Aug 22, 2009
|A cold front doesn’t deter the Niobrara rafters - Saturday, August 22
We are enjoying our visit to Nebraska and we’re in no hurry to leave the northwest, so we took a two mile walk on the Smith Falls State Park nature trail before checking out. It took us back over the bridge to the falls before splitting off and taking us through the woods.
The bridge was once a lot farther down the river. When it was replaced with a newer and wider one, the transportation department took it apart and put it in storage. When they needed a pedestrian bridge at Smith Falls they dragged it out, redesigned and narrowed it and put it back into service again. It has nice lines and it’s a good vantage point to watch the rafters and boaters as they float down the river on this end of summer weekend.
Unlike fishing, rafting is not an early morning sport. It’s not something folks rush into. The tent campers didn’t even stir until 8:00 o’clock, and then they took their showers, had their breakfasts and generally milled around for an hour or two before taking to the river. Some put in right here in the campground, and others were shuttled upriver so they could float back down here. Regardless of where they put in, there was no rush when they got on the water either.
River travelers use a variety of craft, from inner tubes to kayaks and canoes. The kayaks and canoes move a little faster, but none of them seem to be moving as fast as the water, which is none too fast either. This is a leisurely undertaking. We stood on the bridge and watched them for half an hour or more, intrigued by their activities and amused at the way some of them tie their tubes together into huge floating masses.
Inner tubes are not the easiest things to steer anyway, and when you tie a bunch of them together you are pretty much at the mercy of the river. The river keeps sending them off to the side, and whenever that happens someone has to get out and push the whole catastrophe back into the current. Since some of the groups had ten or fifteen tubes and at least as many people there was no shortage of help. Occasionally there was a dog on board, and there were always several coolers with food and drinks. It looked like fun - albeit very slow fun.
A cold front moved in with Friday’s wind, and the skies are devoid of clouds. The wind has died down and it’s warm in the sun, but there’s a chill in the breeze. The chill did not deter the rafters, some of whom complained about the coldness of the water though. This is the end of summer, and a cooler than normal summer at that. Soon it will be back to school for these kids if they haven’t gone back already, and they were out for a nice day on the river. Most of them are locals, and if you live in Nebraska you’re used to the cold.
We continued our walk which led us to the top of the bluffs and then back down to the river again. When we re-crossed the bridge at noon a steady stream of rafters was still coming ‘round the far bend and heading our way. It seems half the state has decided to take a last fling on the Niobrara, and the atmosphere is festive and friendly. One guy going under the bridge looked up and said, “Where are you from - you look like hippies?” Being from California we took it as the good natured compliment it was.
From Smith Falls we returned to Valentine and then headed southwest. There is another falls, a reservoir and a wildlife refuge we want to check out before heading down to North Platte. The falls is on the Snake River and we paid a buck apiece to some Sportsman's Club that owns the land. It’s an uninspiring falls and two bucks is about all it was worth. We quickly moved on. This Snake River, by the way, is not THE Snake River. We are still east of the Continental Divide so this Snake flows into the Niobrara and the water eventually goes to the Gulf of Mexico, whereas the real Snake River flows to the Pacific via the Columbia River. Big difference!
We checked out Merritt Reservoir, which is enormous, and we took a campsite for the night at one of their campgrounds. We spent Saturday night camped with fishermen, who unlike the exuberant rafters were quiet as quiet could be.