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Day 4 – North Platte, Nebraska

by JP on Apr.30, 2010, under Day 4

Waking up in the Gothenberg, Nebraska KOA provided a great start to Day 4. Our final drive through Nebraska on Day 4 would bring us to several neat geological features, like Scottsbluff and the Chimney Rock, but not before some western history and fun in North Platte, NE.

Gothenberg KOA

Gothenberg, NE

Waking up in Nebraska in June was a little surprising to this shorts-wearing Southerner. While the previous day had been fairly warm, the morning was the first real sign of cold I had experienced, and we still had a few more northwardly changes in latitude to make.

The camp itself was probably one of the nicest KOA’s I’ve been to. The primitive campsite was almost empty, and sat right along a very active creek (the KOA site calls them “braids of the South Platte River.” In fact, as I got out of my tent, I became really interested in some loud noises I heard coming there.

Crossing over some thick brush, I found numerous carp popping up out of the water. I’m guessing there were 20 or 30, and they were very active.  It was really the first sign of true wildlife I had seen since we left Georgia. These large fish were really cool to watch as they would leap out of the water.

Gothenberg, NE (12) Gothenberg, NE (10)

My interest in the fish resulted was followed quickly by my second real run in with wildlife. As all hikers should know, walking in high grass and brush without bug spray or long pants can result in some unfortunate bug bites. In my case, I found three ticks latched on to my legs and clothing. The first bit me, but the other two never made it above my socks. Dumb mistake on my part, but no real harm since I caught them.

After breakfast, we departed the KOA reluctantly, it was really a very peaceful campground.

North Platte, Nebraska

North Platte, NE

Our next stop was just up the i-80 interstate in North Platte, NE. North Platte (named after the river running through it) is home to several attractions worth seeing. This is the location where Buffalo Billy Cody made his home, the location of the Golden Spike Tower (rising above the largest railroad yard in the world), and the home of the very touristy souvenir shop, Fort Cody Trading Post.

Buffalo Bill Cody Scout’s Rest Ranch

Buffalo Bill Cody

Scout Rest Ranch is a Nebraska State Park and was the home of Buffalo Bill Cody when he wasn’t touring with his Wild West Show. The home has been restored to its Victorian appearance as it was when Cody lived there. Inside the home are authentic furniture from the time period, and artifacts chronicling the legendary showman’s history and his visitors in the home. While the house is historically very interesting to see, we really enjoyed walked the rest of the  25 acre ranch.

North Platte, NE (14) Buffalo Bill Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody

To us, the ranch epitomizes our ideas of Nebraska prairies.  In addition to several smaller outbuildings, a tremendous two-story red barn sits behind the house.  I’m not sure any other barn in existence better fits the mental prototype I have of a barn (pictured above at North Platte).

Buffalo Bill Cody

Inside, it contains wagons, ranching equipment, and numerous artifacts from the Wild West Show. It is two stories, and both can be explored.

This state park is also a living history exhibit, and as such it contains horses and buffalo as well. This was our first sight of buffalo, although they weren’t the wild ones we were still looking forward to seeing.

Buffalo Bill Cody

Golden Spike Tower and Bailey Yard

North Platte, NE

After leaving Scout’s Rest Ranch, we went in search of the world’s largest railroad yard, located in North Platte. For the world’s largest anything, it is exceptionally hard to find the correct road to it.

North Platte, NE

The Golden Spike Tower is an 8 story tower and museum that rises above the railroad yard to display the true enormity of this place. Unfortunately for us, the tower wasn’t set to open for several hours, and so we were forced to take in the yard from the ground level. Even from there, Bailey yard’s 2800 acres of moving trains is immense.

Fort Cody Trading Post

Fort Cody

Our last stop in North Platte was a complete tourist shop, and I must admit, I loved every minute of it. This souvenir shop can be seen immediately exiting the interstate due to its giant wooden Buffalo Bill statute, and log fort exterior, complete with armed pioneer protection sitting atop it.

Fort Cody Fort Cody

Inside the trading post has every wild west souvenir one can imagine, from toy boys and arrows to bottled sarsaparillas. More interesting though is the moving miniaturized version of the Wild West Show.

This miniature show contains over 20,000 pieces each hand carved over 12 years. The show wraps around about 1/4th of the store and begins its movements on an interval that is announced in the store.

Fort Cody

The store also contains a museum of Old Western Cowboy Gear, a two-headed calf, and an interactive stockade yard. The yard is complete with the Fort Cody Jail, giant Indians, and a teepee.  The whole experience really is a lot of fun.

Fort Cody

After buying our sarsaparillas and souvenirs, we hit the interstate again for some more natural surroundings.

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Stone Mountain – Walk Up Trail

by JP on Apr.23, 2010, under Georgia Hiking Trails, Hiking Trails

Stone Mountain, Georgia

Distance: 1.0 mile (one way)

Difficulty: Moderate

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain is a unique geological granite mountain, forming a round bald of rock rising up south of the Atlanta skyline. The walk up trail takes hikers to the summit of Stone Mountain by means of a primarily open granite trail. For the most part, the trail is a very gradual up hill walk. At the end, though, it becomes much steeper, even requiring handrails at one point. The trail itself does not go near the “edge” of the mountain, but throughout the trail there are numerous places to look off the mountain for spectacular views. Ultimately, the payoff for the hike is the 360 degree view from the top of Stone Mountain.


First, those that don’t hike (you’re probably not reading this site), there is an option of taking a tram to the top of Stone Mountain. For those that enjoy the hike as much as the destination, the trailhead is tough to find once inside the park.The parking area for this is actually located at the Confederate Hall. Once there, the trail is marked with a yellow blaze painted occasionally along the rock. The trail was extremely busy on the Sunday I hiked, and I’m guessing it’s even busier on warm Saturdays.

Stone Mountain

The Trail

Stone Mountain

As the trail continues, it becomes slightly steep and drifts into a very light forest of pines. If one pays attention to the ground, there are numerous names carved into the rock. At first, I assumed these were vandals, and I was offended, but looking closely, I noticed something amazing. Some of these carvings had dates in the 1800’s. These carvings were made by visitors from over 100 years ago, and continued to be made throughout the time when Stone Mountain was used as a granite quarry.

Stone Mountain Stone Mountain

Approximately half way up the trail, a shelter sits in the middle of the trail. One of the best views along the actual trail is just to the left of the shelter. The mountain side is lined with a protective fence, here, but the views over the park are very nice. The fence can be followed for  a short distance where we saw three hawks soaring around. We also saw some wonderful wildflowers in this area.

Stone Mountain Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain Stone Mountain

Just past the shelter the trail begins the real climb to the top. The trees quickly begin to disappear, and the first dramatic views of Atlanta appear.

Shortly after the trees disappear, a very steep section of trail begins. This section actually contains hand rails up the mountain. The section is very short, maybe 50 feet, but the rails should be used (especially going down, we saw a girl slip and nearly fall down the entire length).

Stone Mountain Stone Mountain

After this, the trail briefly flattens out, before the final summit. The final summit becomes increasingly steep, and is probably the hardest part of the trail. It also happens to be the widest area as well, which provides several options for walking up. The less steep, but longer climb follows the white (service vehicle) line to the left.

Summit of Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Once on top of Stone Mountain, hikers can visit the visitor’s center on the far right corner. The center only has a few signs about the geology of the mountain, a concession stand, and the tram departs from there. Hikers can explore the perimeter of the mountain top along a chain link fence.

Stone MountainStone Mountain

If one looks behind them in the direction of the trail head, the Atlanta skyline, Buckhead, and Kennesaw Mountain can be seen in the distance. To the west, the airport towers can be seen on a clear day. To the south and east, one can see how geological different Georgia is. Mountains to the north, lowlands to the south. The view really is stunning.

Stone Mountain Stone Mountain

Take some time to take it all in. The return is the save route.


If possible, plan to make this hike on a weekday. The crowds are pretty bad. Think lots of screaming kids, and rude groups with no hiking etiquette.

Stone Mountain is not a state park, it’s a privately owned amusement area.  It has restaurants, rides, and a fantastic laser on weekend nights (check the park’s web site for a schedule).

Stone Mountain

The park also contains a campground within the complex, as well as numerous other hiking trails, and a small lake.


To access Stone Mountain Park, there is a $10 fee per vehicle. During some holidays it goes up even more.


1. Take I-285 North from Atlanta.

2. Take Exit 39B on Hwy. 78 East.

3. Travel 7.7 Miles and take Exit 8.

4. Follow signs to the Stone Mountain Entrance.

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Save Right Whales from Harmful Blasts

by JP on Apr.21, 2010, under Hiking Trails

As many of you know, the President has recently opened the possibility of more oil drilling on the East Coast. As part of that drilling, seismic blast tests are being allowed off the coast of Florida.

These blasts are deafening to numerous marine creatures, including whales and dolphins that use sound as a means of navigation.

One of these areas is off the coast of Florida and is the only location in the world where the North Atlantic Right Whale gives birth and nurses its children. When deafened, marine life often ends up beached and dying.

Click the link above to sign a petition telling this administration of your opposition to these blasts.

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Epic Summer Roadtrip – Day 3 Continued

by JP on Apr.05, 2010, under Day 3

Kansas – The Center of the United States

Having left St. Joseph we began one of the most boring drives of the entire trip. The drive through northern Kansas and southern Nebraska was little more than a long rolling hill of two lane highway, broken up by three  roadside oddities.

Road through Kansas to Marysville, KS (2)

Road through Kansas to Marysville, KS (3)

Marysville, KS –

Our drive out of St. Joseph took us along the Pony Express highway. Most of this stretch of road is little more than farmland. In fact, the sign of any sort of town, Marysville, KS, isn’t for over a hundred miles.

Marysville, KS (5)

Besides being another Pony Express town, there is one interesting sight in Marysville, it is home to the rare black squirrel.

True Black Squirrels are only located in a handful of places in the United States, and those locations seem to have a continuous running debate over who had the first black squirrels. Nevertheless, these squirrels are best seen in the downtown park, scampering around with the other “regular” squirrels.

Marysville, KS (11)

After having lunch at the Wagon Wheel, a downtown restaurant, and one of the few restaurants we saw on this drive, we continued along Highway 36 to Lebanon, KS.


The drive to Lebanon is another 100+ miles of farmland. Be very careful coming down some of these rolling hills, it can get all too easy to gradual start increasing your speed, and get a pulled over by one of the few vehicles actually driving along this stretch of road, the highway patrol.

We found this out the hard way, but were fortunate to receive a very polite warning from Kansas’ finest. The officer was very nice, and we do thank him for keeping the roads safe (and for only giving us a warning).

Lebanon, KS Center of 48 (3)

Lebanon itself is not a notably large town, and it would be easy to pass, except we were looking for another one of our roadside oddities off of Highway 81. This one is a stone marker marking the geographic center of the 48 states.

After searching for 30 minutes or so for the road to this marker, we realized the attraction directions were wrong, and the road was just north of Lebanon, and down a small country road.

The marker sits in a park containing a picnic table, and a tiny open chapel for visitors to stop and reflect on their location with God.

After taking several pictures of the marker, the farmland, and the chapel, we entered the chapel and took a few moments to pray.  Although this small piece of farmland seemed somewhat irrelevant, it did give us pause to realize how blessed we had been to be able to see and continue seeing God’s varying creations across this country.

Lebanon, KS Center of 48 (12) Lebanon, KS Center of 48 (15)

Hastings, Nebraska

Road to Hastings, NE (3)

Next, we headed due north into Nebraska. The first town north of the state line is the town of Red Cloud, home of novelist Willa Cather. We, however, to the town of Hastings, and fortunately it was straight along Highway 81 as well. The town of Hastings was actually a very pretty town. Around the town were several large parks, and numerous elaborate fountains. It would be a very nice town to relax and picnic in, but we were there for a Museum, and had to get there before it closed.

Oh Yea – The Kool-Aid Museum

Hastings, NE (118)

Hastings, NE (120)

The Museum is technically called the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History, but we call it the Kool-Aid Museum. I was initially a little disappointed in this museum because I had assumed it was going to be some sort of elaborate interactive Kool-Aid museum (like the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta). It did, however, contain some excellent exhibits and artifacts from a variety of times.

The museum really begins with its display on natural history, which is about two stories of taxidermy stuffed animals arranged on displays. These animals were from all over the world, and were arranged very well. Next, the museum contains numerous vehicles and weapons from all time periods.

Hastings, NE (87) Hastings, NE (3)

Finally, though, we arrived on the lower floor of the museum, the Kool-Aid floor. Hastings was the original home to the inventor of Kool-Aid, Edwin Perkins. The museum exhibit takes visitors from Perkin’s boyhood fascination with Chemistry sets, through his entrepreneurial experiments with perfumes, and finally to his creation of Kool-Aid. From there, the exhibit contains thousands of artifacts displaying Kool-Aid’s marketing and production. Unfortunately, though, no free samples.

Hastings, NE (46) Hastings, NE (47)

Hastings, NE (61) Hastings, NE (66)

Kearney and Gothenberg, Nebraska

Kearney, NE

We ended day 3 by stopping at a local brewery in Kearney, Nebraska, just down interstate 80. Thunderhead Brewery was a small restaurant with lots of local character. After ordering a beer sampler, we noticed this brewery had won numerous international awards for their beer. This was definitely one of my favorite finds for dinner. Great beer and great pizza.

Kearney, NE (10) Kearney, NE (6)

Kearney is also the location of the second great Arch on the trip, the Great Platte River Road Archway is a log structured arch spanning across Interstate 80. It is designed to commemorate the old wagon trail, and the pioneers that crossed the prairies so many years ago. Inside the arch is an interactive museum, but it was closed by the time we arrived.

Kearney, NE (2)

Our resting place for the night was the KOA Campground in Gothenberg. The campground was really well laid out and somewhat empty. We had our pick of the primitive camp sites, and were situated just alongside a beautiful creek. What had began as a boring day of driving turned out to be a day of relaxing fun.

Gothenberg, NE (4)

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