Chimney Rock

After visiting Courthouse and Jail Rocks, we traversed the back roads of western Nebraska to see Chimney Rock. While I had not heard of the former, I knew the latter as a landmark from a popular computer game I played as a kid. As we were driving, we realized that it was not quite lunchtime, but we definitely needed a snack, so we stopped at the Settlers Trading Post.

When we got out of the car, we noticed tumbleweeds hanging underneath it. Outside the trading post was an older windmill, a teepee and a lovely view of Chimney Rock. A campground associated with it called Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing seemed like a wonderful location to view the stars at night and wake up to a view of this landmark. Inside was a couple who sold souvenirs, ice cream and food with stories and smiles for everyone. It was a quaint and welcoming place that satisfied our desire for a snack. If Griff and I get back that way we plan to stay at the campground.

The view from Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing.

The view of Chimney Rock from the Settlers Trading Post.

Just down the road was the entrance to Chimney Rock. From what we could tell from the outside of the visitor center was that you had to pay to enter the visitor center and could not actually walk up to Chimney Rock. After a brief discussion, we decided that we had seen Chimney Rock from the Settlers Trading Post and would continue our journey through Nebraska. We would be happy to hear what we missed from others who have visited and if there is a way to hike up to Chimney Rock. Leave a comment if you have ever hiked near Chimney Rock.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks: A Nebraska Historical Site

Courthouse and Jail Rocks in Western Nebraska

Courthouse and Jail Rocks in Western Nebraska

It must have been something to be part of the westward expansion of the United States of America. Those brave souls must have felt the excitement of their historical significance, frightened by the unknown and hopeful for a better future as they faced the hardships of traveling by wagon and walking the plains and western states. These are things that we thought about as we travelled along or near the trails of the westward expansion.

The modern day traveller has the opportunity to drive through ranches with cows roaming freely alongside and over the unpaved roads near Courthouse and Jail Rocks in western Nebraska. We may have been lost and it may not have been necessary to travel these roads, but it definitely added to our experience.

Road near Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska

Road near Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska

We stopped next to a historical marker sign and took pictures with the rock formation behind us. There, we learned that people traveling west on the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express trails found this to be a landmark on their journey. That location was probably the same place that weary travelers stopped to admire the view and wonder how much longer it would be before they would arrive at a place to permanently settle.

We arrived at Courthouse and Jail rocks to see one other couple exploring it. After meeting Wilma and her husband, we walked along dirt paths that led up and around the formation. The trail was not well marked and had loose dirt in parts of it. My parents decided to stay close to the car while my brother put his newly purchased hiking shoes to use as the trail leader.

The trail at Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska

Along the trail at Courthouse and Jail Rocks

On the opposite side of the formation from our car we could see Chimney Rock in the distance. The tallest point did not seem safe to climb to in tennis shoes, but we did enjoy the view of the flat Nebraska land with occasional buttes and plateaus from where we stood. I have a feeling that Courthouse and Jail Rocks is often overlooked as a destination to visit and hike. However, it was a fun stop for us to do a little hiking and sightseeing of Nebraska’s non-interstate landscape.

Preparing for our first backpacking trip

After hiking up Harney Peak last year, I looked up Missouri’s highest point of elevation. It turned out to be a rather disappointing 1,772 feet at Taum Sauk Mountain. But this discovery yielded an interesting bit of information. There is a hiking trail between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins (site of one of our camping trips last year) with a length of 14 miles. The hike up Harney Peak left me itching to do more hiking and 14 miles seemed like fun. However, a hike that long would take us the better part of a day and we wouldn’t have time to do a roundtrip back to our car.

Then, sometime over the last two months I read about Missouri’s Ozark Trail. It is a hiking and backpacking trail (with a lot of mountain biking and equestrian access as well) with a total length over 350 miles at the moment.  The trail is situated mostly in the southeastern quadrant of Missouri and stretches almost down to Arkansas.

I spent several hours one night reading stories backpackers had written about their experiences on sections of the trail, including the section between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins. That’s when I got the idea to do a backpacking trip with Fox.

We bought hiking boots about two months ago, but most of our camping gear is suitable only for car camping. In order to better understand what we are getting into and how to prepare, I started reading lots of guides to backpacking during my train commute to and from work (The guides on REI’s website seemed quite good).

Seeing as we normally camp with a queen-size air mattress, relatively heavy tent, and heavy blankets, we had some big holes to fill in our gear inventory. We would need at least one frame backpack, a lightweight tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. We have been doing a lot of reading across the Internet about pros and cons of various types and brands of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, sleeping pads, stoves, water filtration systems, clothing, and other accessories.

So far, we found a great clearance deal on a Kelty Coyote 80-liter backpack for me as well as clearance deals on Kelty Cosmic Down 20-degree sleeping bags (Long for me, Women’s Regular for Fox). We didn’t intend for this to sound like a Kelty advertisement, but their backpacks and sleeping bags have been consistently recommended on review sites for their quality at a reasonable price point. Also we keep finding great sales on their stuff where we look.

We are still looking for a good four-person tent (maybe the Kelty Gunnison 4.2 since it reviews well and is only $200 at REI) and sleeping pads (probably NEMO Astro Insulated) and probably a backpack for Fox too. If we need a backpacking stove, we recruited my little brother to go with us and we got him one for Christmas. We were thinking ahead there.

My plan at the moment is to keep an eye out for a dry weekend this spring and drive down to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park early in the morning. We will then park where our car will hopefully not get disturbed for a couple of days. Then the three of us and our dog, Mishka, will set off for Johnson Shut-Ins. We will hopefully arrive at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park a couple hours before dark so we can get to a campsite and get our tent up without trouble.

We may spend a day hanging out at the park and spend a second night there, or we may head out the next day. This part is still up in the air. The park has a good showerhouse, camp store, and campgrounds with fire pits, so we will still have nice amenities and won’t have to make camp in the wilderness this time.

I have been spending a lot of time looking forward to this trip. The thought of hiking through the wilderness while carrying everything we need to survive holds a particular sense of excitement for me. It’s definitely my most anticipated adventure for 2015 that we have planned so far. I’m looking forward to making some good memories this year.