Gnats, Neon Lights, and the the Niobrara: Vacationing in Nebraska, Day 2

Sleep deprivation was pulling heavily on my eyelids.  I managed a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and biscuits on our 24″ x 14″ tabletop gas grill.  We packed our belongings in the car, swept out the cabin, and made one more inspection to ensure we hadn’t left anything behind.  Upon returning to the car, CF noticed our 5-gallon water bottle had mysteriously jumped from the back of the SUV, down into the tall grasses beside the car.  The back-end of the SUV wasn’t even sloping downward, so unless some random ghost was after our water, we  can’t be for certain what happened; it’s a mystery.

Driving on to the north and then west,  we traveled many scenic roads.  We came across the little town of Monowi, NE, with just one resident; Elsie Eiler.  She is the town’s mayor, tax collector, saloon keeper, and also the town librarian.  Yes, this little town, or shall I say Elsie, manages to keep a small tavern AND a library going.

I came across an interesting blog on Monowi, and Elsie.  It’s short, and quite interesting if you have a few minutes to wander away from here.  But please come back… don’t forget about me!

Traveling on, west to Valentine, NE, we picked up the radio station, KDAM, which managed to entertain us.  They gave us our DAM weather report and our DAM morning news.  It was just the pick-me-up I needed!

Once we reached Valentine, we took the first available room we came upon.  Many places were already filled for the night, and others that still had openings were quite spendy.  The Hotel Raine had a single, non-smoking room left, so we took it.  When we asked for 2 cots or roll-away beds, the staff behind the desk snickered and said, “Oh you won’t be able to fit those in that room, there’s just not enough space.  But we DO have a couple of  Cabela’s rollout camping mattresses that you can use.  They are pretty comfortable”.   The room was clean, quite small, and apparently a bargain at $79.  I’m pretty certain we didn’t get the room they had pictured on their sign out front, but we did at least have a roof over our heads… with air conditioning.

Heading out to the SUV once again, we decided to backtrack our drive just a bit to the Niobrara River, and headed straight for Smith Falls.  The hike was a little farther than I had planned; I might have worn something other than flip-flops had I known.  The gnats were terrible around the river, it was all we could do to swat at them, or run.  When we did finally make it to Smith Falls, the temperature was considerably cooler, and the gnats were nonexistent.  The spring water was icy cold, and made us squirm a little when stepping in.  Eventually Em & Sid toughened up and began kicking and playing in the cold water.

Having fun at Smith Falls

Looking up at Smith Falls

Before long, big raindrops fell from the sky.  I was carrying the camera, and trying to outrun the raindrops.  Those darned gnats returned with full vengeance, and could apparently fly faster than I could run.  When we made it back to the car, it too was covered with the little nuisances.

We decided to drive around to different areas to view the scenery, and eventually came across a big area of prairie dogs; but those darned gnats attacked us again.  My clean, freshly Windexed car windows soon became nasty with smashed gnat bodies, everywhere.  After feeling somewhat defeated by the weather & the pests, we headed back to the motel.

We did have TV and Wi-Fi, so we were able to watch some of the Olympics, and send pictures and emails home to family.  The wind was blowing something awful outside, making it impossible to use our little grill for the evening meal.  Luckily, I had cooked, frozen taco meat in the cooler that we could heat up in the microwave.  We diced some fresh tomatoes from our garden at home, and added the rest of the ingredients for some tasty tacos.

After a long day, we all needed to hit the showers.   I volunteered to go first.  Refreshing?  Yes… especially if you love to finish off with icy-cold water!  I’m not certain I rinsed all the conditioner out of my hair, but I can tell you I was no longer complaining of the Nebraska heat.  After a couple of hours waiting on the water heater, the rest of the family was able to take their showers, with warm water.

CF & Sid took the “roll-out” mattresses on the floor, while Em & I got the bed.  Sleep came fairly easy for all of us that night, however mine ended abruptly at 3:00.  Just my luck;  a migraine headache.  It was not the worst one I’ve ever had, but it was a migraine just the same.  Not wanting to disturb anyone else, I managed to step over CF & Sid on the floor, in the dark.  I found my headache medicine in my purse, located a bottle of water elsewhere in the room, and made it back to bed without waking anyone.  Thirty minutes later with no relief, I finally woke CF.  He jumped right up, as if he was being paged to duty (he’s a fireman), and went right to work massaging my neck & shoulders.  He has rubbed out more headaches for me than I can begin to count.  He helped me to find some relief, and I was able to get back to sleep.  He’s the best!

Sid managed to wake us all with a shriek of fear about 5:00 a.m.  The red-orange neon bar-lights hanging across the front of our hotel room (yes, a classy joint), must have appeared as the glow of a fire when he first opened his eyes, because he sat straight up in bed and called, “Mom!  Mom, wake up!  LOOK, Mom!  MOM…LOOK!”

Notice the lovely lights

I half-expected some random biker from next door to be standing in the doorway, but instead it was a silly light peeking through a small opening of the curtains.  Yes, thank goodness.  It wasn’t 2 minutes later and Sid was back asleep; how fortunate for HIM!  I think I might just take up drinking on this trip.

(Watch for Day #3, coming next)


4 thoughts on “Gnats, Neon Lights, and the the Niobrara: Vacationing in Nebraska, Day 2

  1. Once again, Sid had me in stitches with the 5:00 neon light alert! I empathize with you on the gnat situation… they can ruin a good time real fast. Thanks for taking us along on this adventure… I think I’ll bypass the migraine though!


    • Oh family vacations, they are all about adventure, aren’ they? I don’t believe this was the “restful” vacation I had in mind when we set out. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve caught up on my sleep yet, and we’ve been home a few days. But even still, spending time with my family is where it’s at and what counts. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. However the migraine is up for grabs!


  2. I just happened to randomly run across your blog while searching online! What a great read! My family spends several days in the Nebraska Panhandle every Summer (my mom grew up in Rushville, NE and we stay in Gordon, NE), and this year we decided to make it ten whole days in Nebraska (instead of going back home to the Kansas City area by way of South Dakota like we usually do for a few days).

    Anyhow, we were with my parents this year coming back, and two years ago my wife and kids and I stayed in Valentine and saw the sights there, and we loved it. Smith Falls, Snake Falls, Ft. Niobrara Wildlife Refuge and Fort Falls, along with the Cowboy Trail and the bridge that spans the Niobrara River just east of Valentine. Our first stop was Smith Falls, and oh my GOODNESS!! THE GNATS! Insane. There was not a gnat ONE two years ago. We were miserable, and that really disappointed me, as that is one of my favorite unique places to go in the Sandhills of Nebraska. We armed ourselves with bug spray from Alco the next day, and there were gnats at Fort Niobrara and along the Cowboy Trail, but they left us alone, thankfully.

    Maybe I was more disappointed that the gal working at Smith Falls didn’t warn us, or maybe a sign about the gants somewhere. Nothing.

    Anyhow, our trip was very good. We stayed the first night on July 26th in North Platte, something I had always wanted to do because North Platte has Bailey Railyard (World’s largest) with the 8 story Golden Spike Tower to see it all, Buffalo Bill’s Scouts Rest Ranch, the WWII Canteen and Cody Park. (We usually drive the 650+ miles from Kansas City to Gordon, Nebraska all in one day, only stopping in North Platte briefly in the evening for gas, food, and a quick stop at Cody Park along Highway 83 to let the kids ride on the antique rides they have in the park.) We arrived too late (we thought) to see the rail yard…. Website states they close at 5 pm, when in fact their summer hours are until 7 pm! We noticed this at 7:30pm as we drove by… Anyway, went to Cody park at night, then to Buffalo Bill’s Ranch the next morning at 9 am.

    Decided to drive across the Kingsley Dam at Lake McConaughy, and stopped at the visitor center, which was really awesome. We the drove Nebraska Highway 61 through the heart of raching country, stopping in Arthur, Nebraska to see the World’s Smallest Courthouse. After a stop in Hyannis, it was Nebraska Highway 2, to Nebraska Highway 27 at Ellworth, and straight north to Gordon, Nebraska!

    While staying five nights in Gordon, Nebraska (Western Sands Motel ROCKS!) we went to the Sheridan County Fair and Rodeo, Carhenge, the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance, Nebraska, Toadstool Park north of Crawford, Nebraska, Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed (which is near Toadstool), Mt. Rushmore and Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, SD, the Sheridan County Historical Society Museum, as well as several small stop offs.

    Then it was onto Valentine where we did the fun things listed above (stupid gnats!!), then through O’Neil, Nebraska where we stopped briefly to see where my great grandfather is buried, and we ran into two other family members buried there, including a baby that died in the 1800’s that my own Grandmother was actually named for. that was pretty awesome. We spent a night in Norfolk, Nebraska and walked the trail head of the Cowboy Trail. Then the last night, August 3rd, was spent in Omaha, where we saw an Omaha Storm Chasers game (AAA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals) and the next morning visited the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. Great Zoo; always has been… But it was INSANELY busy. Busiest some people had ever said it has been. All the people reminded me of the GNATS!! Some places you could barely get through and you might barely move for long stretches of time.

    Anyhow, that’s all I have. Sorry to be so long. I enjoyed the reading!!

    Ryan from Kansas


    • Ryan,
      I am so glad you happened upon my blog!! What amazing adventures you & your family had in Nebraska! You named a few places we’ve never been to, and will definitely put on our “to do” list for next time! I laughed so hard when I read your “Oh my GOODNESS, THE GNATS! Insane!” It it so true, right?

      The Henry Doorly Zoo is a very cool place to visit, but it can be a little frustrating when it’s THAT crowded. We generally visit there during the winter when it’s cold out, and nobody is thinking of visiting the zoo. The last time we went was in January a few years ago. We were the only ones there for the first 2 hours, and by the time we left there were maybe 20 other people in the whole place. A lot of the outside exhibits are closed in the winter, but with all the indoor places to see, it’s a’plenty for one day.

      It sounds like you have some close family ties to Nebraska, that’s pretty awesome. Most of my family lives in Nebraska, however I do have one sis in Oklahoma; she’s a blogger as well ( And you being from Kansas, smack in the middle of Nebraska & Oklahoma, I feel like I’ve just discovered a long lost relative 🙂 . I really enjoyed reading your vacation story, and it absolutely made my day to hear you enjoyed our’s as well. Thank you for your kind words, I hope you’ll stop back in for a visit soon. If you “follow me” on my home page, you can receive each new post as it is published; I still have one day of vacation to put up there.

      Thanks again for stopping by! Best wishes to you & your family!!



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