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Campsite Photo Trip - 2013

Big Mac and a $12 Shower

Greg's adventures continue as he visits Nebraska!

No, not this Big Mac.


This one.


But first I had to get there.

The snow finally melted enough on Friday that I was able to leave North Sterling State Park in Colorado and head for Nebraska. I spent the night in Sidney to scope out the Cabela's store and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and showers at the small RV park they offer. Netflix in my trailer at night! Now I know why those big RV's have satellite dishes.

The drive was a little dicey to Sidney. The roads were mainly clear but the wind was blowing hard. Every time I went under an overpass there was ice or snow on the road and the swirling gusts would push my rig a few feet to the left or right. I learned not to fight it, just to keep the wheel straight and hope for no other traffic.

I was heading west after Sidney to spend the night at Lake Minatare SRA. SRA stands for State Recreation Area and I will be using that abbreviation from now on. I mean, I type with two fingers and that is just a lot of extra letters.

Anyway, I was not the only only one who has travelled in this area. Four major historic trails funneled together near Bayard, Nebraska.


I wonder if they had a rush hour back then?

What they all used as a landmark was Chimney Rock.


Visible to wagon trains for several days, Chimney Rock was the most noted landmark along the Oregon Trail. With a 120 foot spire and standing 325 feet from tip to base, it was unlike anything the pioneers had ever seen. It was their wake up call that the plains had ended and mountains were next.


Pretty amazing that the distances we cross now in an hour took them days.

As I was talking about this with my dad he mentioned that he had a friend who's grandmother crossed Canada in a covered wagon in her youth and then flew over it in her later years. Must have been mind boggling for her. I hope she had a window seat.

I was going to hike a little closer to the rock but I saw this sign.


Since this was the first sunny day in a while I knew the little nippers would be out warming themselves. I headed back to my car and eventually arrived at Lake Minatare SRA.


I had not been able to do any cooking for a while and my snack supply was running low. I had picked up some fixings in Sidney so I whipped some up. From this...


To this.


Five pounds of goodness.

You can see the clouds becoming a little darker as Saturday afternoon faded into evening.


I lit a small fire and then the rain clouds came in and put it out.

Campfire Rain-Clouds

Sunday dawned bright and sunny so I explored the campground. There are two ways to camp at most of Nebraska's lakes. You can stay in a developed site, most with electricity, or camp in a primitive site like I did. You can also just drive onto the beach and camp pretty much anywhere you want.

Lake-Minatare-Beach Lake-Minatare-Beach-camping

One of the unique features at Lake Minatare is that it has a lighthouse. It doesn't need one, but it has one anyway. In fact, there are only seven inland lighthouses in the US. I imagine the rest are on the Great Lakes where they are actually used. This one is a legacy of the Great Depression. It was built in the 30's by the VCC, the Veterans Conservation Corps, a New Deal agency that provided jobs to unemployed veterans. A noble cause, but handing out taxpayer money to fund unneeded projects didn't make sense then and it still doesn't today.

Leaving this topic and this campground I hit the road.


The weather was still nice and my mind started to drift as I drove. It ended up settling on merry old England and the ancient artifacts at Stonehenge in particular. You know, the place the Griswold family knocked down in the movie European Vacation.

As luck would have it, Nebraska has a closer alternative. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present Carhenge.


Jim Reinders got the idea when his family gathered at their farm after his father passed away. Five years later, in honor of their father, they built what must be the the strangest attraction in Nebraska, if not the world. 38 cars were painted gray and some were half-buried and some were welded together to mimic the present state of Stonehenge.

Carhenge-1 Carhenge-2 Carhenge-3 Carhenge-8

But now what do you do? Just bury cars for fun?


Apparently that got old so Jim branched out. How about a leaping salmon.


Or a dinosaur.


Or why not just two cars welded together.


After getting my fill of culture I headed for Lake McConnaughy, known locally as Big Mac.


Big Mac is the largest lake in Nebraska and one of it's most popular vacation spots. When full the lake is 4 miles wide, 22 miles long, and 142 feet deep at the dam, with over 100 miles of shoreline. It is home to huge fish and white sand beaches. Yes, white sand sand beaches. It's in the Sand Hills part of Nebraska. Reminded me of Florida.

But I camped at Lake Ogallala because I liked the name. Let me give you the layout.

About 10 miles north of the Ogallala (the town) is the dam on Big Mac.


That picture was taken on Monday, which I will address shortly. Below the dam is Lake Ogallala, the afterbay if you will. It is only 1/2 square miles in size and is protected by the dam from the wind. When I saw it while driving across the dam I figured that is where I will camp. The main campgrounds on Big Mac, Little Thunder, Lone Eagle, and Cedar Vue are spread along 10 miles of lakeshore past the dam.


I parked and put my feet up.


The lake was loaded with birds including a species of Pelican I have not seen before.


I learned that they are the American White Pelican and are distinguished by a bump on their beak.


I took this photo using a technique called "panning". You set a shutter speed of around 1/200 of a second. You want the aperture to be a middle setting, F/7 to F/9 or so. Either pre-focus on the subject or if they are on a path within a constant distance from you just set the focus manually. Then you just move the camera keeping the subject in focus and click the shutter. This is not a great example. You have probably seen photos of race cars where the vehicle is in focus and the background has horizontal blurs. This is how they do it.

The weekend had nice weather but Monday brought a drop in temperature and high winds. After taking photos at Lake Ogallala I tackled the campgrounds on Big Mac. Little Thunder, no problem. Lone Eagle, the wind picked up and my fingers started to freeze. Literally. I was wearing fingerless gloves and the tips turned blue and numb. Thawing out was painful. Cedar Vue was better as it had some trees to block the wind. Oh, here are some photos showing the lake and the white sand.

Lake-McConnaughy-2 Lake-McConnaughy-1

Come on weather. It is almost May already! Quit teasing me! Sorry about that.

I spent Monday night at Lake Maloney SRA. Cold. But a nice campground.


I think the sign is drooping because it is 20 degrees out. Should firm up when it gets warmer. And some leaves would be nice.


Tuesday I stopped by Buffalo Bill's house.

Buffalo-Bill-Sign Buffalo-Bills-House

There is a small campground adjacent to it, Buffalo Bill SRA, with some nice sites by the North Platte River.


Campsite 23 is just to the right of those two trees. A good spot.

Tuesday I drove to Johnson Lake SRA just south of Lexington, Nebraska. I splurged and took an electrical spot so I could process all my photos and recharge my batteries.

Johnson-Lake-Sign Johnson-Lake_054

With that task done I ambled down to the beach to watch the sunset.


This is a really nice campground. One of the best I have stopped by on this trip. Supplies are close by, the head ranger is cool, heck, you can even walk to a deli. And the sunset was worth the wait (and the cold).


Am I forgetting anything? Oh, the $12 shower.

I had not had one since Sidney. The campgrounds in Nebraska are still winterized because of the cold snap. So no showers or hot water.

One of my sisters can go several days without bathing with no apparent bother, at least not to her. I won't say her name but here is a clue. I only have one sister.

So I figured that a truck stop would have to make due. I found a Flying J near North Platte and pulled in and parked.

I asked the gal at the counter if I could use one of their showers. She asked me if I had a Flying J card, otherwise it would be $12. As I am debating this a lady walked up and said she was finished with shower stall 10. She looked at me and said she had tons of points on her Flying J card. She swiped it through the machine I was the recipient of a free shower!

Regards, Park Ranger


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