The thin yellow-orange crescent of the dying moon hung low in the eastern sky. Overhead, the Milky Way stretched across the dark heavens. Birds were already singing, though. Dawn was coming. A faint light was already discernable on the horizon. In the darkness, Lupe sniffed around the huge vacant parking lot of the scenic overlook on the S side of Hwy 20 E of Harrison, Nebraska.
Lupe and SPHP weren’t sleepy, but there wasn’t any sense in leaving before it was light out. Lupe had come to see what was here. It would be light out soon enough. Back in the G6 for another restless hour. SPHP finally dozed a bit and woke up to find Lupe wide awake, and the sun about to rise.
Within a few minutes, Lupe and SPHP were heading E on Hwy 20 toward Crawford, Nebraska. It was a gorgeous morning for a drive. Fort Robson State Park was still closed when Lupe passed through. Nearing Crawford, Lupe stopped briefly at a golf course with a great view of Saddle Rock, one of the Red Cloud Buttes.
Four or five miles N of Crawford, SPHP left Hwy 2/71 turning left on Toadstool Road. The gravel road was in fairly decent shape. It went W a couple miles before following the Burlington Northern railroad NW. Lupe had a blast riding with her head out the window in the wind. She barked with great vigor and enthusiasm at mostly unimpressed cows and horses along the way.
SPHP spotted an interesting mountain a few miles to the W. It looked like a great peakbagging goal for Lupe on a future trip. SPHP had no idea what mountain it was. A check of the maps later on revealed it is called Roundtop(4,540 ft.).
After following the railroad for 10 or 11 miles, Lupe reached a turn to the W for Toadstool Geologic Park. It was a little over a mile to the campground. Lupe was soon there. Not another soul was in sight, which was just perfect! Lupe and SPHP got out to take a look around.
Toadstool Geologic Park has 6 campsites with covered picnic tables, fire rings, grills, and plenty of flat grassy land to pitch a tent on. There was a restroom, too, but that was it for amenities. There were no trees to provide shade, and no water or electricity. On the bright side, this time of year there weren’t any fees, either. The flat, exposed campground was next to stark, but beautiful badlands territory just to the W.
Before checking out the badlands on the Fossil Loop Trail, Lupe went to take a look at the campground’s sod house. A sign said the sod house had been constructed in 1984 as an example of the homes pioneers lived in on the prairie. Lupe went inside, but it didn’t take her long to check out the only amenities, which consisted of four walls and a roof. Life used to be extremely hard on the prairie!
Next, Lupe and SPHP went to check out the Fossil Loop Trail. The mile long trail starts on the W side of the campground. There was a box full of pamphlets providing a self-guided tour. Numbered posts along the trail correspond to numbered sections in the pamphlet, so it was a good idea to take one along. According to the pamphlet:
Toadstool Geologic Park is a key link in understanding the earth’s history from 38 to 24 million years ago. Geologists consider it the “type section for the White River Group,” meaning that all other similar-aged deposits in North America are compared to the geologic standard designated at Toadstool. It is also the standard for animal fossils of that age – the Eocene and Oligocene epochs about 30 million years ago.
While SPHP took the Fossil Loop Trail self-guided tour, Lupe raced around sniffing and exploring the badlands. There wasn’t much vegetation and she didn’t encounter any cactus, which made Lupe very happy. She did agree to take a little time out from her explorations of the strange rock formations to add some Carolina Dog charm to a number of photos.
A tiny trickling stream wound through part of the area the Fossil Loop Trail went through. During periods of significant rain or melting snow, it was clear the stream would flash flood, making the trail at first impassable and later a complete muddy mess, but it was fine while Lupe was here.
About halfway around the loop, there was an intersection with a Bison Trail. A sign said the Bison Trail was 3 miles long. There was no mention of the Bison Trail in the pamphlet, or at any of the informational displays back at the campground.
Shortly after passing the Bison Trail, the Fossil Loop Trail climbed out of the shallow valley up onto some of the badlands formations. The trail stayed up here the rest of the way. A little bit of easy scrambling was required, and the trail went close to the edge of some cliffs, but this section of the Fossil Loop Trail had some of the most interesting rock formations.
The Fossil Loop Trail was fun, but didn’t take very long to complete. Upon returning to the campground, Lupe and SPHP had a bit to eat. The solitude was broken when another vehicle entered the park. It turned out that a couple from northern Italy, Lorenzo and Gabriella, had come to hike the Bison Trail! When they couldn’t find any information about it, they came over to meet Lupe and talk to SPHP.
Lorenzo and Gabriella said the Bison Trail leads to a boneyard where 700 hundred bison had died! They wondered where the trail was. SPHP told them to just take the Fossil Loop Trail. Halfway along it they would find the intersection with the Bison Trail. After chatting pleasantly for a few more minutes, off they went.
SPHP was impressed that Lorenzo and Gabriella had travelled so far to see Toadstool Geological Park, but it was time for Lupe to move on. Except for a joy ride N barking at cows and horses, Lupe’s mini-Dingo Vacation in scenic western Nebraska was coming to an end. Minus the cactus on the hike with new friend Jobe Wymore, it had all been great fun!
Maybe Lupe will return some day to camp out at Toadstool Geological Park. Then she can explore the Bison Trail, climb Roundtop, and visit Fort Robson State Park. A stretch of pleasant dry weather during spring or fall would be the best time to be here. In badlands like these, winters are too cold and the summers baking hot!
Note: After Lupe returned home, a little online research revealed that the Bison Trail at Toadstool Geological Park probably goes to the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Research & Visitor Center. Approximately 120-125 (not 700) bison died at this site around 10,000 years ago. The Bison Trail is not the only access route. For directions to Hudson-Meng by road, click here.
On a lonely stretch of Hwy 29 in NW Nebraska, someone with a big pack was hiking N. Lupe and SPHP were heading N, too. There was room for one more in the G6 with a little rearranging. Lupe and SPHP stopped across the highway from the backpacker.
Want a ride? Nope, he didn’t! Where are you going? Hiking the Great Plains Trail from Texas to the Canadian Border. Wow, that sounds awesome! Mind if Lupe gets a picture taken with you? No problem, that would be fine! Lupe and SPHP hopped out of the G6, and went across Hwy 29 to meet Luke “Strider” Jordan.
Lupe and SPHP had never heard of the Great Plains Trail before. Luke explained that parts of it were still being put together. He handed SPHP a business card with trail information on it. “The Great Plains Trail – Find a New Adventure! From Canada to Texas, 1800 Scenic Miles, Three National Parks, Three National Monuments, Ten National Forests/Grasslands, Five State High Points, Six State Parks”
Luke had started out on Guadalupe Peak(8,749 ft.), the highest mountain in Texas, (and also the S end of the Great Plains Trail) on Valentine’s Day. The Montana portion of the Great Plains Trail hasn’t been created yet, so Luke was going to hike through western North Dakota to reach the Canadian Border. He expected to get there sometime around May 12th.
This wasn’t the first long distance trail Luke had done. Three years ago he had hiked the entire North Country Trail from central North Dakota to Vermont. Clearly, Luke merited his “Strider” nickname!
Well, since Luke didn’t want a ride, how about a piece of fried chicken, a banana, or a Coke? The Coke sounded good. Yeah, Strider would take a Coke. SPHP retrieved one from the G6 for him.
SPHP gave Strider a phone number for Lupe, too. The Great Plains Trail goes through the Black Hills. If Strider wanted to, when he reached the Black Hills he could spend an evening with Lupe and SPHP, sleep in a bed, use the shower, etc. Maybe Lupe would even join Luke on a stretch of the trail?
After friendly goodbyes and a pat on the head for Lupe, Strider continued N. In the G6, Lupe and SPHP continued N, too.
About a dozen miles N of where she had left Strider behind, Lupe came to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. SPHP wasn’t sure how dingo-friendly it would be, but decided to take a chance and check it out. At the very least, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument was very wallet-friendly. There was no admission fee!
Most of the land that is now Agate Fossil Beds National Monument was once part of the Agate Springs Ranch owned by James and Kate Cook. In 1892, Erwin H. Barbour of the University of Nebraska was the first scientist to visit the ranch and examine the strange Devil’s Corkscrews, later recognized as the fossilized burrows of Palaeocastor, an ancient dry land beaver.
Near the entrance to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is the 1.0 mile long Daemonelix Trail, which heads up a hillside to a rocky area where the Devil’s Corkscrews can still be seen. This is the most scenic of two trails at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. However, SPHP was hoping Lupe could do a little peakbagging along the Fossil Hills Trail, which starts 3 miles farther in at the visitor’s center.
Lupe had to wait in the G6 while SPHP went in to find out if she could climb Carnegie Hill(4,600 ft.), one of two small hills at the end of the Fossil Hills Trail. In the visitor center, there was a pretty cool diorama featuring skeletons of ancient mammals that had lived in this area 20 million years ago.
SPHP talked to Ranger Steven Lawlor. Would it be alright if Lupe climbed Carnegie Hill? Ranger Lawlor was a bit hesitant, but said OK with some provisions. They were all very basic rules Lupe had no intention of violating. Lupe had to be on a leash, no collecting or disturbing of rocks, plants or fossils, watch out for rattlesnakes, and don’t fall off any cliffs.
Soon Lupe was on her way (2:23 PM, 66°F). The Fossil Hills Trail is a concrete sidewalk that leads all the way up to Carnegie Hill and nearby University Hill. Lupe liked that. No cactus at all to deal with!
University Hill and Carnegie Hill are very close together. The trail came to University Hill first. It was an easy climb to the top.
19 or 20 million years ago, this part of Nebraska was somewhat like modern Africa. It was the golden Age of Mammals. Ancient horses, rhinos, sheep, beardogs, hogs, camels and other animals roamed the area. Displays depicting how some of these creatures may have looked are located along the Fossil Hills Trail.After climbing University Hill, Lupe climbed Carnegie Hill from the E.
After climbing Carnegie Hill, Lupe and SPHP returned to the trail to complete a circumnavigation of Carnegie Hill. On the way, Lupe came upon a display that intrigued her.
The display was about beardogs that used to live here millions of years ago. Lupe thought that beardogs might have been almost as ferocious and scary as Carolina Dogs are today.
At some point in the Miocene Epoch, the SW side of Carnegie Hill had been the site of a waterhole where herbivores gathered to drink. During droughts, when many animals were forced to congregate here, they had been easy prey for predators.
In August 1904, O.A. Peterson of the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh discovered a great bonebed here. Between 1904 and 1923, scientists from Yale University, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and other institutions also worked at these fossil beds.
After completing her circumnavigation of Carnegie Hill, Lupe started on her way back to the G6. It was getting close to 4 PM by the time she arrived (3:43 PM, 66°F). The visitor center was about to close. SPHP went in to see if Ranger Steven Lawlor would consent to having his picture taken with Lupe?
Ranger Lawlor was happy to have a couple photos taken with Lupe, but first gave SPHP a very quick tour. James and Kate Cook, owners of the Agate Springs Ranch, had been friends of Chief Red Cloud. Over time, the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne gave them many gifts. The Cooks eventually donated their impressive collection of authentic Indian artifacts to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.
After saying goodbye to Ranger Lawlor, Lupe and SPHP left Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Lupe returned to Hwy 29 and headed N to Harrison, Nebraska.
SPHP was hoping Lupe still had time to visit the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point(4,740 ft.) E of Harrison. The Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point is 3.5 miles N of Hwy 20 near the W border of the wilderness area about halfway between Harrison and Crawford, Nebraska. SPHP’s map showed a dirt road leading N from Hwy 20 to the high point.
Although SPHP drove E slowly on Hwy 20 looking for the dirt access road, nothing promising appeared. To complicate matters, the Soldier Creek Wilderness does not border Hwy 20, but is separated from it by private lands ranging from 0.25 to 0.75 mile wide. Looking N from the highway at the vast expanse of remote ridges and valleys, it wasn’t even possible to tell with any precision where the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point was.
Just before Hwy 20 started to lose serious elevation, there was a scenic overlook with a big parking lot on the S side of the highway. Lupe and SPHP pulled in there, so SPHP could take another look at the maps. SPHP was certain Lupe was now E of where the access road should have been.
The maps showed one more possible access route. Cottonwood Road leaves Hwy 20 several miles W of Soldier Creek Wilderness. It goes N and then winds NE to come within 1.5 miles of the wilderness boundary. Maybe it would be possible to get permission to cross the private property? It seemed like a real long shot, but what else was there to do?
Lupe and SPHP drove back W again. SPHP kept looking for an access road to the N, but still saw nothing encouraging. Cottonwood Road was the only reasonable possibility left. It was too late in the day to consider trying anything else.
At least there was a green and white street sign along Hwy 20 when Lupe reached Cottonwood Road. Lupe and SPHP turned N. Soon Lupe was having a field day barking at cows! A huge herd was in the field to the W. They weren’t used to such abuse. The cows mooed as though annoyed, but they didn’t run off.
Cottonwood Road wasn’t all that great. Even though it is a county road, there was little gravel on it. It went N for 1.75 miles, then turned sharply E for a short stretch before winding NE for 1.5 miles. The road slowly deteriorated as it wound along. It was a good thing it wasn’t real wet, or 4WD would have been necessary.
A ranch came into view on the N side of the road. A couple of people were near some buildings. A sign said this was Banners Ranch. Lupe and SPHP stopped in. Lupe stayed in the G6, while SPHP chatted with the old rancher and his son. They knew about the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point, but were perplexed by the notion that any stranger would find it worth coming way out here to see it.
Another 0.5 mile farther E, Cottonwood Road would turn N. At that point, SPHP could park the G6 and go on foot to their neighbor’s ranch, owned by Emery Fox. Mr. Fox owned the land bordering the Soldier Creek Wilderness. SPHP would have to ask for permission to cross his land. A red gate in a fence line was the way to the high point. SPHP thanked the Banners for their help, and returned to Lupe in the G6.
Going E, the road didn’t get any better. At one point the G6 had to go off it entirely to miss a huge mud puddle left by melting snow. SPHP parked the G6 where Cottonwood Road turned N. There wasn’t much choice. A sign at the start of the driveway into the Fox Ranch said “No Unauthorized Vehicles Allowed Beyond This Point”. The sign was hardly necessary. There was no way the G6 would have survived that road.
This was the right place, though. A 12 foot long gently arching metal sign along the fence line said “FOX”. Lupe was on her best behavior leaving the G6 (6:00 PM, 58°F). A whole herd of cows was standing right outside. Lupe didn’t bark once. Good girl! Lupe and SPHP headed E on the Fox’s high-clearance 4WD authorized vehicles only driveway.
Half a mile later, Lupe and SPHP arrived at the Fox Ranch headquarters. The Banners had said there would be two houses. Emery Fox lives in the bigger home to the N farthest up the slope. His son, Evan, lives in the smaller home to the W. Mr. Fox was home. SPHP requested permission to cross his ranch so Lupe could go to the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point.
Emery Fox seemed just as surprised as the Banners had been that anyone would be interested in seeing the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point. He was a quiet, soft-spoken man. Apparently he saw no harm in it, so he gave Lupe permission to go.
SPHP’s maps showed a road going S from the Fox’s home that would eventually turn E toward the high point, before turning S again. SPHP could see the road S and intended to take it, planning to just continue E to the high point when the road turned S again.
However, Mr. Fox pointed out two tracks in his field going up a grassy ridge to the ESE. Mr. Fox said to take the track to the left. He also talked about a red gate prior to reaching the high point. SPHP never did fully understand the directions offered by the Banners or Mr. Fox, but not wanting to disobey instructions, Lupe and SPHP headed SE taking the left track up the ridge as Mr. Fox indicated.
SPHP feared that this route was going to take Lupe too far N. There wasn’t enough daylight left to waste too much of it, either. Fortunately, when Lupe reached the top of the ridge, the road (just a pickup truck path through a big field) continued ESE toward another barren ridge with a couple of high points on it. Maybe one of them was the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point? There was also a barren ridge farther S, and one with trees on it to the N, but both seemed too far away to be right.
Lupe and SPHP stayed on the road, except once when Lupe spotted 3 pronghorns. After crossing the ridge, the road slowly lost elevation, eventually coming to a fence at a low point. There wasn’t any red gate, which was a bit disturbing. On the other side of the fence, the road made a short jog to the S going up a little rise before turning ESE again back up on the high ground. The two high points were back in view. The road was heading almost straight for them.
Just a little W of the high points, Lupe reached another fence. This time there was a red gate! Signs also indicated that this was the border of the Soldier Creek Wilderness. On the high point farthest to the SE, a post was sticking up.
The road continued E skirting to the N of the highest point where the post was sticking up. SPHP left the road heading directly for the post. Lupe, however, didn’t budge from the road. SPHP hadn’t seen any cactus here, but Tenderpaw Lupe wasn’t taking any chances. SPHP had to carry her several hundred feet to the post.
A couple of feet S of the post were some white rocks. Down in the middle of them was a survey benchmark. It said “Summit”. Lupe really was at the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point!
Although it was getting pretty late in the day, there was time to relax for a few minutes to enjoy Lupe’s success. Only 1.5 hours ago, SPHP had been rather pessimistic about Lupe’s chances of getting here.
Lupe’s luck had held, though! The Banners and Emery Fox had been friendly and helpful. The road going through the pastures to get here had led right to the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point. It was an easy hike, too, all out in the open with very little elevation change over gently rolling terrain. Now that Lupe was here, it all seemed pathetically easy.
Lupe relaxed at the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point so much that when it was time to leave this remote and peaceful place, she forgot to worry about cactus. She trotted back to the road under her own power.
The sun was going down, but there wouldn’t be any beautiful sunset. Instead the sun sank into a cloud bank on the horizon. It was still a wonderful easy evening trek back to the Fox Ranch HQ.
When Lupe and SPHP reached the top of the ridge SE of Emery Fox’s home, Lupe looked back at the Soldier Creek Wilderness one last time. SPHP now realized it was possible to see both the Fox Ranch HQ and the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point from here.
Emery Fox was waiting for Lupe and SPHP to return. It was his turn to take a picture of Lupe. Mr. Fox and SPHP chatted for a while. Emery’s son, Evan, came along and joined in. Emery said his grandfather homesteaded this ranch in 1905. Emery had been born here, and has lived here all his life.
Back at the red gate, there had been a sign on the fence facing E toward those entering the Fox Ranch. It was about an open fields and waters program. None of the gates in the fences had been closed. SPHP asked about the program.
Mr. Fox said all of his land was enrolled in the open fields and waters program. (He did not want to talk about how much acreage he owns.) Hunters and fishermen with the proper licenses can legally walk in on his property to hunt and fish in season. Mr. Fox gets some financial reward from the state of Nebraska in exchange for enrolling his property.
Lupe and SPHP weren’t here to hunt or fish, just to pass through on a peakbagging mission. SPHP thanked Mr. Fox and Evan for making Lupe’s success in reaching the Soldier Creek Wilderness High Point possible. Then Lupe and SPHP headed W back to the G6 as stars began to twinkle above (8:01 PM, 50°F).
A squirrel! Lupe bounded after it. The squirrel scrambled to safety up a big tree in Gardner Park. Lupe stood below, her front paws propped up against the tree trunk as she tried to leap up after that elusive rodent, while barking furiously the entire time.
It was early, too early. The sun wasn’t even up yet, although it was light out. Lupe had to stop making such a ruckus. People live right across the street from the park. SPHP persuaded Lupe to give up on the squirrel and return to the G6.
At least it was encouraging to see that Lupe’s paws weren’t too terribly sore. In her excitement over the squirrel, even Lupe had momentarily forgotten about all the horrible cactus she had braved yesterday on Wildcat Mountain(5,025 ft.) while peakbagging with her new friend Jobe Wymore.
It had been windy nearly all night, but the air was still now. The wind was a good thing! SPHP’s boots were dry again. SPHP retrieved them from the roof of the G6 and put them on. Jobe was gone. He was on his way back to Denver today for the flight back home to the Portland, Oregon area. Well, what now Loopster?
Lupe was in Gering, Nebraska, so it was pretty easy to decide what was next. Just W of Gering is Scotts Bluff National Monument. Scotts Bluff was a famous landmark S of the North Platte River back in the days of the Oregon and Mormon Trails. The monument features several easy trails, and even a road to the top of Scotts Bluff.
Lupe arrived at the entrance to Scotts Bluff National Monument well before it opens for visitors at 8 AM. Lupe and SPHP wandered around for a while outside the visitor center. High light-colored bluffs stood brilliantly illuminated in the morning sunlight.
Yes, Lupe remembered yesterday evening’s cactus ordeal. Her paws were still quite sore, even if the squirrel had made her forget the pain for a few minutes. Lupe refused to go wandering in the grassy fields. She just knew there was more cactus laying in wait for her! The Carolina Dog was too smart to fall for that again!
Just W of the entrance road was a path up to a display of a wagon being pulled by oxen. SPHP carried Lupe up to it. Lupe sniffed around the oxen. They must have had a bath, because they didn’t sniff like anything. They sure looked clean, too! SPHP told Lupe about how pioneers used to travel W through this area with wagons and oxen like these for hundreds of miles along the Oregon and Mormon Trails.
Lupe was very interested. Why, Oregon, wasn’t that where her new friend Jobe Wymore lived? Lupe could travel W on the Oregon Trail and go see Jobe! Wouldn’t Jobe be surprised to see her again! Lupe was all for it, on a couple of conditions. First, the oxen had to agree to let her ride in the wagon until her paws healed up. Second, she had to be allowed back in the wagon while traveling through any cactus country.
When the visitor center opened at 8:00 AM, SPHP went in and paid the $5.00 admission fee. Ordinarily, Lupe and SPHP would have taken the 1.6 mile Saddle Rock trail on paw and foot up to the top of Scotts Bluff. However, with Lupe’s sore paws, and much of the Saddle Rock trail exposed to direct morning sun, SPHP decided to just drive to the top.
Two short trails go to overlooks from the parking lot up on Scotts Bluff. Lupe took the North Overlook Trail first.
Lupe and SPHP had hardly started on the trail when Wildcat Mountain and Hogback Mountain came into view on the far S horizon. Lupe had made it to Wildcat Mountain with Jobe Wymore just yesterday evening! She would have gone on to Hogback Mountain, too, if it hadn’t been for all the painful cactus.
There were impressive views in every direction as Lupe explored the North Overlook Trail. She visited the Scotts Bluff high point, and a number of overlooks along the way. If Lupe had been here 160 years ago, she could have seen wagons and oxen down below traveling slowly W up the very wide, flat North Platt River valley.
From near the N end of the North Overlook Trail, Lupe could see Laramie Peak(10,272 ft.). It was 90 miles away in Wyoming, and very faint on the WNW horizon. Laramie Peak was the first mountain Lupe had climbed on her summer of 2015 Dingo Vacation to Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
The South Overlook Trail was shorter than the North Overlook Trail. The panoramic views at the S overlook were even better! Chimney Rock, another famous landmark along the Oregon and Mormon Trails, was in sight more than 20 miles to the ESE. The views of Dome Rock, Crown Rock and South Bluff to the S were fabulous. A long, high ridge extended far away to the W.
Lupe could see the Scotts Bluff National Monument visitor center, and the start of the Saddle Rock Trail far below.
Lupe had come through 3 tunnels on the way up to the parking lot on top of Scotts Bluff. Since Lupe and SPHP seemed to have the entire national monument to themselves this early in the morning, on the way back down SPHP parked the G6 right on the narrow road. Lupe hopped out for a couple photos of the tunnels.
With such an easy drive to the top, and just a couple of short trails to explore, Lupe’s visit to Scotts Bluff National Monument didn’t take very long. It wasn’t even mid-morning yet when Lupe and SPHP exited the national monument.
Of course, there had been lots of displays to look at in the visitor center, but American Dingoes are about as interested in hanging out in visitor centers, as visitor centers are interested in letting American Dingoes inside.
Lupe and SPHP returned to Gering, NE and turned S. About 0.5 mile after hitting the 4-lane on Hwy 71, SPHP turned W on Carter Canyon Road. South Bluff, Dome Rock and Scotts Bluff could be seen to the NW beyond a huge, dusty tilled field. It was a beautiful, though barren, scene.
Lupe and SPHP were now on the way to Wildcat Hills(4,940 ft.), the Scotts Bluff county high point. The first 6 miles of Carter Canyon Road were paved and went due W. Carter Canyon Road turned S at the end of the pavement. The dirt road gradually turned W again as it went several miles up scenic Carter Canyon to arrive at a “Y” near the top of the ridge.
To the right was Summit Ranch Road. A sign indicated Robidoux Pioneer Graves were in that direction. To the left, Carter Canyon Road continued S. Wildcat Hills was only a couple miles farther to the SSW, so Lupe and SPHP stayed on Carter Canyon Road. It swung up around a little hillside revealing a huge home on the right, which is apparently the Summit Ranch headquarters. Off to the SE was a tall tower on a hill.
SPHP expected to be able to drive very close to the summit of Wildcat Hills, but about a mile short of the destination reached a snowbank covering the road. It didn’t look like anything the G6 could get through. A short test drive into it instantly revealed that the G6 would certainly get high-centered.
SPHP backed the G6 out of the snowbank, turned it around and parked (9:40 AM, 56°F). The Wildcat Hills summit couldn’t be more than another 1.25 miles away. SPHP had already spotted a power line ahead to the SW which was just beyond Wildcat Hills. Lupe and SPHP would have to proceed on paw and foot from here.
Lupe and SPHP abandoned the G6 and headed SW on the road. As it turned out, even if the G6 had been able to make it past that first big snow drift, there were plenty more, even bigger ahead. Most of the road was wet, but not too muddy. Lupe liked going over the big snow drifts best. The cold snow felt good!
The road went up and down small hills and ridges. Several places there were pretty nice views back toward Hogback Mountain to the SE. For some strange reason, Lupe showed not the slightest interest in going over there.
As Lupe and SPHP got closer to the power line, it became clear that a small barren hill a short distance NW of Carter Canyon Road was Wildcat Hills, the Scotts Bluff county high point. Lupe was almost there!
SPHP left Carter Canyon Road heading W along a fence line. A short stroll down a hill to cross a faint road skirting Wildcat Hills to the NE, and then a short walk up to the summit was all that was left to do.
Nope, Lupe wasn’t doing it. She didn’t want to leave the road. SPHP looked around. Yeah, Lupe was right. There was quite a bit of cactus on the hillside. Still, this was a shortcut. Lupe was fine with being carried. SPHP had to stop a number of times on the way, but managed to tote the Tenderpaw Carolina Dog all the way up to the top of Wildcat Hills.
Up on top of Wildcat Hills, barbed-wire fences met at a “T”. There was plenty of cactus up here. SPHP told Lupe to just “stay” and not move around. She was more than happy to oblige. There were too many cacti to move a muscle! SPHP picked her up and repositioned her as needed for a couple of summit photos. Lupe was very patient with the whole ordeal.
Well, it didn’t take Lupe very long to inspect the high point of a cactus-infested barren hill, even though there were 360° views. Soon she was ready to go back to the G6. SPHP carried her down to the E off the high point as far as the faint road.
Once she was on the road, Lupe was good to go. She still wasn’t completely certain about things, and stopped briefly a few times along the way, but for the most part she trotted along just fine. Lupe and SPHP followed the faint road to Carter Canyon Road. Lupe stayed on Carter Canyon Road all the rest of the way back to the G6. The snowy parts of the journey were her clear favorites.
Lupe had already jumped back up into the G6 (11:06 AM), when a blue pickup truck appeared. It was pulling a horse trailer, heading S for the same snow bank that had stopped the G6. SPHP waited to see what would happen. The truck stopped in front of the snow drift. A man got out to take a look. His opinion was the same as SPHP’s – no way was this going to happen.
The owners of the truck were Gordon and Judy Hoffmaier. They hadn’t expected so much snow up here, either. They had their horses, Willow and Sage, with them, intending to do some riding. Gordon unloaded the horses before trying to turn the pickup truck and horse trailer around in the field next to the road. SPHP chatted with Judy, and held Willow’s rope. Lupe was busy chillin’ in the G6.
With their truck and trailer turned around and back on the road, Gordon and Judy went back to loading up their horses into the trailer again before moving on to find a less snowy area to go riding. Lupe and SPHP returned in the G6 to the “Y” in the road at the upper end of Carter Canyon.
This time, Lupe and SPHP took the Summit Ranch Road branch of the “Y” hoping to find the Robidoux Pioneer Graves. After a mile with no indication of where the graves might be, and with a view of the road continuing on to the N for many miles, SPHP gave up. SPHP turned the G6 around and drove back to Carter Canyon Road.
Lupe and SPHP went back down through Carter Canyon and headed N through Gering. In Scottsbluff, SPHP stopped at Wal-Mart for a few supplies – fried chicken, 2 bananas, and a 6 pack of Coke. The morning had been a success! Lupe had seen the world from Scotts Bluff and Wildcat Hills.
Before the noon hour was over, the G6 was gassed up again and ready to go. Lupe and SPHP left Scottsbluff heading W on Hwy 26. Lupe was starting the journey home, but her western Nebraska adventures weren’t over yet!Want more Lupe adventures? Choose from Lupe’s Dingo Vacations Adventure Indexor Master Adventure Index. Or subscribe free tonew Lupe adventures.
Lupe was back, and that meant she already had good news! There were a few more inches of snow around than when Lupe had been here on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 164 just 4 days ago, but once again the G6 had made it to the intersection of Six Mile Road and USFS Road No. 301.1A (4-1-16, 11:06 AM, 32°F), only 0.33 mile E of Copper Mountain.
The good news was that there was now absolutely no question whether it would be possible to get up on the summit of Odakota Mountain(7,200 ft.) tomorrow morning. Odakota Mountain was just a couple of miles away from the G6 as the roads went, and SPHP believed the G6 could get even closer.
Although it wasn’t really necessary for Lupe’s updated scouting report, Lupe and SPHP went on to climb both Odakota Mountain and Copper Mountain(6,920 ft.).
Lupe’s updated scouting trip had been necessitated by a 3 hour rain at Lupe’s home on Wednesday morning, 3-30-16. To add insult to injury, the following day, Thursday, 3-31-16, featured a series of intermittent mini-blizzards as squall lines repeatedly passed through the Black Hills region all day long. It was impossible to know how much snow had fallen at over 7,000 ft. without coming here again today. Lupe didn’t mind in the least. She was having fun!
The amount of new snow near Odakota Mountain was perfect! Enough to beautify the mountains, yet not enough to prevent easy access. Lupe and SPHP were excited and pleased!
Back at home, SPHP served as Lupe’s secretary and emailed out her updated Odakota road condition report to the interested party. “It’s ON! … Meet as previously planned.” The response came a short time later. “Perfect! This is EXACTLY what I wanted to hear! … Looking forward to making this happen, Jobe Wymore”
The next morning (4-2-16), Lupe and SPHP were waiting for Jobe at Medicine Mountain Road 2 miles S of Crazy Horse. Within 30 minutes, Jobe arrived in a rented silver vehicle that was an absolute BEAST! High clearance, 4WD, huge knobby tires. SPHP should have known. The quote on Jobe’s Peakbagger.com account homepage read “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare. – Juma Ikaanga, 2:08:01 marathoner.” Jobe was ready for anything.
A few minutes later, with the G6 safely ditched a few miles in on Medicine Mountain Road, Lupe and SPHP joined Jobe in the BEAST. Before long it was parked at the junction of Six Mile Road and USFS Road No. 693 near Odakota Mountain. Lupe, Jobe & SPHP began the 0.5 mile, snowy trek to the summit of Odakota.
On 3-26-16, Jobe Wymore had selected Lupe to serve as his local peakbagging expert after seeing that she had been to Odakota Mountain several times. He had emailed Lupe. All he ready wanted to know was how much snow there was, and whether or not the roads were open. Lupe emailed back that she would find out. That’s how Lupe came to be Jobe’s advanced scout.
Jobe lives in the Portland, Oregon area and had already bought a plane ticket to Denver. His main peakbagging objectives were Wildcat Mountain(5,025 ft.) and Hogback Mountain(5,062 ft.) in the Wildcat Hills S of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. However, if Odakota Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota was accessible, he wanted to drive the extra 200+ miles N to ascend it, too.
SPHP hadn’t initially recognized Jobe Wymore’s name. A day or two after Lupe had promised Jobe she would check out conditions near Odakota Mountain, SPHP finally looked Jobe Wymore up on peakbagger.com. It was an eye-opener. Jobe was not your average, casual day-hiking peakbagger like Lupe and SPHP. Jobe was a real mountaineer!
Over 2,400 ascents, over 1,300 different mountains climbed, 205 ascents of Grandeur Peak(8,299 ft.) over 19 years, and 600 ascents of Malans Peak(6,960 ft.) alone in less than a 2.5 year period. Jobe had climbed the highest mountains in all 50 U.S. states including Denali(20,310 ft.) in Alaska. All but 6 of them, twice. The lowest peak in his top 10 summits by elevation was Mt. Whitney(14,495 ft.), the highest peak in the lower 48 U.S. states.
It went on – successful summits in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, and Australia. Jobe had been up extremely remote peaks including Mt.Angayukaqsraq(4,700 ft.) in NW Alaska, and Mt. Bona(16,500 ft.) in SE Alaska. Jobe had been to the highest points in every county of Wisconsin, Colorado, North Dakota, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.
Yes, meeting Jobe was like meeting a celebrity. Lupe wasn’t fazed. Carolina Dogs are celebrities themselves! Soon advanced scout and Black Hills peakbagging expert Lupe was posing with peakbagger extraordinaire and mountaineer Jobe Wymore at the summit of Odakota Mountain.
Although Odakota Mountain is the 2nd highest in all of South Dakota at 7,200 feet, the mountain is kind of a mess covered with deadfall timber. There are still enough trees around to interfere with the views in every direction at the top. SPHP was a little afraid that someone of Jobe’s vast experience might find Odakota disappointing.
Jobe’s reaction was surprising. For a few moments he was entranced. He said he had been meaning to climb Odakota for 20 years. For Jobe, it was a beautiful moment, the fulfillment of a long held ambition.
Lupe and SPHP were glad Jobe liked Odakota Mountain and the Black Hills. Jobe wanted to visit a couple more peaks in the few hours he had remaining before having to head S to Nebraska. Lupe, Jobe and SPHP went to nearby Copper Mountain, which isn’t as high as Odakota, but has a better viewpoint.
There were lots of places Lupe would have liked to take Jobe in the Black Hills, but Jobe’s time was very limited. Cicero Peak(6,166 ft.), S of Custer, SD has a 1.5 mile long access road (USFS Road No. 338), which goes almost all the way to the top. The road was closed, but Jobe had time to hike it with Lupe and SPHP.
Lupe enjoyed trotting along on and off the road, while Jobe and SPHP were engaged in conversation. Jobe was full of fascinating tales about people and mountains. SPHP recognized some names and places, but knew nothing about many others.
Jobe told of a mountaintop writhing with baby rattlesnakes emerging from a huge den at the summit. He had stories about a life-threatening storm on Mt. Bona(16,500 ft.) in Alaska, and being forced to turn back on 3 separate occasions by weather on Aconcagua(22,841 ft.), the highest peak in the Andes of South America.
Perhaps the most riveting tale of all was about the tragic death of Edward Earl. Edward drowned on 6-19-15 while attempting to cross the Jago River in NE Alaska after two failed attempts at climbing Mt. Isto(8,976 ft.), the highpoint of the Brooks Range. Although Jobe had not been on that trip, Jobe personally knew Edward Earl and all three of the friends that had been with him on that fateful day.
It was all so interesting, that SPHP failed to take any photos, except at the top of Cicero Peak, and then forgot all about the camera case.
After climbing Cicero Peak, Jobe’s few hours in the Black Hills were up. He had to head S to the Wildcat Hills of Nebraska to complete his main peakbagging objectives of this trip before flying back home late tomorrow afternoon. Even though Jobe had to leave the Black Hills, Lupe’s adventures with Jobe weren’t over yet! Jobe didn’t mind if Lupe and SPHP tagged along and went to the Wildcat Hills, too.
So, Lupe and SPHP in the G6, followed by Jobe in the BEAST, headed S for Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The drive went through desolate, sparsely populated SW South Dakota and NW Nebraska. It was the sort of territory Lupe and SPHP love. Unspoiled vistas of hills and prairies for SPHP, and an abundance of cows and horses to bark furiously at for Lupe.
After gassing up in Scottsbluff, Jobe took the lead in the BEAST, with Lupe and SPHP following in the G6. Jobe drove through Scottsbluff and Gering, continuing S on 4-lane Highway 71. A couple of miles S of the Scotts Bluff/Banner County Line, Jobe turned W on County Road No. 40. After a mile, it turned SW for a short distance before dead-ending at a yellow house, apparently the only home served by County Road No. 40.
Jobe knew that this house was the home of Richard Archer, who refers to himself as either “Arch” or “The Bluffman”. Arch is actually a tenant and not the owner of the property, but both Arch and the owner are not only tolerant of respectful hikers, but curious and friendly toward them as well. Wildcat Mountain and Hogback Mountain are both on the owner’s ranchlands.
There was no answer when Jobe knocked on the door. Since it was late afternoon already, the plan had been to get permission from Arch to come back and climb Wildcat and Hogback Mountains in the morning. Unfortunately, Arch wasn’t home. Jobe needed paper to write a note to leave at the house. By the time SPHP returned with the paper, Jobe had a new idea.
Although it was fairly late in the day, there were still probably a good 3 hours of daylight left. Would Lupe and SPHP be willing to climb Wildcat and Hogback Mountains now? The whole round trip was only about 5 or 6 miles, give or take a little. Lupe and SPHP were fine with that. Sure! Sounds realistic. Maybe we can even get some sunset shots from Hogback Mountain?
Jobe wrote out two notes, one to leave on the door of the house and one on the dashboard of the BEAST. As soon as they were in place, Lupe, Jobe & SPHP headed out through a pasture behind the house. A faint road lead WSW for a while before being forced to turn S by a ravine to the W.
The climb was gradual at first, but became steeper as the road continued on. Eventually, the road played out. A muddy single track trail continued S, climbing at a moderately steep pace. There was an incredible amount of cactus around, but amazingly, Lupe didn’t seem bothered by it. She trotted right along with SPHP, following Jobe up.
When the trail reached the S end of the ravine to the W, the trail more or less disappeared too. The summit of Wildcat Peak was now just 0.5 mile to the W. Lupe, Jobe, and SPHP followed a long slope up the mountain. The very last part was a steep little climb up to a flat, roomy summit. Jobe made it up there first, followed by Lupe and SPHP a couple minutes later.
After 10 minutes or so spent enjoying the views up on Wildcat Mountain, the slanting rays of the sun indicated it was time to press on to Hogback Mountain, now just a mile away to the NW. There were small cliffs on the NW side of Wildcat Mountain, and larger ones to the S. Everyone had to go back to the NE end of the summit area to lose a little elevation before turning W along the rather steep N slope.
It wasn’t too far down to the long ridge NW of Wildcat Mountain that led to Hogback Mountain. SPHP was a little slow coming down, but Lupe and SPHP soon caught up with Jobe, who was waiting on the ridge. The way ahead looked easy! Jobe and SPHP pressed onward.
Poor Lupe didn’t. She wasn’t coming. She didn’t bark; she didn’t whine. She just sat silently on the snow being left behind. Jobe noticed first.
The cactus had finally gotten to Lupe. Jobe and SPHP returned to her. Several times, Jobe and SPHP inspected all her paws and pulled fine little cactus spines out of them. Lupe started onward again a couple of times, but she didn’t get far. Cactus loaded with more sharp spines were practically everywhere.
Back home in her Black Hills of South Dakota, Lupe has become a local peakbagging expert. Most places in the Black Hills, except at lower elevations near the prairie or toward the drier southern hills, there aren’t any cactus, or very few. Here in the Wildcat Hills of Nebraska, the cactus infested ridge had reduced the intrepid American Dingo to just Tenderpaw Lupe.
The cactus were terrible. Lupe kept stopping. She was done. She didn’t whine. She just sat there and lifted one paw up to SPHP and Jobe asking for help. As far as Lupe was concerned, the Wildcats and Hogs could have these hills! SPHP told Jobe to go on. SPHP would start back to Arch’s house with Lupe. Jobe asked if SPHP was sure? Absolutely! Jobe had come all this way to climb Hogback Mountain. He had to go while there was still light. Jobe took off running.
SPHP picked Lupe up. No doubt the most reliable route back was the known route Lupe had taken to get here. However, that meant climbing back up to go around the steep N slope of Wildcat Mountain. Even though it was a bit risky, SPHP decided to carry Lupe downhill to the NE. SPHP would try to stay up on the ridge as long as possible before descending down into the steep Badlandy cedar breaks below. Maybe it wouldn’t even be necessary?
It was. The ridge finally ran out. Lupe and SPHP had already lost quite a bit of elevation. Hopefully, there would be a way through in the big gullies down below. This was badlands type terrain, a land of narrow, very steep-sided ravines. If Lupe and SPHP could lose enough elevation, the ravines would ultimately empty out onto wide open flatlands near Arch’s house.
SPHP found a way down to the bottom of a ravine. It continued to lose elevation at a rapid pace. The ravine was choked with cedar trees, making it difficult to force a way through. The real danger, though, was that there might be a 10 foot drop along the way, with no safe way down. That would have forced a climb back out. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. There were a few 4-6 foot drops along the way, but Lupe and SPHP managed to scramble down each time.
The damp, muddy ground down at the bottom of the ravines was friendlier to Lupe’s paws. For one thing, there wasn’t nearly so much cactus down here. There was still some, but it wasn’t everywhere. Part of the time Lupe was willing to trot along on her own power. It was generally slow going fighting through the cedar trees in the narrow gullies, but Lupe and SPHP continually made progress. Gradually, the ravine was getting bigger.
Suddenly, Lupe and SPHP both heard it – a human voice. It was Jobe! Jobe was looking for Lupe somewhere up above. SPHP shouted back. Soon Jobe was in view close by a little higher up. Jobe joined Lupe and SPHP. It was kind of amazing. SPHP hadn’t told Jobe which way SPHP intended to take Lupe on the way back. Jobe had followed footprints in the patches of snow, though, to pick up the general direction.
It hardly seemed like Jobe would have had enough time to get to Hogback Mountain and way back here already. Had he made it? Jobe had. In fact, he had explored all three high points in contention for being the true summit. In Jobe’s opinion, the middle one was the highest. SPHP felt rather sorry that Jobe couldn’t have had much time to enjoy the summit he had come all this way to see, but it was very kind of Jobe to come back so fast to help Lupe.
For a while Jobe and SPHP took turns carrying Lupe. Occasionally, Lupe went short stretches under her own power. Jobe’s superior physical conditioning enabled him to carry Lupe longer, farther and faster than SPHP could.
The cedar break ravines were getting bigger and wider. After carrying Lupe through the winding ravines for a while, Jobe spotted the faint road to Arch’s house just up a short slope to the E. Soon Lupe, Jobe and SPHP were up there. Arch’s house was in view no more than 0.5 mile ahead across gently sloping pastureland. Funnel Rock could be seen to the SE.
Between Jobe and SPHP, Lupe got carried the entire rest of the way back to Arch’s house. The Bluffman was home! He had seen Jobe’s notes. Arch invited Jobe, Lupe and SPHP in.
For maybe 45 minutes, Lupe, Jobe and SPHP got acquainted with The Bluffman. The house was very rustic. It was filled with animal heads, antlers, rattlesnake skins mounted on boards, and beard balls. A self-extracted tooth dangled on dental floss. It was easy to imagine The Bluffman as a character straight out of the Old West. He looked plenty tough enough to have fit right in with the pioneers on the Oregon and Mormon Trails along the North Platte River 160 years go.
Lupe was happy laying on the floor listening to the conversation, while giving her sore paws a break. SPHP asked about rattlesnakes? Yes, there were plenty in the area. The Bluffman didn’t like to kill them unless they were near the house. These hills were their home, too, after all. The Bluffman had something like 14 rattlers that had strayed too close in the freezer! The Bluffman mentioned elk, eagles, coyotes, mountain lions, and all kinds of smaller creatures living in these hills.
The Bluffman asked if Jobe and SPHP had any money? He offered to sell elk antlers, and a turkey claw back scratcher he had made himself. Arch makes a variety of frontier-days type items to supplement his income.
When the time came to go, SPHP asked Arch if he would mind letting Lupe get a photo taken with him? He not only didn’t mind, he went and put on his finest 3 skunk-tail hat for the occasion. It was already getting so dark out the photos turned out rather grainy and fuzzy (learn to use the flash, SPHP!), but they are still kind of unique.
Arch had sure lived up to his reputation as a friend to hikers and peakbaggers interested in Wildcat and Hogback mountains. He had treated Lupe, Jobe and SPHP very kindly. Meeting him and seeing his home had been quite a pleasure, and an unusual experience to say the least.
Out in the driveway, after Arch had gone inside the house, it was time to say goodbye to Lupe and SPHP’s new friend Jobe Wymore. Jobe only had 2.5 hours sleep in the past two days, and must have been exhausted. He needed to check into his motel in Gering, and get some sleep before starting on his way back to Denver and then home in the morning.
Lupe’s time with Jobe had sure been fun! (At least up until the whole cactus ordeal, and even then Jobe had been a true friend.) It had certainly been a memorable day from start to finish. Jobe and SPHP said goodbye, then Jobe came around to pet Lupe already relaxing on her soft perch in the G6. The BEAST then took Jobe away along dusty County Road No. 40 back to the highway.
Maybe Lupe and SPHP will see Jobe again some day, but who knows when? If so, you can be certain there will be more American Dingo adventures in store!
After Lupe’s adventure with Jobe Wymore in the Wildcat Hills, she emailed him asking how he first got interested in climbing mountains. “I guess in its simplest terms it had a tad to do with as a young lad stumbling upon Expedition to the Ultimate by Reinhold Messner, and just having the stars align after that. A person’s most devoted undertakings in life are seldom drawn up by one moment, but rather that one moment being polluted and molded into something substantial.”