Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hiking the Home Stretch: There be Mountains Yonder

Long's Peak looms on the horizon, as if watching me as I make my way westward at 2 1/2 miles per hour, step by step.

The finish line is in sight now.  Literally.  My final destination, the house I built on a four acre lot in the Colorado Foothills west of Fort Collins has an expansive view of the plains to the east.

From where I'm hiking, I can probably see that property, or at least the hills in the vicinity.  I've been following the South Platte River westward from Nebraska, and this report covers the last of that portion of my hike, into the city of Greeley.  From there I'll be following a major tributary, the Cache la Poudre River, which comes down from yon mountains and through Fort Collins.  Once again, I present my experiences in chronological order, day by day:

Day 113:  from the artistic main street display in Merino to the cute little button of a town named Hillrose.

The highway crossed the South Platte River and began following the old Overland Trail route more closely.

I came past the site of Fort Wicked, so named by the Cheyenne for its dogged and unrelenting resistance to their efforts at driving White Man back to where he came.

Day 114 took me from Hillrose, through the city that calls itself "Brush!" with exclamation mark included ...

… to the east side of Fort Morgan.

Day 115:  Fort Morgan to Wiggins.

Most of the day I walked a frontage road beside busy Interstate 76, but also came through the town of Fort Morgan on the old highway, still sporting signs of a pre-freeway past.

I remember these gas prices, under 30 cents a gallon, back in the 60's.

Day 116:  Coming out of Wiggins I was crossing a long stretch of highway without any towns.

Well, except for the unique historic African American settlement called Dearfield, established in 1910, suffered a reversal in fortune during the dust bowl, became a virtual ghost town by the 1940's, but is now beginning to show signs of revival.  Well, not in this photo--the historic buildings are in need of a good deal of TLC, and pretty quick.

Other sights on this day included a mile-long industrial-sized dairy farm operation,

and a rare grove of trees amid the empty plains.

Day 117 continued the trek across the empty quarter.  All that was here was a lot of new oilfield activity.  New tech -- Fracking -- has revitalized this very old oil field.

Day 118:  This was the day I said farewell to the South Platte River, crossing it on the Weld County parkway, where great flocks of cliff swallows have a nesting colony on the bridge.

I arrived in downtown Greeley, near the eastern terminus of the Poudre River Trail, a scenic paved bike trail -- enormous change of experience from all the recent walking on the shoulders of busy US highways.

Stay tuned for the final hikes.  At this point there are just five or six hiking days left.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Following the Overland Trail into Colorado

Map of the old trails in and around NE Colorado in the 1860's.  My route, along the Overland Trail, is highlighted.  LaPorte is near my final destination. An important stage stop at the time, it has now been largely absorbed as a 'suburb' on the NW edge of Fort Collins.

Here's a quote about the Overland Trail from the introductory brochure for the Overland Trail Museum in Sterling, Colorado (see inset in the map above).
"It is said that the Overland Trail was the heaviest traveled road in America, maybe even in the world, between 1862 to 1868."
The more famous Oregon Trail couldn't compare.  It followed the south side of the Platte River through Nebraska, and where the river split into North Platte and South Platte, people following the Oregon Trail had to ford the South Platte.  There were four main crossing points in Nebraska and extreme northeast Colorado.

But when gold was discovered in Colorado, near Denver, in 1858, many more travelers began to bypass those fords in order to continue up the South Platte.  The Colorado Gold Rush, with its famous motto "Pikes Peak or Bust" was the second largest gold rush after the famous 1849 discovery at Sutter's Mill in California.  It is because of that gold and the opening of Colorado Territory to homesteading, that the Overland Trail became a safer and better-supplied early wagon route, even for people heading on to Oregon and California.

And that's the trail I've chosen to follow on my own "Colorado or Bust" trek.

I've reached Colorado, now, so its time to be more specific.  My final destination is the city of Fort Collins, at the end of the orange line on the map above, where I lived at four different addresses between 1970 and 1980.

This report covers ten hiking days, each one book-ended by a small town.  Here's the day-by-day report:

Day 103: Paxton to Roscoe, Nebraska:

I was still following the Lincoln Highway, US 30, on the north side of the South Platte River.  My parking place at Roscoe was on an old bridge over the river, now closed to traffic, and offering this morning view of the meandering sandy river.

Day 104: Roscoe to Ogallala, 'Cowboy Capital of the World':

The little hamlet of Roscoe has suffered from its proximity to Ogallala and from the loss of traffic after Interstate 80 was built in the early 1960's:

Kind of the way the old wagon trails, Overland and Oregon and the rest, rapidly declined after the opening of the transcontinental railroad a century earlier, in 1869.

Day 105: After a day off for snow and cold and strong wind, I headed from Ogallala to Brule.

The snow amounted to just a trace.

Brule was one of those towns where the original Lincoln Highway ran long-ways through the town.  Here's one of the original concrete highway markers next to a monument celebrating the 1886 dedication of the town park.

Day 106: Brule to Big Springs:

Today I continued along the original Lincoln Highway, leaving US 30 behind, passing the old Oregon Trail wagon ruts still visible on California Hill (see map up top for marked location), passing the site of a Pony Express station marked by a monument along the highway, and continued southwest along the South Platte river valley.

Photo highlight for me was one of those long-suffering old trees that is just dripping with character.  I call this fellow the 'Dancing Ent' after the ancient tree herders of Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Day 107: Big Springs, Nebraska to Julesburg, CO.  Crossing the Colorado State Line

In downtown Big Springs, the Phelps Hotel, established in 1885, is still in business as a Bed and Breakfast.

It is in Big Springs that I bade farewell to the Lincoln Highway, which had been my companion and hiking route since Iowa.

Day 108: Julesburg to Sedgwick, Colorado:

It is just east of Julesburg where the last of the four Oregon Trail route options crosses the South Platte at the confluence with Lodgepole Creek, and heads north to Chimney Rock.

Day 109: Sedgwick to Crook:

The town of Sedgwick features the widest main street I've seen anywhere, which is accentuated by the tiny, almost toy-like buildings that line it.

Day 110: Crook to Iliff:

Iliff's 'town square' is an old hand water-pump.  No signs explaining its significance.

Day 111: Iliff to Sterling, and the Overland Trail Museum, where they provided me with the map up top of this post.

Day 112: Sterling to Merino, a little town with a great artist (who works at the town's main business, a carnival rides manufacturer.  He was commissioned to fill their main street gap created by the demolition of a building:

Featured on the individual panels are wonderful likenesses of people who once lived in the missing building.

On the western outskirts of Sterling, I stopped in at a small business called Ag Teck Repair, Inc. (shown in the background of the photo below) because they carried a line of tractor equipment with an orange color scheme.  The brand name is Kioti, pronounced 'Coyote' and they have the picture of a coyote as part of their logo.  It's a Korean based manufacturer, but the Kioti equipment is built in North Carolina.  Anyhow, I'm a collector of blaze-orange hats, and often these outlets carry hats and even shirts as promotional materials.  Well, I was in luck.  The owner was happy to *GIVE* me one of these hats, completely free!

Thank you, Ag Teck Repair, Inc., 18921 US-6, Sterling, CO 80751, Phone: (970) 522-7849.

I now own my own 'Coyote Hat'.  The significance would be obscure to anyone who hasn't read my 'Eden's Womb' novels.  Coyote Hat is the name of a key character in a critical battle between a distant future version of  'Cowboys and Indians.' It happens in the third novel, the "Copper Curse".  The corrupt 'cowboys' had subjugated the 'indians' and defiled their sacred shrines.  This battle was to restore their independence and dignity.  Yes, the good guys win.

How did the character get his distinctive name?  As a kid of age four he found a white man's felt hat, stolen, chewed, and then rejected and left in the desert by a young coyote.  The boy found it, put it on, and refused to give it up.  You'll have to read the novel for more detail.

And I hope you'll also check in here for the next update, as I come closer to finishing my Colorado trek.  Once I've finished, one of the next items on my agenda is to do a full revision and update of the seven-book Eden's Womb novel series.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Hiking The Lincoln Highway across western Nebraska

Oh, how I love hiking under the open sky, especially when it shows one of its rarer moods, brooding over a freshly harvested corn field near North Platte, Nebraska

I've been following the Lincoln Highway westward from western Iowa.  As with the last report, I'm covering nine hikes in chronological order, east to west.  The landscape was getting drier and drier as I came beside the Sand Hills.  My Elevation rose to above 3000 feet.  Not so much visible evidence of the old highway here, but every town has its homage.

Colorado or Bust, Day 94:  Overton to Lexington:

Coming into Lexington I came past this motel sign straight out of the '50's.  A little worse for the wear, but the motel is still in business.

Colorado or Bust Day 95:  Lexington to Cozad:  I arrived at the 100th Meridian, which the historic marker nearby told me is the rough dividing line between the arid west, and the humid plains.

Can't resist presenting another open sky shot over a freshly harvested field.  It's that time of year.

Colorado or Bust, Day 96:  Cozad to Gothenburg:  Gothenburg honors the Lincoln Highway with this little postage-stamp park right at the center of town.

Colorado or Bust Day 97:  Gothenburg to Brady, including a brisk, frosty morning, first frost of the season, before crossing the Gothenburg Canal:

Colorado or Bust, Day 98:  Brady to Maxwell.  Out to the west of Brady the Nebraska Historical Society posted a marker discussing Fort McPherson, even though it's site was several miles away, on the route of the Oregon Trail, south of the river.  The Lincoln Highway and the Mormon Trail kept to the north of the river.

Colorado or Bust, Day 99:  Maxwell to North Platte.  At North Platte the Platte river splits into the North and South branches.  The Lincoln Hwy crosses the North Platte River east of town.

North Platte is also the dividing of major railroad routes, and so the town features one of the largest Rail yards in the world, the Bailey Yards.  Here is an 'art shot' taken where US 30 crosses the tracks on the east side of town.

My focus was more on the sky, and on some strange little things, like this caterpillar imitating a seed head of common timothy grass.

And an imitation road kill.  Possums are among the more common road kill victims across this country; but never before have I encountered a toy possum, either safely in someone's possession or, as here, a lost stray that became the victim of a hit-and-run driver.

Colorado or Bust - the 100th day of this year's sojourn, which began in central Wisconsin in early June, found me hiking from North Platte west to Hershey under that brooding sky shown as the headline photo.

Fun stuff coming out of the west side of North Platte.  Somebody with some serious artistic talent, with a good welder and plenty of scrap metal, and with time on their hands, has constructed a first-rate rendition of one of my favorite dinosaurs--the Triceratops.

At the Nebraska Dept. of Transportation regional office in North Platte, they've collected and preserved two of the old 1928 Lincoln Highway concrete markers, a couple blocks from the actual highway.  Here's one of them, with Cody Park in the background:

Colorado or Bust Day 101:  Hershey to Sutherland.  The 1200 people of Sutherland have a history office next to the town office where they've planted a reproduction of the Lincoln Highway concrete marker, and they have a couple of other displays with murals:

Colorado or Bust, Day 102 completes this report, already unwieldy in length.  I hiked from Sutherland to Paxton where I got confirmation that I had climbed above 3000 feet.  It's also the first town I came through that is in the Mountain Time zone.

The Colorado State line is not far away now.  But my destination, Fort Collins, will still be 150 miles away.  I guess I'll have to change my hiking mantra to Fort Collins or Bust.  But somehow that doesn't have the same ring to it.