Beef and Buttes and Carhenge... oh, my

Monday, September 08, 2008 Road Junkies 1 Comments

Day 3: Kearney, NE to Casper, WY
Our day began cold (46 degrees), windy, and wet in Kearney, Nebraska (pronounced "carnie"). Eager to track down our first letterbox of the trip, we followed clues to a rest area off I-80 near Brady, NE. As you can see, Ken located the Big Truck letterbox and we enjoyed a half-mile walk in misting rain to track down this treasure.
Back on the interstate we spotted a massive feedlot and left the highway near Brule, NE, to get a closer look. Since the terrain is so flat here and most roads are laid out in a straight-line grid, we had no difficulty finding our way to the Northwest Cattle Feeders main lot. We were quite stunned to see what we learned is a confined animal feeding operation, also known as factory farming. This particular feedlot had hundreds of cattle caged in an array of pens about 150 feet square.

Along one edge of each pen was a concrete feed trough, which the cattle accessed by reaching their heads through the fence. A feed truck drove up to large piles of feed, where a front end loader filled the truck's hopper with what must be a very rich blend of feed. All the cattle, both male and female, were unnaturally bulked up.

According to the information we found, cattle have to reach an "entry-level weight" (usually 650 pounds) before being taken to a feedlot. In the 3-4 months they spend at the feedlot before being sent to slaughter they may gain an additional 400 pounds. These poor cows were quite a sad sight and had no where to lie down except in the muddy, manure-filled lots. It smelled exactly how you would imagine and worse! Throughout the day, we came across several more of these huge operations.

Rain gave way to blue skies as we traveled west. We soon left the interstate for a long stretch and saw dozens of trains. Each of these unit trains was a mile or mile and a half long and almost all were carrying only coal. Wyoming mines produced more than 450 million tons of coal last year, accounting for 38% of the nation's total.

Larger mines load two or three unit trains per day. Each of the 100 or so hopper cars in a unit train holds 100 tons of coal, or enough to fuel a power plant for 20 minutes.

Driving through the little town of Bridgeport, NE, we were surprised to see a farm equipment graveyard, known locally as Bridgport Tractor Parts. As we were marvelling over how neat the yard was compared to auto cemetaries we've seen, we suddenly noticed a group of llamas in residence. We're not sure if they're responsible for the neatly trimmed grassy areas, but we found the entire scene fascinating.
Thanks to a handy tip from Ken's mother-in-law, we trekked off north of Bridgeport in search of Carhenge. As you can see, Carhenge replicates Stonehenge with 38 old automobiles. Jim Reinders, the artist, had lived in England and studied Stonehenge. When Reinders' father died in 1982, he and other family members decided to build Carhenge as a memorial to the senior Reinders on the farm where he had lived. The project was completed in 1987.

Leaving Carhenge, we were a bit tired and glad to find a rest area nearby on Nebraska Highway 87.

Feeling rested and refreshed, we headed off toward Casper, Wyoming. The scenery along the way was spectacular with so many wide open spaces, Dianne spontaneously burst into a chorus of "Don't Fence Me In." Our route took us through Nebraska's Fort Robinson State Park, where we saw a group of pronghorn antelopes, our first buffalo, and these spectacular buttes. Near the buttes we caught a few astonished glimpses of tumbleweeds being carried in some type of vortex, spinning and dancing around.

After 570 miles of meandering, we finally made it into Casper around 8 p.m. mountain time. We were tired but had a great day with temps never rising above 55. We've vowed to stay off the interstates completely tomorrow. Fortunately we have only about 275 miles to cover to reach Red Lodge, MT tomorrow. Then on Wednesday we spend our first day in Yellowstone.