Hiking in Indian Cave State Park | Loess Bluffs NWR | October 2020
We reflected recently that we have only actually been living in Nebraska for less than four months. Whether it’s the routines, the reminiscence of home, a (significantly) lighter work schedule, or being on the mainland – it feels like we’ve been living in our apartment for significantly longer than just four months. And to show for it we have a county map with most of Eastern Nebraska blocked off – maybe we should slow down?
But on this weekend we decided to once again drive to new counties, new hikes, and new roads. We once again drove US75 south through Plattsmouth, Nebraska City, and Auburn through Cass, Otoe, and Nemaha counties. Outside Brownville we opted for state highways, and then rural roads leading us to Indian Cave State Park.
Indian Cave boasts over 20+ miles of trails, which in hindsight, we were next to unaware. We were mostly there to see the eponymous cave. We weaved our way through the park, eventually reaching the Missouri River. And then we were at the cave. It was underwhelming.
The cave is actually a grotto caused by erosion of the bluffs along the river. The real significance of this cave is that it has petroglyphs in the sandstone. Unfortunately, due to heavy rains, the stairs and boardwalks that allow you to view said petroglyphs were partially destroyed. So instead we had to view the grotto from the road.
Fortunately, we were easily able to fall back on hiking. We started a trail near the grotto at the end of the road (trail 11) which climbed up into the bluffs and hills along the Missouri. While not actually part of the Loess Hills, they sure seem similar.
We followed the trails up and down getting frequent expansive views to the West. We were a ways past peak fall colors, but there was still plenty of variety. Eventually, the trail started heading down back to the river….steeply. We passed plenty of families huffing their way up, all of whom made some remark about Charlotte’s hiking ability. She loves it.
Back at the car we opted to drive around the park some. We took a loop route through the old town site of St. Deroin stopping to see the old school house and some living history exhibits. St. Deroin was founded as part of a ‘Half-Breed Tract’: land set aside by the US government for descendants of European fathers and Omaha or Osage mothers. Because of societal norms, these people were not accepted by either culture, so land was set aside to allow them to provide for themselves similar to the reservation system. Ultimately all the tracts (there was one each in KS, IA, and MN) were eventually either seized by the US government, or legally abolished throughout the 19th century.
By this time it was after noon so we started driving home in our classic fashion of driving further away. We continued further South to Falls City, NE where we were able to see the courthouse for Richardson County. Then, we drove across the Missouri River to Missouri and the town of Oregon to see the Holt County courthouse.
We then started heading North towards I-29, but we made one final stop at the Loess Bluffs NWR. Just like De Soto NWR in Iowa, Loess Bluffs sits right in the middle of the Mississippian Flyway and we were still at just the right time for the water fowl migration.
We drove around the basins on the access road stopping frequently to look for birds. At one stop, we heard a commotion of birds slowly grow in volume and were able to see an enormous flock of snow geese, Canada geese, pelicans, mallards, seagulls, and who knows what else, fly across and around the basins. We simply don’t have the telephoto lens to get the really good pictures of animals so you’ll just have to believe us on this one.
We finished up our loop drive and then took I-29 North through Iowa and back home.