Thursday, July 2, 2009

Git Along Little Lexus, We're a -Leavin' Cheyenne

June 30, 2009

On our way out of town we spotted what is surely the world's largest cowboy coffee pot. Just the thing those Cheyenne Kiwanians need to serve the coffee that goes with those 39,000 pancakes. (Oops, the picture was somehow deleted--imagine, if you will, a classic cylindrical water tower with a conical top, a small ball stuck on the top of the cone, a handle on one side of the cyliner and a spout on the other, so it looks just like the kind of coffee pot a Paul Bunyan size cowboy would put over his campfire.)

We slid into Nebraska, then headed north again, across those plains where the cattle can graze all year, and we saw plenty of cattle still grazing, as they have for over 140 years, except now there are fences. Suddenly, after over 100 monotonously flat miles, we dropped abruptly, 200 to 300 feet lower, and were in an expansive valley bordered by steep bluffs. We decided to visit the Scotts Bluff National Monument to learn more about this sudden change in scenery.

We learned that the bluffs are the remains of high plains that have eroded away over the past five million years or so. The bluffs are just wearing away more slowly than the sandstone plains around them, because they have harder caprock deposits on the top of them. But, it doesn't take geologic time to see that the bluffs are still melting away. On one of our hikes around the top of Scotts Bluff we saw an elevation benchmark placed on the surface of the rock in the 1930s—the top of the benchmark is now at least ten inches above the current rock surface.

Our interest in seeing the bluffs after driving for over an hour through nothing but grassland was nothing compared to the excitement that the early settlers traveling west felt when they first caught sight of the bluffs, sometimes days before they actually reached them. For the settlers, who had been traveling for six to eight weeks across the grasslands, reaching the bluffs signaled that they really had reached the West. Known as "the Nebraska Gibralter," Scotts Bluff was a celebrated waypoint on the trail.

The Oregon and California trails both went through Mitchell Pass at the foot of Scotts Bluff, as did the Pony Express. We were surprised to learn that the Pony Express only operated for 18 months in1860-61. But in that time it had a remarkable record: 650,000 miles ridden, and only 1 rider killed, 1 mail lost, 1 schedule not completed. It took ten days to get a letter from Missouri to California, but when the telegraph lines reached across the country, express mail service just couldn't compete.

We loved this stop—a little history, a little hiking, some scenic views and great photo ops, and a few more stamps on our National Park passport.

However, we have to admit that our favorite stop of the day had far less redeeming value, although it was just a little bit more fun. It was Carhenge, an authentic replication of Stonehenge made of 38 vintage cars, mostly from the 50s and 60s, placed to assume the same proportions as Stonehenge,
and spray painted grey to mimic stones and hide graffiti. The circle is 96 feet in diameter, the vertical stones are represented by cars buried trunk-end down, and the arches are formed by cars welded in place on the fenders of the buried cars.

This unique sculpture was built as a memorial to the father of the artist, Jim Reinders. When the family gathered following his father's death in 1982, they tried to decide on a fitting memorial for him, and the idea of Carhenge was born. They went away to gather cars over the next five years, and got together again in 1987 to build their monumental tribute in a field on their family farm just north of Alliance, Nebraska. They dedicated it on the Summer Solstice of that year (fitting, as it is, like Stonehenge, designed to chart the movements of the sun).

This is the second "henge" of our trip--the first was Woodhenge, on the Cahokia site outside St. Louis. It is the second eclectic 20th century device designed to track the movements of the sun and moon--the first was the Georgia Guidestones in Elberton. We may be on a cosmic (or comic) roll.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! carhenge, lol and I love that and in Nebraska? Great story and I guess there is a bit of the druid in those prairie people.