Thu - June 21, 2007

Dismal River of Nebraska Sandhills, Carhenge and Dobby's Frontier Town



I discovered the Dismal River in Sandhills of Nebraska in 2001 and it remains one of my favorite rivers. I paddled the Dismal three times in 2001 covering the stretch of the river from the highway 97 near Mullen to as far as the Whitetail campground in NE National Forest (photo reports). I always paddled solo in my Sea Wind canoe. It was training for my first Texas Water Safari. Me and Connie used to travel to Mullen together with Worf and stayed in Sandhills Motel.

In the next few years the traveling with two big Newfoundland dogs was more challenging and we didn't travel to Nebraska, although, each year I was planning the trip. FInally, in 2005, we returned to the Dismal River with our Newfie girl, Dax. Most of the spring and summer I spent paddling Sisson Nucleus kayak and X-treme canoe. The Dismal trip was a start of my training in Sea Wind for Ultimate Florida Challenge.

All pictures were shot with my original Pentax Optio WP except the Carhenge where I used Canon EOS D10 on a tripod. The light on the river was not very good for photography during the 2005 run.

Dismal River, Nebraska
Dismal River, Nebraska
Dismal River, Nebraska

Dismal River 2005



Dismal River, Nebraska
Carhenge, Aliance,  Nebraska
Carhenge, Aliance, Nebraska
Dobby's Frontier Town, Aliance
Dobby's Frontier Town, Aliance

Dismal River GPS photo log

Sandhills books:

This Fragile Land: A Natural History of the Nebraska Sandhills by Paul A. Johnsgard

The Nebraska Sand Hills: The Human Landscape by Charles Barron McIntosh

The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal by Stephen R. Jones

... from my old Wayfarer blog:

Dismal River Trip 2005

The Dismal River always provides some challenges and surprises. I managed to do only one run from highway 97 to the Potter camp on Saturday (9/17/05), although I had planned more. There were some changes on the river in comparison to my paddling in 2001.

The launching below highway 97 was more difficult due further erosion of the high cliff. It was possible to go down to the river but returning back without help or rope would be difficult.

I spent some time checking two forks of the Dismal above and below the highway. They looked quite tempting but rather in a shorter boat like whitewater kayak. The river is fed from springs and is growing in water very fast when paddling downstream. Unfortunately, it may also mean that the river disappears rapidly when moving upstream. There is also a problem with the river access above highway 97. So, it looks like the only reasonable approach would be to paddle upstream from this highway ...

The first obstacle a couple of miles down river was the "Juniper Scratch." Four year ago I used to line my boat on the right side of a dead juniper tree standing in the middle of the river. The juniper tree moved somehow to the right shore. In order to avoid a portage I ferried to the left shore, and lined the boat a little bit and run along the shore. It was somewhat tricky operation in a tight place with a strong current. It's one of few places on the Dismal River with a deep water.

Another natural obstacle, the rapid, was shallower and more bumpy to run than I had remembered. My impression was that the river cut deeper into a soft clay. I had more troubles to follow the narrow channel turning right.

There were two new obstacles upstream of the Seneca bridge: tall electric fences. They were not difficult to portage - one needs to slide a boat through a box under the fence. I saw one elk inside the fenced area. There was also a new low bridge between fences but with enough clearance to paddle under it with some ducking.

I got the first surprise somewhere below the Seneca bridge where low tree branches required leaning down on my back: my seat started to break. One of the aluminium tubings was bent. When it happen?! During running the rapid?

The next surprise was waiting for me at the end of my paddling at the Potter camp where I arrived according to my schedule discussed with Connie. Well, I was there at 17:10, so 10 minutes late. I found that the ranch road had been completely washed out. It looked more like a scenic arroyo than a road. Later, I learned from Gliddens that the county is going to fix it since it is a fire road.

I started to portage my boat and my stuff. The reversed seat works in Sea Wind as a yoke for portaging. It was cracking further making pretty bad noise. After about 0.5 mile of portaging through high and sticky weeds I reached the undamaged stretch of the ranch road. The third surprise: no sign of Connie and Dax!

I continued my portage. It was just after sunset when after one more mile or so I was reaching the main ranch road. Suddenly, I saw Connie driving away on that road. Bummer! She didn't even notice my boat at the road crossing. And I was not further than 300 yards.

Obviously, she went to a wrong bridge - Jameson bridge which was about 1 mile downstream from the Potter camp. I could easily paddle to that bridge. Taking off is not convenient there due to steep shores and fences, but possible. However, I was determined to keep my appointment at the camp. It was interesting that Dax at the Jameson bridge behaved for a while as she could hear me.

I climbed the tallest hill in the vicinity and was lucky to get cell phone signal. I left a message for Connie but she needed to return back to Mullen to read it. I had opportunity to enjoy a full moon night for a longer while. Connie came back to retrieve me sometime after 10pm.

I skipped paddling on Sunday. I was tired after the unexpected portage but the main reason was the seat in my Sea Wind. I was not sure if it would survive much more paddling. Later at home, I was trying to straighten the seat tubing but it broke completely. Have I found a week point of Kruger's Sea Wind?

On Monday we drove back to Fort Collins with a longer stop at Aliance to visit Carhenge - an American replica of Stonehenge, and Dobby's Frontier Town.

GPS trip odometer (excluding the portage): distance 27.4 miles, moving time: 5:54h , stopping time: 2:34h, average moving speed: 4.4mph.

The Dismal River has very fast current. However, the average paddling speed is rather low due to a shallow water, many obstacles, and tight turnings and meanders. This should be taken into account when planning a trip. And, it is worth to call Gliddens at Sandhills Motel to ask about the current condition of the river and access roads.

waterproof digital camera


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