Remembering Past Trips: Western Nebraska
As I remember past trips of my traveling career, another of my favorite places was Western Nebraska.
This part of Nebraska is the location of the first transcontinental railroad and the first transcontinental automobile highway (the Lincoln Highway), and also the route of the Oregon Trail, the California and Mormon Trails. It was also the path of the Pony Express riders. Why? The route followed the North Platte River through the prairies, sand hills, and the grasslands toward the new lands to the west skirting the higher mountains of the Rockies.
North Platte, Nebraska is near the confluence of the North and South Platte Rivers and where the Union Pacific Bailey Yard is located. The Bailey Yard is the largest railroad classification yard in the world covering 2850 acres. A classification yard is a location where railroad cars are separated, transferred, and added to make trains. During my visit to Western Nebraska, I counted 120 rail cars loaded with coal coming from Wyoming. It met another empty 120 heading back to Wyoming.
Overlooking the Bailey Yard is the eight-story Golden Spike Tower. From here visitors can observe the yard and watch the non-stop action on the multitude of tracks. There is also a visitor center with railroading displays and a courtyard with the twenty-three flags representing each state the Union Pacific Railroad serves.
North Platte, I discovered, is also the site of Buffalo Bill Cody's Ranch. Called Scout's Rest, it sits on 25 acres of its original 4000. Now it is a historical park consisting of his Victorian home and barn with his showman memorabilia. Buffalo Bill led a colorful life. He was at times a scout for the army, a pony express rider, a buffalo hunter, and, of course, a wild west showman. This home in North Platte was built for rest and relaxation and because it was near the railroad for transporting his horses and other show material.
Interstate 80 follows generally the same path along the North Platte River, but I wanted to take US 30 to Ogallala. I had heard so much about the town from the book by Larry McMurtry (who recently died) and the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove. Ogallala first gained fame as the terminus for cattle drives that traveled from Texas to the Union Pacific rail head located here. Also in Ogalalla there is Boot Hill, a cemetery that shares the name with a more famous one in Tombstone, Arizona. Still it is an interesting place to visit.
As I headed westward, the terrain changes a little. Near the Nebraska - Wyoming border, buttes and landforms appeared. Some of the most significant of those landforms are Chimney Rock, Castle and Jailhouse Rocks near Bridgeport, and Scotts Bluff National Monument near Scotts Bluff. These were significant landmarks for the wagon trains heading westward.
Chimney Rock is the most recognized feature on the Oregon and California Trails. It is a sandstone rock formation (looks like a chimney) that rises 325 feet over the North Platte Valley. It is easy to see why it was a major landmark for early travelers. Just outside of town of Scottsbluff is the Scotts Bluff National Monument, an impressive geologic land feature that rises to 4,659 feet above sea level or 800 feet above the North Platte River. The Summit Road at Scotts Bluff National Monument takes visitors to the top of the monument.
Northeast of Scottsbluff, the town of Alliance had in store an unusual attraction. In Alliance, I saw a sign for Carhenge. I followed the sign to find a replica of Stonehenge with 38 automobiles placed to assume the same proportions and positions as England's original.
My last stop in my trip through Western Nebraska was Fort Robinson near Crawford. Fort Robinson, an active Military post from 1874 until 1948, was established to protect the Red Cloud Agency, which assisted the Indians of the area. The current fort sits on 22,000 acres with some of the original buildings and a multitude of activities.
Such was one of my favorite destinations. Western Nebraska will always be a notable place to visit.
To see more photography from Western Nebraska, visit Western Nebraska. The page opens slowly, so please have patience. Thanks.
Keywords: bailey yard, boot hill cemetery, chimney rock, nebraska, north platte, ogallala, travel, western nebraska
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