Hiking in Niobrara River State Park | October 2020 | Written by Curtis
We had an interesting night camping beside the Missouri river. The wind picked up and shook the tent throughout the night. Big fish flopped around all hours of the night, and some fishermen arrived and put their boat in the water here sometime between 2-3 AM. Besides all this and Charlotte getting sick — probably from licking our empty soup cans — we were wide awake early in the morning, enough so that we were able to fully tear down our camp before sunrise.
Not really in the mood to go hiking in the dark we drove across the Missouri on the Chief Standing Bear Bridge to an overlook on the bluffs on the South Dakota side. The bridge is named for a Ponca leader who was illegally detained by the US Army when he and others of his tribe attempted to return to their traditional home (near here) from Oklahoma. This is significant in that the legal proceedings that then occurred ultimately granted Standing Bear protection under habeas corpus, thereby setting the precedent that Native Americans were also people under US Law. The Ponca were also permitted to return to their ancestral lands where some remain today.
There we sat and watched the sunrise over the river valley. This section of the Missouri River is one of only two sections to be considered ‘wild’ meaning that it has had less channelization and man made modifications.
Once the sun had risen, we re-crossed the bridge back into Nebraska and drove to Niobrara State Park near the junction of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers. We drove through the park, stopping at a couple overlooks for more views, before deciding to do a hike down by the rivers.
We ended up taking a trail down towards the confluence of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers. Signs and notices indicated that the bridge across the Niobrara was out, but we continued down to see it anyway. In the spring of 2019, ice breaks were able to break apart the old railroad bridge, to the point that an entire middle section has floated away downstream several hundred yards. Previously, pedestrian traffic was able to cross from one bank of the Niobrara to the other, but not anymore.
We left the bridge and decided to walk along the Missouri following the old railroad bed, hoping that the trail might link back up to the park road. While it might have done so eventually, we gave up and walked back the way we came and returned to the car.
Back on the road we made a brief stop at a monument to some of the original Mormon settlers in the area before continuing on our long drive home. It was longer still because first we drove back across the bridge into South Dakota to see two more courthouses.
We took state highways through Bon Homme and Yankton counties, stopping in the towns of Tyndall and Yankton for our courthouse pictures. These were of significant improvement from the day before.
From Yankton we drove west a few miles before re-crossing the Missouri along the Gavins Point Dam and Power Plant. We made a brief stop at the Dam Visitor’s Center to get our National Park Stamps and get a nice view of Lewis and Clark Lake which is impounded by the dam.
From here we continued in a southerly direction zig-zagging through counties along state highways, seeing three more courthouses for Cedar, Wayne, and Thurston counties in the towns of Hartington, Wayne, and Pender respectively. These courthouses were also very architecturally appealing and improvements on yesterday’s courthouse sightings.
Eventually we hooked back up with US-275 near West Point and rolled on home. Overall, our trip took us 500 miles through 15 counties, 10 of which were new to us and which we got to see the courthouses.