– Salina, Kansas to Casper, Wyoming –

It was definitely an early morning today, and since we had so far to drive, we didn’t have time to run. In fact, after getting up at 5am, we were well on our way before 6:30am. We showered and packed the truck, then left Ripley out in the truck for a bit while we had some La Quinta breakfast. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, either. Definitely better than some.

It rained some in Kansas last night, though the potential thunderstorms the weather mentioned never seemed to materialize, at least in Salina. We did see evidence of more rain elsewhere as we made our way out of Kansas though, so some people definitely got a good soaking. It was a pleasant early morning as we left, hovering just below 70°F. We contemplated getting Mark some Starbucks coffee from the gas station on our way out, but in the end he made do with La Quinta coffee, since he didn’t want to cross the big road to get over there. Coffee snob habits stop when you are on the road.

Leaving the hotel before 6:30am

It was strange to feel so far along by 8am. With today being Saturday, traffic was especially light, and in places we felt like we were the only people awake. Parts of Kansas are pretty empty, too, so it was a nice, quiet morning. We were both a little sleepy though, and that only got worse as the day went on.

The scenery in Kansas and Nebraska can be a little boring, but since it is still (just barely) spring, all of the grass is still a nice, vibrant green. We saw fields and fields of crops, which we had some fun trying to identify. It’s more fun with my mom along, because she can usually tell you who is actually right, and what the crops are. She once worked in an agricultural extension office, while Mark and I are just making slightly educated guesses. We can obviously get corn and canola, and usually wheat, but some of the others tend to confuse us. Farmers should start labeling their crops for amateurs like us.

Boring morning for Ripley

It was still a reasonably early Saturday morning when we crossed from Kansas into Nebraska. Kansas feels pretty flat, but the scenery in Nebraska shifted into rolling, grassy hills. We spent a lot of our drive flirting with the Platte River, which meanders through Nebraska. In fact, the North Platte River, which seems to be a branch, is right outside our hotel here in Casper. We’ll be running next to it in the morning.

The river makes for a nice little cut in the land in places, and we saw a really cool river valley along the highway, though we zoomed by because it wasn’t particularly easy to stop where we were. I enjoyed the scenery in Nebraska more than I expected, though I was a little disappointed in the height of the corn. The last time we visited it was later in the season, and we got to see corn that was taller than either of us. Now I’m going to have to look up how tall the biggest corn plants can get. (If you need to know too… here.)

Scotts Bluff

I have to admit to a certain misconception on my part to describe what we did for lunch. You may recall that yesterday, we had Qdoba for lunch, and that I thought it was probably the last Qdoba we would see for quite a while. Well, I was horribly mistaken. Apparently Qdoba started in Denver, and they are absolutely everywhere up here.

So, that’s what we had for lunch again. We weren’t looking for it again or anything, but by 11am, we were starving, and North Platte was the closest “city” where we could find food. We were there by 11:30, but they didn’t really have much else we were interested in eating that we could get quickly, so we decided to do it again. Good think we never burn out on Mexican food, I guess. I was still as good as yesterday.

The time changed right after lunch, and we gained an hour back. Instead of afternoon, it was back to morning once again. The drive and the time change have made for a very long day.

Looking down at the visitor center

Today we managed to visit two national monuments, one that we’d seen before, and one that was new to us. Between North Platte and Scotts Bluff, we mostly just chattered away at each other and read on our book. We kept having bouts of sleepiness today, since we are out of practice at getting up at 5am, so sometimes we have to stop reading when my eyes get too tired to focus on the page or Mark starts to lose track of the story. Really, if you have fun hanging out with your spouse in the car for as many hours as we do, you definitely picked the right one. (Right Mark? Right?)

Scotts Bluff is just barely still in Nebraska. You could almost throw a rock and hit Wyoming, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me, since Nebraska starts to look decidedly rocky out that way. Scotts Bluff was a landmark on the Oregon Trail, and the park preserves a few segments of the trail, where you can still see depressions from thousands of wagon wheels driving along back when the US was still doing that whole “manifest destiny” thing.

Kristy and Ripley

Even though we visited Scotts Bluff back in 2011, we decided to go ahead and drive to the top again for a new visit. Ripley wasn’t even born the last time we were here, so she needed to experience the top of the lonely rock outcropping, too. She would’ve had more fun if her parents (mostly me) hadn’t spotted a few signs about prairie rattlesnakes being common in the grass. She didn’t get to stick her nose into anything. In fact, her mean old family wouldn’t even let her sniff anything that went off the concrete path. She was very disappointed in us.

I was a little surprised to see so many people taking the climbing trail to the top of the bluff. By now, it was over 80 degrees and the clouds weren’t doing anything to temper it. Not only that, but you can drive to the top and take a much shorter hike out to the tippy top from there, which keeps you out of the sun even more. I’m all for hiking a nice distance, and I’m sure walking up the bluff could be fun, but I can’t abide doing it in the summer sunshine. There’s not enough sunscreen in the world to convince me to do that.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

When we’d finished exploring what we could of Scotts Bluff, we turned basically due north to head to our other monument of the day. By now, it was around 3pm, so it felt like we’d been going forever. We have had longer days, but not for a while.

The other monument, which was about an hour up the road, is called Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, and it preserves a river valley where a ton of ancient mammalian fossils can be found. Most of the fossil bed monuments are for dinosaur fossils, although we did visit that one that was dedicated to tree fossils, so I can’t say the mammal fossils particularly surprised me.

We only tootled around the visit center in this park. Originally we’d talked about walking out to some of the areas where the fossils were originally found (many of them have been excavated and moved to the visitor center and elsewhere), but in the end we were just too tired. It was a big day. Still, the visitor center was pretty cool, and it isn’t as common to see fossilized mammals as it is some of the flashier critters, so we were pleased. They had a big spiral fossil that turned out to the be the preserved remains of an ancient beaver’s burrow. Isn’t that wild?

No…. BAD!

It still took a little while for us to get to Casper when we’d finished in Agate Fossil Beds. It was another 2.5 hour drive. We didn’t roll into our hotel parking lot until after 6:30, and then we couldn’t find a luggage cart, and our room keys didn’t work, and the lobby was busy.

By the time we actually made it into our hotel room, Mark was weak with hunger and Ripley wasn’t much better. I managed to rescue my poor family from dying of starvation just in the nick of time by feeding them from the cooler (and from the kibble bag), so we had a dinner much like last night’s. I didn’t mind. On this trip, Mark and I have come to the strange realization that something actually makes carrot sticks better than baby carrots, and we don’t know what it could be.

Who knew Nebraska could be so pretty

Tomorrow morning we will go running on the river, which like I said, is right outside our window. I think we will still have to get up at 5am, but at least it will feel like 6 for a few more days, until we acclimate to the time change. It’s only 9am as I’m writing this, but it feels much later, and I almost thought I was going to fall asleep over my keyboard.

We’re staying in Montana tomorrow night, and we will likely visit the U.S. version of Glacier National Park on Monday, followed by our border crossing and a trip into Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. Things are already heating up on this trip and the top of this post says day two. Also, our biggest driving day is now behind us, and that’s possibly the best part of all.

– Trip Total : 1,080 miles

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