Prairie Journey From the Beginning

Chimney Rock near Bayard, Nebraska

 

Prairie Journey Travel Blog

It’s July, 2006 and our first research sojourn.

Doug (my husband and best friend) and I are setting out to find and travel the actual California Trail for the novel I am writing, Prairie Journey. It’s the story of 12 year old Savannah and her family who travel by covered wagon from Missouri to California in 1850.

I know. We should be starting at the trail’s beginning in Independence, Missouri, but we can’t. That’s because, well, Chimney Rock is calling, it’s calling out, loud and clear, like a thunder lightning storm. It beckons and tempts, so we must go, we really must, see that big rock for ourselves, and first thing.

Unlike the pioneers of 1850, we have the luxury of spontaneity. So we decide on a Monday to leave on the following Saturday for a four-day jaunt from Denver to Nebraska and Chimney Rock and back. Early Saturday morning we grab our stuff and some grub, throw it in our forest-green Honda civic, fill up the 40 mile-per-gallon gas tank, head out onto paved highway, Interstate 76, and we’re on our way. If it were 1850, there’d be broken, bumpy roads, rusty wagon-wheels, oxen to feed and hitch to our wagon, and a milk-cow tied behind.

We bring our dog Ernie, our little golden Lhasa, just like Savannah brought her Caleb. But, unlike Savannah, we’re not real pioneers. And yet, it feels like we are, somehow, it does. And we want that feeling, more than anything.

Chimney (as it was called in 1850) appeared to the pioneers as far away as 40 miles, about three days travel before reaching it. They had a chance to view it … ponder it … name it. Some commented that it looked like

-a gigantic tree trunk

-a lighthouse

-an inverted funnel

-a haystack with a pole stuck through it

-a cathedral

-and even the Washington Monument.

Emigrant journals are full of writings about Chimney. “ We’ve never seen anything like it,” they wrote, “ and never would again,” and ” it’s the most remarkable (site) I ever saw.”

A few days before our trip, we search the Internet and discover a company called Oregon Trail Wagon Train. It’s in Bayard, Nebraska, near Chimney Rock. We call its owners, Rick and Judy Bayne, who assure us that we can camp at the base of Chimney Rock with a guide, Terry “Murph” Murphy, who will be in charge of getting us there in a covered wagon pulled by a team of horses.

And so after the four-hour drive from Denver, we arrive in Bayud, meet Rick and Murph, and load our camping gear, food and supplies into the wagon. Murph, white-bearded, loquatious, and full of folklore, hitches the horses, climbs aboard, and we start off, traveling the trail to Chimney. Doug and old Ernie ride the wagon, and I walk the trail that begins near the Bayne’s property, just south of the North Platte River.

Like Savannah and her sister, Faye, I take one step, then another. I stride along the trail. The wind blows at my back. It moves me this way and that and dust is flying everywhere. The wagon’s wheels creak and scrape the hard ground and Chimney Rock is just four miles down the road.

The best thing about this day is that it is our birthday, July 1, mine and Doug’s, too!

I am smiling all the way to Chimney.

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