It's summer time here in hot Nebraska and I'm dying to see water. You know, the lakes with dainty white caps on a windy day or a swelling river trailing through the country side. To just dip my toes in, skip a few rocks and watch my kids take in the expanse of a bowl of water bigger than their bath tub, is all too thrilling of a prospect.
When Toby suggested a day trip to a local state park recently, I was totally enthused about our "mini vacation." WATER! YAY!
Some of you blessed folks out there may not understand what is so thrilling about seeing water. Of touching water. Of driving over a bridge with real water under it. Of actually saying, "hey kids, lets go to the river!" But, if you lived in Nebraska, you would understand why it's so rare. A real live river to us is like the ocean is to you.
You may find it interesting when I tell you that we actually live in "Big Blue River" country. But don't be deceived. Trickling through our local country side is a muddy, messy trickle of brown water (if you're lucky) that proudly boasts signs of, "Big Blue River." When you come to a cattle crossing bridge, you'll even see the charming sign there. Very deceptive. In Wisconsin, they have large bridges expanding rivers with no name on the bridge. Humble folk, them Wisconsinites are.
The first time I saw the sign, I immediately thought of three words: BIG. BLUE. RIVER. I craned my neck out the car window and hung my head way over just to get a glimpse of this big blue river. And what would I see but a washed out river bed with branches and sticks. When I looked real hard, I thought I could see a faint line of some kind of water trickling through the over grown mess. Maybe the water was actually just a mirage, now that I think of it. But, it definitely wasn't blue.
So, as we headed out of Big Blue River country and made our way towards the Platte river, I was envisioning real water. Of course the Platte river in our parts isn't much of river either but its definitely bigger than the Big Blue River. They say you can walk across the Platte river in most parts. And not even get your belt wet. Pretty shallow but at least it's big.
We got a pass to a state park that advertised of being on the banks of the Platte river. After circling the entire park twice looking for some sort of beach or fishing dock, we found a rugged foot trail that led in the general direction of the river.
Our anticipation mounted as we slipped and slid down the well trodden dirt path towards the lighted sky at the end of the trail. We lugged a camera, hauled the stroller over a fallen tree and carefully led the kids through the rough spots. Quite the effort. As the trail came to an end and the sky opened above us, what should we see but a huge, gorgeous river! Only, it was about 50 feet below us with two railroad tracks and a small lake-like outlet of the river between us and the real river.
So much for throwing rocks, let alone dipping my toes in, I thought.
As we took in the view and headed back through the woods, we decided to just go to the Platte River State Park.
Surely with Platte River and Park in the same sentence, you'd be able to actually get on the river from the park. I should've taken in the "State" part and realized the name only meant that the park was in the same state as the river was.
We circled this park too and found animal petting barns, a large and well occupied swimming pool, a few family reunions and paddle boats. But no river. I wanted a river, not an amusement park or zoo. "Come to our park! We have ponies to ride!" I could just about hear. What is wrong with these people? This is a state park, not the state fair, I moaned.
Wisconsin does it right when it comes to water. You can actually drive up to a river, and get out of your car and walk just a few feet to its shores. No day pass for the river bank is needed either. And if you have your kids with you and they're not used to out backing it when you just want to look at some water, no worries! You won't have to take a half mile hike through rough woods to get to the river. The parks in Wisconsin are family friendly. You could even drive your car into the water if you wanted.
But, in Nebraska, they make it difficult to have a good time around or in water.
At this point, we gave up the river idea and decided to just sight see around the area. As we drove, Toby noticed a small and vacant parking lot in the park with a sign that read "Falls" with an arrow. "Whatever," I thought, still disgusted by the Platte River-less State Park we had driven a long ways to see. If they can talk about the Platte river like its some tangible amenity of this park when its not, don't even try to get me to believe there are "falls" in this flat country.
The kids were antsy, the baby was fussy and one of the kids had just puked all over herself. The van reeked so we decided to try for these "falls." We made a mad dash down the little foot trail that was in the direction of the arrow on the "falls" sign.
The trail circled through some pretty dense woods on our way. The kids ran ahead of us, behind us, collected sticks and tripped on tree roots jutting up on our trail. One of them ran into a tree. Falls or no falls, this was turning into a fun hike.
Teasing us along our way was a really muddy canal of branches, sticks and a trickle of water. I wondered out loud several times if that was the "falls" the sign referred to. Until we finally came upon the falls.
They were actual, real, live falls. It was a perfect little paradise. In Nebraska even. I couldn't believe it. We were welcomed by a little sitting area, observation "deck," and a cute arrangement of natural falls. The sound of falling water could be heard even before we saw them. The setting was ruggedly beautiful and there was just enough water for the kids to play in.
The water above the falls was so shallow, you were lucky to get the top of your feet wet when you walked through. I kept waiting for the water to stop; I thought for sure if we stayed long enough, we'd see the end of the water supply. "Okay kids, time to go! The water is done...." But it kept coming consistently. You could see the erosion around the flow of the water that indicated there had been much more water here at one time but now just a delicate stream trailed through the woods and crashed over the water worn rock and ledges. It was a simple beauty but very satisfying. And impressive.
We basked in the peaceful and cool setting all by ourselves. It was so quiet and serene. Definitely beat the Platte River, I decided.
So, the next time we're ready for some water time and nice drive in the country side, we have our own signature water park, hidden in the middle of large state river-less park.