It’s camping season once again, and for the fourth year in a row, Vivian and I joined Jenny and a group of our mutual friends for a weekend of roughing it. This year we went up to the Niobrara River for some canoeing, much like the trip we took three years ago. (Has it been that long already?)
We all carpooled to the campsite except for Keith, who took his new “Fuzzy Buggy” up to northern Nebraska with us. It’s a van inexplicably covered in blue astroturf that he bought to replace the infamous “redneck truck” when it finally croaked. It was the source of much amusement for us and a few other campers over the weekend, but I think it’d do very well in a parade for the Creighton Bluejays (especially with the platform on the top for some cheerleaders).
We set about putting up our tents and grilling some burgers well ahead of the drunken tubers who eventually started filling up the campgrounds. The weather was hot and muggy all weekend, so I quickly decided to jump into the river and enjoy the cool water before dinner. I also gave our waterproof camera a dry-run before the canoeing trip.
We had dinner, and Jon had some fun with Diet Coke and Mentos afterward. The sun went down, and we roasted some marshmallows as the drunks at the campsite started blasting music from their flatbed pickups and motor homes. Despite the noise, we were still able to enjoy the great outdoors, gazing up at stars we could never see under the city lights of Omaha. We also counted a bunch of beautiful shooting stars, which are apparently far more common that I ever would have imagined.
We started off on our canoe trip fairly early the next morning, leaving around 8:30 by bus and arriving at the river a little after nine. The tubers were already up and drinking at this point, disgusting light beer in hands and loud, floating stereo systems already blasting away along the river. Vivian and I paddled quickly past them so we could enjoy some actual nature on our trip, and we were quickly rewarded with some quiet, natural rocky formations and waterfalls along the route.
We had lunch at Smith Falls State Park, home of Nebraska’s highest waterfall. If any of us were still sleepy from last night, we got the chance to have a nice, brisk shower at the rocky base of the falls.
Next stop along the trip, of course, was the “jumping off point” along the river. This is where a rocky ledge along the river goes from an inch of water down to eight or nine feet, making it the perfect spot for jumping and swimming along with the river’s current. There was also a small set of waterfalls and rapids around the corner, where you could sit and fight the current as if it were your own personal jacuzzi.
Back at the campsite, after we’d had the chance to shower and cool down for an hour or two, we grilled up some potatoes and brats and settled in for the evening. Vivian brought her electronic Catchphrase game to pass around, and then we got to tell another progressive campfire story. This year’s story, among many other things, involved Big Bird’s shocking relationship with Madonna. (We also learned that the word “meanwhile” is the control-alt-delete of progressive storytelling.)
On Sunday, we dropped by the Snake River Falls before heading on home, just as we did in 2007. This is the widest waterfall in Nebraska, and I was able to take my waterproof camera all the way behind the misty, cascading falls this time, which was fantastic.
We stopped in Valentine for lunch before starting our long journey home, and I was finally able to get a photo of a Valentine Police cruiser. These are the guys who write you a ticket if you forget to get your significant other something on February 14. The rest of the gang went to Subway for lunch, which I in my constant pursuit of unique small town dining experiences dropped by the Frosty Drive-In across the street. Yes, a freshly-made bacon cheeseburger with onion “chips” and a raspberry shake may not be as health-conscious as a Subway veggie sandwich, but if I want a bland, flavorless sandwich made by a boring franchise fast food restaurant, I can find one around every corner in Nebraska.
Our drive home was fairly boring compared to Eric’s. He decided to stay behind and take photos of a railroad ghost town called Long Pine, Neb. and got caught up in a severe thunderstorm along the way. Vivian and I kept just ahead of the storm, so we didn’t get to see some of the interesting rotation Eric saw underneath (and that was fine with us).
As soon as we got home, I started putting together a short video from our trip and had it online within a day or two. Having a waterproof camera made capturing the adventure we had almost as much fun as living through it. Check it out: