Nebraska Scenic Byway

Sandhills Journey… State Route 2

From Alliance, NE we travel across the north-central part of the state through the Sandhills, a region of mixed-grass prairie on grass-stabilized sand dunes. (

This means the large sand masses were formed by blowing sand and are now held in place by vegetation consisting mainly of grasses. (

The Sandhills sit on the Ogallala Aquifer which creates temporary and permanent shallow lakes and wetlands.

The Ogallala Aquifer is also referred to as the High Plains Aquifer because it sits under some 174,000 square miles of the High Plains, stretching from South Dakota to Texas.

It is a porous body of complex sediments and sedimentary rocks that holds groundwater, producing wells and springs. (

Nebraska National Forest… Bessey Recreation Area

Sixteen miles east of Thedford, NE and a mile west of Halsey on State Route 2, we spend 3 relaxing nights here. For $5.50 per night, we have a space with electricity.

Dr. Charles E. Bessey, a professor of botany and horticulture, was convinced from his surveys that this region of Nebraska was once forested and could be forested again.

So, in the late 1880s he proposed planting a Sandhills forest.

Recognizing that much of the of the country’s eastern forests had been harvested or burned, he wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt on January 25, 1902 stating, “… it is merely a question of a few years before the General Government must take steps to provide for the production of timber for our future needs… ”

On April 16, 1902 two Forest Reserves were established by Presidential Proclamation. In 1908 the 90,000 acre Dismal River Forest Reserve became the Nebraska National Forest and now contains over 22,000 acres of hand-planted trees.

Ironically, the National Forest provides many values, but supplying timber is not one of these. Instead, this public land supports wildlife habitats, livestock grazing, and recreation. (plaque in Nebraska National Forest)

The campground sits near the Bessey Nursery, the oldest seedling nursery managed by the USDA Forest Service. A walking trail meanders sporadically through the Bessey Arboretum. There are 52 tree species on this self-guided walking tour, the first trees most probably planted in the early 1900s. Jeff and I identified them all!

My favorites:

The Golden Elderberry…

And the Catalpa, with its green bean-like pods…

As we meander through the arboretum and picnic grounds we cross the Middle Loup River.

The Loup is the most extensive prairie river system in the Sandhills.  A prairie river, also referred to as a braided river, is a wide shallow river with a network of narrow channels meandering through a broad riverbed.

Prairie rivers carry a lot of sediment that forms sand bars, or braids, which separate the channels. Sandhill rivers have few tributaries and flow at a steady rate. (plaque on bridge)

Watch your step here! The stairs lead directly into the river… a great place to start tubing or kayaking.

A fishing pond lies next to the river.

Scott Lookout Tower

Built in 1944, this is the only functioning fire lookout tower in the state of Nebraska. It is still used to scan for fires when the danger of forest fires is high.

From the observation tower the views of the Sandhills, grasslands, and forests are pretty cool.

What’s not so cool…

 me… afraid of heights…

Nearest Town

Halsey is 1 mile east of the Nebraska National Forest.

It has a post office, motel,  and restaurant. And that’s pretty much it… A plaque on the Community Building explains the history of this village:

In 1885 surveyors designated a route through the Sandhills for a Burlington Railroad branch line. The rails reached this point in 1887 and the town was laid out. It was named Halsey after Halsey E. Yates, the son of Charles E. Yates, a Burlington railroad official.

The tracks and trains still run through here…

…on the edge of the Nebraska National Forest… parallel to State Route 2… and oh, so close to the Bessey Recreation Area campground…

Hearing trains blasting their horns in the distance is nostalgic and soothing. Having your sleep interrupted all night with the oncoming roar of locomotion followed by sets of blasts from train horns… not nostalgic or soothing… but something to laugh at, deal with, and count each night!


Alliance, Nebraska

Created from vintage automobiles from the 50s and 60s, Carhenge is a replica of England’s Stonehenge, the ancient alignment of stones that chart the phases of the sun and moon. (Carhenge online brochure)

All 38 major stones of Stonehenge are replicated by 7-foot-wide cars planted trunk down, rising 15 to 17 feet… the same dimensions as Stonehenge. (Carhenge online brochure)

Jim Reinders built Carhenge as a memorial to his father. It was dedicated on the summer solstice of June 1987. (

And other car sculptures…

…like this functional bench, one of a pair, produced from car parts…

“Auto-graph Car”…

“Carsule” created by Jim Reinders for his 75th birthday…

“Car-nestoga” by David Kowalski, commemorating the pioneers crossing the plains along the Oregon Trail…

“The Fourd Seasons” by Jim Reinders… compromised only of Fords… suggests  the Nebraska’s seasonal landscape as wheat is planted, grows, matures, and renders the field barren during the windy winter…

“Car-asaurus” by an unknown artist…

I don’t get this either, but that’s what an informational plaque says…

Now, this looks like a dinosaur! But it’s untitled and anonymous…

“Spawning Salmon” by Geoff Sandhurst from Canada…

Bayard, Nebraska

Leaving Colorado

We travel the back roads of northeastern Colorado through the Pawnee National Grassland.

The grassland is located on the Colorado Eastern Plains, a part of the Great Plains. In the early 1900s the land was somewhat cultivated until the Dust Bowl of the 1930s depopulated the area. (

We enter the southwest panhandle of Nebraska via State Route 71…

and head east on State Route 92 toward the city of Bayard.

We spend the next 3 nights at Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing RV Park, just off 92 and 3 miles southwest of Bayard.

Chimney Rock is visible from the front of our RV.

At night the rock is lit up.

Our next door neighbor has the smallest RV we have ever seen. It’s really a tent on wheels with an electrical hookup. For awhile she had a tall and narrow teepee-like tent set up. A shower and portable potty? But the wind blew it over so she disassembled it.

I did some online research. The 4×8 unit is called a Runaway and can be equipped with air conditioning and television. Of course, everything is extra. YouTube has lots of videos too.

Notice all the stakes lined up around the old windmill below?

Each stake represents a reserved spot to set up a tent. This part of Nebraska will be in direct viewing of the solar eclipse on August 21st.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock is a prominent geological rock formation that served as a landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail in the mid-1800s. The peak of Chimney Rock is a little over 4,000 feet above sea level.

The first recorded mention of Chimney Rock was in 1827 by fur trader Joshua Pilcher. The Native Americans already living in this area, however, called this by a different name which meant elk penis.

Based on sketches, paintings, written accounts, and an 1897 photograph, Chimney Rock was taller when first seen by emigrating settlers. Erosion and lightning has since reduced its height. (

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

Courthouse and Jail Rocks are 2 more famous landmarks of western migration. Often called a “castle” or “solitary tower,” the name “courthouse” was first used in 1837.

Rising some 400 feet above the North Platte Valley, these 2 prominent rocks are composed of clay, sandstone, and volcanic ash. (historical marker plaque)

First impressions of Nebraska…

  • Cornfields… duh, the Cornhusker State…
  • Black-Eyed Susans
  • Cows and more cows
  • Trains blasting their horns ALL night