Escaping the heat: Gering, NE to Pine Bluffs, WY
Friday July 12, 2013, 68 miles (110 km) – Total so far: 2,913 miles (4,688 km)
With the noise of the fair, the lights of the cars shining on the tent when leaving the parking lot next door, and the late night assault of sprinklers on the tent fly, I think I get about three hours of sleep. So it’s a groggy start down Highway 71 this morning.
The great thing about today is that Nebraska has already completed this section of the Heartland Expressway. This is a ‘federal high priority corridor’ destined to be a 4-lane divided highway connecting Rapid City to Denver (via I-76). They think construction will be completed in 20 years. Um, yeah. This is part of an even more ambitious project of several more ‘expressways’ linked together to create further north-south connections between Mexico and Canada.
If Nebraska was thinking “build it and they will come”, well, they haven’t come yet. All the way to Kimball, I’ll have a huge shoulder on a divided four-lane road but less traffic than I’ve encountered on many of the 2-lane highways I’ve ridden on this trip.
Fog is rising from the lush dark greens of the bean crops as I traverse a valley and head toward the Wildcat Hills. The faces of the buttes across the valley glow orange as the sun’s rays strike the sandstone. Then we begin the climb up and over the Wildcat Hills. The strata (Arikaree formation) exposed here are the same rocks we encountered back at Fort Robinson and Chadron State Park.
I’m not moving fast enough to out-ride the gnats and little black flies, but the climb only takes 5-10 minutes before we go flying down the other side, flinging the gnats and flies away with the wind.
Down we go, the buttes providing a scenic and vertical backdrop to the road as it unfurls down into the valley before us. Those buttes over there are White River siltstones – the same rocks we clambered around at Toadstool Geologic Park back in May.
We zoom along the valley floor. We pass over Pumpkin Creek, a tiny little creek that looks like an irrigation ditch at the end of the growing season. Most of the water for the crops is pulled from the groundwater here. Now, we gently climb to the base of the south valley wall. Here, as we start to climb, exposed gravels in the hillside above us show where old rivers carved channels over the last 2 million years.
Once out of the river valley, we gently climb for the rest of the way to Kimball. All of the elevation gain sees us work our way up onto the Cheyenne Tableland, a high remnant of sediments from about 5 million years ago known as the “Gangplank” surface. This part of the day brings clear, deep blue skies, rolling hills and four rattlesnakes sunning themselves in the shoulder. I move over for each of them a bit, but none of them rattle or rear up, so either they weren’t bothered or they were just bull snakes, anyway!
It’s into the upper 80s F by the time I get to Kimball. I head over to the library to cool down and recharge my electronics. Though there are no official places to camp in town, the park on the east side looks like it would be suitable. However, it’s only around noon, and too hot to want to just hang around, so I move on after a rest. I get more drinks and head west on old 30.
The scenery serves up more dry hills – parched grass and sad weeds in a gently rolling landscape. On occasion, there is a historical marker to break the monotony. Finally, we can see the bluffs and vegetation rising up out of the plains at Pine Bluffs. There is also a very, very big Jesus statue. Why he’s here in far southeast Wyoming, I never find out. But he is big. Very big.
After I ride up to the interstate and don’t find much but an A&W rootbeer to quench my thirst, I head into downtown to ask about camping. I get directions at the chamber of commerce, stop at the supermarket to procure a dinner of fruit salad and Triscuits, and then stop at the library to see how quickly the very dark clouds to the west are approaching. Not too fast, but there’s nasty stuff embedded in them.
The city RV park is an ex-Good Sam park that is very run-down. Everybody else is living there. The showers are hot and pretty clean but feel like you are standing under a fire hose. I hear cars come and go from the place, but I never actually see anyone. It is kinda creepy. However, my tent spot is nice enough, and I’ve got a big pine tree for shade that also keeps the rain off my bike later on. From my tent, I can also hear all of the commentary from the rodeo down the street, until it gets washed out by a round of thunderstorms that crash and bang and linger for over an hour after dusk. I try to stay up to read, but the lack of sleep last night means I’m out before I even crawl in my sleeping bag. Zzzzzzz……