Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cheyenne Depot Museum, Wyoming

The Cheyenne Depot Museum is great for a train fix.

Kids under 12 are free and adults are $7 with discounts for military and seniors.  The gift shop had some great train books, one of which my father-in-law was seeking.

Upstairs is a big model railroad layout.  Some sections are not yet complete, and all the work is done by volunteers.  It may not be open if they are on a break and the museum is short staffed.  We sweet-talked them into opening it for us.  The detail was incredible.

There are a few details that are fun to look for.

Off to the side was a small system for kids to operate.  The lady in charge also let the kids work the main layout, under careful supervision.

Downstairs is an inlaid map of the railroad with completion dates.  Shades of marble indicated altitude.

Other Attractions in Cheyenne.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Agate Fossil Beds, Nebraska

North of Scottsbluff on the west side of Nebraska are the Agate Fossil Beds.

Watch for local wildlife.  We nearly stepped on this guy as we came out the door.  The rangers had snake handling equipment handy, but it wasn't necessary.  He was non-venomous and just passing through.

Since you have to walk a couple miles from the visitors' center to get to the main fossil site, a lot of  finds were brought to the museum.  The animals here date from 19-21 million years ago when grassland had almost completely replaced jungle due to climate change.  The finds are mostly mammals such as rhinos and camels and bear-dogs.  A kind of burrowing beaver made spiral burrows that fossilized and perplexed paleontologists for many years.

I took a lot of pictures of the James H. Cook collection of Native Indian artifacts, but it was so dark and cool (for preservation) that none of them came out very well.  It was pretty neat though.  The rangers plainly had a lot of admiration for Cook and looking through the collection was easy to see why.  He was a man of integrity and generosity whose relationship with the Lakota Sioux and their Chief Red Cloud was deep and of mutual respect.  Many of them came to work on his land and he was able to protect some of them from the government, and they gave him numerous gifts of amazing artistry.  Over and over they requested he be made an official representative between the reservations and the United States, but it never came to pass.  Cook ranched on most the surrounding hills and his descendants decided his possessions should stay with the land.

Meanwhile, I don't think much of the land has changed from Cook's days.

Unfortunately between the heat, our traveling time constraints, and the physical capabilities of our kids, we didn't make the hike to the actual quarry site.  I really wish they had a shuttle that drove out there.  The kids still got their junior ranger badges.

The nearest town is Mitchell to the south.  It has gas and fast food.  Scottsbluff is a few more miles away and much more substantial.

Nearby attractions: Toadstool Geologic Park, Scotts Bluff, Fort Robinson, Carhenge, Chimney Rock.
Similar attraction: Ashfall Fossil Beds, Dinosaur National Monument

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska

After sighting and passing Chimney Rock, wagon trains would aim for the pass between the bluffs where the Mormon, California, and Oregon trails forked.  It marked a change in terrain and conditions as well.  Scotts Bluff is on the northern side of the pass.  Today it is a national monument to history.

Kids can get junior range packets in the museum.  To fill them out properly, you'll have to venture to more than just the base.

Outside the museum center was a trapper displaying his tools and some of his pelts.

He wasn't adverse to taking scalps, especially unusual red ones.

The museum focused on the pioneer wagon trains.  Below is an odometer so they could measure their progress, especially since the great plains had so few landmarks.  Most made only about 10 miles per day.

Outdoors a path parallel to the road pass had larger displays.  The wagons are a lot narrower than we envisioned, probably due to Hollywood misrepresentations.

Believe it or not, you can go all the way up there.  You can walk a 3 mile trail or drive up.

The view from the top shows a green river plain.  It probably isn't surprising that many travelers chose to stay.

The ribbon in the middle is the walking trail.  Both ways up involve tunnels.

Looking down at one of the tunnels on the road up.

Below you can see the visitors' center and the first leg of the road up.

You can walk along the top for about a half mile on either side of the parking lot.

Several sturdy stone walls will help you feel relaxed with your little ones running around.  Much of it is paved and handicap accessible.

Some of the rock graffiti dates back to pioneer times.

Scottsbluff is big enough for hotels and restaurants of variety and Walmart, etc.  We stayed there overnight.

Nearby attractions: Chimney Rock, Carhenge, Agate Fossil Beds, North Platte National Wildlife Refuge, Miniature Lake, Various Pioneer Trail markers.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wayside Wednesday: Serpent Mound in Peebles, OH

My dad was a student of anthropology, particularly the mound building Indians of the Midwest, so as a kid we visited several of the sites.  Serpent Mound in Ohio is one of the most unusual and best preserved.

The grandparents took some of our kids there this past summer as a stop along the way to go camping.  Forgive the Vulcan sign, they had recently been to the Birthplace of James T. Kirk and somehow they got it in their head that you should always pose for shots with it.

The Adena Indian culture built the mound around 900 years ago.  Trees had to be removed to really appreciate its size and artistry.

In order to preserve the mound, you can't climb on it, but there is an observation tower and a walking path that goes around it.

Park is open daylight hours (check the website for the specific month).  Admission is by vehicle, $7 for a car if you don't have an Ohio State Park pass.  Picnic tables and a small gift shop are available.

It's a little out of the way- south of Columbus and east of Cincinnati.  The local town of Peebles is large enough for several fast food restaurants.

Similar Indian sites:
Angel Mounds, IN
Cahokia Mounds, IL
Mounds State Park, IN
Grave Creek Mound, WV
Alligator Mound, OH
Mound City, OH

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska

Way out in the middle of nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE, is the Toadstool Geologic Park of Northwestern Nebraska.  You have to drive for 20 miles from the nearest real town of Crawford, and then you have to drive 20 miles on a gravel road.  There's actually 2 roads in, but only one on the road atlas.  The southern road passes near the Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed (which we skipped) and the northern route is more through the Ogala National Grassland.

When you finally get there, you'll see this:

It's also a campground, and you pay entry by the honor system in envelopes.  In the two hours we were there, I'm not sure we qualified to need a pass, but I did it anyway to donate to the maintenance.  Not that there is much- no water, only a couple (nice) pit toilets.  Not that I'm criticizing a lack of facilities, but it's a heck of a trip to get there, so make sure you are provisioned with snacks and water.  I wouldn't recommend camping unless you are really into the rugged stuff or have a camper.

Onsite is an old sod house, which I was glad to find was not infested with wasps or anything bad.  This is rattlesnake country, after all.

 This is what you see as you start out on the loop trail through the geologic park.  These mini-badlands rise out of the prairie quite suddenly.

The girls, Miriam especially, we're not impressed and started complaining very early on.  It was hot and dusty.

Shortly into the trail, you come across an agate deposit.  There were literally lines in the sand of it, and chunks came up easily and also just laid around.

Then we headed into the more more rugged sections, and the whining from the peanut gallery increased.

Then it started to look kind of cool.

Next thing we knew, we were in a "totally awesome" moonscape that required climbing over rocks and skirting the edges of miniature cliffs.  The kids instantly perked up and enjoyed the scenery.

The "cliffs" required care, but were never really high.  If someone had fallen, maybe a bone could have been broken, but more likely just scrapes would have resulted.

The trail was marked by posts, which often you could not see the follow-on until you were right at the next one.

Some of the toadstool formations were large, and in many places you had to climb up to follow the trail.

Some toadstool clusters were positively cute.

Abruptly the trail came to an end.  Even with the heat it ended too soon.  I think it was about a mile hike, but it didn't feel that long.

"Relatively" nearby is Fort Robinson State Park, the Agate Fossil Beds and some other options on the Dawes County website.  It's right up near the South Dakota border at the corner of the Badlands.