Monday, August 06, 2007

The River That Wasn't There

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.

Good idea.

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.


Rachel Marie said...

FUN post! :D
Thanks for sharing the "story...!" :)
Yeah, I'm sure that I do take all these beautiful bodies of water for granted here in Wisconsin! :D With the Mississippi River practically at my back door (20 minutes down the road :D ) and numerous other rivers and lakes around... well... I just never think of Wisconsin hills and scenery without them!

(You know what I mean, I know! :) )

Jean said...

We were in your general area last Nov. and enjoyed a very nice hike on a rough trail in the Mahoney (sp.) park which led to a fenced area over looking the Platte River - since that day wasn't really warm enough for dabbling ones feet in the water I can't say I even noticed that it was so far away.

This past month we "camped" in one of the a/c modern cabins in the Platte St. Park with a beautiful overlook of the water (I'm not sure if it is a lagoon or a man made lake).

Up here in MB you can drive for about 75 minutes and come to a lake so big that you can't see the opposite shore - when the wind is strong and from certain directions the waves and white caps are resembling the ocean. Come on up and we'll show you around. We also know where you can go and get wet in the lake with out a park entrance fee.

Coeur d'Court said...

Yes, Rachel... I know what you mean. And the Mississippi is one of my favorites. :)

Jean, the Mahoney park was the first park we went to and yes, that was the trail we hiked down. The view was gorgeous but you definitely couldn't touch the water. The Platt park sounds fun to camp in. Actually, both camp grounds do. We have discussed doing so with family this fall. As for that lake you were on, it must've been excluded to the cabins on it. There seemed to be no water access to the general public in both parks -- unless you were a paid camper.

I would love to see your great lakes! The only one I've seen is lake MI and it is beautiful. That would be fun to visit you too. :)

Thanks for the comments gals and sorry I don't always respond. Your comments still mean a lot even if I don't comment back. :)

Jean said...

The great lake I refered to was Lake Winnipeg which is considerablly smaller than Lake MI but much closer to get to. Lake Wpg. has two basins, the south one is quite shallow for such a large water body and can become very ferious in a storm, with deep waves and big breakers - too dangerous for recreational boating or swimming. Our Church Bible camp is located near the south end of the south basin. We enjoyed many wonderful times swimming, boating and just beach combing in suitable weather.

The north basin is much deeper and calmer- we've never been up there to find out for ourselves. An old timer who has fished commercially in the north basin was just telling us about the differences , yesterday.

Probably on our own we would not have picked Platte Riv. St. Park but it turned out a very nice place to camp and very convenient for our family reunion - because some members of the family cannot travel very far from Lincoln.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your stories of just the common and ordinary, but you are such a good writer. We had a very bad experience in WI. We were on our way to the upper penn. of MI. We stopped at a park in WI to eat our picnic lunch and had to pay a fee for a 2 (TWO) hour stay. It was rediculous. We made up our minds that we wouldn't do that again. It is probably that way here as well--at least the state parks. As for the water issue--God put more or less water one place or the other and He puts us one place or the other and speaks to us about contentment. I got to take a trip out of town 22 miles east of Lincoln last Sat. and was just revelling in the beautiful cornfields, blue sky and just being out in the country. I am also glad that we got to enjoy our reunion at Platte River (less) State Park. I really enjoyed your blog, as usual. Pat VE