Hiking Around Iron Horse Lake | Pawnee City, NE | Seneca, KS | Hiawatha, KS | January 2021
Our first full week back in Nebraska since before Christmas was warm and pleasant, full of frequent walks around lakes, both old and new. The storm that had passed through the Midwest the week before left everything blanketed in snow and since we had spent so long outside of Nebraska, we decided to show our new home state some love by visiting a new county and courthouse for our weekend road trip.
We drove South along NE-50, retracing our route from our visit to Homestead National Monument. We watched as the snow on the ground slowly disappeared until was only in the shaded areas. After grabbing a letterbox in Tecumseh, we continued following NE-50 south into our new county and county seat – Pawnee City, Pawnee Co.
The town boasts the birthplace of Larry the Cable Guy and featured a billboard attesting to as much. We parked outside the Classical Revival courthouse for our standard walk about and picture taking. No sooner had we gotten out of our car when a man, also exiting his car, asked us point blank if he could buy ‘our dog’. We quickly and politely declined his offer and briefly answered his questions regarding where we got Charlotte, but broke off conversation as soon as we could. Who offers to buy someone’s dog knowing literally nothing about them? Needless to say we were perplexed and confused while we snapped our pictures.
After grabbing another letterbox (attempting, let alone finding, two letterboxes in Nebraska is worth noting at this point) we continued further South along NE-50 to Iron Horse Trail Recreation Area. This lake is administered by the Nemaha NRD and had a $5 day use fee.
We hiked the 2.5 mile loop around the lake. Despite us being the only people for miles around, the first mile was anything but quiet. A considerable flock of Canada Geese was resting in the middle of the lake, and they made quite a noise. Groups of 20-50 birds would take off, fly low right over our heads only to return 4-5 minutes later, honking the whole way. I suppose if a park is going to be loud, it might as well be with natural noises.
We eventually put some distance between our geese friends and us and rounded the back end of the lake. Up until this point, the trail had been clear except for small patches of snow, but as we hiked down the Southeast end we hit a patch of ice a couple hundred yards long right along the trail. We all had our own ways of dealing with the slipperiness and made it past without slips, spills, or incident; Charlotte didn’t even notice. No reason was given for the naming of the park, and we didn’t see any evidence of railroads, but we found it enjoyable all the same.
Back at the car, we were faced with driving straight back home, or driving home with a slightly longer detour. Naturally, we opted for the one that would yield more county courthouses. We drove the remaining 4 miles along NE-50 to the Kansas border and into Nemaha County.
We continued South a few more miles to Seneca, KS for the courthouse before turning East along US-36 to Hiawatha, KS for our final stop of the day: Brown Co. Courthouse. We drove this route 7.5 years ago when we were first moving to our apartment in Tucson, AZ. Though we weren’t avid county collectors back then, that trip is still in all of our maps, sometimes you just have to revisit.
After getting pictures and walking around downtown Hiawatha, we drove back home via US-73 and US-75. Before today’s trip, we were skeptical that we could make a road trip to Pawnee County very interesting, but we were pleasantly surprised with the hike and the back roads driving — as we always are. I’m thankful we have goals that motivate us to get out of our cozy apartment and go visit new places!