Notes from Highway 12: Outlaw Trail, Nebraska Byway ­ First in a series

Notes from Highway 12: Outlaw Trail, Nebraska Byway ��First in a series
I am traveling 60 miles per hour down Highway 12, south and west of Vermillion. I am not running away. Although I have heard of people, usually women, say that they have a secret desire to run away, I don�t have that problem. I love my life. This is vacation.

Technically, Highway 12 has three names: Highway 12, Nebraska Byway, and the Outlaw Trail. There are signs all along the way that won�t let me forget this.

This highway is everything but boring. It twists and turns as it unravels westward in a crooked line somewhat perpendicular to the border of South Dakota.

For a passerby like me, life along Highway12 is etched on sign posts. The first one is on the outskirts of Obert, NE, population 39. But that�s just the beginning. Leaving Obert, more signs fall into place, one right after another, all due north: St. James, Wynot, St. Helena, Bow Valley, and Hartington.

Taken aback by the rugged and whimsical nature of the landscape out here, I unwind while Highway12 extends an unpretentious greeting and carries me along.

There�s almost no traffic. No one has passed me; I have not passed anyone. Although, when there is a car or two, I do feel a twinge of smugness and a lot of gratitude. While others head to work, run errands, make or break appointments, give or receive bad news today, I�m free to follow the highway and watch everything else go by. I am not on a schedule. I do not need a calendar or a watch. I am on vacation.

I slow down to a complete stop for road construction at 554th Avenue. Because it�s mostly farm and ranchland out here, you can see for miles. Way, way off in the distance a pilot car slowly heads in my direction. There will be a little bit of a wait. I turn off the car and take my dogs � Poe, Zoey, and Lily � for a stretch.

Twenty minutes later, it�s my turn to follow the pilot car, which has a rather large sign atop that reads, �Follow Me.� By now 10 or so other road warriors have formed a patient line in my rearview mirror. Together, we make a modern-day wagon train to the other end of what feels like an open-air tunnel. Where else would anyone follow a complete stranger with a sign that says, �Follow Me?�

Past the construction zone and �Entering Knox County� � so says the sign, which is followed by another for the city of Crofton, population 794. North of here is Gavin�s Point Dam on the Missouri River. Niobrara, Nebraska is 28 miles west.

While the panoramic scenery unpacks itself, I want to explore such places with names like Camp Glad Tidings and Center ? next time.

More etchings: Bloomfield, Lindy, and Good Shepherd Church. Niobrara is five miles out.

Crossing Brazile Creek, I spot pelicans right at home near the bridge to Springfield. Their whiteness stands out among the countryside�s June backdrop.

A little farther along is the soggy bottomland of the Niobrara River, where large swampy lakes nearly crest on both sides of the road. The only dry ground nearby is the highway beneath me. The shoulder along this stretch of Highway 12 is not as wide as I would like it to be ? to be continued.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her columns have won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. Most recently, Damon�s writing took second place statewide in the South Dakota Press Women 2007 Competition. For more information, e-mail

� 2007 Paula Damon

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