Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area, NE to Julesburg, CO: What’s that stinky chick doing in the Welcome Center?
Saturday June 5, 2010, 50 miles (81 km) – Total so far: 1,298 miles (2,088 km)
So last night was a Friday and there were several people rolling in late in the evening for their weekend of camping. About midnight, a car comes and the two blokes decide to set up directly across the gravel road from me. There’s a million other places they could camp in the huge area, but no, it has to be right there. And so, for the next two hours, I listen to them as they pound in tent pegs, chop wood and make all sorts of noise. I figure they must be building the Taj Mahal over there. By 2:30 am, I’ve had enough. My alarm is set for 4:30am, so I’m pissed. I put on some clothes and start to unzip and open the tent. They hear this and immediately shut up and stay quiet from then on. Thanks.
Two hours later my alarm goes off. I get up in the pre-dawn light and start to pack up (not quietly). When I crawl out of the tent, I’m curious to see what they were building across the road for two hours last night. It is a bit of a surprise when all I can see is a kid’s tent (not even an adult size tent), pitched on a patch of slanted ground (there’s plenty of flat around). I can see an adult size body pushed up against the side of the tent. All that noise for that. You’ve got to be kidding. Taj Mahal it is not.
Never mind. I’m on the road just a tad past 5am as the sun is beginning to rise, but it’s a slow start. I have to walk the bike up the sandy, corrugated road. Without the downhill speed of the other day to keep me going over the corrugations and through the sand, it’s just as quick to walk. Finally back to the pavement, I immediately start climbing back to the top of the dam wall. It’s not bad, but I’m wheezy again, so there’s a lot of hacking and spitting taking place. As I cross the dam wall, there’s already guys out fishing. Wow – what time did they get up? They’re up with the sun to catch fish – I’m up with the sun to beat wind, heat and storms. I want to be off the road at Julesburg by mid-day.
I head back through Ogallala, grab a chocolate milk, and then it’s back heading west on Hwy 30. It’s pretty flat as the road stays in the river valley. A bit later, a guy in a red Jeep passes and then pulls over up ahead and flags me down. Damn – what is it with these Nebraskan men? He’s got two dogs in the back and he asks the usual questions. He’s actually quite a nice guy probably not too much older than me. He’s a farmer in the area and he is a bit of an adventurer himself. He’s hand-building a wooden boat, because every year in winter they head to Mexico and sail down to Costa Rica. He’s curious about my necklace (the pendant is a compass) and shows me his necklace that has a cool shark’s tooth on it. They find lots of fossilized sharks’ teeth out here. By now, a swarm of biting gnats has found me, so we wish each other well and head off back down the road. Phew – I was scared I’d have to fend off another frisky Nebraskan, but that was not the case.
A bit later again, I begin a climb out of the river valley, watching I-80 get further and further away as it follows the river and I head into the hills. I’ll be back down to the interstate and the river in just a bit, though. As I’m climbing, I come to a historical marker. This, California hill, was one of the points where the emigrants crossed the South Platte River and climbed up out of the valley on their way toward Ash Hollow. It was a notoriously difficult river crossing followed by a steep climb that limited the number of possible routes up the hill. There’s still a wagon rut swale visible on the top of a nearby hill. I look for this but I’m not so sure I can positively identify it and I’m not enthused enough to want to ride up a steep gravel road to further investigate. I part ways with the Oregon Trail here and head off in the direction of the Overland Trail and the cut-offs to Denver followed by those seeking riches in the Pikes Peak and other Colorado gold rushes.
So I climb up Hwy 30 to a high point and my journey with the Lincoln Highway concludes, also. It heads on west toward San Francisco and I head south on Hwy 138. I’ve got a couple miles of a fun downhill back to the river and Big Springs. I even break the speed limit coming into town 🙂 Beyond Big Springs I bid goodbye to I-80 also, as it heads into Wyoming and I begin to parallel I-76.
Once I hit the Colorado state line, I get the requisite photos and call my mom at 10:47am. I made it! A train goes whistling and chugging by just as I call. Mom’s busy getting ready to drive out to meet me in Co Springs.
It’s not too much further to Julesburg (the fourth). There have been four Julesburgs. The first Julesburg was located on the south side of the river and was Colorado’s only Pony Express station. It was ransacked and then burnt by Indians in 1865 in retaliation for the Sand Creek Massacre. Julesburg II was built four miles east of Fort Sedgewick (which plays a prominent role in the movie Dances with Wolves). However, in 1867, the railroad arrived on the north side of the Platte River, so the town moved to the railhead. The third Julesburg was a rowdy place known as the ‘Wickedest City in the West’ and grew to a population of 5000. Then in 1881, the Union Pacific railroad began laying track for its Denver branch a few miles east. Merchants began to move to this new site named Denver Junction (present-day Julesburg). In 1886, the site was incorporated as Julesburg.
The town is named after Jules Beni who ran a trading post in the 1850s. When the Overland Stage Company was established in 1859, Beni became an agent. But Beni was not an upstanding citizen and tampered with the mail while an agent. He was run out of town for this and took up cattle rustling and intimidating the Overland Stage Company. He was involved in gunfights and such and eventually executed.
Now, things are pretty quiet and the downtown has seen better days. I head over to the museum in the old train depot and have a really nice conversation with the volunteer. Most of the exhibits are fairly standard county historical museum fare, but they have an amazing number of cool fossils and Native American tools on display. Very understated, but still very impressive. There’s also another museum (the Fort Sedgewick museum) that the volunteer can open up for you down the road if you’d like.
I head out to the interstate to the Colorado Welcome Center. I’m looking for some info on Sterling, Brush and Limon. A volunteer comes up to me immediately and goes through the whole spiel, even taking me over to the big Colorado map on the wall and pointing out where I am and where Colorado Springs is (since that is where I say I’m going)with a long pointer. It’s a bit overboard but I play along. I’m wearing my Colorado jersey today and she thinks it’s just the greatest advertisement for her state. She insists I sign the guest book; they don’t get many bike riders. It all feels very surreal. There’s a lot of people here. The one woman I talk to will be in Colorado Springs tonight, they started yesterday from Minnesota. The difference in speed and distance and mindset is gigantic. So, too is the standard of personal hygiene. I’ve only had ‘cup’ showers for the past two nights and I really could do with a proper shower.
It’s around one and I head to the nearby motel (built at the same time as the interstate) to see if I can get a room and leave my panniers at the front desk until check-in time. I figure I’ll go check out the nearby Platte River until then. However, the woman has a room available now. The room is clean and fine. I have a long and very needed shower, then I contemplate doing the tourist drive on the dirt roads. However, I’m tired from only having a few hours of interrupted sleep last night, so after I lie down for a moment all motivation is lost. I actually sleep for three hours before getting up and going across the road for a Subway sandwich. It’s an early night for me tonight. I’ve made it to Colorado!!
Ave speed:11.3 mph
Max speed: 29.4 mph