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Old 11-05-2011, 06:51 PM   #1
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Northwest Nebraska Panhandle

Now that I have figured out how to easily post photographs onto the Forum, you need not take my word for the beauty to be discovered just off of the highway.

Crawford, Nebraska is the hub for an extraordinary area. Just four miles west of Crawford is Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Crazy Horse was killed here in 1876 and buried in the plains to the north, away from the Fort. The facilities at this Fort are excellent. You can find tent camping, trailer sites and rooms for rent . Restored structures from the Indian War days are next to the camping area. After several days camped at the number of areas available, you will understand why the Sioux and Cheyenne fought so hard to keep this area and the Black Hills. Use the Olympic sized, heated, indoor and partially outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, the local town rodeos, horseback riding, and the live theater activities that change ever summer. One photo shows us parked to register at the Nebraska Parks office. You need to purchase a daily or annual park pass (good at all Nebraska parks for a year) to enter the park grounds/roads. Security is polite, but they will find you driving around without the sticker... trust me, stop in if you plan to stick around.

To the north of Crawford you will find Toadstool Park. It is also a State Park of the same kind of Badlands that South Dakota offers, just smaller scale... and you can wander around at will in them. Petrified remains of 38,000,000 year old deer, squirrel, rabbits, mice, horse, camel, saber tooth cats, rhino, lizard, snakes, snails and even duck eggs have been found washing out here. Petrified tortoises (turtles, just a larger one) can be half a foot to the size of a spare tire are washing out, everywhere.

If you want to Rockdock and find your own camping spot, go several miles north of Toadstool Park. Just south of a ghost town called Orella you can make a turn to the west and cross over the railroad tracks. You will travel several miles and recognize the area in one of the photographs I added. That is "Telegraph Hill" to the south, take the two rut road to the south and this is National Grasslands. No trees here, but tall grass to set up your camp. Pull off the road and set up camp. There are thousands of acres of Badlands to climb and explore. The Hudson-Meng bison site is to the south. Indians 10,000 years ago wandered these hills. At that time large game and water was plentiful along the bluffs. Elephants too. See those at the museum at Fort Robinson. They are from this area. Not sure, stop at the Crawford visitor center, just south of the ice cream shop. They can tell you how to find the road to go to Toadstool, less than a quarter mile north of the ice cream shop on Highway 71. If you are in the National Grasslands, climb a high spot and look to the north. Those dark bumps on the horizon are the Black Hills (Hot Springs, South Dakota). You can visit the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse monument from here. Yellow Hand, killed by Buffalo Bill in a hand to hand fight, is buried in these hills, somewhere. Crazy Horse's burial still remains unknown... although I might have an idea one of these chiefs are buried to the west, north of Harrison, Nebraska. But "I ain't talking" any more...

At Hot Springs, South Dakota is a wonderful fossil elephant mortality site at an ancient spring has been excavated is located on the south side of town. Further north is the Hot Springs swimming pool with slides that will scare the kids you have with you. Not a "hot" spring, more of a luke warm spring at the most.

The State of Nebraska can send you all the brochures you desire of the area. I have been going here since I was a teenager in 1965. The ranchers have come and gone, the Fort has changed from an "old fort" to a destination. I promise you... you will be talking to everyone about this special area of Nebraska. If you camp in the National Grasslands among the grasslands next to the Badlands, that morning when the sun rises... you will come back. Friends I have been taking out there since the late 1960's all have returned, never forgetting the moon like surface, you can walk upon. It is like the area will grab your heart and imagination, never letting your soul leave without one more visit... just one more ... visit. Just one more. I promise you, you will make one more visit in your lifetime. Just... one more, if I am so lucky.
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Old 11-05-2011, 06:56 PM   #2
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That's one of my favorite areas. I grew up in Lincoln, and our family vacations were always to Michigan. I started working for the Department of Roads in 1977, and one time I was sent out to Alliance. I actually pulled over and took some pictures of the area, because I had never seen anything like that before. We may spend some time there next summer.

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Old 11-05-2011, 09:38 PM   #3
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The toadstool area has been on my route for my annual trip to Minnesota for a few years. It is one of the few places that does not yet have the "velvet rope barrier" to keep a person out. I really enjoy being able to walk out into the area and explore without being confined to a restrictive viewpoint.
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Old 12-11-2011, 12:13 PM   #4
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Updated Badlands Directions

As I am cleaning out paper from the AS, I found our notes on mileage to our best National Grassland Rockdocking camping area. I suspect the mileage is from the split off of "old Highway 71 from the new 71/2". As follows:

Just north of the Mini Mart, where Highways 2/71 and Highway 20 intersect and split, make the left turn onto Highway 71 which is a due West turn, off of the "new 71/2" to the Black Hills. The asphalt highway will immediately turn to the North and keep north on this highway for about 5.2 miles. There is a large sign on the right indicating the turn onto an improved gravel road, heading west and in several miles it turns to the North when you intersect the elevated railroad tracks. County Road 904.

At 13.2 miles you will come to the Hudson-Meng bison kill site turnoff. It goes to the west and crosses over the railroad grade. Keep proceeding north towards Orella. Toadstool Park is at 17.3 miles from the Highway 71/2 split, just north of the Mini Mart (gasoline, ice, etc.). Keep going north to 18.4 miles on the trip odometer. About a mile ahead you will see the "ghost town" of Orella on the East side of the road. You will not go that far, but turn to your LEFT, which is West, cross the elevated railroad tracks. Go west on Orella Road to 21.1 miles to Road 918. This is a National Grassland road that is a nice two tracks across the grasslands. At 21.6 miles you will come to the National Grassland gate 33A Pasture. If the gate is open, leave it open. If it is closed, open it, pass through and close it. Sometimes there are cattle grazing when the "unit 33A" is leased by a rancher. Next gate is Unit 33D at 21.8 miles.

Anywhere between Orella Road and pasture unit 33D you can pull off the two track road, find a spot that has the best view and set up camp. NO campfires. The Badlands are mostly National Grasslands. Several miles to the southwest, is the original Albert Meng ranch which is private property. If the sign says "Please Close Gate", it is public property.

Toadstool park is several miles "as the crow flies" to the southeast, and you would be looking at it from above. You can drive your vehicle until you find the road too rough. You can see the Hudson-Meng site almost straight south of either pasture as a small white structure in the far distance, along the Pine Ridge.

Access to pasture units 33A and 33 D clear my 23 foot AS with NO difficulty. Do NOT travel these road when they are wet. Gumbo is a word you will not forget if you do travel on these dirt roads when wet. It will dry out quickly, four hours without puddles showing, but you can explore for days in this area. You might see some traffic in the area, but mostly Nebraska county plates 69 and 71 which are local Dawes and Sioux County plates.

Clean up your campsite when leaving and future campers will also enjoy a pristine, clean camping experience! If you visit the area, please post your comments. You can camp at Fort Robinson and just take a day trip to look the area over. It may seem like something that is beyond your ability, but it is a cake walk compared to some mountain camping This is the last of my contribution!
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Old 12-11-2011, 04:50 PM   #5
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I have stayed at the Ft. Robinson campground. It is a very nice place which has any thing from tent sites, 30 & 50 amp electric only sites as well as full hookups. Just east of Crawford is Chadron, NE . There is a state park just south of town. I have not camped there, but people who have say it is a beautiful place.
This year was my first visit to the area. I live less than 2 hours drive south in Sioux County and plan to visit the area more frequently.
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Old 12-26-2011, 07:22 PM   #6
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Northwest Nebraska, and the Black Hills, is one of my favorite places in this country. I grew up in Morrill, just a couple hours south, but never started visiting the area until about 20 years ago when I started camping and riding a motorcycle. Living in Omaha, makes this a solid 8 hour drive, but it is still worth it.

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