Road trip: The Outlaw Trail

Published: Apr. 14, 2020 at 11:24 AM CDT
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When life gets back to normal, a road trip we recommend is a drive on Highway 12, also known as the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway.

The Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway covers 231 miles from South Sioux City to Valentine. If you're heading from east to west, pull over near Jackson to see a windmill collection outside a family-owned landfill.

"It originally started as my grandfather wanting to so something to kind of beautify the entrance to the landfill and give it a little bit of shine if you will," landfill manager Anthony Gill said.

These "Sentinels of the Prairie" are just a taste of what's ahead. As you continue on Highway 12, you'll pass Ponca State Park, one of three state parks on the byway. With so many great small towns along the way, it's impossible to mention them all. But, you might consider a drive through Maskell, to see the smallest city hall on the U.S. "We've got to be proud of it," resident William Blatchford said. "Plus, I'm proud of that name Maskell, because it was my Grandpa's."

Another 15 minutes down the road is the St. James Marketplace, which is a former parochial school turned into a kind of indoor farmers' market. Then, head to Bow Valley for some some pictures of the stunning Catholic church found there. "There was a person that helped with the church, and he had worked in France on the cathedral there," congregation member Janice Sudbeck said. "He's one of the people who helped with this, and we have a lot of features that come from Europe."

Highway 12 is known as the Outlaw Trail, because of outlaws like horse thief Doc Middleton who used to roam the area. Some also believe Jesse James and his gang hid from authorities deep in the woods of what's called Devil's Nest near Crofton. The area was developed into a ski-resort in the '70s but didn't last. Now it's being developed for homes. In Crofton, there's plenty of pride for the local baseball field.

"We think it's very special," Crofton resident Joyce Stevens said. "I believe we have one of the best fields in the state of Nebraska. Our people that take care of it are very proud. They do a lot of things, a lot of volunteer hours to keep it looking this way." You might also want to visit the Lewis and Clark pulley museum in town, and swing by for a look at the Argo Hotel.

Then your trip continues, with a possible round of golf at the Tatanka course operated by the Santee Sioux Nation. "When people think of Nebraska courses they think flat," golf course manager Justin Kitto said. "When you look out here a camera doesn't do it justice. When you get out here, there's not too many flat spots."

You'll also want to spend time in the town of Niobrara, and later at Niobrara State Park. Further down the road, a stop in at the bar in Monowi might be in order, to learn about the Nebraska town with a population of one. Bar owner Elsie Eiler is the one resident there. Keep driving, and head for the town of Naper, where you can immerse yourself in the history of the White Horse Ranch, at the White Horse Ranch Museum. Finally, check out Smith Falls State Park, to see the highest waterfall in the state of Nebraska.

There's so much to see. So, we look forward to when we can all hit the road again. For now, it's a good time to start planning.

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