Toadstools and Gravel Roads

Thursday, August 27, 2009
Fort Robinson State Park
Crawford, NE

Today was one of those days when I felt like I'm finally getting my act together with this web site and blog stuff. Before retiring last night, I updated the front page of our website as well as an writing an entry in The RV Sabbatical Journal. As a result, this morning I didn't have to start the computer -- or as I'm lovingly calling it these days... the "confuser" -- at all. Instead, we got up early and went out for a morning walk, to commune with nature, and to go get a hot breakfast at the little restaurant in the main Park office. OK, I'm sure the calories we burned during our walk were more than replaced in that egg, sausage, and hash brown breakfast, but it just felt good to get outside and not have to deal with any electronics for a while.

After breakfast we loaded up a very light picnic lunch, some portable water for hiking, all the necessary cameras and gear for a day of exploring, and headed out with the car to see some things a bit further away than we can bike. Our first exploration was the Smiley Canyon Scenic Drive, part of which we actually did explore by bike yesterday. It's a 6 mile long scenic drive through the hills and buttes to the west of the park. The State has a herd of bison out there, and there are antelope all over the place. Between the wildlife and the scenery it was a cool place to explore.

Then, the big exploration of the day... the Toadstool Geologic Park about 20 miles to the north. Located in the Oglala National Grassland, Toadstool is an area of "badlands"-like land that looks like you'd imagine the surface of the moon might. It's actually an accumulation of soft material called "claystone" with a harder sandstone above it. The claystone erodes much faster than the sandstone and leaves strange formations that look a little like toadstools... thus the name of the place.

From Toadstools

We took a self-guided hike through the middle of it all and took some very interesting pictures. Despite warnings to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes we pushed on, undaunted. What else would intrepid explorers do? The landscape is unlike anything I've seen before, with unusual shapes and formations wherever you look.

They've dated these rock layers to about 30 million years ago. There are places they say you can see the ancient footprints of early animals -- locked in time as the mud hardened into rock. OK, if they say so. My untrained eye saw what they were talking about but it looked like pockmarks, holes punched in the rock. I suppose experts know more about these things than we do, so we'll go with their explanation.

From Toadstools

To get out to Toadstool we had to drive about 15 miles on gravel and dirt roads... each way. That, combined with other exploring we did on gravel roads earlier around Valentine and in Iowa has left the new car looking a bit weather-beaten, dusty, and sad. The next time we have freshwater hookups at our campsite I'll have to wash the poor thing. It's performing (and towing) like a champ, but exploring can be hard on a toad.

We got back to Fort Robinson in plenty of time to visit the Fort Robinson Historical Museum, where we learned why and how this facility came into being. It was an active Fort from 1874 until after WWII -- a period of more than 70 years. At first it's role was to protect early settlers and keep peace with the Indians. Later it was utilized as a cavalry "remount" facility, where horses are trained for use with the cavalry. During WWII it served as a canine training facility and was a prisoner of war facility for about 3,000 German POW's. It's durability had much to do with the fact that the Chicago & North Western Railroad came right through the fort, which made it relatively easy to get people and supplies in and out.

So that was our day. At this point we're thinking we'll stay here until Saturday and take a break from exploring tomorrow. This little corner of Nebraska is called Pine Ridge and we're both feeling good about the area. I think we'll make it a point to be back for further explorations on a later leg of our journey.



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