Chimney Rock National Monument near Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

I told you that I witnessed this year’s Pony Express re-ride in Nebraska earlier this summer. Since the ponies weren’t supposed to show up til later in the day, I took the opportunity that morning to visit Chimney Rock. I was in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, and I had to drive only about 20 minutes to the Chimney Rock National Historical Site, as they officially call it.

On the way, I saw a crop of longhorns sprouting in a field:

And I saw them working on the railroad all the live-long day:

Finally I caught my first glimpse of Chimney Rock from the highway. Then, as I took the turnoff to the visitor center:

You can see for yourself that it lends itself perfectly to being a major landmark for pioneers on the Oregon Trail, and for Native American tribes before that. On the side road was a themed tourist snack bar, which wasn’t open at the time:

From the visitor center parking lot:

And some drama as we waited for it to open:

No, it wasn’t a rattler, just a bull snake. The staff there said the bull snake was resident there and helped keep the rattlers away from the center.

Anyway, I entered the visitor center and paid the fee ($3.00) and beelined it out the back door to get these shots:

Here you can see the spire that rises about 300 feet above the conical base. They believe that it may have been 30 feet higher at the time of the westward settler migration. Layers of volcanic ash and brule clay compose the spire, the materials dating back to between 23 and 34 million years ago. From the base of the cone to the top measures 480 feet above those cows.

Here you can see the layers in the spire:

You can hike to the rock and do some climbing, but they caution against it because of the rattlesnakes that live in the area. So I opted out of the three-mile jaunt (ok, I wouldn’t have done it anyway).

There was the requisite covered wagon skeleton, too:

Back inside the visitor center was a thorough display in pleasant surroundings. A timeline:

Lots of taxidermy from the area:

Clothes:

And this:

I bought a pin and a tshirt at the gift shop. My second favorite display there was in the kids’ area – a ring toss game made out of a model of Chimney Rock:

And my most favorite thing was the donation box:

They said he showed up at Halloween and never left. My donation is hanging in the top slot for the photo. Yes, I pushed it in after I shot it!

What a great sight to see, and the visitor center was top-notch. Well worth the money and time to drive out there.

Note: there are other Chimney Rocks around, such as Chimney Rock National Monument in southeast Colorado, but this one in Nebraska is the one famous for being a landmark on the Oregon Trail. It’s somewhat remote, but the area has lots to see and was totally worth the trip!

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Broomfield Crescent Grange 136 Hall in Colorado

I have read about Grange Halls in Western novels, particularly those written by my friend R. Annan, but I didn’t know much more about them except they were gathering places for ranchers in the Old West. So, I was surprised and excited to find that they still exist and are still quite active. In fact, there is one here in Broomfield, Colorado, where I live!

First some etymology: a ‘grange’ was originally the name for a large farmhouse with all its outbuildings, especially in England. A country manor might have the name Muckitymuck Grange, for example. In the States, an agricultural special-interests organization called Patrons of Husbandry began using ‘grange’ to refer to its gathering halls in 1867. This group carried out the Granger Movement in the 1870s. They campaigned for state control of railroads and grain elevators, plus managed to secure free rural postal delivery.

These days, the Patrons of Husbandry still exist as community-minded chapters, and they have gathering halls called Grange Halls, just like in the olden days. And so it is with Broomfield, whose local chapter and hall is called Broomfield Crescent Grange #136. Despite some research, I’ve been unable to find out why it includes the word ‘crescent’, but there are a few other crescent granges across the country.

As with many Grange Halls, Broomfield’s is the original, historic building. The chapter was formed in 1898 and the building itself was built in 1916. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a free lecture series inside the Grange Hall, which can be rented out for meetings and such. This particular lecture, presented by the Broomfield Depot Museum, was an interesting talk by a local historian who spoke about the history of mountain towns near here. He spoke about the Winter Park area, where I’d visited before, so it was great to have a point of reference.

While there I snapped a few interior shots. Here’s my favorite, a shot of the grain silos outside the window. I plan to get more in-depth on the grain silos in a future blog post.

A shot toward the stage:

and toward the rear:

And the Patrons of Husbandry trophy cabinet on the east wall:

They even have an upright piano that looks historic, though I’ve no way to know how old it is:

As far as I can tell, the Grange Hall is in its original location, which is very near where the original train depot used to be. If anyone knows any different, please let me know in the comments. I do know that it was designated an official Local Historic Landmark in 2018.

The chapter has monthly meetings that focus on community service, such as Earth Day celebrations and the like. They also provide an organic garden space behind the hall, along with some beehives. It’s worked by volunteers and the produce is donated to the local food bank.

I really love that the community has this bit of Old West history running through it. And that they are still serving a valuable purpose today!

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Berthoud, Colorado

While out exploring with my friend Laura, we ended up in the small town of Berthoud, Colorado, about an hour’s drive north of Denver. The reason? Laura had picked up a Berthoud tourist magazine somewhere, plus we felt like a drive. And so we drove.

Berthoud is very small, about 5,000 residents, and it’s very much like the proverbial wide spot in the road. In fact, we were past it almost before we realized we were in it! We first noticed this magnificent mural on the side of a silo near the train tracks:

As you can see, it WAS a silo, but now it’s an antique shop, which was closed that day. But there were plenty of things to photograph outside, so I got one of the ancient, dried saddle:

…and this detail shot I truly love:

…plus this old workhorse:

Berthoud (pronounced “BIRTH-ud”) started the way many small towns here do: settlers in the 1860s who came because of the Colorado gold rush. Only hardcore ranchers and farmers stayed, though, after the initial influx of people. So there is lots of ranch and farmland surrounding this place still today.

Interestingly, the town was founded about a mile south from where it is now. Backstory: a settler staked a claim on some land where the Colorado Central Railroad was slated to cross Little Thompson Creek. The railroad built the track and a settlement grew up around the crossing point. It was called Little Thompson Creek settlement (so original), but was later changed to Berthoud, after the guy who’d surveyed the railroad route.

By the early 1880s, the railroad “noticed” (I can imagine complaints from train engineers and such) that the steam trains had to labor to come up out of the valley from the settlement. So, in 1883-34, teams of horses pulled several of the buildings onto a bluff to the town’s current location.

Here’s a shot of the old train depot, now the Lions Club office. You can see the position of the mural’d silo’s proximity to the train tracks.

Of course, I can’t be that close to train tracks and not put coins on it. A train sped by before I could do that, mainly because I didn’t have any change on me. But Laura to the rescue!

With our coins in place, we strolled the few blocks through town, hoping for another speeding train.

Berthoud used to be situated on what became Colorado Highway 287, a main north/south artery in these parts. When 287 was expanded and relocated years ago, Berthoud got bypassed. I can imagine what happened to the town because of that.

They DO have a drive-thru liquor store, though!

That may be the only stoplight, but I can’t really remember. They may have had two or three.

You can still see the Old West architecture in many places:

Berthoud‘s nickname is “Garden Spot of Colorado”, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s all the farmland around it.

As is true of most Colorado small towns that I’ve encountered, this small place boasts 10 public parks! And they have a few annual events, including Arbor Day, farmers markets, etc. I’d like to see the Berthoud Snowfest, a snow sculpting competition every December. Maybe next year!

They also have a couple of local museums, which we didn’t visit and which were probably closed anyway: the Little Thompson Valley Pioneer Museum located in the historic blacksmith shop, and the McCarty-Fickel Home, the residence of a local doctor built in 1916.

I found more than one antique/thrift shop, too. Here’s one that was open that I actually went inside:

I like their parking warnings:

Further into town we found little shops and cafes. It was interesting to find this sign, since we’d left coins on the railroad tracks. Note the name of the band that played at the Chili Cook-off:

And this on a table of used books in covered plastic bins on the sidewalk:

And here’s a shot of my favorite bike rack of the town (ok, only one I saw):

It didn’t take us long to survey the town. There were lots of people about and school traffic. There wasn’t much more to see that day, though. And we were a little disappointed that no train came by while we were walking, so Laura got her money back. Maybe when I go to the Snowfest I’ll get some smashed coins then. You’ll hear about it!

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Georgetown, Colorado, off I-70 in the Rocky Mountains

Previously I blogged about my very cool trip on the historic Georgetown Loop steam train. Although the train bears the name of Georgetown, I didn’t visit the town at that time. The closest I got was the well-traveled and very modern rest area off I-70. And I will say that the rest area is very much worth a stop because of its welcome center. Not only does it have the requisite bathrooms, it also has art displays from museums and shops nearby, as well as a surprisingly well-stocked gift shop. Outside are coin-operated viewers that you can look through to try to spot bighorns on the mountains opposite.

But back to the town itself. A friend and I went there to just look around recently, hoping to see bighorns on the mountains. Unfortunately, there were none that day, but we ventured further into town and saw its wonderfully charming Old West streets.

Georgetown has just over 1000 inhabitants and its elevation is 8,530 feet. It was founded in 1859 during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, but grew the most after silver was discovered in nearby mountains in 1864. The train I mentioned above served mainly to tote the silver ore out of the mountains.

Anyway, the town today is very quaint and charming, although there wasn’t much happening when we were there. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday, so hardly anyone was about. You could see Christmas decorations just going up (it was early November), and the afternoon light was magnificent.

 

We stopped in a t-shirt shop that had a coffee bar. The shirts were very reasonably priced, so we each got one or two. I think my friend returned a few days later to buy more for gifts!

Here is my favorite building, which we decided looked like a brothel, with it’s purple paint job. It had a gift shop on the ground floor and apartments above. Most of the shops on the historic streets had apartments above them.

You could buy a jackalope for $259, and the price for a real squirrel is $139!

We drove past some residences to the train station where you can catch the steam train when it’s running. It’s a very short drive from the historic district. No one was around, though, that day.

I learned that John Denver filmed a Christmas movie here, released in 1986, called The Christmas Gift. Have you seen it? I don’t think I have. Regardless, every October, there is a tribute celebration to John Denver in Georgetown, with his music and showings of the film. Georgetown’s event, I think, precedes Aspen’s John Denver celebration by one week every year.

I was definitely surprised to see how photogenic little Georgetown is! I’d recommend a short visit, or even a pilgrimage to the John Denver event in October. At least visit the rest area!

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The Archway Museum in Kearney, Nebraska

I’ve described more than a couple of sights on a roadtrip through Nebraska from the Denver area, such as the Morton Mansion and Lee’s Chicken Restaurant. My husband had a business trip there and I got to joyride along with him.

Of course, Nebraska is one place where our great country gets fed by the noble farmer. Most of the roadtrip looked something like this:

But there was one thing that broke up the flat landscape dramatically, and that was The Archway in Kearney, Nebraska:

That archway houses a pioneer museum directly over the traffic! We saw it on the way to Lincoln and, fortunately, we had enough time and good weather on the way back to manage a rest stop there.

The outdoor area has log structures that look like a fort, complete with bronze buffalo:

and seemingly abandoned covered wagon:

A quite gruesome statue stands outside the main door:

A plaque explains that these two Martin brothers (Robert, 12, and Nathaniel, 15) were gathering hay with their father in 1864 when a Native American tribe attacked. The brothers fled on horseback but were struck with four arrows, one of which pierced both of them. They were left for dead, but they actually survived and lived into adulthood. What a grisly thing to present to our children at this “family-friendly” place.

There was also a replica of a locally famous Hammer Motel, which was located on the nearby historical Lincoln Highway. Unfortunately, now it’s a parking lot, but it was apparently a big deal back in the day. There’s a good article on it here.

The main entrance of The Archway looks like this:

I wanted to show you the inside of the place, but I can’t find those photos ANYWHERE! I swear I took some, but I’m flipped if I can find them. Oh, well, sometimes it happens.

In any case, I found a blog with a photo of the dramatic escalator you see as you walk through the door. There are ambient sounds of horses and wagons and people that enhance the experience. The escalator takes you to the actual archway over the interstate. There, according to the period-dressed ticket-sellers, you can see the settling of the Old West by the pioneers. We didn’t go that day, because I think the 1.5-hour tour time seemed too long at that juncture. We wanted to get home. However, we did spend a few minutes in the gift shop, where, of course, I got a pin for my travel collection.

Adult tickets are $12 each and the tour is self-guided audio. Hours differ according to the season, so check their website. You can even book an event or school trip there. Plus, the outdoor campus is free and is a great picnic area if you want a break from the road for a while.

Ok, is anyone else thinking Archway cookies right now?

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