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!