Nebraska…Heading to South Dakota…Love Letters…Flight Path of a Pheasant…Bees and Buttes.

Badlands, South Dakota

Heading out today I am excited. We have decided to head towards South Dakota….a place I have always wanted to see. I have loved so many of the places that I have been to on this journey, but you will see that South Dakota becomes my absolute favorite. But first, we need to make our way through Kansas and then through Nebraska. I keep looking at the map and see that Colorado is soooo close…but we can’t see everything and we are running out of vacation time…darn it!

Most of the places that we are travelling through are small towns…I mean really small, with populations of anywhere from 700 to 2000. And its farmland everywhere…and its gorgeous.

We leave Oakley, Kansas and it is sunny and warm. We head North and according to our GPS (which by the way, they are not always correct with their directions), we are 2 hours from entering Nebraska….sweet. We drive through a tiny town named Oberlin and within the next hour, we are in Nebraska.

Farmlands of Nebraska

Nebraska is such a beautiful state. Rolling hills and farmland as far as the eye can see. And my first look at buttes, flat topped isolated hills with very steep sides. Such a wonderful place to travel by motorcycle and take in the sights, and smells and just to feel the wind on your face and feel free.

Nebraska is home to a lot of the history of the settling of the West and there are numerous monuments and places of interest to stop at. In 1877, Crazy Horse along with 1000 of his followers surrendered at Camp Rolson. You will find out more about Crazy Horse in my next blog on South Dakota. Another interesting thing about Nebraska is… in 1927, Edward Perkins created “Kool Aid” in Hastings, Nebraska and now it is the official soft drink of the State. Kool…lol.

Some notable folks from Nebraska include: Hilary Swank from Lincoln, Nick Nolte from Omaha, Henry Fonda from Grande Island, Fred Astaire from Omaha, Marlon Brando and James Coburn. A Mr. Leslie Lynch King Sr. is from Nebraska….who is he you ask? He is the biological Father of President Gerald Ford. Ford’s Mother left Mr. King sixteen days after Gerald was born, due his abusive behavior and alcoholism.

The first town that we come into is McCook. Now you need to imagine that towns in this area are few and far between and are basically depots for the farmers to come for supplies, food and feed for livestock. We likely saw more cattle and horses than we did people or stores on this leg of the journey. The one notable thing about McCook is that it has a house that was built in 1907 for Harvey Sutton…and it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright is a famous architect who created a unique style of build that allowed the house to be one with its environment in design. Pretty unique for a little town in the middle of corn fields.

Downtown McCook, Nebraska
Harvey Sutton House, McCook, Nebraska

We continue down the back country highway, enjoying the sights and eventually stop for a bite to eat…..where…no idea…I am not interested in the food when I am hungry for adventure. Nice pun, right?

We eventually end up in North Platte. This is where the Worlds’ largest railyard is located….the Bailey Yard. In 1867 it was the end point of the Union Pacific Railroad until the railway was extended in later years. There is also a really cool Pony Express Station marker here. It is on the road into town and shows one of the stations that was used on the Pony Express route for mail drop off and pick up. Here is a little history on the pony express: It was in operation from April 1860 to October 1861. The Pony Express allowed for communication via mail between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the USA and it delivered within 10 days. The cost was $5.00 per ounce. There were 120 riders, 184 stations, 400 horses and 360 additional personnel such as stable managers and station masters. A rider must weigh no more than 125 pounds and they made $100 per month…considering a tradesman at the time made $0.43 per day, this was a great wage. Riders were hired, given a bible and made to swear an oath that stated they would not drink, fight or swear. Stations were placed 10 miles apart and the riders changed horses at each station to continue on their journey, riding day and night, regardless of weather and whatever dangers they encountered. They did carry a pistol, but could only use it to defend themselves if necessary or in some sad cases, they used it to end their life rather than be captured or hurt. One famous rider was…Buffalo Bill Cody who had one of the longest and fastest rides in the history of the Pony Express. How amazing it is to stand at this marker and reflect on the history and try to imagine yourself back in that time….love this.

The North Platte river winds through this area. A tributary of the Platte River, the North Platte river is 716 miles long and winds through Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. There are many trails along the river that were used by the settlers and the wagon trains on their journey West. It provided water for the cattle and settlers and also the land around that banks had the most grasslands for cattle grazing. Many of these trails can be walked on today, and many are of course, overgrown.

Pony Express Marker, North Platte, Nebraska
North Platte, River, Nebraska

I sound like a broken record but here I go again with a Buffalo Bill Cody story. When Bill left the Pony Express he went into many different business ventures, the most famous being his travelling Wild West show. In 1878 he purchased some land in Nebraska, 160 acres for $750.00, right outside of North Platte. He eventually purchased 4000 of the adjacent acres. On this land he had cattle, horses and crops and he built a 18 room mansion for himself and his family….total cost..$3900.00. He had a wine cellar, corn house and imported furniture from all over the USA. He designed a 12 mile irrigation system that could easily water 6000 acres of crops and this has formed the basis of irrigation systems in Nebraska to this day. He had 80 horses and hired 60 cowboys to manage all of the cattle. He brought in trees from the Eastern states that could thrive in his climate and created a forest, which deer and buffalo began to inhabit. Bill and his wife held many parties at the mansion, with guests including Annie Oakley, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, and Sitting Bull. When he was away from this ranch working, his brother in law and sister ran the place along with Bills’ wife. He named it Scouts Rest Ranch and he finally sold it in 1911, for $100,000.00 You can go visit this Ranch and see many of the original buildings as well as the mansion. Just for a moment as you are reading these numbers above, think of what the average wage is at the time, and how much money Bill needed to buy land, build houses and structures, purchase cattle and horses, plant crops, pay cowboys and still take care of his family…this whole story impresses me….Bill is an entrepreneur and I love this story.

Scout Rest Ranch, Mansion
Buffalo Bill Cody, At Scouts Rest Ranch Mansion (he is the tall man in the middle)

We continue on our way, enjoying the scenery….when….out of nowhere…flew…a pheasant. Now that doesn’t sound like much of story, but it sure is. We are travelling along, talking and all of a sudden, out of the brush from the left side of the road, comes this pheasant, in full flight. He could have went behind us, over us, waaaaay in front of us….nope….he kept on his chosen course and went right between my partner and the windshield of the bike. My partner could have reached up and grabbed him. It happened so fast. We pulled over, a little shaken and both wanting to confirm with the other that that had actually just happened. Yes…yes it did. We realized how dangerous that could have been but since it was over, we were unharmed, and the pheasant was on his merry way, we hopped back on the bike and away we went. Never a dull moment on this trip…thats for sure.

We decide to head towards Valentine, Nebraska and stay there for the night. It is right at the border to South Dakota so that will make for an easy day tomorrow. We ride through the Sand Hill area of Nebraska. Its a real transition area from seeing only farmlands to the beginning of more buttes and sand dunes. Some of these dunes are over 350 feet high and they are spectacular to see.

Sand Hills Sand Dunes, Nebraska

One cute little town we passed through was Thedford. Its actually a village with only 160 residents. The whole town consists of 2 corner stores, 1 bank, 1 hotel, 1 restaurant, 1 law office, a lumber yard and a grocery store. Sure makes it easy to decide where to go for a night out on the town.

Thedford, Nebraska

We are now only an hour away from our stop for the night, and are just loving the day that we have had. And then…..it happens….You folks know by now that our days are laced with history, adventure and always a mishap. We are on a stretch of highway that is really straight, not a corner to be seen. And then..ping…a bee hits the helmet of my partner. And then another…and soon he ducks to avoid one and it hits me. They keep coming and coming and hitting our jackets, and helmets and boots….on and on they keep coming. I look up from having hidden my face in my partners back and see the large swarm of them surrounding us….I lower my head again. And then just as quickly….they were gone. We pull over…again…and check to see if we are ok….we are good….no stings, thankfully. We then realized what had happened. We had driven into bees returning to their man made hives. I guess they go hunting for nectar all day and then return to their hives in the evening, right at the time we were on the road that is their flight path to return home. Locus…bees…pheasants….I am understanding how exposed and vulnerable to the elements one really is on a bike….but I still love it.

At this point….which seems to be how I feel every day now….I just want a room and a beer and to relax and not worry about any more flying obstacles.

We continue on to the town of Valentine and get a room on the outside of town at the Raine Motel. It was cute, clean and had a restaurant and bar attached. Perfect.

Let me tell you a little bit about the town of Valentine. Its main street has two different time zones on either side, mountain and central. Every year in February, as you might have guessed, the post office is inundated with letters (over 6000), which have requests that they be re-mailed from Valentine to the recipient with the Valentine postmark. This way the recipient gets a letter from Valentine….on Valentines Day. How sweet is this! This tradition by the way is ongoing as I write this, so if you are looking to plan something special for Valentines Day just google Valentines post office and they give you all the details.

In 2007, National Geographic declared Valentine as one of the top 10 best adventure towns in the USA. This is due to many factors one of which is the Snake River Falls, the largest in Nebraska.

Valentine is also notable for having been the birthplace of Clayton Daubs, a rodeo champion, who the Wyoming State symbol of a rodeo cowboy is modeled after. What an amazing little town.

Main Street, Valentines, Nebraska
Stamp on a Valentine from Valentine, Nebraska
Raine Motel, Outside of Valentine, Nebraska

With food and drink in our bellies, we settle down for the evening. I know I hardly slept because I was so excited for the next days journey….to South Dakota. I have no idea what is in store for us or really what our final destination will be….but I do know….I want to see buffalo, wild horses and Deadwood. Will my dreams come true?

Life your Life…….Jan

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