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Travel the Great Platte River Road

Bison statue at the Archway, Kearney, NE

Bison statue at the Archway, Kearney, NE

Recently I took an epic road trip out west from Illinois. You zoom over the flat prairie of Illinois, cross the Father of Waters into the rolling countryside of Iowa and then hit the muddy Missouri River. After that, you begin the gradual climb across the Great Plains to the Rockies. Once you pass the Missouri River, you’re traveling on the Great Platte River Road through the valley of the Platte River that has been so important to the growth of this country.

The Platte River valley is a naturally formed highway across the wide open plains of Nebraska. Its flood plain and valley are wide and broad, indicative of it’s winding channels and fairly shallow streams. The great herds of bison thundered across this land, followed by the Native Americans who used this animal for sustenance and livelihood. Once the white man arrived on the continent, the Platte River Valley was used by fur hunters to move furs from the Rockies to St. Louis on the Mississippi. From there, furs went down to New Orleans and to the great cities of Europe to meet the fashion needs of high society. Once the United States’ independence was won, emigrants started to trickle west. Then a variety of factors made the valley a bustling place. The discovery of gold in California drew people to venture through harsh country and hostile conditions for the chance at wealth. Legislation drew families west to seek out land of their own so they could make their mark on the country. Some groups, such as the Mormons, used the river road to seek their own place to worship. The valley still shows remnants of the trails emigrants used to travel – the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail and the Bozeman Trail.

Today, US Interstate Highway 80 (I-80) follows the Platte River valley letting truckers, vacationers and residents follow in historic footsteps. Instead of flatboat or oxcart, the asphalt ribbon of I-80 drives commerce and exploration in this modern age. My travel through this historic corridor was to reach further destinations – Colorado, Wyoming and Montana – which seem to be areas that calm my soul and help me re-focus on what’s really important in life. But while I was just passing through, I could still enjoy some of the sights of the valley. During my drive, I stopped at a rest stop and looked out across the broad valley, now filled with productive farms. I skirted through flurries of fluff from the groves of cottonwoods that line the Platte River and its tributaries. I visited the Archway which depicts the history of the Great Platte River Road from the earliest days to today. Finally I ended up at my first day’s destination, Ogallala, Nebraska. After some dinner, I visited Boot Hill the original graveyard for this cattle drive terminus and caught an awesome Great Plains sunset before retiring for the night.

Enjoy the images below. More to follow as I head into Nebraska and visit some friendly places!

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Finding the Beauty

 

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Landform shot on a flight from San Diego to Chicago

A friend and I were recently chatting about how – in the hurly-burly rush of our daily lives – we miss the beauty around us. Before the conversation was out of my mind, I came across these images I took some years ago while traveling to San Diego on business. Yes, these are random shots of the American West, various sites and places unknown, but I began to wonder how many others noticed the same thing? Did anyone else notice the change from desert, to mountains to plains? I don’t know, but I hope I wasn’t the only one.

 

Much of what I flew over that trip was “fly-over country” not something particularity interesting or much to take note of as some people think. I challenge this idea. While the scenes passing beneath me 30,000 feet below are forbidding in some ways, potentially boring to others, they were regions where Native Americans lived and thrived while also being obstacles that our fore bearers conquered in making this country. These lands offered opportunity and freedom. Pioneers hoping for more opportunity and better lives for their children crossed these regions – sometime conquering them, sometimes losing all they had and sometimes even giving their lives. These lands helped shape who we are as Americans but I fear many people have forgotten that fact.

 

You may look at the image above ro of those in the gallery and think that the views are interesting, but it’s just rock, forest, and rivers. Noting interesting – they will be there in 10 year, 100 years probably even 1000 years. But they will never again look as I’ve captured them here. Whether it is the change of the seasons, the angle of the sun, even the flight path of the aircraft makes all the difference. What I’ve captured won’t be captured again – at least not in my lifetime. And I want to share this once in a lifetime opportunity with you to enjoy the images and see the beauty that I saw.

 

I want you to be open to taking that short amount of time in you crazy busy days to notice the beauty that’s all around us to see.

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Wrangell Mountains

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Mt. Blackburn (left), Mt. Drum (forefront) and Mt Wrangell at the head of the Wrangell Range

 

Driving Highway 1 from Anchorage on the way to Valdez, Alaska is a pretty solitary drive. Stark but beautiful landscapes surround you as you travel along the road. I was motoring along in April yet the temperatures were fairly nice requiring me to only have a hoodie on against a very light chill. As I’m driving along heading into Glenallen looking for a gas station to fill up, I start to see peaks in the distance. Hiding and peeking from time to time, the mountains don’t come into view until you pass a crest in the road and it drops away into the distance. There before you is the start of the Wrangell Range with Mt’s Drum, Wrangell and Blackburn displayed in full glory.

 

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The picture I’ve included at the top doesn’t do the view justice. The three mountains wreathed in white snow and ice sit majestically looking like you could just drive up to them. Along the side of the road, is a sign that shares that these are not just mountains but also volcanoes, with Wrangell being the biggest volcano in Alaska. There are also signs – from time to time – of geothermal activity at Wrangell, none of which I witnessed. I had always thought volcanoes existed in the western part of Alaska and along the Aleutian chain, but the friction of the continental and Pacific plates are at work here as much as they are in Washington State or California, so it makes sense. What is interesting is that unlike the explosive stratovolcanoes elsewhere in Alaska or in the Cascades, the Wrangell volcanoes are more like the ones in Hawaii, being built over time by numerous layers of highly fluid lava.

 

If you’re ever up in Alaska and find yourself on the road from Anchorage to Valdez, take some time to admire the beauty of the Wrangell range and if time allows, to visit the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

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Panorama image of the Wrangell Range from a turnoff outside of Glenallen, Alaska. Click on image for full size.

All images taken with Samsung Galaxy S5

 

Hiking Bear Butte

Panorama view from summit of Bear Butte - looking toward the Black Hills

Panorama view from summit of Bear Butte – looking toward the Black Hills

The first time I hiked up Bear Butte, I went up alone early in the morning. No one else was around as the wind whispered through the trees. The hike was more strenuous than I expected but nothing out of the ordinary. As I climbed, the sun broke through the high wispy clouds to pour its heat upon the rocks. Soon the summit was in sight and as I reached it, the breeze fell to almost nothing. Standing at the top, I looked over the plains and prairie and understood why this formation is sacred. There is something about this place that calls to you. I stood at the top and close my eyes, letting my other senses take in the surroundings. It was at that point, I heard a ruffle in the air. I heard it again and then I heard a “skreee” in the air above me. Looking up I saw a golden eagle circling in the thermals almost above me.

Bear Butte

Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain” is the Lakota name given to this rocky outcrop jutting from the prairie. To the Cheyenne, it is “Noahvose.” This geological formation is one of several distinctive  intrusions of igneous rock in the Black Hills that formed millions of years ago. The sedimentary rock long since worn away, the remaining formation resembles a bear laying on its side, hence the name. However, this rock formation is interesting in another way: the mountain is sacred to many Native American tribes.

A Sacred Mountain

Up to 60 Native Americans from the northern plains and Canada hold Bear Butte sacred as the place where the creator has chosen to communicate with them through visions and prayer. Their folklore says that the Great Spirit imparted the wisdom of how to live and behave to the first peoples on Bear Butte. Today it is not uncommon to see an encampment of native Americans at the base of the mountain during festival times. During our visit, we saw many colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles or pouches tied onto the trees. These prayer cloths and tobacco ties represent prayers offered by individuals during their worship.  While no one was actively offering prayers during our climb, we admired the ones we saw from a distance and did not disturb these sacred offerings.

The Trail

This time I’m not alone – I have the family in tow. I’ve talked about Bear Butte so much that once we came out west as a family it was a foregone conclusion that we would experience the trail together. The trail is a 1.8 mile one-way excursion up this laccolith that rises 1,253.5 feet above the surrounding plains.  The family and I started out on a partly cloudy morning and encountered steep steps, a rocky path and places where you could not tell the trail from the rocky skree on the slopes.  The hike to the top was warm and challenging but once at the top, you realized the effort was worth the reward. With full views in all four cardinal directions, you can see for miles to the East and North. To the West you can start to see the low foothills of the Rockies. To the South is Rapid City as well as the Black Hills, another sacred area for many Native Americans.  I had hiked Bear Butte before and was glad that the family and I got to go up to the summit together.  Once at the top, my daughter broke out her flute and offered a tune to the other hikers and the spirits around us. If you decide to take this challenge, you will see why native peoples held Bear Butte in reverence; this is truly a spiritual place.

Panorama image from the summit of Bear Butte - looking from the North to East

Panorama image from the summit of Bear Butte – looking from the North to East

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