J. Dawg Journeys

Following the Great Platte River Road – Part 2

I’m really enjoying this RV trip following the Oregon Trail in Nebraska.  I’m seeing some wonderful scenic landscapes and visiting great historical sites.  But doing this trip from a historical perspective gives it much more context.  When I see major landmarks like Scotts Bluff or Chimney Rock, I marvel at the rock formation and beautiful scenery.  But, I also have context to know that hundreds of thousands of people used these landmarks as reckoning points to find their way to a better place.  When I see the muddy Platte River I know it killed many pioneers.

My journey also helps to put it all into a continuum.  When I’m in western Nebraska, I know that this was the 1/3 point for most of the pioneers on their journeys.  I know that many had already died along the route I’m seeing.  I know that it took the pioneers almost 2 months to get to Scottsbluff and the toughest part of the Trail lies ahead.

Trail History on Display

One of the things I appreciate seeing is how front and center the Trail history is depicted in the areas I’m traveling though.  The Trail is well-marked for present day travelers.  There are numerous historical markers on the road sides displaying Trail history.  I’ve been visiting 2-4 historical sites each day and usually stop at 5-6 historical markers each day.  Most of the key historical sites in the area all are Trail related.

Narcissa Whitman Plaque

A typical historical road side marker

Coming from New England, the story of the Oregon Trail history is usually relegated to a couple of chapters in school history books.  Most of our historic sites and landmarks deal with the American Revolution, founding fathers, or early industrial revolution.

But out in the mid west states like Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah, the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail are some of the main historical events that you see depicted.  Yes, there are some others like Native Indian Tribe conflicts, key military forts, and the Pony Express, but from what I’m seeing the Trail history dominates.  It makes sense because when you think about it, the Trails are the main reason why people settled out here.

Windlass Hill

I continued westward on my journey along the Platte River.  The first site I visited past Ogallala and one that I was very anxious to see was Windlass Hill.  The pioneers crossed the south fork of the Platte near the present town of Brule at California Crossing. From here, the terrain became hilly until they could reached the valley of the north fork of the Platte.

One of he major obstacles was Windlass Hill.  This was a major convergence point.  It wasn’t the going up the hill that was the problem.  It was going down.  The wagons had to be roped down the steep slope one at a time.  The thousands of wagons that descended the hill left their mark forming a gully of wagon ruts down the hills.

Windlass Hill is a lonely but picturesque spot on Rt 26.  It’s a small separate section of the Ash Hollow State Park. It’s a small area and If you didn’t know about the Oregon Trail, you’d easily drive right by. There is a small parking lot and a hiking trail to the top of the hill to see the ruts and terrain the pioneers had to navigate.

Wagon Ruts

The gully is a depression made by the wagons going down Windlass Hill

Windlass Hill

View form the top of Windlass Hill

I climbed the back side of the hill where the wagons came down and saw the gully made by all the wagons.  It was scenic and dramatic seeing what the pioneers had to navigate.  But I was a little unnerved and vigilant to watch my step.  There were signs to watch out for rattle snakes along the path.

Ash Hollow

From Windlass Hill, I drove a short distance to Ash Hollow State Park.  The park is a very pretty setting.  Ash Hollow is a valley bisected by a creek that provided good water and shade for the travelers. It got its name from all the Ash trees that line the creek.

Ash Hollow

Ash Hollow is the thick line trees

The park has a museum and hiking trails.  Here’s a video I made while visiting the park.

Just past Ash Hollow is a cemetery with the grave site of Rachel Pattison.  I wrote about her fate in Part 1 of my post on the Great Platte River Road.

From the cemetery, it’s a lonely 40 mile drive along the north fork of the Platte to get to a famous landmark on the Trail – Chimney Rock.  This landmark, which resembles a needle, could be seen from 15 miles away.  Today it’s a National Historic Site.  There’s s small museum at the site, but no hiking trails around or near the Rock.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

After a long day with lots of stops, I rolled in to Scottsbluff, NE looking for a nice place to stop and recharge. I had been on the road for 7 straight days without a break and I needed one badly.  Hondo and I had seen so much, that the days were starting to blur and I was starting to forget what day it was.  I really needed some down time.

Scotts Bluff

The view from my campsite

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12 thoughts on “Following the Great Platte River Road – Part 2

  1. Voytek

    Thank You Sir.

    I hope you did not mist the little cowboys cemetery in Ogallala .

    Have a nice weekend
    Best Regards
    Voytek

  2. Bill Johnson

    We are going by there on the return trip of our July Colorado trip; Ash Hollow has just been added to our itinerary. We are staying less than 30 miles from there at Lake McConaughy SRA.
    Any cafe suggestions for Nebraska.? Safe travels.

    1. J. Dawg Post author

      The only place where I ate out in NE was at Sandy’s Burritos in Gering. A local Mexican food place. No frills. Best enchilladas I’ve had.
      J. Dawg

  3. Nancy Tetrick

    Having spent my elementary school years in Colorado I learned a lot about these trails and the people who traversed them, as well as the communities that sprang up along the way. Some are still viable and others long gone. We visited a number of sites and I recall the ruts from the wagon wheels, deep in the Wyomong plains. Reading your posts is a treat and a lovely tutorial!

  4. Gene in Ohio

    I passed you going east out of Norton, Kansas on US 36. I was going west heading for Prairie Dog State Park. I thought it was funny that you drive while wearing your hat.

    1. J. Dawg Post author

      Hey Gene;
      It wasn’t me that you passed. About 12 days ago, I was on Rt 36 near Marysville, KS going west but didn’t make it out to Norton this year. I was there last year and did stay at Prairie Dog SP.
      But thanks for the heads up that I’ve got a double out there riding around in a View. Must have been a wannabe J. Dawg 😉
      J. Dawg

      1. Gene in Ohio

        Wow. I was sure it was you as I saw the RV first. I was also traveling 36 west across Missouri and Kansas. Such an enjoyable drive.

      2. J. Dawg Post author

        Gene;
        I like Rt 36. I did it last year going west from St. Joseph, MO to Norton, KS. Spent a night in Seneca and then at Prairie Dog SP. I really like the western plains of Kansas.
        J. Dawg

      3. Gene in Ohio

        I did this trip based on your posting last year. A diamondback rattler was killed by campers on the night I arrived. No warning was posted. It was on the street.