Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Great Outback Road Trip

So here's the section of map that we traveled over on our backroad road trip to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Valentine. No, the route isn't the solid black line marked Highway 97. The road that we took is the thin black line that quickly fades to a dashed line going directly north out of Sutherland. The route takes us through the Sandhills, past Diamond Bar Lake, a short trek on Highway 92, then north again through the Dismal River Valley, coming out just south of Mullen on Highway 97. From there, it was the more standard trip on up to Valentine, but still through some amazing country.
Just north of Sutherland, almost to the Birdwood Creek valley, we spotted our favorite herd of Antelope. Earlier, I had mused whether or not Antelope actually rut this time of year, but after watching this herd for awhile, I don't think there is any doubt. This proud buck is the head of an eight-doe harem, and he doesn't let them make a single move without his approval.

He guides their every move, and nudges them this way and that according to his whim.
He even stopped and made a few false charges toward the pickup as we were stopped taking pictures. He should be pleased that we weren't armed with anything more lethal than a camera.

We did see several smaller herds on this drive, but they were all a lot further away from the road, and didn't lend themselves to any drive-by photography.
The beautiful Diamond Bar Lake is approximately 30 miles north of Sutherland. It is one of the natural, shallow lakes resulting from the Ogallala Aquifer that sits under the Sandhills. The landowner has an agreement with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission that allows public access although it is privately owned.

When I was growing up in the '60's not too far west of here, we would make infrequent fishing trips to the lake, catching Bullheads. From what I understand, that is still mostly what is caught out of this lake.
While I was researching a recent blog post in the Sutherland history book, I found that in the 1930's, Diamond Bar boasted a resort with numerous cabins to rent. The resort was complete with fishing boats, bait and other fishing to supplies.

The Mister and I camped over Memorial Weekend here a couple of years ago, and it was quiet and peaceful, right up until about an hour before sunrise. In the false dawn, the blackbirds that nest in the rushes surrounding the lake began singing, and the cacophony was deafening. No more sleep that night.

Just past Diamond Bar, the road takes on a quality that is unique to the Sandhills. It changes from a dirt track, to a single lane oil road. It worked out well for us today, as we met only a couple of other travelers on the entire 90 miles of back roads, but I wouldn't want to meet a cattle or grain truck on it!
During this trip, there was still a little green to be seen in the hills. Here is a field of small square bales ready to be picked up and stored for the winter. Tossing small square bales around is one of the ways young men from the Sandhills develop their muscles.
This is another section of single lane oil road that is just north of Highway 92, leaving McPherson County and entering Hooker County.
The beautiful Dismal River valley. Did you know that Nebraska has more miles of shoreline than any other state? This includes our neighbors from the coasts, Hawaii, Alaska and the Great Lakes States. I'll post a picture showing all of Nebraska's rivers one day soon so you can see that it's the truth.
The headwaters of the Dismal River. It doesn't look like much here, but further to the east it develops into one of the most scenic rivers in Nebraska. It is possible to canoe and tank down it, but not recommended. Lots of twists and turns, and numerous deadfalls make the trip less than enjoyable.
Between Mullen and Valentine lies the Merritt Reservoir along the Snake River. This 3,000 acre lake is home to amazing Sandhills views and great fishing. 
Remember, the day we made this drive, the wind was directly out of the north at about 50. Just imagine it on a sunny summer day and it will look a little more inviting to you.And now for one of my favorite stops on the journey. The beautiful Snake River Falls. The Falls are located on private property, but there is a drop box for the fee charged for the privilege of hiking down to them.
The trail is quite a hike - not very long, but a little strenuous. The highly eroded limestone/sandstone trail requires paying close attention.
The hike is well worth it, though. During the spring irrigation season, the water will be roaring off these falls, filling the valley.
Because of the overhang, it is possible to climb right underneath the Falls, where you're in a world of your own. If this day had been warm and sunny, we would have spent a much longer time here, but wet combined with wind and cold wasn't too attractive on this day.
I hope you've enjoyed this trip through the backroads of the Nebraska Sandhills.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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