Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Scenic Byways of Iowa and Nebraska

With every cross-country crossing, I'm always eager to find new routes to explore.  In early July on my way towards Colorado, I decided to bypass the familiar I-80 route from Chicago and explore U.S. Highway 20 across northern Iowa, and the Scenic Byways of northern Nebraska.

It was a beautiful summer day in Chicago, so I took time out before getting on the road to give the Winnie its first wash.  She cleaned up so good, I made this my new blog header photo!

Once on the road, it was a pleasant uneventful afternoon drive over to the Wal-Mart in Dubuque, Iowa just west of the Mississippi river.  The next day, I continued to follow U.S. Route 20 along the rolling hills of northern Iowa.

Not many rest areas or restaurant parking lots along this route, so when I saw a sign for a county park just south of Webster City, I decided to check it out!  Briggs Woods County Park turned out to be a delightful lunch stop-- my pondside picnic table was tranquil and idyllic.  Pretty sure there's nothing this pretty along I-80!

After one more photo op, I was ready to hit the road again.

My next destination was the Wal-Mart in South Sioux City.  Another quiet, flat, and free overnight rest stop!

On Day 3, rather than continue along US 20 to Valentine, Nebraska, I decided to try the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway.  If nothing more, the name sure sounded exciting!

It was a relaxing and very pleasant drive.  Nothing much more than hills and sky, but I had the road practically to myself and could drive as leisurely as I wished without worrying about slowing someone down behind me.

Late in the afternoon, I arrived to Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge just north of Valentine, Nebraska.  I didn't have much time here, but it looked quite interesting.  From a high river bluff, I had a bird's eye view down into the refuge and grasslands below.

Descending the tall bluff, I arrived to the town of Valentine.  No Wal-Mart here, so I had to settle for a small in-town RV park called Wacky West Travel Park.  The owner was a sweet old man, and the Passport America price was reasonable, but other than that, the place was pretty run down.

I took a walk around the small downtown area after dinner, and they certainly play up the town's name-- lots of valentines all up and down the main drag.

Lots of bars and western wear too!

The next morning, I drove down to Valentine National Wildlife Refuge just south of town.  Yes, this tiny town has not one, but two NWRs!

Valentine has a 10-mile scenic tour road that I wanted to take, but it's a one-lane dirt road and I wasn't sure about driving it in the View while towing the Tracker.  Fortunately, as I just started to scope the road out, a local came from the opposite direction and advised that I should be just fine (apart from a few washboard areas).

The drive (and Refuge) was magnificent!  This area is known as the Sandhills, and Valentine NWR seemed to be the "best of the best" of the region.  Huge skies and rolling grass covered sand dunes, a remnant of the ancient inland sea that once covered the Great Plains.

Lots of grass-fed cattle here too...

The refuge has a number of lakes and small ponds for fishing and watching waterfowl (although, I saw nothing more than Canada geese on this day).

The Sandhills were really quite a pleasant discovery.  I can't believe I had not discovered them sooner in all these years of driving between Chicago and Colorado.  But I'll be sure to visit this area again!


  1. That trek you are taking is soooo much nicer than taking I-80 across all of Nebraska.

  2. Glad you've enjoyed your trek across Nebraska. If you had stayed on Hwy 20 out of S. Sioux instead of taking 12 you would have come through the town where I live. The northern part of the state is kind of a hidden gem and that's not all bad. :)

  3. Such pretty country. I love the photos, and I especially like the cows! I agree with Steve. This is much better than an Interstate trip.

  4. Dang-it! More pins in my 'possibilities' map.

    I'm never going to get to all of them at this rate!!

  5. Your new paint job is really nice. I enjoyed driving Rt 20 and visiting Valentine a few years ago. The Sand Hills are just so different and unique.

  6. Beautiful, relaxing photos! Thank you!

  7. Thanks for sharing this post, Lynn. I'm heading to Iowa next week to trade up to a Via at Winnebago and it's nice to see some fun things that I can do while there.

  8. Great post and pictures - it was so relaxing just reading and enjoying your photos - I feel refreshed now!

  9. I think you were at Paul Wolff campground when we were this summer...June 15th to the 25th. We were in the 1st pull thru and I think you were in the first back in on the prairie side. Close to the constantly barking dog.


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