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Lincoln Highway: Nebraska February 17, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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100th meridian sign in Cozad, Nebraska

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

Ahhh… now we are truly getting into the West, where we might see antelope or prairie dogs, where the sky keeps getting larger and the air has a tang of dryness.

The current highway map of Nebraska shows some nice shapes. I-80 is the dominant line across the state, taking the lovely yin-yang curve of the Platte River for much of its length before it leaves the river and straightens into a purposeful line in the more rectilinear patterns of eastern Nebraska. The split of I-80 and US 26 at Ogallala reflects the widening separation of the North Platte and the South Platte. We notice that certain counties in western Nebraska have practically no roads in them.

The route of the Lincoln Highway follows US 30 all the way across, which in turn follows the curves of the Platte. Where I-80 tracks the Platte, US 30 runs like a shadow just north of it. There is just one significant exception: the original 1913 route entered Nebraska from Iowa slightly further south, going through Omaha because that’s where the bridge over the Missouri was located. It then headed northwest to hit Fremont.

After a bridge was built at Blair in 1929, the Highway was routed that way for a more direct connection westward from Iowa. In fact, another early named highway made that connection through Blair, the “Bee-Line,” but although highway construction started in 1923, the route didn’t get much traffic until the bridge went into place.

Blair bridge during floods in 2011

The old and new routes joined in Fremont.

Downtown Fremont

Continuing west, we reach Columbus, which has some interesting attractions, including Glur’s Tavern.

Glur's Tavern

Glur’s (I love that name) is said to be the oldest bar west of the Missouri operating continuously in the same building. It opened in 1876 as Bucher’s Saloon, and there is still a “Saloon” sign over the door. The Glurs bought the place in 1914. It features old photographs on the wall and ancient wooden floorboards.

Columbus also boasts the Lincoln Highway Garage, built in 1915 to handle any malfunctioning vehicles making the grand journey along the Highway. It has an imposing appearance, and the word “GARAGE” is etched in the formal lettering style you might expect on a tombstone.

The Lincoln Highway Garage in Columbus

The Highway passes through the small town of Duncan, where a marker can be seen.

Lincoln Highway marker in Duncan

The marker is located at the end of a 2.4-mile section that is largely unchanged from the 1920s, a road lined with hackberry trees.

At Grand Island, I-80 comes in from the east to join US 30 in its following of the Platte. Grand Island has one of those very elegant county courthouses that we have noted all along the way. It was built 1901.

Hall County Courthouse, Grand Island

The courthouse survived the famous Grand Island Tornadoes of 1980. Several features made this event a meteorological freak. It was a slow-moving supercell complex that moved across town at only 8 mph, and most of them looped around to recross places they had already devastated—I can only dimly imagine the horrific experience of the residents. Three of the tornadoes were anticyclonic, meaning they spun clockwise rather than counterclockwise as is usually the case in the Northern Hemisphere: cyclones generally follow the Coriolis Effect, which causes water to spin down the bathtub drain in opposite directions in the two hemispheres.

Two tornadoes are visible in this picture from Grand Island.

The Highway passes through Kearney, which can be seen in this panorama from 1909.

Kearney panorama

In Lexington, it is possible to visit the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles. What’s really interesting about the museum’s collection of tanks, ambulances, snow tractors, and other vehicles is that most were acquired within a 150-mile radius of Lexington, according to the museum website. They were used in the 1940s and 1950s for farming purposes when tractors were in short supply, then as time went on were generally left idle somewhere on the property. The collection of vehicles was started by four men in 1986 in part so that veterans would have a chance to visit and enjoy them. The museum has restored them, and many are operational.

Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles

Now we come to Cozad, which sits astride the 100th meridian (see photo at top). It is also known as the place where artist Robert Henri (born Robert Henry Cozad) lived during his childhood. The town was founded by his father, John Jackson Cozad, a gambler and real estate developer who also founded Cozaddale, Ohio, thus sprinkling that strange-sounding name across the country.

In 1882, John Cozad fatally shot a local rancher over a cattle grazing dispute. Apparently he was cleared—it must have been considered an act of self-defense—but the townspeople turned against the Cozad family, which fled to Denver. They all changed their names and continued moving from place to place across the country, ending in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the now-styled Robert Henri started his successful career painting Parisian-looking scenes of urban landscapes and portraits of refined people. Quite an act of self-invention!

Robert Henri, 1897

The town never changed its name and now even features a Robert Henri museum.

The Highway passes through Gothenburg, which like much of the route through Nebraska, was along the route of the Pony Express. A station from the Express can be visited there.

Gothenburg Pony Express station

We pass through Ogallala.

Front Street, Ogallala

One of the points of interest around Ogallala is Boot Hill, a cemetery that got its name because many of its occupants “died with their boots on.”

West of Ogallala, US 30, I-80 (and the Highway) go straight west toward Sidney and Kimball, while I-76 picks up the route of the South Platte toward Colorado, a state that lobbied hard to be included along the Lincoln Highway but was ultimately not made part of the route.

Out toward the Wyoming border, we reach Kimball, which calls itself the “High Point of Nebraska” because the state high point, Panorama Point (5,424′) is located not far away. In fact, another Nebraska town is actually the elevational high point at its town center (4,876′).

Kimball is the location of the historic Wheat Growers Hotel, opened in an elegant ceremony in 1918. It is an imposing brick edifice with the words WHEAT GROWERS HOTEL blazoned across its front. It had days of glory when the ballroom was often in use and notable people stayed there, including the young Eisenhower during his 1919 Transcontinental Military Convoy. The hotel fell upon hard times in the mid 1920s, but managed to survive the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Yet time took its toll, and the aging facility closed in 1988.

Citizens of Kimball have been engaged in a dedicated effort to preserve and restore this “grand old lady.” You can buy the hotel and fix it up if you like, and in so doing make an enormous contribution to the region. For further information, check out this website.

The jewel of Kimball, Nebraska

Past Kimball, we approach the Wyoming border and head toward the town of Pine Bluff.

Transcontinental Military Convoy in western Nebraska, 1919

Bearwallow Mountain February 13, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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Bearwallow Mountain. Photo source: Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.

Once again, I’m falling down in the photography department. It was so cold and windy on the summit of Bearwallow on Saturday that the handful of photos I took look windblown themselves—not of acceptable quality. I did take one waterfall picture which I will include at the bottom. But I wanted to at least mention the hike here, since Bearwallow is a remarkable place.

Bearwallow is located along 74-A in Gerton, east of Asheville and out toward Bat Cave and Chimney Rock. The summit area has recently been protected by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy under a conservation easement. This outing was a joint hike by CMLC and the Carolina Mountain Club, and a frigid trip it turned out to be. You could tell a whole new weather system was moving in, with the temperature dropping into the low 20s over the course of the day.

The 4232′ open summit was absolutely blasted with wind. But we had a luxurious approach through the woods on a brand-new trail built by the two groups, together with local volunteers. It was a Cadillac among trails, full of intricately built rock stairs and lots of switchbacks.

My friend Peter Barr was the leader. He pointed out many features, including the actual place where the bears wallow, a depression in the midst of a pasture, perfectly suited to accomodate an ample-size black bear.

Peter’s job with CMLC seems like a dream job to me. He gets to go out to beautiful areas and talk to landowners about their personal stories of their property. In the case of Bearwallow, he chatted with oldtimer Clyde Curtis, who worked at the fire tower from 1957 to 1992 (it was decommissioned shortly thereafter). He lived up there full time with his wife in a little frame house, surviving lightning strikes, deep snow, and howling winds.

After our group visited the wallow, some of the party retreated back down that nice trail and the rest of us followed a rough footpath marked with orange flagging that will someday also become a maintained trail. It winds down into Upper Hickory Nut Gorge, passing a lookout rock called Wildcat Rock and a cascade maybe 100′ high—very impressive. The plan was to have lunch at Wildcat Rock, but we all huddled beneath or beside the rock instead of sitting atop it. Down in the more protected woods, we enjoyed the sight of a pretty waterfall along the creek.

CMLC is offering a “Hiking Challenge” which calls for people to complete eight hikes (including Bearwallow) to earn a patch showing a white squirrel wearing jaunty hiking apparel, plus a $20 gift card to the Mast General store outdoor department. You can find out more about the challenge by going here.

CMLC is based in Hendersonville and works with landowners to conserve threatened properties in Henderson and Transylvania Counties together with parts of neighboring counties.

Traveler Mountain February 9, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, memoir, peakbagging.
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Traveler (in the distance) from North Brother

I have no photos from the actual hike, just a couple taken at points further south in Baxter State Park. My apologies.

Older editions of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide have some interesting descriptions. Years ago, looking for information about the northern parts of Baxter State Park—well north of Katahdin—I found a writeup for a “Loop Route over Traveler and North Traveler,” which, it said, should be attempted “only by strong parties.” This was mainly bushwhacking. Here is a sample of it:

Use binoculars to carefully study the animal yards and rock slides on the way to Traveler summit. There are three animal yards…. Near the top of the third yard, turn almost 90 degrees to the right (south) and look for an exit out onto the rock slide. Traverse horizontally and possibly drop down a little to get around the end of the heavy brush….

Need it be said that as soon as I read this, I wanted to go there?

Bob and I spent a week in Baxter in August 1995. It was mainly a peakbagging extravaganza—we were working on the New England 100 Highest. One day was spent going from Chimney Pond to Pamola Peak and then over to Katahdin along the Knife Edge. Another day was spent tackling Hamlin Peak. Another was a marathon of Coe, North and South Brother, and Fort. (Coe, which was #100 on the list, has since been bumped by some less worthy peak—I think maybe Cupsuptic Snow.)

During the whole time we were there, the weather was freakishly warm for that latitude, in the 90s at the lower elevations. We later learned that northern Maine was the warmest place on the East Coast at that time, due to some meteorological fluke.

Jenny on North Brother. Actually, I'm not positive. It might be South Brother.

We achieved all of our peakbagging goals and then headed to the less-visited northern parts of the park. We camped at South Branch Pond, a beautiful place of deep water surrounded by rocky peaks. I’ll always remember sitting on the shore of the pond that first lovely warm evening and being startled by the full moon abruptly popping up over the Traveler—a moon whose reflection in the clear dark water rivaled the original.

The next morning we started early on our quest, following the Pogy Notch trail leading south along the east shore of the two linked ponds. We were looking for the Pinnacle Ridge route to Peak of the Ridges, the gateway to the Traveler. Our wonderful guidebook said, Follow the Pogy Notch trail about 0.8 mi. to a knoll where the slide on the Pinnacle is plainly visible. Turn left through pleasant woods and across older slides, and you will reach the Pinnacle slide.

It wasn’t quite “plainly visible”—perhaps things had grown up a bit since the 7th edition of the guide—but we found it and achieved our first objective, Peak of the Ridges. Now we found ourselves on a wide open ridge of strange-looking rock surrounded by oceans of balsam forest. The whole area of the Traveler, you see, is of entirely different geological origin than Katahdin not far to the south.

The ridge beckoned to the east, leading toward the main summit of the Traveler. Just as the guide described, we passed alternately through hallways of balsam and open animal yards. We saw no moose, but there was plenty of moose sign. Up through consecutive glades and fragrant forest, we climbed and reached the top. It is 3541′,  which is why elevationally obsessed hikers tend to ignore it. I am glad it’s not heavily visited.

Now, we headed north through dense spruce-fir forest toward North Traveler. But we had a problem. Even with carrying three quarts of water apiece, the freakish heat was causing dehydration. We were on a dry ridgetop with no water anywhere nearby.

We bushwhacked as far as the Traveler-North Traveler col (around the subsidiary 2970′ peak) and decided we had best retreat to someplace with water. So we dropped westward into the headwaters of Howe Brook.

Such a beautiful stream, one deep sparkling pool after another. We went down, and down, and after a while started hearing the voices of heat-stricken vacationers frolicking in the lower portions of the brook. It was a fun succession of people as we went, who looked like human-sized seals and walruses as they plunged into the pools and slid down smooth slippery chutes.

The whole day had a dreamlike quality. I would like to go back and complete that Traveler-North Traveler circuit that “should only be attempted by strong parties.” I long to revisit the land of moose, lake, and balsam.

Traveler Mountain from South Branch Pond (Wikimedia photo)