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Friday, 23 September 2011

Mari Sandoz in bronze

I’ve tried many times to get a decent photo of the bronze statue of my heroine that stands outside the Heritage Center dedicated to her at Chadron. This is the first one I’m happy with. I dare say that at some stage I’ll write a few paragraphs about what else I found there, but I have other things on my mind right now – although I must record that on the way home I saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree down by the river. It’s the first one I’ve spotted this trip

I’m writing this on Thursday evening as I wait for the spasms of cramp in my legs to calm down. It’s my own fault, I suppose: I haven’t done anything like as much walking as I’d like to the last few months, and I sort of rushed things today. There has always been a problem with going down Leander Creek. Nobody has been willing to go out on a limb and say how far it is to the confluence with the Niobrara. Unsurprising, that: I haven’t met anybody who’s done it on foot. Well, I have – and am available for congratulatory handshakes until Tuesday October 4th, when I drive to Rapid and fly home.

I wanted to set off early, and I managed that – even though I had to drive the first 3-400 yards with my head sticking out of the side window until I could get Mercy pointed at the sun. Yep, we had a frost here too. Up at the ranch I transferred to the shiny -  well, dusty – Focus and drove out to the highway. I parked just short of the bridge that crosses the creek and was over the fence and on my way by 0800h. It was a simply perfect morning: a cloudless sky, no wind, and as the temperature climbed through the 40s it was a perfect temperature.

It’s the sort of view that always puts a spring in my step - even though I was carrying a pack loaded with a gallon of water, a dry lunch, one of Matt’s ready to eat Army meals, and my mug, coffee and trusty methylated spirit stove, 34 years old and going strong.

Most people I’ve spoken to have said I should walk in the creek – and then corrected themselves: they’ve never seen water in it this time of year before. I tried to follow the margins, but it turned out to be a little like the river up here: meandering, and flanked by deep draws with steep sides and dense tree cover.

So I was forced ever further away from the water. Not that I minded: this was a beautiful walk, and I was enjoying it. I was stopped in my tracks twice: once by a snake, which made me jump, but turned out to be a harmless looking thing, smooth and slender, with red streaks along its body. The second incident, however, had me quite excited. A sort of fawn coloured creature, quite a bit larger than a coyote, with a longer body, shorter hair and longer legs – shorter ears too - was walking along a low ridge about a hundred yards in front of me. It was only visible for about four or five seconds. It looked slightly menacing, so I called out to it, whereupon it slipped quietly down the far side. Could it have been of the feline persuasion? 

I was walking fast, still uncertain as to how far I had to go, and was surprised when, after only two hours, I got to a point where I could actually see my destination about a mile away. I decided to sit and rest. I would treat myself to a snack. That idea soon went out of the window. I had lunch instead, and admired the view before dropping down to the flat delta of land that divided the two waterways.
I’d been told that there was an old settlement down there, and I soon found it, across the creek – a derelict barn of some sort and a log house, sadly falling apart.

From there I walked on down to the confluence, where I brewed myself a cup of coffee – and wished I’d packed my lightweight three-legged camping stool (it weights 15 ounces). I’d really enjoyed the trip down. 

The return was pretty unpleasant. I’d put myself under pressure by telling A. I’d be able to talk on the phone at three, and rather than return the way I’d come – up down up down up, the scenic route – I sought out a two-track about half a mile further away from the creek.

This made the route easier to follow, but I hadn’t taken into account the heat, nor the fact that there wasn’t a scrap of shade I might rest under; so, seven miles or so non-stop. I was trudging along like some old hobo well before the highway came into view. Still, a great hike, and a sense of achievement. I had planned to do it as an overnight – and it would have been great to camp down there – but I kept waiting for the weather to cool down and suddenly found myself short of time, and of course the nights now are almost twelve hours long.

Tomorrow, Valentine, and the land registry. I shall put on my very best ‘Hi, I’m over here from England’ act and see if I can persuade some kind soul to help me negotiate whatever documents they have there that record the homesteading around this part of Cherry County.

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