A Weekend in Western Nebraska

With Labor Day approaching, the hubs and I decided to explore this state of Nebraska we now call home. Taking advantage of the long weekend, we made a plan, booked a hotel, and ended up having an awesome time!

After Garrett’s last class on Friday, we packed the car and began our 6 hour trip from Lincoln to Scottsbluff, NE. The landscape changed from flat fields of corn to rolling prairie filled with cattle.

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Scottsbluff greeted us with spectacular sunset skies that made a beautiful backdrop for Chimney Rock. We were starving by the time we got to town at 8:30pm so ate before checking into the hotel for the night.

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When in western Nebraska, the first thing you should do is leave Nebraska. No, seriously, that is exactly what we did. We drove the 45 minutes to Register Cliff which is in Wyoming. Register Cliff was a stopping point for settlers on the Oregon Trail. There are hundreds of names inscribed from those who had traveled the trail centuries ago. It was amazing to see the names and imagine who they were and what their story was. We even found someone with the last name of See…pretty unusual when we haven’t even met someone else with our last name before.

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Our next stop was off of the same road as Register Cliff. The Guernsey Ruts are wagon ruts carved into rock. Hundreds and thousands of wagons made the trek west, and their mark is branded into the ground that they trod. I was amazed at what humans did. Guernsey Ruts has an easy, paved trail that made a loop. It also has a lovely picnic shelter with great views. We ate lunch there with the lunch food we had packed for the weekend (ham sandwiches, BLTs, boiled eggs, pasta salad, popcorn chicken, and cookies).

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After lunch, we headed back the way we had come into the town of Fort Laramie. Here we drove to the old Fort Laramie. Originally established as a fur trading fort in 1834, it transformed into a military post. It housed soldiers until 1890 when it was sold at auction to homesteaders. Eventually, there were efforts made to preserve the many buildings at the fort. Some of the buildings have been redone, but others lie in ruins. It took around two hours to make our way around the fort and through the different buildings. It was truly fascinating. Fort Laramie is a bit of civilization in the middle of nowhere.

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We enjoyed our time in Wyoming, but it was time to head back to Nebraska. We stopped at a few places like a gift shop for ice cream in the town of Fort Laramie and down a dirt road to an access point for the Platte River. We also found the Army Iron Bridge. It was built in 1875, a bit too late for many of the settlers to use to cross the Platte, but just in time to be used by the military. Simply, we just explored anything interesting along the way which made for a wonderful day.

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Army Iron Bridge

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Platte River Access Point

Day two was hike day. Our biggest hike we scheduled for the morning to avoid the heat and so we were fresh. Scotts Bluff National Monument was a landmark for those on the Oregon Trail on their way west. Prairie grasses give way to a large rock formation guiding them on their way. Entering the park costs $5 for a seven day pass. We hit the trail to the top of the bluff. It was 1.6 miles one way and straight up. It was a nice paved path, but steep in areas. For those who don’t want to hike the trail, no worries, you can drive to the top. It was a fabulous walk with amazing views and a tunnel through the bluff. I’ll admit, I was glad to get to the top, though. Your girl was a bit winded. At the top are some .5 mile loops with various views. We walked those too and walked back down. Tip: don’t forget sunscreen. We had to put some on at the top of the trail.

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Once a bit sweaty and sun-kissed, we meandered down the road to Chimney Rock, 30 minutes away. We ate lunch in the parking lot (it would have been better to eat at Scotts Bluff in hindsight). The Chimney Rock visitor center costs to enter the museum and viewing center. We decided that it wasn’t worth it, so we just grabbed some pictures outside and went to our next stop. It is important to realize you can’t hike to Chimney Rock.

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We hit the road once more and traveled to Jail and Courthouse Rock. This one is off the beaten path a bit. We drove past it at first, but turned around to head down a dirt road lined with sunflowers. It leads to a dead-end road. There is a small footpath that goes up to the rock figures. There are no signs, so we were cautious, but absolutely loved the seclusion and adventure. Highly recommend this stop.

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Our last stop of the day was a random place Garrett found called Riverside Park. It has a campground, zoo, and a great path along the river with informative signs. It was a great way to end the day!

Our last day on vacation, we drove an hour north to Agate Fossil Beds. Make sure you fill up your gas tank before heading up there. Gas stations and cell service aren’t a thing.

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Agate used to be a ranch, but the rancher found fossils in the 1890’s. Originally, the land was Lakota Sioux territory. It is a gorgeous area with a fabulous museum. The rancher was a big friend with the Lakota and a room filled with gifts given to him are on display. There are two trails on the premises. One is short, but shows fossilized burrows. The other trail is a little over two miles, but paved with great views and old dig sites! We picnicked at the base of the trail.

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This is a fossilized burrow.

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Leaving Agate, we turned on a dirt road that we took for about 30 miles. The remoteness was astounding, and we even saw pronghorn!

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On the way home, we stopped at Carhenge in Alliance. It was a short stop, but it is fascinating to see a man’s imagination and artistic ability. We took HWY 2 home. These were more back-roads but some great sights. The biggest issue is there aren’t a lot of options for food, but with proper planning, it isn’t an issue.

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While many Nebraskans will tell you to leave Nebraska to go on vacation (and technically we did that the first day), the state of Nebraska has some amazing places just waiting to be explored.

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We made a u-turn to take a picture of this beauty. Props to Garrett for being the photographer.

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