We needed to drive West. That was the only obligation for the day. It did not matter how far we drove, or where we ate dinner, or how many times we stopped along the way…
“Ten, do you realize how free we are right now?” I was almost beside myself with the pure joy of it. “In this very moment we have no restrictions. We are totally in charge of our destiny.”
I took a deep breath, relishing the thought. The next few moments brought a heavy realization, though. We were in the middle of Nowhere, Nebraska. It was a flat sea of bland brown and green stalks. What good was all this freedom, when you couldn’t use it to do anything exciting?
We pulled off to get gas at the next exit. Actually, it wasn’t even an exit. There was simply a gas station off to the side of the highway. We filled up, but couldn’t even go in for snacks because the handwritten sign on the door announced, “Electrical problems. Closed until further notice.”
Turning away from the door with a sigh, I spotted another informal sign across the parking lot. This one held slightly more promise than the previous- it read: “Dinosaur Museum” with an arrow pointing to the left.
We drove down the gravel road, over a ridge, just out of sight from the highway. And there it was: The Nebraska Dinosaur Museum (and Mirror Maze). The girl at the front desk seemed surprised to see us. We paid for two entrance fees and set off to explore. We were not disappointed. Life-size replicas of T-Rex’s arched hungrily over the walkways. Pterodactyls flew overhead. And the mirror maze was quite thrilling.
Immensely satisfied with our adventure, we hopped back in the car. We were all warmed up for trouble now. Or food. Whichever came first.
“Ten, I’m starving.” He perused the Next Exit book, before answering, “Looks like this next exit has a Subway. How does that sound?”
“Perfect”. We drove into a small town, with signs boasting all sorts of historical landmarks. I looked at Ten, “Detour before or after lunch?” He shrugged and said he could wait a bit longer to eat, so I took the first left we came to. There ahead of us was an Old West Museum, set in front of a series of old settlement buildings. We parked behind the museum and examined the houses. One was an old church built in the 1830s; another featured a map of the Mormon Trail on one wall. While none of it was particularly impressive, what really struck me was how much history there was in these small towns. During the 1800s, these towns were part of the lifeline to the West. Nebraska was a hopping place!
We got back on the road after lunch, determined to make some good progress. But, woe is me, a few miles later I saw a sign boasting: “Ironwood Golf Course and Range”.
I managed to convince Ten to come hit balls with me, and we pulled into the course’s parking lot. The course was bone dry and the heat was intense. The man in the pro shop was friendly and admitted that they got a lot of people from out of town stopping by to hit balls as a break from the road. We pulled my clubs out of the car and toted them up to the driving range. I gave Ten a few pointers before he started to hit, but it probably wasn’t necessary. He started hitting like a pro!
The golf balls ran out at just the right time. Another minute and I think we both would have fainted from the heat. What the pro had failed to mention was that the thermometer was pushing 110 degrees! We went back inside for some ice water before loading the car back up.
And so the drive continued. We were hoping to find an interesting place to set up camp, but I wasn’t too hopeful. I figured three fun adventures in one day was pushing the limit.
Ogallala: 22 miles. The sign was posted by the side of the road. “Ten, are there any camp sites in Ogallala?”
He scanned the map. “It looks like there’s a few. Sounds good.”
We made it to town and crawled around the small streets. Everything catered to the town’s singular claim to fame: “Ogallala: a stop along the Oregon trail!” There was a Watering Hole gas station, a Trail’s End laundry shop, and a camping site called the Corral. We looked for something more “authentic” than fast food to eat for dinner… and found the Crystal Palace Saloon. We ate scrumptious bison burgers (feeling somewhat abashed by the giant bison head looming over our table) and eavesdropped on the local’s small-town gossip. I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a different world.
“We should probably try and get our campsite set up before it gets dark. And maybe pick up some water bottles at the grocery,” Ten said responsibly. I drove us over to the local market, grabbing a heap of firewood, as well. The lady at the counter looked at our purchases and exclaimed, “Are you going up to the lake tonight? Oh, I wish I could go. It’s such a nice evening.”
Ten and I looked at each other, our eyes both asking Lake?? I turned back to the cashier, “Oh yeah! We’re looking forward to it.” The moment we got outside I flipped out my phone. “There’s a lake?! Let’s go!”
The lake turned out to be twenty minutes north of town. And it was huge! People were hauling in their boats after a full day of water skiing. Only a few RVs were left along the shoreline; bonfires were just beginning to pop up next to them. We self-registered at the entrance to the park and drove down, right onto the beach. We found a completely undisturbed area and quickly began setting up camp. Fifteen minutes later, we plopped down in the soft, white sand next to our campfire. The stars began to appear one by one and the waves rustled up against the shore.
Freedom. Peace. Happiness.
It’s always an adventure. Next stop: Denver!