Off of the Grid

Central NE! Lake McConaughy & More!

We spent a wonderful week in Ogallala, NE. After we left my dad’s house, we decided that we needed to take some time to vet our new/old home. Thus far we had been primarily living in peoples houses, or at least having the homes close-by as fail safe. We hadn’t actually ‘lived’ in the RV since we left Colorado Springs. It was time we bit-the-bullet and really moved in. We decided we would go check out Lake McConaughy in central NE for a while.

The RV Camp we found to stay at was Country View RV Park. It wasn’t right on the lake (Ogallala is where the amazing Lake McConaughy is) but, it does have Internet which since Daniel works from home is very necessary. It’s a fairly small park with amazing reviews on the web. At first, I wasn’t terribly excited about the place. The views aren’t great. A power substation on one side, and then fields everywhere else with a highway about a block away. However, this park was awesome. Right away it felt like home. The owner is out and about and truly loves and cares for his park. Everyone is looked out for. There is a playground for the kids, a nice restroom/shower facility that is clean and stocked and checked frequently! There is a pool on-site and some barbecue grills you can use if you don’t have your own. The employees are friendly and the feeling of safety just permeates the property. Xanman felt comfortable running to the playground on his own and I felt comfortable letting him do it. Other kids were there, as well as some solo old-timers hanging out. There is a simple store selling camping supplies as well as interesting knickknacks. We were able to refresh our water bottles from a reverse osmosis filtered water spigot in the laundry room. Like I said, this park was amazing and a perfect safe place for us to test out our full-timer status. Plus it is perfectly situated to get into town, head to the lake or get back on the Interstate.

When you haven’t really lived someplace, you don’t know how things are going to work. How would we cook? Is it going to be a major pain because we don’t have a kitchen or a bathroom or will we be able to work around these things fairly simply? How will we live? The basics. In this week we organized and then organized some more. We added a table, sorted through boxes we still had about, I reorganized the bookshelves so that we could better access the books we needed for homeschooling and got more room by organizing the other bookcases left over from the original RV remodel. Finally it felt like everything had a place and the amount of things we needed to reorganize for moving the rig was minimized. We had living space. A sort-of routine started and Daniel was able to get some actual work done for his real paying job. Feeling more confident with our living situation, we decided to venture out to see this Lake we had heard so much about but hadn’t yet seen.

Lake McConaughy is really cool. For the first four days we were at Ogallala, it was pretty much non-stop rain. It was cold and pretty damp. That didn’t daunt us though. Xander is well prepared with two sets of galoshes and a nice rain coat. Daniel and I, while not as well equipt, are prepared to handle a bit of rain easily. Off we went! We decided to navigate the old fashioned way and just explore. Follow our noses so to speak. We headed generally west following the signs directing us to the lake. We hit a highway and decided to go straight across instead of turning towards one campground or another. We ended up in a small community, very hoity-toity sounding. We ventured in thinking we might find a neat private lake access point. The gravel roads were so bad in this community, we turned around. LOL – guess all the community money went to their private driveways and houses and not the main access road. Just before the community, we found a dirt road directing us to public access to the lake. Ironically this one was well packed and fairly easy to get down. I mentioned earlier that it had been raining a lot so everything was pretty wet. I had a bit of anxiety in getting stuck in some thick mud in our van but Daniel assured me we have good tires and it wouldn’t be a problem….’Okaaaayyyy…’ – LOL! Sure enough, the road was packed enough that wet or not, we got down and up fine and were able to park. No-one else was crazy enough to venture out in the cold, cold weather so we had the beach to ourselves. The doggies were let out to run and they were in heaven. AnnaBelle has a nice thick coat. She is a total water dog and immediately jumped into the lake to frolic. Gelert is 14 and has no such protection. He steered clear of the water after an initial test. Xander had fun rock-hopping, and chasing the dogs. We all got to enjoy this seemingly endless lake. We couldn’t see the other side, the clouds were so low so we had no idea how big or small this lake was. For all we knew, this was the amazing beach written about online. I got some amazing photos that day though – rain or not!

We made regular visits to the Lake going to the main state park entrance as well as our new ‘private’ beach. We checked out different routes until we found our favorite spot – No Name Bay; and one morning we were there, it was actually sleeting! We were freezing and yes, we were the only ones out there. Later that afternoon, the sun finally came out so we rushed back to the lake! These pictures were taken the same day – morning and late afternoon. Quite the change and we could finally see the other side of the lake. Unfortunately as you can see, there is a bit of plastic floating about. Each time we went, whether it was to our small private beach or to No Name Bay, we hauled out plastic garbage bags, cans, glass bottles, and whatever else we found. Please, if you go to a lake, or river or ANYWHERE – don’t just throw your garbage out. The people behind you don’t want to see it, and the items you toss casually are seriously impacting wildlife. DON’T DO IT!

We checked out the visitor center which has some cool displays on how the dam was built. Some random facts about Lake McConaughy: Did you know that it is the largest reservoir in Nebraska? At full storage, McConaughy is 20 miles long, four miles wide and 142 feet deep at the dam. The dam is among the largest of its type in the world, and the fish grow to trophy proportions, accounting for several state records. They list the records in the visitors center. The construction of the dam was unique in how they chose to build it. Instead of using trucks to move the earth, they created a slurry. Using the earth they were removing, they mixed it with water and pumped it along the length of the dam literally ‘creating’ the dam. Pretty cool stuff! The soil enough was not enough to hold the dam so they had to import rocks from Wyoming and stabilize the earth. Voila! Now you have an incredible earth dam! At the time of construction (between 1936 and 1941) it was the second largest earthen dam in the world. If you go there, definitely check out the visitors center.

There is more to do around Ogallala than just the lake if fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, camping and such don’t appeal to you. Did you know that Ogallala was the meeting point of three amazing trails?

  • The Great Western Cattle Trail
  • The Oregon Trail
  • and for a brief time, the Pony Express Route

How cool is that!? There are brochures talking about Tri-Trails Park. Interestingly enough, there isn’t very much on the flyer. I was hoping for an elaborate display. A large trail system allowing you to walk a quarter mile or so of each trail with interesting displays, anecdotes from the cowboys driving the cattle by day and chatting over the campfire by night, and stories about the terrific exploits of those brave young pony express riders. We went to the park hoping for a nice afternoon activity and all I can say is, at least the trails are marked. Instead of a large trail system, what you have is a small rectangular park with a post for each trail. That’s it. Xander was able to run it’s length in 13 seconds and it’s width in 8 seconds just to give you an idea. They could do so much more with this!

Ogallala was known as a bit of a rough and tumble place with shoot-outs and bad guys. Apparently they had some trouble getting any reputable law enforcement to work out there for some time. Ogallala has made ‘Boot Hill’ a nice area to visit. This is where they buried people with no local family who wanted them in the cemetery, or people who were unclaimed or unknown. They have a really nice write-up at the bottom of Boot Hill by the stairs so make sure to stop and grab a brochure. I was up on the hill taking pictures and when I looked at the brochure I discovered all the info I needed from the plaques up top were there. Please stay on the trail and keep your pets managed if you visit. Remember, you are stepping on someone’s remains. Many of them have no marking so you never know who you might disturb!

They also have a re-enactment of one of their more famous shootouts. They say this is a family event so you should be pretty safe to take your kids. They have a saloon, a jail, a blacksmith shop and some other stuff. We were driving around and saw the building mock-ups. We pulled over just in time to see the cast come out and rehearse being shot. It was interesting and macabre at the same time AND we didn’t have to pay to see it. LOL – check it out. Looks like a bunch of fun!

I think “Don’t Sqaut with Spurs On!” might become my new catch phrase!

If you don’t mind a drive, check out Ash Hollow. This was one of the last stops for a while for those headed West on the Oregon Trail. If you want to see actual wagon ruts, and get a glimpse of history – go see it. One of the locals at the RV camp told me about this place when I voiced my frustration over the Tri-Trails Park. It was well worth the 30 minute drive AND we discovered a wonderful farm/shop we never would have found if we hadn’t gone.

There are two sections of Ash Hollow. The main state park where there is a nature center, a schoolhouse, a cave tour and a lovely area for a picnic. There are hiking trails throughout as well, so a nice place to easily spend the day. Then there is an off the road area where the majority of the Oregon Trail info is. BE PREPARED TO HIKE! No worries, its not like you will be going miles, but it IS a fairly steep trail. I was trying to get Xander to imaging trying to push a full wagon with straining oxen up the hill. He is 7, so old enough that he would have been working with his dad and the other menfolk. I tried to describe the cracking of the whip as the oxen were urged up the hill. The fear that would have been palpable if that wagon got loose. The heat and the sweat and the driving determination that pushed these people west in search of a better life. The idea that ALL your worldly belongings plus food and water for at least a month if not more would be in that wagon. No luxury items would have been brought. There was no room. He could sort-of get that, I mean we do live in an RV, but I don’t think he understood the overall picture. After all, in a time of space ships and tablets, it it a bit hard to imagine oxen and wagons. At the top of Windlass Hill, you can see the ruts the wagon wheels left in the earth both approaching the hills and as they left, slowly climbing them. At one point, the wagon wheels eroded the hillside to such a degree that they literally changed the landscape creating a ravine where rolling hillside used to exist. Looking at the landscape, knowing what was ahead of them as they journeyed ever Westward, I was in awe at the level of determination these people had. To leave everything they knew with nothing but hope to drive them on. What grit. What strength! What incredible conviction! Was it their only hope, life being too hard in the civilized East to make a living? Did their spirit simply strive for something more? Something wild? Adventure? Was it the need to create something; a legacy perhaps for their family that drove them forward? What about the people already there, did they think about that or were they just assured the redskins were savages? Animals that should be shot on sight? Whatever their thoughts, we can be assured of one thing. Our ancestors were seriously tough! Ash Hollow was one of the last places the emigrants could fill up on fresh spring water for a while. By the time they reached here, they had been travelling for about two months. They had to cross some major rivers to get here and more were still ahead. The river crossings were so dangerous, most of the deaths occurring on the trail were from the river crossings themselves. Not from the Indians, starvation, dehydration or other maladies that occurred on the trip.

The main section of Ash Hollow State Park goes into more of the geological particulars of the area, as well as some important archaeological discoveries made here. The visitors center was closed when we got there – it was scheduled to open three days later, so we just walked around outside. There are period re-enactments at the Visitor Center and out at the Windlass Hill site so if you are planning to be at the lake this summer, make sure to check out their calendar!
Ash Hollow State Park Calendar

On our way back from Ash Hollow, we discovered an alpaca farm. Yup. In the middle of no-where Nebraska. We drove into the wide drive and were welcomed by one of the farmers. His wife is the one who owns the alpaca’s and she was supervising the sheering. Did we want to see? YAH! We tumbled out the car and he walked us over to where they had the alpaca’s of all colors being carefully tied down so they could be shorn. Many videos of sheep sheering shows bleeding sheep. These guys were amazing, careful and smooth! Not one nick, or crying alpaca. We learned that the alpaca’s are shorn bottom of the belly up as that is the best fiber (we also learned it’s not hair or fur but fiber. Good to know!). Once they have shorn the highest quality fiber off the alpaca, the remaining fiber is shorn. The face is never touched. Alpaca’s are normally shorn mid-Spring but this year the cold has been persistent so the sheering was taking place a bit later than normal. Farmers from several hours away had brought their alpacas to be shorn are well. This is fairly normal. One farmer generally doesn’t have enough animals to bring in the sheering people themselves. So they will put out the info they are bringing a team in. Generally several farmers will chip in and bring their animals. There is only so long you can watch alpaca sheering if you are not personally involved. Laurie (the alpaca owner) suggested we go and look at the baby alpacas that had been born two days previous. Of course we said yes, and Darryl took us down to the pasture.

BABIES! Oh my gosh, pretty much anything as a baby is cute and alpacas are no exception. Xander loved looking at them but they weren’t really open to being petted that day. Fortunately there was a giant mound of dirt which of course he had to play on. While Xander happily ran up and down the dirt pile, Darryl and I got to chat about all kinds of things. He is super proud of his wife and shared that all the animals are hers. He takes care of the fields and the farm in general. Like most farmers these days, he rents his land. He doesn’t own it. We talked about so many things and I found him to be a wonderful conversationalist. Interesting, intelligent, honest, engaging and deeply in love with his land, his family and his farm. I felt so blessed to have found this farm and be given this time to just make a connection. Who knows if he will remember Xander and I years to come, but I think I will certainly remember him. We got to see goats (who did let Xander pet them), the alpacas, chickens and the sheep. Laurie has a nice alpaca shop on-site. I loved it! You walk in from this dusty well loved working farm to a lovely boutique. It smells wonderful (she makes her own goats milk soaps and creams) and there is pretty stuff everywhere. It was such a nice surprise to walk into. I couldn’t contain my squeal of delight and just walked around for a few seconds taking everything in. Everything there is alpaca. Not all of it from their farm. Laurie explained that she sends the fiber into the Alpca Exchange (Laurie please post of I have the name wrong). The Alpaca Exchange gathers the fiber from alpaca farmers all over the country. They fiber is cleaned and processed and things made. Yarns, sweaters, scarves, socks, hats, etc. They also import fair trade garments made of alpaca fiber from Peru. She has some scarves there that I am lusting over. At the time we had like two dollars to our name so I couldn’t really get anything but some lip balm but oh what lip balm! If you have a chance, stop by the Alpaca Shack. 2450 RD 207, Big Springs, NE 69122. (308) 778-6300 Tell her Paula and Xander say, “Hi!” She doesn’t have a website, you’ll just have to go on an adventure to find the farm! It is clearly posted as the Alpaca Shack. If you are lucky, she or Darryl will take you back to see the animals!

A nice little nature park in Ogallala looks like the nature park time forgot. The grass was overgrown and the trail was a bit wild looking. It made it a lot of fun to explore! Right off the highway, maybe a mile from the Country View RV Park lies the Ogallala Nature Park. This little gem of a park features a nice arboretum, an outdoor classroom, river access (walking only), bat houses, wild flowers and, well, nature! The grass was almost as tall as Xander! There were benches placed periodically throughout the trails so you could sit and ponder for a bit. We followed a trail that took us through the woods to the river and found two downed trees with beaver teeth markings in them. We saw the beaver burrow behind us. We saw deer tracks and coyote tracks (they could have been dog but we are going with coyote). Xander even saw a red worm snake! A small park that definitely needs some love but it sure is cool. I hope the plans to get it back in shape take shape. Check it out!

After Xander and I left the Nature Park, we still had the exploring hiking itch so we took off down a dirt road. We found this really cool old barn in tall grass. It had a windmill, was in fairly decent shape and just begged to be explored! Not to mention it was a photographers dream! The clouds, the wind, the grass and a cute boy. PERFECT! We didn’t go into the building, that would not have been safe but we did walk around a bit. Gorgeous space! Nebraska is quite lovely actually.

Needless to say, there is a lot to do in Ogallala and the surrounding countryside. Adventure is definitely out there if you look for it. If you have made it this long in this post – YAY! I meant to break this up into multiple posts but I am already a week or so behind so have bundled everything here. I will be better about posting more often.

We decided while in Ogallala that we would head South instead of heading North. I am an Usborne Books & More representative and will be attending the convention in June. Daniel and I started talking and decided that it wouldn’t make sense for us to drive to WA and then have me immediately fly south to OK. Instead, we would drive south, visit the adult kids and granddaughter in Austin, TX and then head to Tulsa, OK. Lots happened on that trip but that’s another post. For now, I will leave you with another couple gorgeous lake shots.


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