Salt and trees put Nebraska town on the map
The Morton mansion in Nebraska City, Nebraska
After three days camping in Cody, Wyoming, we headed southeast on Highway 120 to Thermopolis and Casper then took I-20 to Douglas where we overnighted.
The scenery along the nearly deserted road was mostly prairie with lots of sage brush and a few rolling hills. We spotted mule deer and pronghorn antelope sleeping or feeding along the roadway and occasionally, we would top a hill and see flat, desolate country for miles and miles and an occasional rain storm, probably in the next county. As I recall, we had no phone signals.
Just outside Thermopolis, a popular and busy little town known for its hot springs, we rode south and parallel with the Big Horn River passing through the Wind River Canyon, which shows off breathtakingly high and colorful cliffs. We should have spent more time here.
At Douglas, we spent the night in a very nice KOA campground, located on the outskirts of town and far enough from the Interstate that we could sleep undisturbed with the windows open.
Inside the Morton mansion.
Douglas has the distinction of being the home of the fabled jackalope tale. Seems a local taxidermist took the antlers from a deer and mated it with the body of a jack rabbit and to this day, there are some in this town who swear the jackalope exists. Douglas thought enough of the attention to erect an eight-foot statue in the middle of town.
Douglas’ real claim to fame? The town is listed in the 100 best small towns of America.
From Douglas we drove to Fort Collins, CO., dined with some Oklahoma friends from high school and college days then drove across Nebraska on the Pawnee Pioneer Trail. We passed mostly farm land, with thousands of acres of corn and soybeans, and a few beef and pork feeder lots and a bunch of oil pumping units. Land that wasn’t growing a cash crop was fenced and covered with prairie grass for grazing cattle.
We drove through corn fields on both sides of the highway as far as the eye could see. This site continued across Nebraska, Iowa and into Ohio.
Signs along the highway said we were driving parallel in some areas, to the famous Pony Express Route. We are in the once wild, wild west.
In North Platte, Nebraska, we enjoyed 50 degree nighttime temperatures, which is a rarity in this part of the country in mid-August and got back on the highway early the next morning and drove 270 miles around Lincoln to Nebraska City and camped in Victorian Acres, a well-appointed campground with big campsites and lots of green grass.
We spent two nights in Nebraska City whose most notable citizen was Morton Salt Company founder Jay Morton. A landmark in town is the Morton mansion, called Arbor Lodge. His father, J. Sterling Morton moved here in the mid 1800’s and complained there were no trees in town. He led a movement to plant trees and later became the founder of Arbor Day. He was also named Secretary of Agriculture by President Grover Cleveland. Morton built the original 32 room house but son Jay expanded it to more than 50.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 94
GALLONS OF GASOLINE: 1,288
COST OF FUEL: $3,879
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 10,639