Nebraska-Part 2 (Crofton & Valentine) and a few places in between
In September 2020 we traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to run in the Omaha Half Marathon, our 41st half marathon on our quest to 50. We planned this trip to coincide with the Buffalo Roundup in Custer, South Dakota. So we made a long vacation out of it with 5 nights in Nebraska and 5 in South Dakota. You can read about our time in Omaha in my Nebraska-Part 1 blog, and now we travel North to Sioux City, Iowa. Our main reason for going to Sioux City was for the Hard Rock Cafe. Dave always gets a hat and me a shirt. It was about an hour and forty-five minute drive from Omaha. We took the longer route staying in Nebraska and just crossing over the bridge of the Missouri River to Iowa as we approached the Hard Rock. We got there on a Monday morning and the town was pretty shut down with many stores and restaurants closed on Mondays. The Hard Rock store had not opened yet so we decided to drive and and see a local attraction, Chief War Eagle's final resting place and monument.
It sits atop a bluff that overlooks the river and three states: Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Chief War Eagle was known as the Friend of White Man. He was a peaceful chief who supported the American government during the War of 1812. He was elected the tribal chief of the Yankton Sioux tribe in the mid 1830's. Chief War Eagle traveled to Washington D.C. in an 1837 summit to establish peace treaties throughout the land. It was then that he was presented with the Silver Peace Medal by President Martin Van Buren. There is an urban legend as to why Sioux City doesn't have any major emergencies or severe weather and it's because the city is overlooked by Chief War Eagle.
After visiting the Chief and picking up our Hard Rock apparel we drove West for about an hour to the town of Yankton, South Dakota. It was there that we found Ben's Brewing Company for some very cold, tasty beer and of course shirts.
Just down the street from the brewery is the Meridian Bridge that connects Yankton, SD to Nebraska. It is a double decker pedestrian bridge that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The bridge was originally built in anticipation of railroad usage however that never happened. It's a beautiful bridge that crosses the Missouri River but, unlike the Bob's Bridge in Omaha there is no visible state line telling you when you've entered the next state.
From Yankton we drove the 15 minutes back into Nebraska to our bed and breakfast The Historic Argo Hotel in Crofton. The Argo was built in 1912 originally as a hotel which later transformed into a hospital before becoming a hotel again. It has nine bedrooms all with their own bathrooms and is said to be one of the most haunted places in Nebraska. We were the only customers in the house the night we slept over. Although we never saw any ghosts its was still worth staying there. We slept in the "Leslie Brooks" suite which was room #1. Leslie Brooks was a Nebraskan native movie star in the 1940's who as a little girl lived in the Argo Hotel for some time. If you look at the picture of the front of the hotel the Leslie Brooks room are the two left windows on the second floor. You can scroll through the rest of the pictures to see the inside of the house. The owners gave us a tour of the building which included their extensive book collection in the basement. There were numerous old photos of the town and many authentic pieces of history that they have meticulously preserved. From the old photos we've seen, the exterior of this hotel looks exactly as it did was it was built. The next morning we woke up to a delicious homemade breakfast before driving West.
After breakfast we took our time driving Highway 12, the Nebraska Outlaw Scenic Byway. It took us through cornfield after cornfield, some having huge windmills. We also drove along the beautiful Niobrara River. We drove for about 3 hours before reaching the town of Valentine, NE.
Our first stop was to Runza, a Nebraskan fast food chain restaurant specializing in runzas. A runza is a hot bread pocket filled with ground beef and cabbage. You can add a variety of extra items to your runza and I choose American cheese. It is a must try when in Nebraska.
The Welcome Center in Valentine proved to be very helpful. After much contemplation we choose to visit the Cowboy Trail and Smith Falls State Park. The Cowboy Trail is part of the "Rails to Trails" conservancy project. It consists of 189 miles of old railroad tracks converted into hiking, biking or equestrian trails. Valentine is the western most town of the trail. We drove to the parking lot of one of the entrances and walked to the nearest bridge. Actually, we walked 3/4 of a mile in the wrong direction before realizing it. We then turned back walking past our car and then another half mile to the bridge. Had it not been 93 degrees with Dave carrying 20 pounds of camera equipment it would have been a great workout.
Next, it was to Smith Falls State Park home of the tallest waterfall in Nebraska at 70 feet. We pretty much had the park to ourselves and it was such a beautiful day. Once we entered the park there were picnic benches scattered along both sides of Niobrara River with a footbridge connecting the sides. You can canoe, kayak or float the river in a tube. At the far end of the bridge is the path to the falls. As soon as we entered the area of the Smith Falls we immediately felt the refreshing cool air. We followed the boardwalk under the shade of the trees to the end until we reached the cold cascading water. After about 15 mins of picture taking we headed back to the car and drove to our hotel for a nap before dinner.
We choose to dine at the Peppermill, a local favorite and recommended by the owners of the Argo Hotel back in Crofton as well as the woman at the Welcome Center. I choose their famous prime rib and Dave went with the N.Y. strip steak (the best steak he had all trip). The dinners came with bread, a salad and side item. Dave also ordered a soda and the bill totaled around $40. What a deal!
The whole reason we choose to visit Valentine, NE was to visit the Merritt Reservoir, only 26 miles Southwest. The Merritt Reservoir is where the Nebraska Star Party meets every August to view, photograph and learn about the stars. This is the ideal location for stargazing with no light pollution. During our 26 mile night drive to the Reservoir we unknowingly left the Central time zone and fell back into Mountain time. We drove to the Snake Campground at the end of the park, the exact location where the Star Party meets. It was pitch black out. We could see nothing without our headlights to guide us. Dave set up his tripod and began taking pictures. We tried to wait for the moon to set but after a couple of hours it was getting too late. Still, I think we have a pretty awesome picture of the stars and even a little portion of the Milky Way. What a great way to wrap up the Nebraska portion of our trip!