Jail Rock & Courthouse Rock, Nebraska

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As I left Chimney Rock, a short distance up the road, I was a bit dissatisfied — mostly because I wasn’t able to experience the rocky spire up-close.  The nearest road was almost a mile away from Chimney Rock.  Maybe that’s why I enjoyed my visit to Jail Rock & Courthouse Rock so much: not only can you drive right up to them, you can continue up the side on foot, hiking as far as you can before the cliff gets too steep.

Jail Rock & Courthouse Rock are located 5 miles south of Bridgeport, Nebraska, on Route 88.

A dirt road takes you from the main road into “Seybolt Park”.  That road ends at a small parking area, where a two-rut dirt track begins.  This path takes you on up the side of Courthouse Rock (the larger of the two sandstone outcroppings).

Once the dirt and grass turns into slickrock, you have a great view of Jail Rock, and the many miles of flat farmland that stretch out beyond it.

You’ll earn an extra ten points if you can find this “window” in Courthouse Rock!

I found a shady spot on the side of Courthouse Rock, and relaxed for a few minutes.  I was completely alone.  I could see for miles, looking out at the highways that meet next to the rock, and the endless plains.  The sound of the silence was haunting.

But of course, the visit couldn’t last forever.  On the way out of the park, I snapped this picture in the rear-view, then backtracked into Bridgeport.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks were the first of Nebraska’s landmarks encountered by westward-headed Americans.  Chimney Rock was next, followed by Scotts Bluff.  The Oregon-California, Mormon, Pony Express, and Sidney-Deadwood trails all passed nearby. Some of those early settlers also referred to the courthouse as a “castle”.

Bridgeport, Nebraska

Bridgeport, Nebraska is home to about 1,600 people.  It’s the county seat of Morrill County, Nebraska, and the crossroads of US 26, US 385, NE 92 and 88.  There isn’t much else happening here.

Bridgeport does have a nicely maintained train station along the railroad tracks…

… and a great, old-fashioned grocery store (the kind your hometown had, before Kroger or Food Lion or Wal-Mart moved in).  I stopped in for a soda, then drove on…

… passing the stately Morrill County Courthouse on the way out.

I’d love to tell you more about Bridgeport, Nebraska, but there isn’t much to know.  As far as I can tell, the town’s website hasn’t been updated in almost a decade, and aside from a Wikipedia entry (which offers up some census data), there isn’t anything else on the web about Bridgeport.  It’s just the kind of town where people quietly go about their business, unbeknownst to the rest of the world.  You know, the kind of town that keeps our country running.

Leaving Bridgeport, head north on US 385, towards Alliance.

Between Bridgeport & Alliance, Nebraska – US 385

From Bridgeport to Alliance, Nebraska, US 385 is mostly flat, and runs directly alongside the railroad tracks.  It’s the kind of road that can make you look for any escape, and fortunately, I found one.

Somewhere along the way, I noticed an old alignment of the highway on the east side of the route.  I had seen the point where the southern end met the main road, so I knew I could make a loop, once I found a decent place to turn off.

The old road used to be paved, many years ago, but most of that blacktop is gone.  The road is rough, and must be driven slowly…

… and in places there are flowers and other weeds growing in the middle of the road.

It’s the flowers that made this little detour worth the while.  The small hills that separated the old road from the new one were completely covered…

… with these little yellow flowers.

There were also countless grasshoppers jumping everywhere.  At least a half dozen of them ended up on my windshield.  A few even hung on for a mile or two, once I made it back to the main road.

After wasting a few minutes here, I continued up US 385 to Alliance.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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