We arrived in Niobrara State Park yesterday evening to find a landscape full of light and motion, the tall grasses on the hillsides rippling in the wind like the surface of a pond and the setting sun flooding the entire scene with warmth. It was every bit as spectacular as the boys and I remembered from our visit two summers ago. The boys lobbied hard for us to return to the same campsite we had used before, one tucked into a sheltering grove of trees in a little hollow. In the end, though, we chose a site high on an open, grassy ridge. Dad was really taken with the panorama of the braided confluences of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers, and the boys exploded with delight to see a bald eagle wheel past at nearly eye level. About the wind, Dad predicted “I really think it will die down once the sun sets.”
Well, I’ve been teasing him all day about this last one, his finely-tuned sailor’s intuition not serving him well in the center of the continent. The wind was strong enough as we cooked dinner to blow a full can of beer off of the cooking table, and erecting the tents was something of an adventure (would have been flat-out impossible with cheaper gear). On the plus side, it was nice and warm, and no mosquitoes pestered us. I’ve got to give Dad credit, moreover, for cooking a terrific meal in that howling gale—bacon-wrapped filets and fried potatoes and steamed vegetables. I’m basically putting him in charge of the cooking for the duration! And in the meantime, the boys and I learned that you can succesfully fly a kite in that kind of wind provided you attach the right kind of tail.
In fact the wind did not die down overnight but has steadily increased all day. Cooking breakfast (scrambled eggs and fried potatoes and sausage links) and breaking camp was again a bit of an adventure, and by this afternoon we were fighting a steady 40 mph headwind as we drove west across the plains. Tonight finds us camped in another comfortable hotel, this time in Casper, WY. We’ll head to Yellowstone tomorrow.
The boys journaling through our lunch stop at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
A quick note about the boys: the best 15 dollars I have spent on ths trip has them both set up with little journals, and they have been writing and drawing away in the back of the car and at every stop to make this English teacher’s heart proud.