Vacationing writer has a field day on Nebraska Highway 12 ­ Second in a series

Vacationing writer has a field day on Nebraska Highway 12 ��Second in a series
Navigating the sweeping grandness of Nebraska's wide-open spaces, I've been on the road for about 90 minutes, traveling west on Highway 12.

If you're looking for excitement, this is not the vacation for you. It's quiet here; there's not much going on and that's what I like about it.

Take, for example, Niobrara, NE, population 406, which I am approaching now. A handful of cars in Niobrara constitute the most activity I've encountered so far on my journey.

Coming upon this town from any direction is a steady climb. The city moved up here years ago after a big flood washed it from its original location near the banks of the Niobrara River. Now, townsfolk look down on the river from above.

Rounding the bend through the city of Niobrara, I pass up Two Rivers Saloon, Jimmy Dean's Lounge, the Hilltop Lodge Inn, and the Dew Drop Inn.

Leaving town, road signs tell me Vertigre, NE, is 11 miles out; Verdel, 10. Two place names in a row starting with the letter "V" ��not "B" or "C," but "V." I want to know the stories behind these "V" names.

Now, I am approaching the Niobrara River. For me, bridges over water produce a much greater discomfort compared to overland bridges – trains and buildings below – like those in Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo. No. Crossing a bridge over water is a whole other thing.

A similar uneasiness comes over me when I'm on a flight over the ocean. Disarming this airy nervousness, I drive over the bridge, which spans the wide, rambling Niobrara River. Downstream, I spot pelicans congregating near a shady peninsula; upstream, tangled deadwood is snagged on sandbars.

Just ahead on the other side awaits yet another bridge – only this one is much shorter and not as high. It crosses the hardly noticeable Mormon Canal, which causes me to wonder about the Mormon footprint in this place.

Under an overcast sky, my journey continues across the rolling hills of North Central Nebraska, tooling along Highway 12 past Niobrara State Park to the north, Lazy River Acres to the south, and over Ponca Creek.

I can see it is infinitely breezy out here with dense textured grasslands waving ahead, running alongside, and chasing from behind. 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

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