(Merna and Broken Bow)
I love camping. The potential to make family memories…cooking your food outside….sleeping out with nature – it makes me feel like a pioneer! My husband — not so much. He tells me that he “camped” enough in the desert when he served in the army in the middle east. So – our compromise is to go once a year and borrow his cousin’s air conditioned pop-up camper.
Our choice in campsite boiled down to finding a new place to explore, but one that wasn’t too far from home (but not too close either) and the pictures of Victoria Springs in the Nebraska Game and Parks website looked pretty. So, off we headed north – to the sandhills of Nebraska. Neither of us like heat much, so we always choose to camp in the fall. Unfortunately, it was an unseasonably hot September weekend, so we spent a little more time inside the camper than I would have preferred – mostly to escape flies!
As we headed north, we drove into the beautiful sand hills. Some say Nebraska is flat – but that’s not necessarily true. The sandhills are large, grass covered mounds of sandy dirt, created by prehistoric glacial change. The largest body of underground water in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer, lays under these sandy dunes.
We reached our campsite on a Friday evening and quickly set up camp before dark. My husband is out of luck on his desire to not camp – our boys love it! We brought scooters and a bike for them to play on. Victoria Springs was not quite what I expected. The large area of campground sites are grouped together with a horse shoe loop at one end for cars to turn around. It is cornered by 2 fairly busy highways. Not knowing the campground, we choose a spot, feeling they were likely all the same. Having it to do over again, I would have picked one on the loop, further into the grounds – and thus further away from the roads. We enjoyed a delicious dinner, cooked over our own fire in the fire ring assigned to our spot. There was more clean up and set up. Then, it was off to enjoy the comforts of two large pop up beds – not the comfort of our bed at home, but not bad for camping!
When we first arrived, we had checked in at the office. The office was actually across Victoria Springs to the west of the campgrounds area. After an outdoor breakfast cooked in our fire pit the next morning, we had a chance to explore. To the west of the campsite were two historic buildings of interest. The original Victoria Springs settlement – a small log house made by the first settler, Judge Matthews, and a nearby post-office – as he became the postmaster. They were certainly interesting to see and reminiscent of the “Little House on the Prairie” series I am reading to my oldest. It has a historic monument next to it.
Advertised in the literature was mention of a footbridge that could be used to cross Victoria creek from the campsites to the area with the office and lake. We followed the path leading down the hill to the creek. Much to our dismay, the concrete remains of a bridge were present – but no footbridge. My boys and I then tried to walk around and ended up walking along the edge of the highway which was a bit concerning as we walked along a ledge (with a guardrail) across Victoria creek to reach our destination. We didn’t realize we would be so close to the highway or I certainly would have headed back to get the pick up!
On the other side of the creek was a playground, the office, a green-covered lake with paddleboats and 2 cabins. The cabins, looked a bit dated, but would be the place to be if you really wanted more quiet and privacy and easy access to the lake. There was also a nice covered picnic area to the back of this area that looked quite nice.
The playground was – well – interesting. The equipment had clearly not been updated for a long time, as evidenced by quite a bit of wear and tear. However, sometimes the old-school equipment that is no longer allowed on playgrounds provides some fun. My boys enjoyed the merry-go-round immensely (even if it was missing some rungs), and the very tall, very steep metal slide – especially sending rocks down it. There were metal spiderweb-looking things to climb on too. A few pieces were not functional any longer and badly damaged.
Later that afternoon, we went down to Broken Bow, south of the campsite. My husband had been there on a road trip with friends to try Kinkader Brewing and loved it. We enjoyed the fun atmosphere of the restaurant/bar, seeing their brewing set up, and the boys and I enjoyed delicious, home-brewed root beer floats! My husband enjoyed a brew of something else. 😊 Kinderkader may be a future blog post for another day!
On the way back, we drove around to enjoy the view on the other side of the campgrounds. Down the highway, heading west, a neat historic school house dated 1876, was a fun sight to see. My husband had went up to Anselmo, north of the campsite, to explore a bit earlier that day while we were at the playground. He reported that a local bar was there and the natives said it was a good place to eat.
We cooked our evening meal, again, over the flames and settled in the for the night. For the record – I would not recommend “campfire beef stroganoff” as a desirable camping meal! This evening we got to enjoy the relative calm of our campsite, the open fire, making s’mores, and all the usual fun camping stuff.
I had not been anxious to try paddle-boating in the afternoon heat the day before, so two boys and I went to try it in the morning before we headed home on Sunday. The paddleboats are a nice addition – they provide something fun to do for the camper who gets tired of just sitting around a campfire. A few of the paddleboats are pretty ancient, but a couple of them were shiny and fairly modern, so one was our choice. It was calm and peaceful, paddling around the lake during our $5 half hour allotment. A half hour was plenty of time to get the experience – the amount of lake available to paddle in was adequate, but certainly not large. The main disconcerting factor was the greenness of the lake. It looked completely overgrown with algae. The park official assured us that it was not moss, but a natural (harmless) water vegetation and that they were taking means to reduce it. Alas, it was unfortunate that the greenness diminished the beauty of an otherwise lovely lake.
We finished our paddleboat excursion and played on the playground until my husband brought the pick up and camper around to pick us up. We then ventured into the town of Merna to see what it held and gas up and get a snack for the road. We found Merna to be an adorable little town with a quaint Methodist church and cute little library. The real gem of our trip was found on the corner of the gas station we stopped at along the highway. The next door neighbor apparently collected or sold (we weren’t sure which) windmills. Dozens of windmills blew on this windy day and the mass of them was a beauty to behold! The gas station had a small eating area and the locals were gathered around the tables, enjoying fellowship post their Methodist church service. All were quite friendly and invited us to church if we ventured back that way in the future!
The trip home afforded more beautiful sandhills. The trip to and from Victoria Springs made the visit well worth it. The quiet rolling grasslands have their own unique loveliness that I don’t believe I have seen anywhere else in all my travels and my pictures do not do them justice!