Thursday, August 11, 2011

Detour and a lesson in floods

We took northern Nebraska’s Highway 12, called “The Outlaw Trail” from Valentine toward Niobrara State Park, about 150 miles due east.  The road goes from Valentine to Sioux Falls and was said to be a hide out for Jesse James and other bad guys.  About 40 miles east of the park was a big “road closed” sign; we called the park, found out that the recent Missouri River floods still covered Route 12 both west and east of the park, and took a 70-mile detour.  Lesson learned: always check a Department of Transportation web site before heading across a state.  But the bigger lesson is just how devastating a flood can be to a local economy.
Near downtown Niobrara’s mall (a big, low building housing the post office, a grocery and hardware store, bar, and a couple of other small shops) we met the owner of the grocery store.  She said she was down five employees; she’d either let them go because of lack of business, or they quit because they could not afford gasoline to make the detoured drive.  She and the remaining employees are working extra hours to make up for the staffing shortage -- no time off for even new grandchildren -- and the store has a third fewer customers.  She told us of a day care center owner who declared bankruptcy, people whose homes were still under water since the flood hit Memorial Day weekend, and the high financial cost the flood caused the locals.  
We were going to wait until we got to Lincoln to buy supplies, but Jim and I decided to support the local economy and bought groceries.  Then Jim went to the “carry out,” where selection was limited and my IPA-loving husband bought a six-pack of Budweiser (if it’s really cold and you drink two of them, he says, the third one tastes pretty good.) 
The grocery store owner said the local cafe owners had lost their home in the flood, so we decided to support them, too, and purchased a restaurant meal for the first time since we left home.  The fiancee of the owner’s son waited on us; she said their home -- which was 50 feet away from the river -- still had three feet of water inside.  They plan to burn it when the water recedes and the house dries out (which could be a long time, she said) and maybe rebuild. Or maybe not.
View from the back of our rig:  Where the Niobrara River meets the Missouri.  The campground at Niobrara State Park in Nebraska has 76 RV spots but only 11 were filled.  Highway Route 12 -- the only way to get to the park from the east and the west -- has been flooded since Memorial Day.  The only way to get to the park is a single highway from the south, or a gravel road from the west, and town has been severely hurt by the lack of tourism. 

The Missouri River as seen from Niobrara State Park in Nebraska.  Notice the house in the middle of the photo.

A similar shot as above, but wider. 

The Sage Cafe where we ate lunch.  Piles of sand that protected the building from the flood circled the building everywhere except the entrance.

 Jim and Cooper at Highway 12 just west of Niobrara. 


  1. Shad sent Don a dog collar. He'll model it when you get here.

  2. Yikes.
    Nice of you two to support the local economy. Maybe on the way back through you can work at the grocery store. Sounds like they could use the help.

  3. Hey B&J, I know that you and Jim are very socially responsible. I know that your hearts bleeds for the poor fiancee who must burn her home. You are good caring people. Me, not that much. I look at my garage and think how nice it would be to just burn it down rather than clean it up. Sandy has always unreasonably resisted this, in spite of my assurances that I think I can keep the fire from spreading to the house. Truth be told, the house could use a little burning now and then also. No, I don't pity the Fiancee, I endeavor to rise to her level of cleaning efficiency.

    The Platte River System is one of my favorites. From the air you can see the North and South Plattes running side by side for over a hundred miles. The early pioneers followed the Plattes west, but did not enjoy the rivers as much as I do. It was said to be "Too thick to drink and too thin to plow" I enjoy your blog and through it your travels.

  4. Dear Trud, Thanks to you and Don for your wonderful hospitality. Steve, If gas costs any more on our way back than it did on the way out, we may have to get jobs in Niobrara ... it was $3.80 a gallon, the highest we've seen so far. And Carl ... Jim and I will help you burn down your garage. We can do it while Sandy is at work.