Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chapter 8 - Grand Island to Ogallala, Nebraska

Tuesday, June 9th:  
Our drive to Ogallala (named after the Ogala Sioux Tribe) will be our shortest daily drive since we left Florida two weeks ago.  The total distance will be just under two hundred miles and if we make only one rest stop and no stops for gas, then we expect we will be on the road only 3-1/2 hours. Despite the obvious fact that there was no reason to get on the road early, Kathy and I being creatures of habit ending up rising at 6 AM and hitting the road by 8 AM.  This schedule would have placed us in Ogallala in southwestern Nebraska by 11:30 AM were it not for one important fact that we had over looked - we passed into the Mountain Time Zone as we drove down I-80 and immediately we had to set our clocks back one hour.  We arrived at the Country View Campground at 10:30 AM their time which probably made us the earliest arrival in this campground's history. Only an older couple traveling without children could accomplish such a feat.  You might see in the above photograph in the distance our small travel trailer and you might also see that the RV park was almost empty.  Fortunately for the owner of the park by the evening the park was almost half full.  From our standpoint "not crowded" is always a real positive.

Once again as we drive across our country we are amazed at how much the scenery changes over relatively short distances.  When we left Grand Island in eastern Nebraska the flat lands on both sides of the interstate we covered as far as the eye could see with young corn plantings.  As we traveled west the corn plantings diminished and soon the farmlands were obviously cattle ranches and much of the land was planted with wheat. And while the rise in elevation as we crossed the country to the west was not particularly discernible, we know from research that the elevation in St Louis was 465 feet above sea level, rising to 1,160 feet by Kansas City, then 1,860 feet in Grand Island.  Our cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia was around 1,800 feet above sea level and it seemed so much higher than the flat countryside of eastern Nebraska.  The rise in elevation as we drove the 200 miles from Grand Island to Ogallala was much more dramatic rising from 1,860 feet to 3,222 feet although here again the rise was so gradual that it was not noticeable. This Thursday we will continue our Oregon Trail Trip by driving to Cheyenne, Wyoming, a distance of around 170 miles. Perhaps by this leg of our trip we will finally notice the rise in elevation. Cheyenne has an average elevation of 6,115 feet above sea level or a rise of approximately 2,900 feet above our RV space here in the Country View Campground.  I sure hope we will be able to breathe at such a high elevation. The photograph to the right above shows Kathy and Cabo entering a gift shop in Ogallala that was disguised for the tourists' benefit as an old jail circa late 1800s.  I was smart enough not to enter the jail this day.

After a brief drive through downtown Ogallala, followed by a stop at the gas station and a trip to Walmart, we pretty much spent the afternoon inside the air conditioned interior of our travel trailer as the temperatures outside were near a record breaking 92 degrees.  The average high temperature for this date in this area is only around 80 degrees so it is no wonder that some of the local residents were complaining about the heat. While we had never heard of Ogallala, Nebraska before deciding to stop here on our way to Oregon, it turns out that the city does have an interesting history although it is mostly unrelated to the Oregon Trail. While most of the emigrants heading west followed the north branch of the Platt River which passes just north of Ogallaga, the south branch of the Platt (photograph above) which does pass through Ogallala did see some emigrant activity plus the area was also on the path of the famous Pony Express which operated from April 1860 to October 1861 as well as being on a stage coach route.  It was not however, until the Union Pacific Railroad established in 1867 a stopping point in the area with the construction of a house and a water tank, that the town had its origins. Orallala's real claim to fame began in 1873 when it became a destination point for Texas cattle drives along with other such cities as Kansas City and Cheyenne. The cattle drive to Ogallala became known as the Texas Trail and by 1876 as many as 125,000 cattle were herded to the city where they were loaded on trains bound for Chicago. During the summer months Oragalla became the host to a multitude of cowhands, cattle barons, saloon operators, gamblers, dance hall girls, and tradesmen - a rough and tumble wild west town soon to be well known as Nebraska's "Cowboy Capital."  Ogallala reign as the "Queen of the Cowtowns" ended after only a decade in 1885.

Wednesday, June 10th:
Today we will explore the town of Ogallala. Unfortunately very few of the old original buildings have survived today in Ogallala and virtually nothing has survived that reminded us of the town's Cowboy days. They have their own Boot Hill cemetery where many of the cowboys were buried but it is a little disappointing in that most of the old gravestones were destroyed over the years.  Apparently the cemetery was used by children as a sledding hill and as they road their sleds down the rather steep hill they occasionally crashed into and broke off the small headstones. Before the historical significance of the cemetery was recognized which was only just recently, the local residents apparently disposed of the headstones as trash.  

While there does not appear to be any of the original gravestones in the cemetery, the statue of a cowboy on his horse that sits in the center of the graveyard was worth the visit even if the statue was not actually placed in the cemetery until 2007. Boot Hill as you can see in both of these photographs is covered with weeds which does have the visual effect of making the place look kind of old, mysterious, and abandoned. We suspect that the city leaves the cemetery looking this unkempt on purpose.  


Not far from the Boot Hill Cemetery sits one of the oldest surviving houses in Ogallala which was built in 1887 shortly after the demise of the cattle shipping industry in the city.  We did not visit the interior of the "Mansion on the Hill" for a number of reasons not the least of which was the presence of Cabo, although the exterior of the building was worth a photograph. The mansion unfortunately is located on an otherwise commercially oriented street which has the effect of detracting from its charm.

We suspect that the tourist attraction that draws the largest crowds to Ogallala are not the few historical attractions that we have mentioned and photographed above, but the large Lake McConaughy that was created beginning in 1936 by the construction of the Kingsley Dam on the North Platt River.  The lake created by the damming of the river covers 35,700 acres and contains 76 miles of shoreline. We were able to drive across the top of the dam and the view looking east down the North Platt River is spectacular as somewhat shown in this photograph despite the intrusion of the old man partially blocking the view.

The weather today has been cooler rising to only the low 80s by mid-afternoon.  Rain is expected this evening. Tomorrow we are driving to Cheyenne probably in the rain and the high temperature about the time of our arrival is projected to be only 64 degrees.  Truthfully, we cannot say that we only expected great weather during the full length of our trip, but at the same time, wet weather with a high in the low 60s and a low in the high 40s is about as bad as any crummy winter day in southwest Florida. This we did not expect. Oh well. Our trailer has a heater. We brought warm clothes.  We have lots of good books. Food and drink. The TV works. "Who could ask for anything more."      

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading about your visit to our fair city. I am so sorry you had to skip the tour of the Mansion on the hill; the historian that gives the tours is very knowledgeable of our history and could have pointed you towards additional historical landmarks. The reason the Mansion is located on a commercially oriented street is because that is where it was originally built. H.L. McWilliams, the local banker in 1887, contracted with L.A. Brandhoefer to have the home built at the end of the commercial district, on the hill where he could view the town below. To read more about it go to:

    I am very happy that you were able to visit Lake McConaughy; we are very proud of our beautiful lake with white sandy beaches and 104 miles of shore line. I hope you will come and visit again soon.