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Sandhills and 4-H Camp

July 7, 2013

Nebraska – Sunday, June 30

I got packed up from my impromptu camping spot and hit the road again toward Broken Bow. These sandhills are so pretty, I’m glad I didn’t drive through part of them in the dark. When I got to Broken Bow (so named because the town’s founder had found an Indian’s broken bow on the land, and the first 3 names for the town were rejected) the first thing I saw was the Tumbleweed Cafe, and I was in the mood for a good breakfast. So I stopped to eat before Tula and I did some walking around town. It amazes me that little fireworks stands are springing up all over the place – even the smallest of cow towns seems to have at least one fireworks stand – whether it’s a trailer, a tent or simply the back of a semi! They’re all over the place! Broken Bow was a little bigger than a lot of the little towns that aren’t much more than an intersection with a store and a gas station and the grain elevators, so I did a lot of walking and covered over 4 miles.

The other thing that was a constant presence in my drive west across the sandhills was trains – mostly long trains of coal and the tracks were right by the road. The coal trains were all heading east – I began to wonder where all that coal was coming from and where it was going. A few trains were stopped on the tracks and I could use my odometer to measure their length – consistently about a mile and a quarter. And I counted cars in a couple trains – 138, and they all had 2 engines in the front and one in the back. I lost count of all the trains I saw – such an enormous quantity of coal being transported!

I passed another tiny little town named Anselmo, and turned down the main street just to have a look. Some of these old towns look like ghost towns – especially on a Sunday morning. There’s nothing going on and no one in the streets – just the wind blowing through an old town which has seen better times. They’re pretty in their own desolate way. But Anselmo had an old sod house and a couple other buildings as part of a little historic display. Since there weren’t many trees on the prairie, the pioneers built sod houses – using strips of sod about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide, and piling the sod bricks one atop the other – always grass side down (don’t know why). I guess sod was a fairly good insulator because it helped keep the place cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but one never knew what creepy-crawlies (or snakes) would come crawling out of one’s walls! And they were dark inside. Whenever I drove past, or through, these little towns, there was usually a sign saying “Welcome to _____” and it would list the population – 109, or 76 or 223! Like I said – tiny towns! And then I passed the Sandhills School, and not for the first time I wondered about the kids on the ranches around here, and where they went to school and if buses ran – it’s such a big, sparsely populated part of the state that I wondered about school, and grocery shopping and all that.

And then, as I was driving along, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, I saw a sign about a turnoff for a 4-H camp. I was curious about it, so I turned to go see what it was like, and I was surprised to see traffic on that road. It turned out I had arrived right at the tail end of camper check-in time for a new session of camp! Some stragglers were showing up, and kids were being assigned to their cabins (and one girl was accidentally assigned a boy’s cabin so they had to make a quick change.) There were 2 different groups of kids starting a session, and it brought back a lot of fun memories. This part of Nebraska was hilly and there were a lot of trees (part of a hand-planted forest) and the cabins were tucked in the trees, and there was a big lodge. I wanted to see inside the lodge, but it certainly wasn’t the time to ask to do that! I had been wanting to make a 4-H donation somewhere along the way, and this was absolutely perfect. I waited until the head counselor, Katie, was free and told her about my journey and that I’d be happy to make a donation if they could use it, and she was surprised and happy to be able to take a donation. I’m assuming it will go toward supplies or something, but she would be passing the check on to the directors. It was really fun to see the place.

And then just a short distance down the road, I came across a fire tower, and decided to climb it. Sometimes heights bother me just a bit, especially when I’m climbing open steps, but I took it slow and kept a good grip on the rail, and stayed close to the tower at the top, and did okay! I mentioned the hand-planted forest – an amazing act of conservation started back in 1927. There was a guy who realized America was cutting down so many forests that it was vital to replant. He had done research about the Sandhills area, and was pretty sure the land had supported trees at one point in time. So he began a massive tree-planting program, and in time it was given National Forest status. It’s the largest hand-planted forest in the country and covers thousands of acres. But, the trees are beginning to come to the end if their natural life cycle, and do not seem to be re-seeding themselves, so only time will tell what will happen. The view of the forests from the fire tower was amazing, especially knowing they had all been planted by hand.

From there I continued driving to the little town if Thedford, where we did another mile of walking, and then I continued a little beyond that before heading south to North Platte. There was barely any traffic on the road south, and I soaked up the views of the sandy hills, windmills and black cows here and there. Once we were on the outskirts if North Platte, we stopped at a huge city park, and walked 2 1/2 more miles – along the river, on a nature trail, and around a little zoo that had lots of llamas and peacocks. The peacocks were starting to roost for the night, and they have a very interesting, loud squawk. One lady said it sounded like a loud meow gone bad! I like the sound! And then we were ready to call it a day too.

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