Day 7 Summary
Scottsbluff, Nebraska to Grand Island, Nebraska
Saturday, July 22, 2006
The most well-known attraction in Scottsbluff is a bluff just to the south of town that was one of the most recognizable landmarks to those traveling west on Oregon Trail. The bluff as well as the surrounding countryside has been preserved for all to see at Scotts Bluff National Monument. I must admit, time constraints did not allow me to go to the monument and enjoy the view from the top. Nevertheless, I did get some good pictures from the outskirts of Scottsbluff.
Incidentally, Scott’s Bluff is only one of many bluff and rock formations along the North Platte River in the panhandle of Nebraska. Another landmark that emigrants on the Oregon Trail easily recognized was Chimney Rock, which is about 20 miles east of Scott’s Bluff. Even though Chimney Rock was another place I regrettably did not have time to visit, I was able to see it from over 8 miles away on U.S. Highway 26.
The quickest way to get from Scottsbluff to Grand Island is to take a combination of U.S. Highway 26 and Interstate 80. Even so, that wasn’t the route I chose. Instead, I got on U.S. Highway 385 near the town of Angora. 25 miles up the road in Alliance, I headed off onto Nebraska Highway 2 so that I could take the long way into Grand Island.
One thing I did stop to see near Alliance, however, was Carhenge, one of those quirky pieces of roadside Americana. It’s a replica of the well-known Stonehenge in England with the only difference being that it’s made up of old cars painted grey to match the corresponding stones 4,500 miles away. If you are ever in the Alliance area, Carhenge is definitely something you should go see. The place seemed pretty busy; there’s even construction underway on a visitor’s center.
Getting back to what I was saying, the reason I opted to take the longer way into Grand Island is because I wanted to travel through one of the least populated places in the United States: the sand hills of Nebraska.
The sand hills lie in a 24,000 square foot area bounded roughly by the Nebraska-South Dakota border, U.S. Highway 183, U.S. Highway 385, and Interstate 80. Quite expectedly, the sand hills are gentle, rolling hills composed of sand. It’s important to note, however, that the sand is highly infertile; few trees or any tall vegetation can grow naturally. Farming is completely out of the question. About the only commodity the sand hills can produce is potash for fertilizers. Even so, extracting what little potash is available is quite expensive. As a sign near Antioch stated, the only time the United States has turned to the sand hills for potash requirements was during World War II when non-domestic sources of the salts rose in price.
So, since the land doesn’t provide much in the way of viable natural resources, it’s easy to see why the sand hills were largely overlooked during settlement of the American west. Even so, you can’t make the claim that nobody lives in the region. Quite a few small towns – with populations of a couple hundred each – dot the 180 mile or so stretch of Highway 2 that passes through the sand hills. One of the towns along the road, Mullen, gets the distinction of being one of the only cities in the country that is a county unto itself. Mullen is the county seat of Hooker County. However, It just so happens that Mullen is the only city in Hooker County. What’s more, Hooker County only has a population of 783, and 491 of those people are residents of Mullen.
Another example of the desolateness of the sand hills is seen when a traveler in the region searches for radio stations on the FM dial. Once the road passes the nearly-forgotten town of Ashby, it’s only possible to clearly pick up one FM radio station: a public radio affiliate that, by and large, plays nothing but classical music.
An ironic aspect of Highway 2 is that I saw more out-of-state license plates than Nebraska license plates along the stretch that leads through the sand hills. The area does seem to get a fair amount of tourist traffic through it. Like me, a lot of people probably like the area’s remoteness.
Without warning, the sand hills end near the town of Anselmo. The land reverts back to one that can sustain trees and agriculture. Suddenly, the countryside looks more like Nebraska, with field upon field of corn right alongside the road.
After another small town, Merna, Highway 2 comes up to Broken Bow, which, after spending all day in the sand hills, seems like a bustling metropolis. With a population of 3,491, Broken Bow is the only city with a population over 1,500 in the 274 miles of Highway 2 that separate Alliance from Grand Island.
From Broken Bow, Grand Island is still another 80 miles away. There are a few small towns – like Mason City, Litchfield, Hazard, and Ravenna – along the way, but there’s not much to say about any of them. Instead, it’s easier just to say that Grand Island was where day 7 of my vacation concluded.
An overview of the bluffs south of Scottsbluff - Scott's Bluff is the tall bluff on the left
A closeup of Scott's Bluff
The following four photos were taken at Carhenge - I have provided captions where neccesary
This is a second section off to the side of Carhenge filled with random old cars that didn't get included in the main exhibit
The following five photos depict typical scenery within the sand hills - I have provided captions where neccesary
There are a few natural lakes and streams within the sand hills, as illustrated in this picture taken near the town of Lakeside
Low-grade camcorder pictures:
Another scene of some typical sand hills scenery - there's nobody else on the road in this shot either
The road enters the Central Time Zone between Mullen and Seneca
Sorry, no video from this day