The Journey – Part Three

Some of the scenery along the road north of Crawford

Some of the scenery along the road north of Crawford

A well deserved break in one of the public sections of Oglala National Grassland

A well deserved break in one of the public sections of Oglala National Grassland

In the canyons of Toadstool

In the canyons of Toadstool

The Bison Trail to Toadstool

The Bison Trail to Toadstool

From Fort Robinson we were faced with a 26 mile trek all the way to Toadstool Geologic Park, which is part of Oglala National Grassland.  So on the day before, we took a “day off” to do some things in town, and also shortened our trek about three miles by taking the very pleasant White River Trail from Fort Robinson into the fine town of Crawford, Nebraska.  That left us with 23 miles to go . . .

We started early headed north from Crawford through open croplands with nice views of the bluffs.  Although we were hiking a road for 20 of the 23 miles, we saw very little traffic, and only had one short conversation with a Nebraska game warden.  We weren’t sure if he randomly found us, or if someone had called him, perhaps a bit suspicious of two guys walking along and maybe hunting out of season.  It’s possible because later we saw a number of “No Hunting” signs posted along fences and gates.  We explained that we were just walking a portion of the Great Plains Trail, to which he seemed mostly indifferent.  He bid us a “Good day” and we carried on through some really nice scenery.  Dry hills with the steepness of mountains rose to the south, while to the west and north, the “Pine Ridge,” Nebraska’s answer to the Black Hills, awaited in friendly repose.

After our encounter with the warden, we saw no one else for the rest of the day, but walked the remaining 16 or 17 miles in relaxed conversation, all the while, the road dropping into wooded hollows, and then rising into breezy pine covered hill tops.  The final three miles were all on what is known as the Bison Trail, a spectacular badlands and open prairie trail that connects the aforementioned Toadstool Geologic Park to Hudson-Meng Bison Bonened.  The bonebed is the site of a 10,000 year old bison kill site by early humans in the area.  It was not open when we passed through there, but it is a unique spot and well worth the visit.

We dropped into Toadstool exhausted, but really, it was one of the best days of hiking I’ve ever had, and is right now my favorite section on the Great Plains Trail!

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The Journey – Part Two

Scott and Nancy Kile

Scott and Nancy Kile in Glen, Nebraska

The bluffs near Fort Robinson State Park

The bluffs near Fort Robinson State Park

This is the second installment in a series detailing (sort of) the 106 mile hike recently undertaken from Agate Fossil Beds National Monument to Edgemont, South Dakota.  Once again all photos are courtesy of Ken Ilgunas.

We awoke in the cold, windy dawn at our campsite at Fort Robinson State Park, which is a gem of a place and highly underrated.  Kevin dropped us off at our finishing point from the day before (Yes, we did use some support vehicles for our trip in order to accomplish all of the things we needed to accomplish).  We hiked north and soon were amongst a sparse forest of Ponderosa pines.  The road wound down for several miles until it came to a “T” at White River Road.  From there we proceeded east discussing the possibilities of the Great Plains Trail when we came across a woman working the brush near the road.

“Hey, are you that guy working on the Great Plains Trail?!”

“Yeah!  That’s me!”

“Well, we think it’s a wonderful idea!”

Scott and Nancy Kile, also known as the Millennium Pioneers live in the “town” of Glen, Nebraska, which is really just a loose configuration of houses, but beautifully tucked in a tight valley and nestled along the banks of the White River.  They’ve chosen this place because of its beauty, and are happy to share their knowledge and love of the area.

Wow, what a change from our first encounter the day before.  It turns out they had just found us on Facebook a few weeks earlier.  We talked for a while about how important it was to share the beauty of this place with something as adventurous as a long distance trail.  They even suggested that they could convert one of their buildings into a hostel for thru hikers!

This is the kind of support I always thought was possible, but I didn’t expect to meet it so quickly on the trail.  Hostels and other possibilities will take a long time to develop, but it’s awesome to know there is solid support out there for those kinds of things.

For the rest of the way back to Fort Robinson, we were met by a few curious stares, but mostly a lot of friendly waves.  I can imagine this area anchoring a lot of support and enthusiasm, and maybe serving as a catalyst for other areas to get involved as well.  All of that is in the future, but the future of the Great Plains Trail never looked brighter!

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The Journey – Part One

The journey begins

The journey begins

Cows in their winter pens.

Cows in their winter pens.

The Pink School House - technically not one room, but pretty small

The Pink School House – technically not one room, but pretty small

The hills above the school house

The hills above the school house

Classic windmill scenery

Classic windmill scenery

It's a long lonely road.

It’s a long lonely road.

This is the first in a series of posts about the 106 mile journey I completed two weeks ago with Ken Ilgunas, Kevin Purdy, and Robert Pahre.  It was a test drive of the first few sections of the GPT, and it was also the backdrop for an upcoming Backpacker Magazine article to be published later this year (stay tuned as to when exactly).  These posts will be light on the prose, and heavy on the photos, which is a break from my usual style, but Ken came up with some excellent photos and I want to let them them tell most of the story.

We started on an unseasonably warm March day in Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.  After meeting with the rangers there and taking a tour of their excellent (and I do mean excellent) collection of historical artifacts (including Red Cloud’s shirt, and American Horse’s war club) we started down the road, heading east toward the Pink School House.  We met some ranchers on the way who were, in addition to being surprised at seeing people walking, a little disconcerted that we were riling up the cows who were still in their winter pens.  I explained what we were doing and that this area might one day be part of the Great Plains Trail, to which he responded, “God, I hope not!”

It turns out, however, that he was a hiker too, and was planning on scaling Laramie Peak the next day.  We also shared a common bond over education.  I mentioned I was a teacher on spring break, which was true, and he said his mother was a teacher, and that he attended elementary school at the little Pink School House just up the road where we were headed.  We both lamented the disappearance of one room school houses, and we parted on amiable terms.  From there, we hiked a mostly uneventful 12-14 miles, turned north at the Pink School House, and on toward the Pine Ridge of western Nebraska.

All photos by Ken Ilgunas

 

 

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High Plains Hiker

Author amidst the plains of southwest South Dakota

Author amidst the plains of southwest South Dakota

Here’s a link to the article about the Great Plains Trail that appeared in a recent edition of the Rapid City Journal:

Rapid City Journal Article

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Carhenge!

Is this the biggest henge in the world?

Is this the biggest henge in the world?

OK, this one’s just for fun.  Sitting on the western edge of the Sandhills, near the town of Alliance, Nebraska is Carhenge.  Admittedly, Carhenge is not the typical fare that I usually promote on this blog.  It will not entice you with scenery, there are no natural features to contemplate, but it will impress nonetheless.  I guarantee it.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, and you can arrive at your own interpretation of the permanent art installation, but you tell me:  How DO you stack cars on one another?  It’s an enduring mystery of the druids . . .

Prairie Schooner?

Prairie Schooner or Grocery Getter?

Yup.

Yup.

What was the rule about quicksand again?

What was the rule about quicksand again?

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The Gloss (Glass) Mountains of Oklahoma

Trails reach the mesa tops

Trails reach the mesa tops

A classic western look

A classic western look

Here’s a Great Plains site that I have never been to, but looking at some of the photos of the Gloss Mountains makes me want to check it out for sure.  I love learning about new places on the Great Plains and the list is growing!

The Gloss (or Glass) Mountains got their name from the concentrations of the mineral selenite that sparkle on the tops of the mesas.

Oklahoma operates Gloss Mountain State Park which preserves 640 acres of the site.  There are no overnight facilities at the park, but there are numerous hiking trails that can get you into the “backcountry.”

Gloss Mountain State Park is in Major County about 45 miles west of Enid, Oklahoma.  This is probably too far east for the Great Plains Trail to connect to, but it’s just one more example of the diversity and grandeur of the whole region.

 

 

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Not Far From the Freeway – Monument Rocks, Kansas

Monument Rocks in western Kansas

Monument Rocks in western Kansas

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post about some of your favorite places in the Great Plains.  I’m going to dedicate the next several weeks to “showing off” the places you mentioned!

Just south of I-70 in Gove County Kansas are a series of abrupt rock formations rising 60-70 feet above the otherwise fairly flat terrain.  These are the Monument Rocks, and they were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968.  They are also known as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.  

The rocks are remnants of an ancient sea bed that once covered the central part of North America from about 140 million years ago to about 65 million years ago.  Fossils of ancient sea shells are commonly found there.

What to do:

There are no formal hiking trails, and in fact, you can drive right up to most of the formations.  You could, however, choose to walk the informal roads.  There are two main clusters of formations less than 1/4 mile apart.  Probably the best thing to do at Monument Rocks is just to take in the silence, and imagine just how much the earth has changed over the eons.  There are not many places in the world where geology and geologic time can be so transparently viewed.  Monument Rocks is one of them, and just another example of how cool the Great Plains are.

Directions:

Twenty miles south of Oakley (Exit 76 from I-70) on U.S. 83, then 4 miles east on Jayhawk Road, 3 miles south, and 1 mile east (dry weather road only)  

OR

Eighteen miles north of Scott City, east 2 miles on Dakota Road, 1 mile north, 3 1/2  miles east, and 2 1/2 miles north

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