of the guided tour of the magnificent 400-foot tall State Capitol building and got to go into the otherwise-closed, elaborately carved walnut-paneled Supreme Court chamber.
After the tour, the guide encouraged us to explore the building further on our own. We then took the elevator up by ourselves to the 14th floor outside observation deck for a overview of the town. Back down on the main level, we further admired the massive, tall Italian marble columns and the two main stone archway passages, which led to the main central rotunda. Four side-wing corridors branched off the main passages. Each of these corridors contained numerous bronze busts of historical figures. Through the windows of these parallel wings you could see the geometrically patterned open-air courtyards. Before leaving, we had an inexpensive, and very tasty, luncheon meal in the lower-level cafeteria of the Capitol building. (Be sure to check out these URLs for more info and pictures of the Nebraska State Capitol building: http://www.capitol.org/ and http://capitol.org/building/rooms and https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Nebraska_State_Capitol )
Leaving Lincoln, we headed east on NB Hwy 2 to Nebraska City (elev. 933’). On our previously mentioned trip to Omaha, we had stopped to tour the former estate and now-museum mansion of Arbor Day founder, J. Sterling Morton -- of Morton Salt fame: “When It Rains It Pours” -- at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City. (For info on Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, see: http://www.iowadnr.gov/parks/state_park_list/waubonsie.html )
Continuing eastward on Hwy 2 from Nebraska City, we crossed the Missouri River into s.w. Iowa. Only another 5 miles east of I-29 brought us to Waubonsie State Park, which is located atop the bluffs of the wind-blown “Loess Hills” ( http://tinyurl.com/4sk85 ) We stopped at the park to hike 2 miles on the Ridge Trail for a great view of the river valley below. (For more info on Waubonsie State Park and the "Loess Hills," see: http://mcaf.ee/b4058 )
For more great views from and of the loess hills, we traveled south from Waubonsie State Park on U.S. Hwy 275 and into n.w. Missouri, and then on southward via MO Hwy 111 to closer parallel the Missouri River. Hwy 111 brought us to beautiful Big Lake State Park, in the s.w. corner of Holt County. Big Lake is an oxbow lake, and a former channel of the Missouri R. (For info on Big lake State park, see: http://www.mostateparks.com/biglake.htm )
After a pit stop and brief walk at Big Lake, we took U.S. Hwy 159 eastward to I-29 and then drove south to St. Joseph, Missouri (elev. 823’). On another previous trip to St. Joseph we had visited the intriguing Glore Psychiatric Museum, where some patients had actually been chained-up between the outer walls. They were “on exhibit” through barred windows so that local Sunday carriage-drive tourists could stop by and taunt them! We have also been to the informative Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, too. (For pictures and must-read info on the Glore Psychiatric Museum, see: http://tinyurl.com/2ek5j For info on the Pony Express National Museum, see: http://www.ponyexpress.org/ )
For the last day of our trip, we headed east from St. Joseph across the rolling hills of northern Missouri via U.S. Hwy 36. Along the way we stopped at Pershing State Park in the s.w. corner of Linn County – about 20 miles east of Chillicothe, MO -- to walk across the bridge footbridge over Locust Creek to hike the 1.5-mile dogleg loop trail. The mostly shaded trail is entirely on a boardwalk over wetlands. Descriptive signs with pictures of plants and animals are at various points along the trail. Midway on the trail there is an elevated viewing tower for a good overview of part of the site. (For more info on Pershing State Park see: http://www.mostateparks.com/pershingpark.htm )
Leaving Pershing State Park, we continued eastward across n. Missouri on U.S. Hwy 36 all the way to Hannibal (elev. 470’) and the Mississippi River. On a earlier visit to Hannibal, we saw all that was worth seeing -- typical Mark Twain tourist sites in town ( http://www.visithannibal.com/ ). We also had previously taken the guided tour of the must-see historic Rockcliffe Mansion, which is perched high above the town on Bird Street. (For a photo view of the Mississippi River from atop Lover's Leap blufftop on the south edge of Hannibal, see: http://www.greatriverroad.com/hannibal/loversleap.htm )
After eating a late lunch at the Mark Twain Café in the downtown tourist district, we headed just a couple miles south from Hannibal on scenic MO Hwy 79 and stopped at Sawyer's Creek Fun Park ( http://www.sawyerscreek.com/ ) to play a final round of miniature golf. The site is just across Hwy 79 from Mark Twain Cave ( https://www.marktwaincave.com/ ), a cave which we have previously toured. With its virtually level and unique 90-degree intersecting passageways, it is also another must-see.
We finished our trip by travelling southward through the beautiful bluff hills and river bottoms along MO Hwy 79. Not wanting the trip to end, we stopped occasionally and lingered at some bluff-top overlooks for some great views of the wide Mississippi River.