Family, Fossils, & Feces: Vacationing in Nebraska, Day 1

With our SUV packed, two kids in their seats, and our beloved dog, Annie, already at my Mom’s, we headed out mid-morning for the first destination of our trip.

If you have been around me, you know this trip has been driving me crazy for two weeks.  If we’ve never met,  just let me say that I’m a chronic planner, and this trip is about as “impromptu” as one can get.  I am also a researcher by nature.  There aren’t too many places I’ve traveled to, or appliances I’ve bought, without first knowing a good bit about them.  Our family tossed around some ideas of places to go, of course, but we never really did settle on anything for certain.  At least not until yesterday, when we planned the first destination of this trip.

A friend of our family offered us use of his cabin, located just a mile off the Niobrara River in Nebraska.  This is not in an area where one could go tubing or swimming, however the scenery of the rolling hills and the river down below is quite beautiful and serene.  We knew the cabin was more primitive in nature than it was modern, yet it was a place to stay, and we thought it might be an interesting adventure.

The first stop we made on our trip was to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, near Royal, Nebraska.  Although I have trouble believing that these fossils are actually 12 million years old, I’m truly not into debating a scientific/biblical timeline theory.  We were there for the awesome experience, and it truly was.

At Ashfall, the belief is that a very long time ago, a volcano in southwest Idaho erupted, and the ash was spread over a very large area, including northeastern Nebraska.  They believe most of the animals (camels, 3-toed horses, rhinos, turtles, birds, etc) survived the actual ashfall, but over time their lungs filled with the abrasive ash, and they died.  Complete fossils are found in the ancient waterhole, which now has a very large observatory built around it.  If you would like to check it out, you can click on this link:

It wasn’t until we left Ashfall that we realized our son, Sid, thought the fossils were all made out of plaster, and were staged; he had no idea they were the real deal.  Imagine his surprise during the “lightbulb” moment,  the whole tour of Ashfall suddenly became less boring.

Driving from Ashfall to the cabin was about a 30-minute drive.  Along the way, we observed some interesting signs.  One I found particularly funny was this one.  Who needs Map Quest or a navigator when you have this to guide you?

Road Signs

How to get from HERE to THERE

The roads were curvy and full of washboards, but the cabin was surprisingly easy to find.  It was tucked away into the side of a hill, overlooking the wide openness of the valley and the Niobrara River. A nice little cabin.  You might even call it charming if primitive is your style.  There are many primitive things I love, however camping in 100-degree heat without air conditioning or fans, would not be two of them.

Little cabin on the hill

A full-sized bed with an air mattress, and two twin beds filled up the loft space, along with two windows that blew in skunky water from the windowsills when I opened them up.  The main level was cozy with an old sleeper sofa, a little table with booth seating, and a wood-burning stove.  The small kitchen and bathroom had plumbing, however there was no running water to the cabin.  After bringing your own water in, which we did later, you could run it into the 50-gallon water barrel that was housed above the kitchen and bath.  Fairly ingenious planning, I’d say.

While we were unpacking a few things from the car, I noticed the familiar smell of a certain yellow/brown substance on the backseat floor mat and carpet.  CAT POOP, ugh!  Sid had stepped in it at home, apparently, and managed to spread the dry, crumbly poop all over his area with his sandals.  I’m surprised we didn’t smell it sooner since that stuff really stinks!  So, after I came unglued, and had my little fit inside the cabin, CF & Sid went about cleaning out the car (thank you, honey!)

We hadn’t been at the cabin for 10 minutes when company came a’ knocking.  Steve, a friend of the cabin owner, came to check on the wasp situation.  Since we had been all around the cabin and hadn’t seen even one, his efforts to exterminate the wasp population had evidently been successful.  When my better half, CF, asked Steve if there was a good place for the kids to take a dip in the river, Steve invited us up to his cabin, just 15 minutes down the road on the Missouri River.  Not only did he give us permission to go swimming, he told us where to find the key if we wanted to go inside and cool off a bit.  Steve doesn’t live there; it’s more of a weekend spot for their family.  We wasted no time getting things unpacked, and promptly headed out for the river.

The directions Steve gave us were a little hard to follow (ex. you take this road and head east, then go north 5 or 7 miles, take a left and drive a long ways to a “T” in the road…), but we managed to catch a few important details, and by the time we thought we couldn’t take the vibrations from the washboards on the road anymore, we finally arrived at the area.  All along the way, gutted-out trailer houses, apparently abandoned, were all we were seeing.  When we arrived at the correct place, we saw a newer home, and a large log cabin, and the cabin just-so-happened to be Steve’s.

Steve’s cabin

Steve’s cabin was quite nice, it was by far the best-looking place on the river.  His neighbors told us the river had flooded all the homes in the area last year, including theirs, and forced everyone to either repair, rebuild, or pull out.  These neighbors were a retired couple, and very nice people.  They invited us in to see their home, and told us they are from Lincoln, Nebraska.  They live on the Missouri River Monday through Friday, and go back to their home in Lincoln for the weekends.  Likely a 4-hour drive for them, one way.

The kids had so much fun while we were there.  Splashing and skipping rocks were a welcome activity after hours spent riding in the back seat of the car.

In the Missouri River

One thing I did manage to plan for this trip was the meals.  We packed two coolers full of meats, vegetables, snacks, and drinks.  I put together a simple supper of meatballs, freshly frozen sweet corn, and garlic bread on the grill.  After a long day of traveling and sightseeing, it really hit the spot.

Cooking supper on the grill

We decided the loft of the cabin was far too warm for sleeping, so the kids pulled out the sleeper sofa and crawled in, while CF and I drug our air mattress out onto the deck.  I had never slept under the stars before, and even now I cannot say that I did, because it just did not work out for me.  Between the coyotes yipping and howling, the gnats with their high-pitched zzzZZZZzzZzZZ in my ear, and feeling every movement of CF shifting his position in bed, I finally succumbed to trading Emily places indoors.  Then the rain came, with booms of thunder and flashes of lightning.  It didn’t take long before CF and Emily were dragging their blankets and mattress back in.

The rain brought on cooler temperatures in the cabin, so CF & I hoisted our mattress back up to the loft, and settled there for the remainder of the night.  CF slept fine, I could tell this because he was snoring.  I think I managed one hour of sleep, maybe.  I think just one night at the cabin will be sufficient, tomorrow we will be moving on.

(Watch for Day #2, coming next)


4 thoughts on “Family, Fossils, & Feces: Vacationing in Nebraska, Day 1

  1. I know EXACTLY who you are and how you operate… which makes your story of vacation adventure all the more funny. I had a good belly laugh over Sid tracking cat doo doo on your new SUV carpet. In fact, I believe I already know what you were saying when you had your fit! Nice post… hurry up and write about the rest of the trip… I’m ready for more of those belly laughs!


    • Thank you, and yes… I certainly could have done without the cat doo doo! Family vacations are rarely without drama and inconveniences; at least that has been my experience. But it was a wonderful time away from work and (the comforts of) home. There is always something new to experience, and even the things that go awry can turn into some of the best, and memorable moments.


  2. Um, I’m from Nebraska, and I can tell you that this Omaha boy’s idea of camping is Holiday Inn Express at minimum! 🙂 I’m such a wimp.

    Cabin without fans or a/c?? Are you serious? You are courageous. And with kids, too.

    Sounds like you definitely will have some great stories to tell in the future, though.


    • Well, my first thought on the cabin was, “really, no electricity? Hmmm.” But I figured it might do us all good to experience going “unplugged” for one night. Now that I can check that off my list, I don’t believe I’ll do it again, at least not in Nebraska! Lots of good times though, plenty to smile about :-).


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