Kansas and Nebraska: Prairie dogs and Oregon Trail ruts

After our Western swing, we needed to be back in Minneapolis for a work conference at the end of March. That meant we had to go back through Kansas and Iowa, and visit Nebraska for the first time.

Kansas

We stayed one night at a Colorado state park with a pretty lake and distant views of the Rockies. It was almost empty with a nice playground.

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The next day we blasted into Kansas, pouring on the miles and making it to Prairie Dog State Park. We were the only campers there. It was very nice! We let the dogs run around unleashed for the first time in quite a while. Braden enjoyed the playground. The park has a fun statue of its namesake at the entrance and we got to see the prairie dog town they have near the campground. The more interesting wildlife we saw were the pheasants. They are very colorful, bigger than we had imagined and super fast runners.

While driving through Kansas, we saw a sign marking the geographical center of the United States and had to stop for a photo.

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Oregon Trail ruts in Nebraska

IMG_0610Heading north in March and finding campgrounds has been difficult. A lot of the campgrounds do not open until May. At the open campgrounds the visitor centers are closed, no one answers the phone, no rangers patrol and there are self-pay stations. Water is often turned off, which is fine if we know ahead of time and can fill up the freshwater tank in the RV. We didn’t know the water would be turned off at Rock Creek Station State Park in Nebraska. That’s ironic because the reason we visited Rock Creek Station was because it has well-preserved wagon ruts from settlers on the Oregon Trail. If playing the 1990s Oregon Trail computer game taught me anything, it’s that you always need clean water on the Oregon Trail. We did eventually find water by filling up our water carrier at the faucet on the side of the visitor center and lugging it five-gallons at a time to our into the RV’s tank.

Finding the park was tough because of a road closure. We were pulled over on the highway near the “Road Closed” sign when a good Samaritan pulled up and gave us directions. I think I like Nebraskans!

IMG_1245Rock Creek Station was a stopover point for the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express where one local entrepreneur eventually built a toll bridge over a creek to make some money and help passersby avoid going out of their way to get around the creek.

We found the ruts and it was cool to think about all of the other travelers who might have camped there. I had just started a book, “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey,” where the writer recreates the settler’s journey. The book tells some of their stories and it was fun to think about where they were coming from and where they were going (and how many of them died of dysentery on their way). The nearby stream, definitely lookIMG_1242ed like it might have been able to provide some dysentery or cholera.

I really wanted to know more about this place and wish they had left information or a map or something outside of the closed visitor center.

Just like in Kansas, we didn’t see another person in the whole campground. But we did see a huge flock of healthy-looking turkeys. At least if we had been on the Oregon Trail journey, we would have been able to catch some food.

Iowa

From there, we stayed one night in Iowa, reacquainted ourselves with Cracker Barrel in Des Moines, and crossed into Minnesota. That’s all any of us remember about Iowa.

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