Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Stories: Philip and Arvilla Wemple

Excerpted from 1891-1991 Sutherland Centennial book.

Philip Wemple was an adventurous man who lived in an adventurous era. He served in the army as an Indian Scout, stationed at Fort Alkali, a few miles east of where the town of Ogallala is today. It was his responsibility to ride along the tracks to protect gangs of workers and train passengers from Indian attacks.
He spent some of his youth mining for gold in Colorado, and there is still a site called the Wemple mine in the Rocky Mountains northwest of Lafayette, Colorado. There is no information showing that he ever found any great amount of gold, yet it is quite possible, for it is known that at one time he owned most of the land where Parkersburg, Iowa, is now located. He sold off plots of it as people came in to settle and needed land to build homes on.

Philip was a widower with one teenage daughter when he married Arvilla Carpenter. He was much older than Arvilla. His daughter was nearly as old as his new bride. Philip and Arvilla had three daughters, Aural, Elma, and Emma. Aura was the mother of the writer of this biography.

Philip was a large man, standing head and shoulders above many men of that day. He was kind to his family and doted on his daughters, but he ruled the household with a firm hand.

His line can be traced back to 1620 when Jan Barentse Wemple was born. This Jan left his father, Barent Wemple, in 1642 to cross the Atlantic and settle at the Van Renssalaer Colony, 150 miles inland on the Hudson River on the east coast of America.

Philip died while his three younger daughters were still in their teens. Arvilla, as his war widow, with her daughter, Emma, who was not yet 16, were eligible to claim free land under the Kinkaid Act.
Mrs. Wemple and Emma came to Nebraska because others in their community were pulling up stakes and coming west. When she and her girls came, the Crouse family helped them a great deal. They had been neighbors and friends for many years back in Parkersburg, Iowa.

Jesse Crouse and his son, Carl, built Arvilla’s soddy and hauled her belongings from the freight car to her earthen home on the Kinkaid.

Many romances developed among the young folks of these early families. Carl Crouse wooed and won Aura, the oldest Wemple girl. Elma, the next daughter married Paul Reichenberg, and Emma married Ed Parker, the son of another homesteader.

Arvilla lived in Arthur County until her death in 1949. She is buried in the Arthur Cemetery.

Her granddaughter, Bonnie Crouse Reichenberg, is the writer of this history.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Somebody Should

We’ve all heard it… we’ve all said it. ‘Somebody’ should…

I’m going to say it again. Somebody should figure out how to develop an outfitting and guide service to take advantage of the huge variety of outdoor activity within a few miles of North Platte.

Whitewater rafting outfitters in Colorado make their living from May through September, give or take a few weeks, depending on the snowmelt. Granted, a peaceful Nebraska river float trip may not be as exciting as a whitewater rafting trip, but it’s still fun, and an excellent family trip.
Irrigation season here starts in mid to late June and runs through late July or early August. CNPPID lets water out of Lake McConaughy to service the irrigators downstream. They post the outflows on a website in CFS. Anything above 700 at the Keystone Diversion works for floating down the river. Many different trips are available: Paxton/Sarben (2 hours); Paxton/Sutherland Headgates (6 hours); Sarben/Sutherland Headgates (4 hours); Sutherland Bridge/Hershey Check (4 hours); Hershey Check/Buffalo Bill Ranch (6 hours); Buffalo Bill Ranch/Cody Park (2 hours); Cody Park/Highway 30 (2 hours). Or you could do multiple combinations of the above for different time frames.

You could provide transportation, food, tanks, kayaks, tubes, canoes, even packed lunches or a bbq at the end.

It would take coordination – with CNPPID, the local irrigation companies, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, local landowners – but it could be very worthwhile.

Want to stretch the season? Talk with landowners about including a float down portions of the Birdwood Creek. It is considered one of the most stable-flowing streams in the world and is certainly kayak/tank/tube-able.

Want still more options? CNPPID allows recreation along all of its canal system, from the headgates on the Platte River east of North Platte through Jeffrey Lake and on to Johnson Lake. That is nearly 100 miles of canal, and it’s not your typical concrete-sided canal. Much of it is cut right out of the canyons. Why not add Stand Up Paddleboards to the mix? Because it’s used for hydroelectric power generation, there is ALWAYS water in this canal system – it isn’t dependent upon irrigation water.
There is nowhere closer than Lake McConaughy to rent boats or personal watercraft. Yet Lincoln County has three lakes perfect for motor boating: Jeffrey Lake, Lake Maloney and the Sutherland Reservoir.

Thinking about something a little slower? How about renting paddleboats for use on Veterans Memorial Park Lake or one of the other Interstate lakes?
Want to capture even more visitors? Add some fishing equipment to the mix. Or snorkeling equipment – the Interstate lakes are generally crystal clear for snorkeling. What about some resort-style inflatables on the shores of some of these lakes?

If you don’t think this is enough to support a business, stretch the season by adding birdwatching – Sandhill Cranes or Prairie Chicken dances. You’ve got to be talking to lots of landowners anyway to pull together the water adventures, why not get additional permissions to do birdwatching?
Yes, you’ll need contracts, agreements, waivers, insurance. You’ll have to work out payments, bonds, liability releases, performance standards (just who is going to pick up any garbage left behind?), and you’ll need employees (that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Economic development?) but still… it’ll be worth it.

What about Outback Safaris? If you’re already talking to other landowners, and developing a reputation for doing things right, why not talk to some of the large heritage ranches in the nearby Sandhills or Loess Canyons for Jeep tours? You could be teaching ranching history and practices, bird or wildlife watching, or just sharing the scenery.
Calamus Outfitters Jeep Tours by Alan J. Bartels
My final idea is local transportation and tours. One of the needs we encounter every day is transportation to local tourist attractions for small meeting groups and conventions. If you’re going to have tour buses to transport folks to and from central locations for any of the above activities, why not have buses and drivers available to hire for local transportation? Naturally these vehicles couldn’t be used for any of the off-road activities talked about above, but they would be good for getting folks to the starting points.
Another local treasure that is completely underutilized is Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center. If you’ve ever been, you know that the earth lodge, geology museum, cabins, hiking trails and the beautiful views are definitely worth a visit, but they don’t get enough visitors to keep regular hours. Why? One reason is because folks don’t have an easy to get a group together to go for a visit. A local outfitting company would fix this.
The Loess Canyons at Dancing Leaf
Who would benefit the most from an operation like this – besides the operators themselves? The local hoteliers! Any time folks spend more time in this area, they have to have somewhere to stay. That’s why local hoteliers should be standing in line to invest in an operation like this, and offering their business expertise and contacts to anyone wanting to start such a business.

Somebody should…

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mission Sutherland

It was the brainchild of Sutherland Presbyterian Minister Karen Woo. Why send mission teams "out" to remote locations when there is work to be done in our own home town? She partnered with the other churches in town and created Mission Sutherland.
One of the projects is painting this historic building on Main Street. It dates from 1911 and has been vacant for nearly twenty years. The team solicited suggestions from the Village of Sutherland Board of Trustees for projects, then the Village Board contacted the owner, who is unable to complete repairs himself. He gave permission and the volunteers went to work.
Another team is putting up hand rails and a new sidewalk at a nearby home. Over the years the sidewalk has sunk below the level of the street and in the winter time there is an icy pond right at the bottom of this woman's stairs. Now she'll have a safe way to make it out to the street.
Elsewhere a team (pictured above and below) is creating a handicapped ramp and replacing the sub floor in a room in this mobile home.
Later in the afternoon they will visit the homes of several elderly ladies where they'll be washing their windows inside and out. Saturday, they'll undertake to clear a property of downed trees and brush, and fill in some holes in the ground, making it possible for the elderly homeowner to once again walk her property.

Kudos to this forward-thinking woman for spearheading this project, and to the dedicated volunteers for rolling up their sleeves and doing the work.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Oatman, Arizona

Saturday morning, we enjoyed a quick road trip to Oatman, Arizona, just about 45 minutes from Laughlin, partly on the historic Route 66.
Black Mountains
The drive is through some spectacular scenery. Along the way you'll pass through Bullhead City, AZ, which is much larger than it first appears. There are views of the Colorado River valley and the Newberry Mountains in Nevada, but the scenery really takes a turn toward the spectacular when you near the Black Mountains. There are companies that offer off-road excursions, hiking and horseback riding. Those would be a great way to experience this area. I would caution - be extremely careful. The heat you'll experience in the spring, summer and fall can be deadly.
The ladies from Heritage Clubs, International, plus the gunfighters!
And yes, as I mentioned earlier, we are here working! We are the Advisory Board of Heritage Clubs, International, having our mid-year meeting and scouting the location of the annual Peer Group Conference that's coming up next March. This dedicated group of Bank Travel Club Directors and tourism professionals are working hard to make sure that the experience our colleagues have at the annual conference will be outstanding.
Feeding the burros
When the miners shifted from burro power to horse power (in the form of diesel engines) the burros used in the mine were simply turned loose! They've since multiplied and each day arrive in town early in the morning to greet the tourists and beg food off of them. Their population is managed by the BLM, which owns much of the surrounding mountains. Tourists are cautioned NOT to feed them carrots or junk food. They get so much of it it causes health problems. Also, the babies will have stickers on their foreheads warning you not to feed them at all.
Cactus landscaping on main street - enter at your own risk!
Oatman is nearly a ghost town, with approximately 160 permanent residents. These highly independent and entrepreneurial folks do a good job of maintaining an interesting tourist attraction. The main complaint I have is the lack of interpretation. There are no plaques signifying the history of the buildings, the former uses, ages, etc. There is, however a sign warning tourists the locals may carry weapons.
Historic Route 66 sign... plus an indication on where locals stand on gun rights.
As you can see from the view down Main Street (Route 66), it is lined with quaint shops.
The view down main street
The one place where I did find signs is in the window of the Oatman Hotel. Here you find the warnings not to feed the burros carrots and junk food, and to be cautious with dogs. We found MANY folks with carrots in their hands who had no idea they weren't supposed to feed them to the burros. Perhaps a large sign upon the entrance to the town might be in order? That is, if they are serious about protecting the health of the herd.
Please don't feed the burros anything but the provided alfalfa cake. The carrots give them diabetes and other health problems. Plus... let the dogs beware of the burros!

The Oatman Jail, built in 1936.
Tucked away off of Main Street is the Oatman Jail. There is a $2 admission to go inside, which is very reasonable. You can have your photo taken in the gallows, and there is a small gift shop. Again, no interpretation of the historic nature of the jail except the sign that says it was built in 1936.
A mine shaft entrance on main street.
Near the south end of main street on the east side is obviously the ruins of a building and the entrance to a mine shaft. When you go into the mine, it turns sharply to the left and seems to go back quite a ways. I thought I had a flashlight app on my phone, but don't, so I didn't go very far. Absolutely NO signage to tell what the mine was, where the shaft goes, how far back it is safe to explore. Honestly... make up a story and give me an experience! Don't just leave me to my own devices.
The historic Oatman Hotel.
The cornerstone of the Oatman experience is the Oatman Hotel. Lore has it that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon night here, though I have found adamant assertions online that this is not true. However, it does make a charming story.
Michael Fox, local historian and entertainer.
There is a stage in the dining room, and Michael Fox, who has lived in Oatman for 22 years and obviously has a love for the place and its history, entertains there. It is from him that we heard the story of the Oatman family for whom the town is named, and some of the early history of the area. Thank goodness! This was the only source we discovered, except for some books for sale in some of the gift shops.
It is estimated there is more than $100,000 in single dollar bills fastened to the walls throughout the hotel and dining room.
Burro ears accompanying pulled pork lunch.
Delicious home made chips "burro ears" accompanied the meal.
Gathered on Main Street for the gun fight.
Though it didn't seem like there were this many people in town, you can see that the streets are lined with visitors waiting for the gun fight. 
Up close and personal with a burro

The burros obviously have the right of way on the sidewalks as well as the roads.
The gunfight
The highlight of the experience is the gun fight. The Oatman Outlaws regularly rob banks, insult each other, entertain the tourists, then pass the hat. The donations they collect go 100% toward Shriners hospitals. Their motto is "We fall down so the children can walk." To date they have collected more than $70,000 for the charity.
Lunch break.
This is one of the newer additions to the herd, foaled within the last week. You can see the sticker on his forehead warning tourists not to feed him.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

First Impressions of Laughlin

I'm not a gambler, and a Las Vegas vacation holds no interest for me. However, I'm here on a working trip, and I'm very glad I came. Not to Vegas - but to Laughlin.

The view at dawn from the 12th floor

Laughlin isn't the easiest place to get to. Unless you play here a lot and get invited to join a private junket (which, I understand leaves from a number of airports throughout the country, including North Platte), you fly in to Las Vegas and catch a shuttle for an hour and 45 minute drive.

After I got here, I wondered why anyone would bother staying in Vegas! The area is beautiful and uncrowded. The staff of everywhere I've been are warm, friendly and professional, not at all like the sometimes-officious people you encounter in the huge resorts to the north.

I am staying in a north facing room in the north tower of Harrah's Resort and Casino, overlooking the Colorado River and the other casinos on the "strip", which consists of a single line about a mile long. There are water taxis that ply the waters every few minutes, dropping off and picking up from all the casinos. For $10, you can get unlimited riding for a day. There is also a river walk that starts north of Harrah's (just take a water taxi to the River Palms casino to get started) that goes all along the water front.

Super clear water - I admit, I was surprised. I was expecting mud and silt.

Harrah's didn't want to spoil the beautiful little beach in front of their resort with the river walk, so I can understand why they didn't allow it to pass in front of their property.
Harrah's Beach

Making Laughlin your headquarters, you can visit such nearby attractions as Grapevine Canyon, Colorado River Heritage Greenway Park and Trails, Desert Diamond Distillery, Oatman Arizona, Grand Canyon West, Lake Havasu London Bridge, Zipline Adventures and Chloride, Arizona.
The view of Arizona's Black Mountains to the east.

There is a LOT of water fun to be had (and you know how that appeals to me). Rentals are available for power boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, canoes and tubes. Nearby is Lake Mojave where you can boat or float to your heart's content. Each August (this year August 8 - 10) is the "Mardi Gratta Bullhead City River Regatta" with thousands of rafts of all description floating down the river.

I will give you a disclaimer here - the rooms are nothing to brag about. In our party of 8, two found room-changing issues upon arrival. I didn't change rooms, but it leaves a lot to be desired - stained carpet, moldy grout, jet-engine fan in the bathroom and twenty minutes to get an internet connection (for $10.95 per day!) to name a few. But truly, you won't want to spend much time in your room.

Are you planning a trip to Vegas? I suggest you broaden your scope a little and investigate Laughlin.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Photo Essay: Sandhills Road Trip

Working Cows

More Cowboy Action

Roadside Sights

Cowboys and Canyons

The Long Road Home


Getting Schooled

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

High water on the North Platte

Over the long 4th of July weekend, we have kayaked from Paxton to the Hershey Check on the North Platte river - of course, we did it in three separate trips, some sections of the river more than once.
On Sunday, we made our final trek, from the historic Sutherland State-Aid Bridge to the Hershey Check. As you can see this is a beautiful bridge. It was built in 1914, and is now in danger of being torn down after the county department of roads replaces it.
Often times this section of river is mostly sand with only a small channel running through it, but as you can see, it is currently running high. It was a joy to kayak under this beautiful bridge.
We haven't been over this section of river in years and it was lots of fun to see the new scenery. Here a mullein plant makes a pretty picture with driftwood in the background.
Above is a beautiful wild grape vine growing on the headgates adjacent to the Birdwood Creek where it enters the North Platte River. 
See what the river looks like when it's dry? This section of river is closed by the headgates of the Birdwood Creek.
An entire island of wild flowers. The river was flowing so fast that I didn't get nearly enough pictures of the beautiful scenery on the trip. It was fun just to float and enjoy friends.
The tree in the background is pretty. Beautiful green with delicate pink/purple flowers. The problem is, it's an invasive species - a Salt Cedar. Over time, just like the Russian Olive and Phragmites, they can grow to choke out the native vegetation. And, just like those other plants, were first introduced as ornamental trees/shrubs by homeowners. Shame on them!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why Shoot Ourselves in the Foot?

As part of the celebration of the centennial of the Lincoln Highway, I recently spent an entire day at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney. I walked the grounds, fed the fish, perused the gift shop, enjoyed Dickey's BBQ and went through the main attraction - the Archway Museum itself.

All the while I was enjoying this wonderful attraction, I was thinking what a disservice we Nebraskans do to ourselves when we don't support the Archway. It's not to say that I don't understand that there were problems with the initial expectations of visitation to the Archway, but this attraction does deserve our support, and I firmly believe that some of its problems are due to a lack of support among fellow Nebraskans, and our badmouthing it to potential visitors.

In North Platte recently, I got a call from the Buffalo Bill Ranch, who said that a visitor had told her he almost hadn't come because the desk clerk at his hotel told him the attraction "wasn't worth visiting." Thank goodness he didn't take the desk clerks advice. How many Nebraskans are guilty of saying the same thing to potential visitors to the Archway?

Having spent an entire day there, I can assure you, it IS worth a visit. We aren't mindful enough of the important part played by the Platte River valley in the settlement of the west, and in the economy today, and the Archway tells the story - and in a quality entertaining way. It also helps give us insight into the lives of early pioneers - there's a Pawnee earth lodge, an authentic Pawnee garden, a sod house and a pow wow dancing grounds. There's even a maze for the kids to burn off some extra energy.

We've known for some time now that the Archway has declared bankruptcy, and an article today in the World Herald tells of the hard road ahead the attraction faces in the process. It's about $20 million in debt, which the board of directors seeks to pay off with $100,000. Further, the board is asking for $1.2 million in support from the city of Kearney and Buffalo County over three years to offset operating costs. While unfortunately, the bondholders are left holding the bag, the taxpayers are getting off relatively easily.

One of the details that isn't included in the article is how much these visitors (a record small number in 2012 of 50,000), spend in Kearney and Nebraska as a whole when they stop to visit the Archway. A more broad definition of the success of the Archway isn't just on the admission to the attraction itself, but in the activity it spurs throughout the economy.

In 2012, direct travel spending in Nebraska was $3.1 billion. In Nebraska, it is estimated that every dollar spent on travel is respent in the community 1.7 times, for a total economic impact of $2.70, ballooning that $3.1 billion up to nearly $8.4 billion. Granted, the Archway is just a tiny piece of this puzzle, but it is one piece! A failed Archway will have a ripple effect throughout the entire Nebraska economy.

Now a new exit off of Interstate 80 will be opening soon (possibly by the end of August this year). This surely will have a positive effect for visitation to the Archway. I propose that we Nebraskans get behind the Archway - visit it ourselves, encourage our relatives, friends and neighbors to visit it, and most especially, recommend it to visitors. We are only hurting ourselves by complaining about it and running it down. Let's see what happens in the coming years with the new easy access and the support of all Nebraskans.

The same holds true for any attraction across Nebraska. Let's make it our goal to drive that $3.1 billion even higher for 2013 and beyond.