End of September & Beginning of October 2020 | Hiking in Desoto National Wildlife Refuge | Visiting Fort Atkinson State Historic Site
During the last week of September, Curtis had to travel for work. We were a little bummed that I couldn’t go, as we had always talked about how post-submarine life I could just travel with him whenever he had to go somewhere for work. Because of COVID-19, everyone traveling in his group had to be tested first and then flew on a private flight. If it weren’t for the pandemic maybe I would’ve just bought my own ticket and flown separately, but that just didn’t seem like a good idea this time. Oh well, it was just for a week and we were able to talk to each other the whole time, so I can’t complain!
Also, I wasn’t by myself that entire time. My mom and sisters came to visit me for a long weekend. I had a lot of fun showing them our new apartment and neighborhood, and taking them to a few of our favorite places — Walnut Creek in Papillion, and hiking in the Loess Hills in Waubonsie State Park. It was also nice to not feel like we had to “do it all” while they were here, seeing as we’re only 4 hours apart, it certainly won’t be the only time they visit!
Curtis came back on the last day of September, and had a 4 day weekend following that. We took advantage of that time by going for nearby hikes every day. We also finally had all of our belongings in long-term storage from pre-Hawaii delivered to us on October 1 — things like sweaters and winter gear, and most of Curtis’ tools. With that, it feels like the Hawaii era has officially come to a close for us! Curtis wasted no time in setting up a shop in the garage, and drawing up plans for the furniture he’s been waiting to make for so long.
On October 3, (Mean Girl’s Day) we went on a little day trip to check out a few places North of us. Since I’m still a month behind on blog posts, Curtis stepped in to write about our adventure.
Curtis: With fall practically here, we are making the most of our time outdoors before the cold of winter sets in. Fortunately, there is an abundance of locations within an hour or so drive that offer trails, wildlife and seclusion. For this weekend we decided to get our weekly trip to Iowa in and drive up the river to De Soto National Wildlife Refuge, which came highly recommended to us from friends in Arizona. We traveled across the Missouri and headed North on I-29 in Iowa until we reached US-30 which we followed to the Refuge.
Being on the Missouri River, we are along two major migration paths: the Central and Mississippian Flyways. Nebraska is perhaps best known for the Sandhill Crane migrations that occur in the spring, but spring and fall bring more than one bird species, and while we were a bit late for song birds, the NWR website hinted at the possibility of waterfowl migrating through.
The Refuge itself is a cutoff of the Missouri from the 1960’s when the Army Corps of Engineer’s channeled the Missouri and reduced its overall length by cutting out bends, creating artificial Ox-Bow Lakes like Lake De Soto. As a result, the NWR has the additional distinction of technically being part of Nebraska, as the inside curve of the lake is legally part of that state, even though it is on the East side of the River.
We arrived in the late morning to overcast skies and stopped at a closed visitor center (COVID-19) to get a trail map before driving around. A road goes around the inside curve of the lake and offers several boat launches and short trails. We stopped at the North end of the lake for a series of meandering loop trails through prairie and riparian forest. Near the trailhead was some historic information about the Steamboat Bertrand.
Bertrand was a sternwheel paddler built in 1864 during the boom days of riverine transport before the railroads through the west were completed. She was destined for the gold fields of Montana in 1865 when she struck a submerged object and sunk. Everyone on board managed to escape, but the luggage and supplies on board were left behind. Fast forward to 1968 when two salvagers/historians/treasure hunters received permission from the Department of Fish and Wildlife to search for the wreckage. They were able to locate the vessel, sunk in mud near the bank of the newly formed De Soto Lake.
Due to the unique properties of the Missouri mud, almost all of the Bertrand’s cargo was preserved resulting in a time capsule of 19th century frontier life. All that could be removed from the sunken wreck was excavated, preserved, documented, and placed on display in a museum (also closed due to COVID), but the wreck itself was left sunk in the mud.
Most of what you can see outside (we’ll have to return to see the museum some day) is informational signs and a ground depression where the remains of the ship lie buried. But we were here to see birds as well as history, so we continued our walk around.
A surprising number of wild Sunflowers (Maximillian Sunflowers) were in bloom along the prairie sections of the trail and the forest offered its own variety of color with late season (inedible) berries like Pokeberry.
The trail meandered close to the water where we heard and saw Canada Geese. Eventually we found a bird blind by the lake where we sat and watched the geese come and go. Among the geese was also a swath of quiet white birds which we only were able to identify as White Pelican. Lewis and Clark passed by this point in August of 1804 and remarked on the pelicans then as well.
We finished our hike and continued our drive around the inside bend of the lake. One of our goals for living in Nebraska is to finally acquire a kayak or canoe and we think this would be a great location to go kayaking next spring. But we’ll probably return in the winter as well when there is a promise of Bald Eagles. If you’re interested, here is our AllTrails hike recording at Desoto NWR.
Finished in Iowa, we drove back across the Missouri into Nebraska and started following US-75 back down to Omaha. But first we made a detour to walk around and enjoy Fort Atkinson near the town of Fort Calhoun. Today was one of the last days of the living history presentations, but we mostly stayed to ourselves and hiking trails.
Lewis and Clark had their first of many interactions with Native Plains Indians near this location in 1804 and Clark noted the high bluffs as an ideal location for a fort. Later, in 1819, President Monroe sent the Yellowstone Expedition back up the Missouri to establish a fort at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. This expedition failed in its primary task and was forced to winter along the Missouri near this location. When spring floods threatened the camp, the expedition moved up onto the bluff building the first fort west of the Missouri.
After walking around the fort, cabins, and monuments, we followed a trail downhill and ended up making a large loop throughout the park. There wasn’t anything special about it, but the sun came out and we enjoyed the warmer weather as we walked through the woods. We ended up walking 3 miles here — you can check out our AllTrails hike recording for Fort Atkinson State Historic Site here.
We wrapped up our day’s adventures by heading home. That night we continued our tradition of watching Mean Girls. Because, you know, it was October 3rd.