10 July, 2010

Day 2

Usually when I am going through Nebraska, it is at the end of a trip. Thus, my usual voyage though the state goes from west to east, starting at either the Wyoming or Colorado borders, and heading toward Omaha and the state of Iowa. But today was something of an anomaly; rather than use it as a stepping stone home, I instead used it as a leg of my journey westwards. Have you ever noticed that things look different when you approach them from another direction? Nebraska didn’t look like the Nebraska I’m used to today, in large part because I was approaching it from an (for me) unusual angle. All the usual pit stops and turn offs looked the same, but the highway looked and felt different this time. It was a strange experience to be driving what felt like the first time on a highway I know very well.

One of the things I’ve found about driving across Nebraska on I-80 is that the major cities and landmarks are all just about one hours drive apart. Starting at the I-80 & I-76 split (which is roughly a mile away from the Nebraska/Colorado border) and going east, the first major city one encounters is North Platte; an hour or so east from there, Kearney; an hour more east, Grand Island; an hour east more, Lincoln; finally another hour, and you’re in Omaha. To be sure these are only approximates; the distance between North Platte and Kearney is about 80 miles, while Kearney to Grand Island is about 50. But the average works out pretty well, and it gives you a good picture how much longer you have to drive to get across the state just by knowing which cities/landmarks you’ve passed. And of course, if you’re heading westward-ho rather than east, the timing works just as well in reverse. A little tidbit of useless knowledge, for those interested. Oh, and before anyone asks, if you’re heading to Wyoming through Nebraska or starting at Wyoming heading east, the Wyoming border to I-80/I-76 split segment takes about an hour and a half to run, and is the only part of the rubric that doesn’t fit.

Anyway... Nebraska. I like Nebraska. It has an open expanse, no nonsense feel to it that doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. When you’re in Nebraska, you’re in “the country”, and Nebraskans wouldn’t have it any other way. As you head west, the grasslands become more dominant and the tress become fewer and fewer, until finally near the Colorado border they disappear almost completely. By then the grass has become all pervasive, covering plain and hills alike for as far as the eye can see. Only an occasional farmhouse disrupts the sea of grass, and even then only occasionally. Along the way across Nebraska, the Platte River runs mostly parallel to the interstate, but occasionally crosses underneath it. The Platte is a wide and long river, but very shallow; one can wade across it for much of its length. In the summer especially, when the spring rains are no more and much of the rest of the flow is being taken for irrigation.

As for the trek across Nebraska itself, mostly we just drove, trying to finish the trip there and thus have less traveling to worry about. There are a lot of tourist-trappy places I’ve always wanted to stop at along the way in Nebraska but never seem to find the time, much less convince the people in my vehicle they were good places to stop. The Pioneer museum in Kearney, for instance (which is in a building that goes over the interstate like a gateway). Or the Heartland Military Museum , with all of its decommissioned ordinance set outside. One of these days I’ll get the chance to drop by these places, perhaps even at the tail end of this trip. But sadly, today was not that day. This trip will be about mountain ranges, ruins, railroads.

Right now we’re camped out the KOA in Limon, Colorado, which is the first official bit of camping this trip. Nice campground, and one that is surprisingly crowded for an out-of-the-way town. Tomorrow we’ll be heading for the next KOA (in Cotopaxi, which is near Royal Gorge). But before that I think we’ll visit Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which will be our first real piece of touristy activity.

Cross your fingers that the program I’ve downloaded works. I’ve been wanting to post some pictures, but the picture size the digital camera I have produces is way too large to be practical to post tot he blog. I’m hoping to edit them into something more usable.

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