Hiking in Waubonsie State Park | August 2020
The theme of today’s adventure was “More Counties, Loess Hills.” Our goal was to bag the Southwestern-most county in Iowa, the Northern-most county in Missouri, and a few Nebraska counties on the way home, as well as visit a few parks along the way. We set off early, crossing over into Iowa, and took the Loess Hills Scenic Highway heading South.
As we drove, we soaked up the unassuming beauty that is the Iowa countryside. The rolling hills, the perfectly lined cornfields, the patches of forested areas in between. We drove through small towns and passed farm houses, with signs advertising home grown produce for sale with the owners sitting in lawn chairs out front. Neither of us could deny the overwhelming feeling of love for this state, and for the Midwest.
Our first stop was in Sidney, IA in Fremont County, where we drove to the courthouse and then got out for a short walk around. Often times while wandering around small towns we find a recurring theme in the statues and artwork placed on street corners, buildings, or lamp posts, and the ‘theme’ here appeared to be cowboy boots. (Other past themes have been Ice Cream Cones and Butterflies)
After snapping pictures, playing Pokemon, and sniffing all the sidewalks twice, we continued driving South to our main stop for the day: Waubonsie State Park. This is one of the few state parks in Iowa that has an entrance fee for vehicles not licensed in Iowa, but we happily paid the $5 fee in support of the park. We packed up our water and letterboxing gear, applied bug spray, and began our hike. The first view point was not too far from the parking lot, and we stopped briefly to enjoy the view before continuing on our way.
We started hiking on the Sunset Ridge Trail, mostly through wooded areas with small clearings where they were working on prairie restoration. After about a mile we made it to edge of the ridge where the trees and land fell away and we were able to enjoy views to the West as we continued South. In the distance, we were able to see Cooper Power Station (a nuclear power plant that will be decommissioned soon because of the flooding here in 2018 – there goes another post military job position)
After following the ridge for half a mile, the trail turned East and went steeply downhill. We came across an old charcoal kiln or maybe a root cellar, then made our way uphill and to the Southernmost parking lot. At this point Curtis realized we had passed the only letterbox and retraced his steps to go look for it while Charlotte and I relaxed at a bench and waited. The box turned out to be missing, and we carried on our way following the road until we picked up a trail that ran parallel. Altogether the trail was about 3 miles long, and we would definitely return to this park just to hike along the ridge again especially as fall colors come into full swing. If you’re interested in our AllTrails recording, check it out here.
From Waubonsie, we drove South into Missouri and to our next hike of the day at Brickyard Hill Natural Area. In this park is the highest point of Atchison county, MO, and while county high pointing isn’t a goal (mostly because many county high points in the Midwest are just random points in the middle of fields or on private property), this was supposedly accessible so we decided to give it a shot.
Unfortunately this hike turned out to be a bust. The ‘trail’ was hardly maintained at all, and we found ourselves walking through tall grass with tiny ticks, spider webs, and poison ivy all around. We stuck it out for about a half mile but then decided we weren’t enjoying it at all and turned around. We’ll stick with visiting county courthouses as our county goal for now!
We drove a little further South to Rock Port, Missouri where we saw the courthouse and attempted another letterbox, then drove West over the Missouri River back into Nebraska. While crossing the bridge on US-136 into Brownville, NE, Curtis spotted a boat moored along the river. Since it was still early in the afternoon and we didn’t have any more plans for the day, we pulled off and parked nearby.
The boat was the ‘Captain Meriwether Lewis’ a steam driven, side wheel paddle boat, that was used by the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Missouri for flood control and navigational purposes throughout the 20th century. Retired in 1976, the Capt. Lewis is one of the few surviving examples of boats of her type and was converted to a museum boat…that is until the Missouri flooded in 2018. That flood caused a lot of infrastructure damage along the MO-IA border including several museum boats and ships. The damage was quite apparent as the sidewalk leading up to the boat was toppled and scattered. It’ll be awhile before the boat opens her doors again, but the exterior appears to have survived relatively unscathed.
We continued through Brownville, NE to US-75, where we saw our first Nebraska courthouse for today: Nemaha County, in Auburn. We finally began heading North, stopping for one last courthouse in Otoe County in Nebraska City. Nebraska City is known for being the home of Arbor Day, and naturally their ‘theme’ was little artistic tree sculptures everywhere, but it was getting late, so we decided to save the Arbor Day Farm and other historic and natural areas for a return trip.