The Black Hills, June 2019, Days 9-11: the drive back home

In June of 2019, I took an long-planned, epic 11-day road trip from Texas all the way up to the Dakotas! In order to keep to blog posts from being painfully long, I’ve broken the trip up into days and will release one post per day or so. This covers my last three days, spent driving from Devil’s Tower in Wyoming back to my home in Texas, with a few scenic stops along the way.

I stuck around Devil’s Tower for most of the morning and went another, longer hike; this one took through several different types of scenery and changes in elevation. Didn’t see another soul, and got wide views of the Tower and the surrounding countryside.

About midday I finally tore myself away from Devil’s Tower and headed out on the long drive down the eastern side of Wyoming.

The first part of the drive had more interesting scenery than my drive the day before. There are some cool volcanic peaks around…

…and for a brief time I felt like I was back in the Black Hills again.

But before too long, after the town of Newcastle, I had left the hills behind for good and was in the Plains heading south. For nearly two hours the land rolled on with nothing much to see, until I reached US 26. This parallels the North Platte River heading southeast, but I decided to take an impromptu detour to see nearby Fort Laramie first, an important 19th-century outpost and stopping point on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails.

I then continued on to Gering, Nebraska, where I would spend that night. I intended to visit the top of Scotts Bluff that evening, but it started raining heavily shortly after I crossed into Nebraska (as you can see in the picture below), so I postponed the visit until the next morning.

Scottsbluff and Gering aren’t really anything special as towns, but Scotts Bluff itself is very impressive and affords spectacular views. It’s a cool little micro-environment up on top of the bluff, and there are a few short hiking trails. You can even hike up to the top from the base, though I drove.

Chimney Rock, which I would visit later that day, 20 mi/32 km away
You can just barely make out Laramie Peak, 94 mi/151 km away and 10,275 ft/3132 m tall, still covered in snow.

I made my way southeast to Chimney Rock, another important landmark on the Oregon Trail.

There’s a good Oregon Trail museum there, which I spent a little bit of time at. Just as I was about to leave, none other than a Model-T Ford pulled into the parking lot! I was gobsmacked to see one just out and about, so I asked the driver if I could take a picture of it, and he happily consented.

I plugged onward. As I paralleled the North Platte River, I caught glimpses of the outskirts of the Sand Hills that had so fascinated me a week before. Once I turned south through the town of Ogallala and crossed the South Platte River, I knew I was done with “pretty” or “interesting” scenery for the trip – just flat plains from there to Texas.

That knowledge, combined with the heat and humidity I had left behind many days before returning, put me not in the best mood as I crossed back into Kansas…

Hours later, there was one last sight to see – not far off my road (US 83) was a set of strange chalk formations called Monument Rocks. You have to drive several miles on dirt roads to get there and back, but they’re worth seeing. No entry fee, no fence, nothing. You just walk right up to them, and I didn’t see another soul the entire time I was there.

Those are actually hundreds of little cliff swallow nests.

One last bit of history I knew nothing about…

…and there’s not much more to tell. I spent that night in Garden City, KS, where I stayed in the surprisingly luxurious Best Western Plus and ate surprisingly good Thai food.

I left very early the next morning because I had an appointment back in Texas late that afternoon. It only takes 35 minutes to cross the Oklahoma Panhandle

But from where I entered Texas near Perryton, it’s many hours’ drive back to where I live!

As I neared home, I couldn’t believe all that I had seen nor the vast scope of my trip. Was it really just yesterday that I stood on top of Scotts Bluff and saw snow-capped mountains in Wyoming, and just the day before that I was hiking around Devil’s Tower?

This trip was truly “epic” in every sense of the word. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking it with me!

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