The Oregon Trail and the Rocky Mountains

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What better way to welcome summer than a road trip across the plains, to the mountains, and back again? For Memorial Day weekend, we decided do just that.Traveling with Aaron is one of my favorite things to do, and we want to instill a love for seeing new places and experiencing new things in our boys in hopes that they, too, will grow up with a similar love and appreciation.

 

Visiting Western Nebraska has been a goal of ours for a while, and it’s so close to Wyoming/Colorado that we decided to make a big loop out of our Oregon Trail adventure. I have to preface these summaries by saying I had no expectations. I didn’t know much about the landmarks or the monuments at all. I suggest that is the best way to approach a new adventure, because it’s hard to be disappointed that way! (And I’m not saying that in a spirit of pessimism—what I mean is, with a toddler and an infant on a road trip, you never really know what to expect. I didn’t want to be geared up for amazingness and then be disappointed if we couldn’t get to all of our hopeful destinations.)Here’s a little bit about our trip:

Friday:


We left home and headed west, spending the night in Aaron’s hometown. It was a bit out of the way for a pit stop, but the three-hour trip meant we had a good head start on our way to Western Nebraska.

Saturday:

We were up and out of town by 7 a.m. The fog from McCook to North Platte, Nebraska, was some of the thickest I’ve ever seen. That stretch was eerie and beautiful (except for the car driving 50 in the 65 for half an hour…that was just annoying). We hopped on I-80 and then took Highway 26 from Ogallala Northwest.

Stop no. 1: Courthouse and Jail Rocks
Thanks to some suggestions from friends, our first stop was near Bridgeport, Nebraska. It was so cool to get to be so close to the monuments—driving right up to them was more than we expected to be able to do. At this point, Shepherd was ready to get out and run around a bit, so we did some exploring. We didn’t climb to the top (maybe next time!) but it was a fun stop.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

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Stop no. 2: Chimney Rock National Historic Site
Also known as Elk Penis (yep), Chimney Rock is a pretty well known Nebraska site. Unlike Courthouse and Jail Rocks, you can’t (legally) get very close to it. We stopped at the Visitors Center, paid a nominal fee ($6 I think) and learned a little bit more about the history of the site. We probably would have enjoyed the exhibits more if not for a hungry two-year-old; instead, we enjoyed the view from the observation area. This is also where I first tried out the Faux-go (what we called the baby carrier I wore). I accidentally left my Ergo at home, and because Aaron was filming our trip, I had to have a hands-free way to carry Wilder. We found a little carrier at Walmart, and it was pretty awful, but we made it work for the trip. I have never been more thankful for my Ergo in my life!

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Stop no. 3: Scotts Bluff National Monument
After a quick stop for lunch (Pizza Hut, as is our road trip tradition) in Scottsbluff, we headed to the monument of  (almost) the same name. Scotts Bluff National Monument is a collection of 800-foot bluffs overlooking the North Platte River and Scottsbluff/Gering communities. This was our most challenging trip of the day, but also the most rewarding: despite the boys both being exhausted, we hiked around the monument for a couple hours, enjoyed the amazing views, and attempted a family selfie (not sure what the correct abbrev is for that one…). By the time we finished our hike, loaded the boys in their seats, and headed down the hill, all four of us were getting tired. The boys were asleep before we even got back to the valley, and they slept well until we got to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Stop no. 4: Curt Gowdy State Park, Cheyenne, Wyoming
After a brief stop in Cheyenne proper to grab supper and a few necessities for our camp site, we were on our way to Curt Gowdy State Park. We completely lucked out getting a camp site there on Memorial Day weekend—Aaron called to see if anyone cancelled a reservation, and sure enough, one spot was open. It turned out to be an amazing one. We were worried about predicted storms, so we didn’t eat dinner on the campfire. We didn’t need to worry. It was a beautiful night. We had s’mores, listened to the sounds of the lake, and later, the sounds of our drunk campers across the bluff. But that’s a story for another time!

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Sunday:

The next morning was glorious. It was a crisp and clear. We wanted to stay, but Colorado was calling our name, so we enjoyed the sunrise and packed up, ready for the next leg of our journey.

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Stop no. 5: Rocky Mountain National Park

After a quick trip across the border, we were in Colorado. We headed toward the mountains and, as we meandered miles high, we were struck by the devastation the flooding caused along the Big Thompson. It looked nothing like it did my entire childhood, and seeing mountain homes with their foundations sliding down the cliffs broke my heart. It was eerie, but the “thanks, road crew!” signs gave some hope to the otherwise bleak restoration.

As is to be expected on Memorial Day weekend, the lines into RMNP were long. Trail Ridge Road was closed when we arrived because of 6″ of snow and a rock slide, so we headed up to Bear Lake instead. As soon as we parked, the hail began. It didn’t stop for 45 minutes. We sat under the pavilion, waiting, and the second it did, we headed out toward the ice-covered lake. It was solid snow underfoot, but it was beautiful. Then, the hail started again, followed by rain. It was chilly, and Shepherd was not happy—we told him Mickey Mouse had to stay in the backpack because we had to have his full attention walking on the ice. Our little hike turned abbreviated as the hail started once again.

Once we were back in the car, we headed up Trail Ridge Road again. We made it to Rainbow Curve Overlook, where the clouds and fog were so dense we could see just a few feet in front of us. The road was closed past this point, so we headed back down. It was too short, but we enjoyed it anyway.

We then went back to Estes Park, where we grabbed lunch.

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Stop no. 6: Fort Collins, Colorado

I didn’t take any pictures of our time with our friends Amanda, Jen, and Ryan in Fort Collins (but trust me, it was fun!). Thanks, Jen and Ryan, for letting us stay at your home! We loved seeing our dear old friends and meeting new ones.

Monday

Then, too soon, Memorial Day Monday was here, and it was time to head home…

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You may have noticed these were almost all iPhone photos—that’s because Aaron was using the camera to film a documentary of our trip. You can see it here:

Heading West from Aaron Nix on Vimeo.

This trip was a breath of fresh air for us. We’re already eager to take our next trip west—next time, it will be for longer than two days!

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