Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Scottsbluff, Nebraska

Just why is something about Scottsbluff, Nebraska on a blog about people going to Samoa? Or better yet, why anything about Scottsbluff? Who cares? Well there is a relationship between Scottsbluff, the Peace Corps, and long journeys.

One day while flying back to Minneapolis, I looked out the plane window to see a most unusual geological sight in the middle of total desolation with a city nearby. After checking maps, timetables, calculating the approximate location of the plane at that point in its flight, I decided it could only be Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I had to go see it.

Years have pasted and no one wanted to accompany me to this monolith on the high plains. Soon I would be on the island of Samoa, maybe never being able to visit my obsession. My wife in Florida and alone, I decided to make the trip. Not fly, but drive for 15 hours and savor what Nebraska and Scottsbluff in January offers.

During my sojourn along the back highways, I discovered Johnny Carson's hometown, the mythical ghost city of Neeville, a medium sized cattle feedlot with 15,000 Black Angus cattle awaiting their fate at the Tyson's abattoir, endless trains of coal going East from Wyoming, a wonderful coffee shop in downtown Grand Island, and the Candlelight Inn in Scottsbluff which has "Nice Rooms" where the owner's touch of 35 years competes with new Holiday Express across the highway. Neither Rome, Paris, nor London can compete with this.

Finally to arrive at Scotts Bluff itself, steeped in the history of the fur trapper Hiriam Scott being abandoned in winter by his companions to die at the foot of the bluff, by pioneer wagon trains plodding to the promise of a new life in California and Oregon, to be the only person during the final hours at the Bluff where Park Rangers wish you would leave so they can close and go home, and where dog shit marks the trail to the top.

At the summit, the view of Scottsbluff 2007 spreads out before you. Five of the 150 coal trains a day pass, a jack rabbit watches you as you make you way along the icy path which clings to the bluff, steam rises from the power plants and factories, a marker at the top shows the amount of rapid erosion that has taken place in the last 150 years. You are at one with the past, present, with a glimpse of the future.

What are the lessons to be learned from such a trip? To discover the pioneer trail is not history. It is alive. As once the Indian settlements were populated by poor Anglo-Saxons, now Hispanic names appear on stores and used car lots. The search for a mythical city brings discoveries never imagined. Your car gets better mileage after a speeding ticket, than before.

Now my desire to visit Scottsbluff is fulfilled. I wonder if my rendering of Scottsbluff to Samoans can rival what the tales of the South Pacific by Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, or James Michener can do to us?

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