One of the reasons I bought my pickup camper a year ago was to be able to mosey along country roads and visit some of the more remote spots in the Nebraska. While I had traveled to Fort Robinson and Toadstool National Geological Park with my son around 10 years ago, I knew there was much more in northwest Nebraska to see.
Northwest Nebraska ramble
One of those places I wanted to visit was a tourist spot called the High Plains Homestead. I had read a number of articles about the great food and hospitality, and when I heard that the place would be up for auction, I decided now was a good time to check it out.
Traveling the 18 miles from Crofton down a bumpy one lane dirt and gravel road into the Oglalla Grasslands is like traveling to another place and time. Over the years, owners Mike and Linda Kesselring have transformed the original restaurant and bed and breakfast operation into a western cow town. In addition to a comfortable room and a good meal, visitors can stroll along a boardwalk and wander through a livery stable, school house, sheriff’s office and jail, a saloon, a mercantile store and other buildings.
Along with rooms and cabins, there are RV spots available, which is where I spent the night in my camper.
During dinner in the cookshack, I met a father and son on a fly fishing trip. The dad was from Omaha and his grown son was visiting from Los Angeles, where he works as an animator. I also met some women from California and Colorado, who were boarding and riding their horses at Fort Robinson, and drove to the restaurant for dinner.
The next morning, breakfast was served promptly at 7:30. The eggs and pancakes were good, but what made the breakfast memorable were Mike’s tales about local history and the pioneer families.
As an example, I didn’t know that the reason why the area is a patchwork of privately owned ranches and government owned grasslands is that the U.S. government bought back many of the homesteads from ranchers and farmers who went bankrupt during and following the Dustbowl.
After breakfast, I met a couple from Indiana who were in the area to visit archeological sites and tour the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Bed. I had tried to visit the Hudson-Ming Center the previous day, but found it was closed for the season. The couple had called ahead to reserve a private tour and they invited me to tag along. The site contains the 10,000-year-old remains of up to 600 bison. There are differing theories as to how and why the bison perished.
Hudson-Meg is located near Toadstool Geological Park, which is another unique northwest Nebraska attraction. I spent a night camped at one of six campsites near the entrance to the park.
The camping and picnic area is “primitive” in that there is no running water or electricity available. Each camping or picnic area includes a shelter and table. The vault toilets are modern and clean.
The toadstool formations for which the park is named are sandstone slabs atop eroding clay pedestals. I enjoyed my evening and morning hikes along the park trails with picturesque views of the eroded buttes and grasslands in the distance.
Not far up the dirt and gravel road from Toadstool Geological Park is a beautiful little country church and the town site of Montrose. The names on the cemetery monuments are a testament to the family members who homesteaded in the area. I was surprised to find that the church was open and well cared for. I learned from Kesselring that the church is used for weddings and funerals and one mass a year.
Across the road to the northeast from the church and beyond the town site is a stone monument high on a hill. The Warbonnet Historic Site marks the encounter between the U.S. 5th Cavalry and a band of Cheyenne Indians in 1876. I climbed to the top of the hill to read the memorial and take in the view of grasslands and buttes spreading to the horizon in all directions. At the base of the hill is a monument memorializing the slaying of Cheyenne Warrior Yellow hair by Buffalo Bill Cody.
I enjoyed my drive along narrow roads through grasslands and around and over buttes. I ended the day at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument south of Harrison. Mammal bones from the Miocene age were first discovered on the site by a rancher in the 1890s. The visitors center includes reconstructed skeletons of some of the Miocene mammals excavated here.
I think it was in the Agate Fossil Beds visitors center where I read the Willa Cather quote, “Anybody can love the mountains, but it takes a soul to love the prairie.”
My trip to northwest Nebraska was good for my soul.