Friday, September 25, 2015


  Valentine is the gateway to the Niobrara National Scenic River. It is popular for canoeing and rafting, the longest run taking over 7 hours in a canoe and 14 hours just floating.  The  river and its feeder streams  have 230 waterfalls. One, on the Snake River tributary, is Nebraska’s widest falls; Smith Falls is its highest.


The area is interesting in several respects. This is the farthest east that ponderosa pines grow naturally. The wider general area is named the Sand Hills.The sand is quite compacted and of small grains. It grows grasses, forbs and a few kinds of trees, but is not suited to agriculture besides cattle grazing and haying.


After passing through the Niobrara Wildlife Reserve, we came across this white cliff eroded by the river.




This small falls is just downstream from the Berry Bridge


Two or three outfitters have watercrafts here for rent. An oversized tube costs about $35.00 per person per day.


Tubers and canoeists parked here for refreshments on shore. Here I saw two people floating down the river wearing just life jackets.



This is a typical flotilla of tubes. The small yellow ones are for coolers. Most of the river is quite shallow. The man at the far left is standing on the bottom to hold the group of tubes.  Looks like a lot of fun.



At Smith Falls State Park we walked across this bridge in its third location to take the short walk up a side canyon to Smith Falls, Nebraska’s tallest at 70 feet.



The wood walkway was easy to walk. This is our first view of the falls.



Here is most of the falls, with me in the foreground.


And  here is the bottom of the falls.



This shows several miles of the Niobrara valley



On Sept 7 we took the 25 mile  ride to the Snake River falls. It is located on private property, with admission fee of just $1.00 per person. There is no sign at the intersection of NE Hwy 97 and the gravel road going north to the parking area. It is located at about mile 190.2.  A landmark at the intersection is a round metal cattle watering tank.

Once we paid, a sign directed us to a trail.


This is the best part of the trail – not maintained and challenging to senior citizens. It gets much worse beyond. We stopped near this point and relied on telephoto features of the camera to get shots of the nice falls.



Jo, with parts of the rough trail  beyond..



This time of year the flow over the falls  is much less than in the spring with water from snow melt.



We stayed the week ending on Labor Day at a small RV park at Valentine NE while on our way the the Black Hills. Valentine  is the gateway to the Niobrara National Scenic River. It is popular for rafting, the longest run taking over 7 hours. The river has several waterfalls to attract tourists. One is Nebraska’s widest falls, another is its highest.

The Sioux City & Pacific Railroad, nicknamed the Cowboy Trail, (bought by the Chicago & Northwestern in 1901) served the town until 1992. Its old roadbed (minus salvaged rails, ties and ballast) has been preserved as a Rails to Trails pathway.  The Cowboy Trail is paved through town and nicely graveled at least west of town. I took walks along the trail and found walking an old roadbed is quite pleasant. No significant elevation changes. But it goes through an industrial area which sometimes was not pretty. There is even an active stock pen area where I watched young cattle being loaded into a double decked semi trailer.

 The pictures are taken my cell phone 10 mp camera.



 On my walk I spied this odd-looking pickup  so I walked over for a closer look.



It is a 1955 1 1/2 ton Reo Gold Comet. The owner told me that the Reo body is on an old Ford pickup platform.



A pavilion in a city park the Cowboy Trail  has some design elements of the railroad depot.



Wast of town is a long railroad bridge on which the Cowboy Trail runs.



This crawler tractor will never run again!


Does anyone need a nice set of front fenders for a truck?


The railroad rails were removed about 1992, but these rails in a siding remained. From the size of the tall tree stump close to the rail, it appears that the siding was not used for many years before the abandonment.


A claim to fame of the city is this building, the oldest standing high school building in Nebraska. It now is named Centennial Hall and houses a museum and supporting thrift shop.


Black Hills 1

We arrived in the Rapid City SD area on Sept. 8 to stay at the Coast to Coast park, Rushmore Shadows. It has undergone several improvements since we first stayed there several years ago. It is fairly close to Custer State Park and Mt. Rushmore, as well as the Black Hills Central Railroad.


The next three pictures were taken in Custer State Park of pronghorn (antelope) and bison.





This bull was branded on his rear quarter. The bison are rounded up annually and the herd reduced to the projected carrying capacity of the range.


We wound up our tour of Custer State Park with lunch at its Sylvan Lake Lodge, below. It began raining while we were there, so we called it a day and returned to the RV. 





On the next clear  day we visited Keystone, Hill City, and ‘chased” the 1880 train from Hill City back to Keystone.



Most of the tourist stores of Keystone are located on two blocks of Main St.


I was surprised to see this diesel locomotive next to the train station in Keystone. The railroad’s brochure indicated that the first round trip of the day from Hill City to Keystone would be headed by this loco.



Mt. Rushmore sculptures from the highway. One of the tunnels on Iron Mountain road was built to frame the sculptures. Of course the view from the Visitor’s Center is much better. The only charge there is the $11.00 per vehicle fee for the parking garage.


A railfan is said to be chasing a train when he plans to be at each intersection of the train tracks and a road to see (and photograph) the train as it passes the crossing. Here is is best done from Hill City as on the way back from Keystone the locomotive leads the consist of cars running backwards. There is no facility in Keystone to turn the engine. Above is the Black Hills Central Railroad’s standard gauge steam locomotive, a 6-6-2 T. The two sets of 6 wheels are articulated to go around the tight curves. The T stands for the water tank being mounted over the boiler.


Another railfan and I got pictures of the train at several crossings.





I was also taking movies of the train at the crossings using my GoPro Hero tiny video camera. For the first time I tried it both mounted on a monopod and later on a headband, above (but not at that jaunty angle). The monopod held the camera steadier. I need to remember to point the camera downward more when using it on the headband.

Black Hills 2 – FMCA 4 WHEELERS

On Sept. 13 we moved to the Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort near Spearfish SD for a Discovery Trek gathering of 15 members of the  FMCA 4 Wheelers. Our task was to scout roads in the northern part of the Black Hills to see if they were enough suitable for full-blown rally. The conclusion was that more roads needed to be explored, identified and rated. There is no published book for 4 wheeling in the Black Hills, as there is for Moab UT, Arizona and Colorado.


Jo and I drove together one day, I was alone in our Grand Cherokee for another, one day was rained out and I rode the other two with Jim Gaymon. The road on my second day of driving was particularly scenic, with parts looking like Colorado above timberline.



This road would be rated at 2 out of 5, fairly easy.


Lunch time!


This was on a road our first day. It had bypasses( rated at 2) to avoid the difficult parts in a creek bottom rated 3 or 4. (I do not take roads above  2.5 rating.) Above and  below are difficult parts . I rated a part with no bypass as a 2.5.




We managed to find time for a happy hour nearly every afternoon.






Another day all of our jeeps went out together, splitting into two groups later for exploring. Here we paused to view the Bridal Veil falls along the Spearfish Canyon road.



Bridal Veil Falls


Here are three of the hosts for the group, Bob Reich, Ken Pysick, and Jeff  O’Daniel.



We next visited a larger falls on Spearfish Creek further up the canyon.


This day I rode with Jim Gaymon, here airing down for what proved to be an easy 2 road.



Thursday night our group went to dinner in the historic Fremont Hotel in Deadwood. The casino machines in the lobby detracted from an historic ambiance. The food was fine.



On Sat Sept. 19 I hitched a ride with Jim Gaymon to run a rough road. We were guided by Josh of Dakota Customs on a creek bottom trail with road number 8284 near Nemo named Iceman. The rough part was a  little over a mile long, and it was an in and out road, so obstacles had to be conquered going each way. It was a fun run, and I also filmed some with the GoPro Hero tiny video camera.



Here are the Boatmans being spotted by Josh as they roll over a steep drop.


This is a better view of the drop.


A tree had fallen across the road. Some pushing raised it a little, but a stub of a branch was hanging down too far for the height of our jeeps, so Josh got out his chain saw and took off the offending stub, below. What a guy!





Key Pysick successfully got over this obstacle. Some chose to take the bypass instead.


Boatmans made this one look easy, but with some spotting!


Jim had to do some careful wheel placement on this one.


After lunch, on the way back Ken wanted to tackle going over these two boulders. Marks on them showed that others had tried, and perhaps some of them made it.


This was as far as Ken got in three tries – with lots of rock stacking and spotting help.


The Boatmans also tried, hoping that their shorter wheelbase would be the answer to them getting over it. Unfortunately, the trailer hitch dragged so they had to back off.