We start from Lincoln, Nebraska in a soaking rain. Being highly experienced riders, we are all decked out in rain gear.
We get up in Interstate 80 headed west at 75 mph. I love this Harley Road Glide, as its one of the few bikes I’ve ever ridden that sheds rain completely off the windshield as I ride. I have no idea why physics fails to apply to most other windshields, but it seems as though nature has glued water spots directly in your line of sight, even at 70 mph. This bike is a dream.
We only have to endure the heavy rain for an hour and a half, then it stops. Soon the sun is out and we have stopped to strip off the gear. We roll happily along at the speed limit. This puts us pretty much with the truckers and out of the way of faster traffic.
This is a great strategy for any vehicle, as the fast lane often gets bunched very tightly when overtaking slower traffic. One little slip and the whole train impacts together in this situation. We hang back and stay clear.
Lunch on this day will be at Ole’s Big Game steakhouse and bar in Paxton. This is a must see tourist spot with a huge stuffed polar bear and game on every wall, everywhere. Ole was an accomplished nimrod, indeed.
We are following the Oregon Trail as we exit I-80 at Ogallala and ride along the North Platte River. It’s really refreshing to get off the Interstate. Riding 2 lane highways enables relaxing rides and enjoying scenery. We are following the North Platte River valley at this point. Water is coming out of Wyoming and flows clean and pure along the sandy soil of the valley.
We stop at Chimney rock, which was an important marker for the Pioneers in covered wagons. This symbolized the easy, flat land travel was over and now the climbing begins. Its hard to imagine how this last bit of tall ground was all that was left after erosion took its toll.
It was easy to keep tourists from getting any closer by posting signs advising there were rattle snakes in the grass. Yes, please stay on the pavement.
We continue Westward and find more markers designating the Oregon Trail. The angle of ascent gets slightly steeper and soon we arrive at Scottsbluff National Monument, a very large rock formation. There are some original wagon ruts in the earth here. The ground is mounded and extremely uneven. The ruts seem to be 4 or 5 feet deep.
It’s difficult to imagine a wagon having to transverse this loaded with all your food, supplies and a few of your most precious belongings. I can envision wagons tipping over and having to be righted again with group help. A few hundred yards away is smoother ground, then more rough patches.
Model wagons with oxen are lined up in a display at the foot of the rocks. It is quite the sight. A road to the top of the monument has been built, complete with a few tunnels, to enable tourists to see the vision from the top. The road is steep and has few guardrails. There’s a nice parking area at the top. The bike ride up is exhilarating and gives the Harley some opportunities to sing the song of our people (deep, throaty exhaust) in the tunnels. Yes, bikers love tunnels.
The views are breathtaking and different from each angle. The flat Platte River valley lies to the west, a patchwork of farm land. To the east are the bluffs of what is the beginning of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
We continue westward up Highway 26 to Mitchell, Nebraska. We stop and fill our gas tanks, as there will be no fuel or any other services for close to 100 miles after this. This is far western Nebraska, with virgin prairie seemingly untouched by humans for thousands of years.
We turn north onto Highway 29 and ease out of town. It’s about 55 miles of vast, undisturbed open prairie. There are no road signs and only one intersection in that distance. The sky is blue on one side and cloudy on the other. There is only a very light breeze. The air is so clean and pure that you can smell water when near it.
I recall seeing movies of cattle drives and the stampedes that were said to come “when the cattle smelled water”. I always wondered how that was. Now I know.
Despite this being a major holiday, there is virtually no traffic. Oncoming cars are at least 10 minutes apart. We stop our bikes often to take in the lovely scenic views. We don’t need the “scenic overlook” areas. We can just stop our bikes on the highway and put down the kickstands.
At one such stop, a pickup truck slowed down for us and was ready to stop and help. We flashed the “thumbs up” sign and held up our camera phones. They waved and went on by. People out here in the remote Sandhills will always stop to help those who have difficulties. Neighborly assistance is a way of life out here. Even though there are places where there is no cell phone signal, it’s not likely that will be a fatal situation.
This area is a very large expanse of rolling sandhills, left over from an inland sea. The hills are covered with native grasses. Ranches here are very large and the houses are set well back from the road. Most of them are out of sight from the highway. Many have been in the same families for generations and the ranchers are very proud stewards of the land and it shows.
There are no irrigation pivots, despite sitting on top of one of the largest underground aquifers in the world. When the grass cover gets broken, the wind soon removes the sand and a large bowl develops. Called “blowouts”, these look just like a sand trap on a golf course. It’s difficult to restore the vegetation.
Ranchers are experts in knowing how many cattle can be supported per acre and they take great care of the animals. They are healthy and well fed. There are no feed lots here. The grass is some of the most nutritious in the world. These are the source of the finest beef there is. Known as “I-80 beef” for its proximity to Interstate 80, it is highly coveted in Japan and the finest restaurants in the U.S. If you’ve ever had a steak you can cut with a fork that has no tough tendons and leaves more juice on the plate than you can sop up with the meat, it probably came from right here.
We are soaking it all in and the quiet is amazing.
The air is calm and there is virtually no wind. The sun bathes us as we motor along. I worked the throttle to find a point there the Harley seemed to pull the bike the easiest and that seemed to be about 61 mph. I set the cruise and put down the highway pegs.
I love to ride with music, but there is no civilization out here. This is a place where even the Hog Report sounds good. Putting your radio on “search” just sends it through endless loops of silence, whether that is AM or FM. I have an old I-phone with lots of my favorites on it and I’ve plugged it into the bike’s sound system. I’ve got music.
Few things in life are more relaxing than riding a motorcycle on a lovely day and having the road all to yourself. Oncoming cars are 20 miles apart and I don’t think we had to pass a single vehicle in over an hour. The gas gauge isn’t moving, woman and machine appear to have bonded in a happy place.
For this to be big cattle country, I’m surprised that I never smelled cows. The cows eat the grass and fertilize the soil in a mutually beneficial relationship. There are plenty of waterholes for the herd and other wildlife. Deer and antelope can be seen occasionally.
Our next stop is the Agate Fossil Beds. The road to which is the only intersection in 60 miles. Maps are really not needed out here. The fossil beds reveal a long pattern of climate shifts from wet to dry and back again. The displays are very interesting and show the many different prehistoric animals who once roamed this part of the earth. The buildup on bones in the bottom of the photo are how they were naturally discovered.
The waterhole where they were found had raised and lowered, dried up, filled with sand, then came back when the rains returned. There was even an underground ecosystem displayed.
Back on the bikes, we are hungry for lunch. We’ve heard about the Giant Coffee Burger featured in the bar in Harrison, Nebraska. The culinary creation was named after a rancher named Coffee who was always complaining that the burgers were too small. So, they finally made a burger that was a full pound or more of ground beef grilled to perfection. The “Coffee Burger” was born.
We found the Longhorn Saloon easily and entered to find the classic small town bar with signs all over. The tiny grill was cooking up some great looking burgers. When we inquired about the Coffee Burger, the server smiled and said it was one of her relatives who was involved with it. That bar had been sold and the new owners couldn’t make a go of it. The building was sold and is now a bank.
But, she said, we have great burgers. I told her of my Burger Wars exploits and ordered a cheeseburger. It was a delectable creation and I’ll highly recommend the Longhorn Saloon in Harrison as a great place to dine.