USA Roadtrip

Nebraska – Riding the Outlaw Trail

We left Sioux City with new oil in Black Betty and a purse stuffed full of complimentary mini-muffins from the Ramada Inn. 270 miles ahead of us was Valentine, Nebraska, which we would reach via the Outlaw Trail.

Highway 12 runs across the top of Nebraska, just shy of about 2 to 15 miles below the South Dakota border.

The weather was perfect.
IMG_2650.JPGThe second Bald Eagle sighting of 2014 occurred about 15 miles in…I didn’t realize there were so many soaring around the skies these days. I have always heard the term elusive in connection with Bald Eagles…turns out, they are all hanging about in the midwest.

In addition to a handful of sites made famous by Jesse James and Co., the Outlaw Trail follows the path that Lewis and Clark’s Discovery Expedition took towards the west (described by many a historical marker identifying their campsites along the way). I don’t particularly get too excited about historical markers…but John is very keen on them. We were lured off the main drag by the promise of a marker commemorating the Iowanic Volcano. We drove about 2 miles down a winding dirt road until we hit a chainlink fence and could proceed no further. It turns out the marker was at the beginning of the road, and that was the end of following the advice on the Outlaw Trail brochure.IMG_2653.JPGLewis and Clark had noticed smoke hanging around the top of a small hill, which obviously means a volcano is hanging around somewhere. Long story short: no volcano…just a bit of smoke. Well done, L&C.

Highway 12 passes through many minuscule towns along the way, the population of which never rises above 3 digits. The most impressive by far is the hamlet of Monowi: Population 1.IMG_2652.JPGFor a town of 1 inhabitant, there was an impressive amount of buildings, albeit abandoned and on the verge of collapse. The official population is 1, although I’m sure the decaying corpse count is higher. Plenty of places to stash a body.IMG_2651.JPGClose runner up: Burton, NE.IMG_2692.JPG
The next couple of hours were spent watching the countryside pass by the window and quick jaunts into the ‘business district’ of each town. Many of these towns have found something to brag about; Maskell, NE has the smallest town hall in the US. Lindy, NE is the home to the only country club in the US without a golf course. I’m serious…it’s on the brochure.IMG_2782.JPGNot wanting to miss all the fun, Verdell’s claim to fame is that Bob Barker’s grandparents are buried there. We decided not to visit Ma and Pa Barker’s grave as these diversions can get out of control quite quickly and we still had over 170 miles of wintery countryside to go.IMG_2654.JPGOur iPod weirded us out, as it so often does, by sensing we were in need of a little Nebraska music. Over the next hour, Bruce Springsteen showed up every other song…how does it know?!?!?

As we pushed on, we realized our lunch options were very thin. The majority of businesses were closed for the season and we feared we would have to lunch on leftover mini-muffins and beef jerky. We were also about to get to a 50 mile stretch of road without any towns, so we put all of our hopes and dreams into Naper, NE. By the grace of the road gods, Naper Cafe and Lounge was open for business and fried chicken was consumed with gusto.IMG_2689.JPG
I’m rather bummed we missed steaks at Mr. Oysters…sounds like a grand time.IMG_2690.JPGFull of grease and cheap coffee, we climbed into Black Betty and started on our trek across 50 miles of nothing, Nebraska. The view up until this point had been pleasantly pretty and charming, the countryside surrounding the small pockets of population alternated between rolling hills and small scrubby forests. However, let me tell ya… about 50 miles east of Valentine, NE, the field of view expanded about a millions times over.

KABOOM! We could see for miles. The blacktop stretched into a pinprick on the horizon and there was nothing between us and heaven except sky, sky and more sky. Seeing as we had been sharing the road the entire afternoon with, well…nobody, we pulled over to the shoulder and let the isolation soak in for a while.IMG_2695.JPG

Here’s looking east: IMG_2699.JPG
Here’s looking west:IMG_2693.JPG
Silence. Stillness. Peace.

We were losing both the light and the feeling in our fingers, so we dragged ourself away from the view and back into the jeep, warming our hands against the heating vents until sensation returned. Valentine was just a handful of miles away, and we had timed the end of our journey perfectly in sync with sundown. IMG_2691.JPG We had yet to arrange a place to stay the night in Valentine, NE, but it isn’t exactly the busy season. The Super 8 had clear expectations of it’s guests, but since they did not prohibit guests from drinking a six pack of Miller High Life, we checked in. IMG_2688.JPG
Here’s a travel tip…nowhere serves past 10pm in Valentine, except the McDonalds. This was a disappointment, as we were excited to try Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge. We use TripAdvisor a lot for practical purposes, but I always get a kick out of reading the ‘terrible’ and ‘poor’ reviews….mainly because the small-minded pettiness of people amuses me. We picked Peppermill, not only because it sounded delicious and was open until 1am (or so we thought), the official owner responses to the handful of rude and snarky reviews on TripAdvisor had us howling in our hotel room. Do yourself a favor and check them out here. In addition to being hungry, we honestly just wanted to meet the owner in person and shake his hand. Although the website promised Peppermill to be open until 1am, the restaurant was mysteriously dark. Even though our disappointment was great, Robert is still my customer service hero.


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