Aug 1, 2020 – To Boldly Go…

Our route through western Nebraska and Kansas began with Fort Robinson State Park and ended at Scott Lake State Park in Kansas. We stayed in four campgrounds along this route, each identified on the map. With fifth wheel in tow, we stopped at Carhenge after leaving Fort Robinson, an easy roadside pulloff for RVs. All told, from the day we arrived at Fort Robinson to the day we left Lake Scott, two weeks had passed.

I suspect most people who drive through Kansas and Nebraska do so only because they cannot avoid them to get to their destination. I also suspect that most people keep to the interstates of which there is one in each state bisecting it completely from border to border. With that, I will guess that most people who have traveled through Nebraska or Kansas have never seen Toadstool Geologic, Carhenge, Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff, Monument Rocks or Little Jerusalem Badlands. Too bad, because these are jewels adorning the vast flat topography of the great plains.

Carhenge is a replica of England’s Stonehenge, conceived in 1987 by Jim Reinders. Instead of stone, carhenge is created with 39 automobiles.
While living in England, Reinders studied the structure of Stonehenge, which helped him to create carhenge.

One of them is man-made inspired by stone formations, while the others are strange and abrupt geological landmarks formed by the power of weather-driven deposition and erosion. The alternating layers of hard and soft rocks interrupt the flat lands with dramatic vertical appearances that fan out at their base. When viewed from a distance they appear as aberrations and viewed aerially, look like injuries to an otherwise smooth landscape. When you see these rock formations, you get the sense they did not look like that millions of years ago. Indeed, what remains standing are testaments to the durability of hard rock as the surrounding softer rock eroded away over time. Often, odd shapes have formed from large clumps of sturdy sandstone that appear balanced delicately atop narrow vertical outcroppings – such are the toadstools or hoodoos. They have won the test of time and their ongoing erosion is undetectable to the human eye.

From our campsite at Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing we had a view of the rock. Not much of a campground, but it is conveniently located.
At night, Chimney Rock lights up.

Escaping far and wide from the vertical rocks are deep crevices or arroyos that appear like spindly tree branches extending across the landscape, only to be seen from above. This severe landscape is often referred to as badlands and indeed, the progress of westbound pioneers was impeded by them. Emigrants typically traveled along the Platte River Valley as part of the Oregon Trail. When they arrived at Scotts Bluff, the travelers were forced to move out of the valley to find a pass that would allow them to continue westward. Other formations such as Chimney Rock served as familiar landmarks for travelers.

Westbound emigrants had to find a pass around Scotts Bluff on the Oregon Trail.
The Summit Road was built through Scotts Bluff. No need to go around it now!
A view from Scotts Bluff.
Looking east toward Scotts Bluff as the sun set behind me.

Otherworldly is a term used often to describe these rock formations. I cannot help but think of many Star Trek episodes where the landing party finds themselves among strange geologic formations on a desert-planet. No need to travel to another galaxy, simply get off the interstate and explore Nebraska and Kansas. One does not have to boldly go where no others have been because these points of interest are not difficult to get to; you simply need the desire to see them.

The sun rose behind me as I set up to photograph Little Jerusalem Badlands from a lookout point.
Little Jerusalem got its name because to some, it looks like the ancient walled city of Jerusalem.
Cattle graze everywhere in western Kansas.
Monument Rocks is located on private land, and is technically closed from sundown to sunrise. We arrived a couple hours before sunset.
While attempting to photograph Monument Rocks, I had to patiently wait for people to move out of the frame. It wasn’t terribly busy, maybe a couple dozen people scattered about with plenty of rocks to go around.
Around sunset, the moon rose and by then, most everyone had left the rocks.
A photographer could spend a lot of time here.
While camped at Fort Robinson, Vivian and I drove up to Toadstool. It was a long drive going 15-20 mph on 12 miles of washboard gravel roads, but well worth it. The photograph was taken from a Newsbreak website to show you the campground and parking lot.
I had less than an hour, maybe only 30 minutes or so to photograph what I could at Toadstool. Sunset was an hour or so away and a nasty storm was closing in on us.
I basically walked around the edge of the rocks, not having time to explore inward.
Meanwhile, the storm was hanging large in the sky, but made for a perfect backdrop for the bright rocks.
This pyramid shaped rock stood out along the road into Toadstool. On the way out, Vivian stopped so I could get out and capture this scene before the rain started.
In addition to exploring the rocks, we visited the Golden Spike Tower than overlooks Bailey Yard, the world’s largest switching yard, near North Platte, NE.
And last, we stayed in a campground overlooking McConaughey Lake, a large reservoir in the middle of western Nebraska. Here, large RVs can park along the water on the beach. You can’t drive yours down there, it has to be brought in with special towing equipment, at a cost of course.