Monday, June 11, 2007
Rock Port, MO to Thedford, NE
I am not an early riser. I usually don’t even get to work until 9AM or later.
When touring, I find it difficult to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and get going. There is always one more chapter of a book to be read… or one more website to check. In the past, I’ve felt guilty for not getting that “early start,” especially on long days.
On this tour, a friend has constantly been reminding me that I am, after all, on VACATION. This break from work is not a time to feel bad about not keeping to schedule, but to enjoy the freedom from it.
So today I finally got checked out of my hotel room at the decadent hour of 10am. After having a quick breakfast, I found myself rolling back into Nebraska under gray cloudy skies.
I was taking the scenic route. In Nebraska, scenic apparently means cornfields, cattle, arrow straight roads, and 60 mph speed limits.
(No, I didn’t take this road.)
Jamming along through the fields to disco on my XM radio, I was shocked to see a brown Park Service sign advertising National Park information on an AM channel. I was puzzled. A National Park? Here? I *had* to investigate.
Just a few miles off my intended route, north of Beatrice, NE, I found Homestead National Monument.
The park commemorates the 1862 Homestead Act and the over 270 million acres of land given away for free by the federal government, opening the American Dream to anyone who could carve a farm out of 160 acres of wild prairie.
Located at the site of one of the first homesteads claimed under the act, curators have been struggling for decades to restore a native prairie ecosystem on land ravaged by 75 years of farming.
Walking around the exhibits inside, I was fascinated both by the stories of hardships endured by the pioneers and the anguish of Native Americans again displaced from land that had been formerly given to them by the government. The last homestead claimed before the act ran out was in Alaska in the mid-70s.
The park was a welcome break, but after leaving, I went back to grinding across Nebraska.
Clouds often play a starring role in my photographs, so I was disappointed with the overcast skies of the morning. After noon, I found that the clouds were thinning out, with patches of blue showing through. The skies continued their metamorphosis throughout the day, with a brilliant blue emerging in the late afternoon. As I got closer to my evening destination, the clouds socked in again and I feared that I would hit rain.
The cornfields all but disappeared heading west on Nebraska 2, the Sandhills Byway. The rolling hills with frequent exposed drifts of sand are not friendly to agriculture, so much of the north-central Nebraska region has never been plowed.
The railroad tracks next to the road were busy. I passed coal train after coal train, with many being only 10 or 15 minutes apart.
Back in 2004 when I was planning my first two week tour, I noticed that there was a National Forest way out in the middle of Nebraska. At the time, bad weather prevented me from visiting. Subsequent trips suffered similarly bad weather or lack of adequate time.
I felt a sense of triumph upon finally reaching the national forest.
Over a century ago, a university professor thought that he could encourage settlement of the sand hills by providing an easy supply of timber. The original forest of Ponderosa pines planted at the time is now aging and slowly being replaced by hand planted oak trees. Because the forest is artificial and located in inhospitable grasslands, it is not self-sustaining.
Getting tired, I decided that I wouldn’t try to make the additional 135 miles to my intended destination of Alliance, NE. A “vacancy” sign in Thedford, NE called and I turned in for the night.
Tomorrow I reach Custer, SD and the Sport-Touring.Net meet. This trip report may be on hiatus for a few days while I focus on being social and not holing up in my room to write for a few hours each night.