On Tuesday, the Lovely Sharon was called back to Nebraska from Palm Desert to be with her mother and family; the second trip in less than a month. In October, the family was told that her mother had nine to twelve months left. This time frame was subsequently shortened to two-four months. Sharon had arrived in Palm Desert on Saturday, November 7th and on Monday, November 16th she received a call advising her to make another trip to Nebraska, her second in three weeks. By Tuesday afternoon she was in a hospital room in Omaha with her mother.
Our plan was that I would drive to Palm Desert on Friday, November 20th and Sharon would fly back to Palm Springs from Nebraska on Saturday and we would spend 8 or 9 days together. During the last 60 days or so we have been apart for more than forty days as a result of one obligation or another. During the last week we kept in touch by phone and I was kept up to date on events in Nebraska. Sharon’s mother received last rites and was transferred from Omaha to her home town of David City by ambulance. There wasn’t much more that could be done in Omaha. On Thursday night after returning from the hospital in David City, Sharon called and told that me she better stay in Nebraska for awhile longer. This did not surprise me as throughout the week I told her that if it looked like she needed to stay, then she must stay and I would either go to the desert or remain in Utah for the holiday. After her call I decided to go the desert.
Within 30 minutes of the initial call, Sharon called back and told me her mother had just passed away. I told her I would be in Nebraska by Saturday night for Sunday rosary and the Monday funeral. I unpacked the car with the Palm Desert items and I repacked for a trip to Nebraska. I could have flown although flight options were limited and prices were high as a result of Thanksgiving. So I decided to drive. Straight through it was 900 hundred miles but I had two days in which to get there. I decided to take the two days, and drive through country I had not seen for awhile, thinking about life, death, family and friends. I set out for Nebraska on Friday morning.
Friday’s drive through Wyoming was not particularly scenic until I reached Medicine Bowe. Although there is not much to see in this town of 275, the nearby Medicine Bow Mountains and grazing antelope are of interest. Finally, I drove into Laramie. This is high altitude plains with strong winds. When I stopped to fill the tank in Laramie I was standing on ice and a cold wind made me shutter while I cleaned the car windows. I grabbed a steaming cup of coffee and headed off to Cheyenne followed by Nebraska. Did you ever notice that restaurant coffee almost always tastes rich and flavorful, better than you make at home, but gas station coffee is just hot. You don’t savor it; it just reminds you that you have some place else to be. When I reached Pine Bluff (the border of Wyoming and Nebraska) it was dark and I was tired. I had not driven through Nebraska in almost 50 years, which I last did with my parents when I was seven or so and I decided I did not want to do so now in the dark.
I stopped for the evening at a town named Sidney. Was Sidney a first name or a sur name? I don’t know. I have always wondered what prompted a town to be named what it is. Who made the decision that would last forever. Salt Lake City? That’s easy, just look to the west desert. Some towns are named after trappers such Ogden, Provo and Fort Bridger. Some are named after explorers or adventurers such San Francisco (Sir Francis Drake). The town of Sidney, Nebraska was an unknown name on the map but I was tired and it was dark so I stopped. The motel was nice, relatively new and clean. I checked in and then walked across the parking lot to a restaurant.
The restaurant was full of people, life and conversation. Although I was alone, with my reading spectacles and a roadmap, it was nice to hear voices around me after a day of driving. Parents telling kids to eat their food, men flirting with the waitresses and old couples talking about the day in quiet tones and few words as though a lifetime together allowed for the communication of thoughts with few spoken words.
Back in the room I looked at the map and decided to take a route out of the way, off of the interstate through the backs roads of Nebraska. I decided to drive to the Sand Hills Golf Club a renown golf course designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore in an isolated part of the sand hills of Nebraska. This course was built in 1995 and since that time has been ranked in the top ten courses in America and the best course in the last 50 years. Sharon, her father and her brothers, were preparing for the funeral and the burial and were generally tied up with matters than I could not help with so I had a day to deal with before I reached David City. I thought of the uncertainties of life, that I may never again have time to drive that way and so I decided to head north toward Mullen, Nebraska, population 459.
The Nebraska sand hills span almost 20,000 square miles (one-fourth the area of Nebraska), it is the largest sand dune formation in the Western Hemisphere. Following the last ice age, wind took hold of the loose sand, blowing it into vast dunes, now covered with prairie grasses, reaching up to nearly 400 feet in height and stretching vast miles across the landscape.
At Ogalla I left the interstate, drove through town and onto highway 62. I left the flat lands of Nebraska for the rolling sand hills. Heading north for a 100 miles or so, I drove through rolling prairie, no doubt looking like it looked a hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, with the exception of a few farm houses, popping up from time to time like desert oasis. Many of the farm houses were in compounds surrounded on four sides by thick evergreens to protect the inhabitants from blowing snow and blowing sand. Not much corn here, mostly grasses in hues of muted light browns and yellows. The season’s grasses had for the most part been cut and were in gigantic rolls, haystacks or bales most of which still in the fields to be moved. Every so often I passed a herd of cattle, seemingly unaware that I was passing by. I passed a few cars, a few big rigs and a few pickup trucks. It felt like it was me and the rolling hills together but alone. I stopped from time to time just to look around and feel the wind in my hair. I finally reach Highway 2, the town of Hyannis where I turned right for Mullen.
I stopped at Mullen to ask for directions to the Sand Hills Golf Club. I was told to head down Highway 97 for about 10 miles and if I came to the Dismal River, I had gone too far. I headed down Highway 97 on the lookout for a sign. Finally I saw a small sign that read “Sand Hills Golf Club”. As I turned off 97, there were signs that said private road. Since I was out in the middle of nowhere and I had made a 150 mile detour, a private road sign was not going to stop me. I drove down the road for a couple of miles but came to a locked gate that looked like a cattle gate. The road meandered through tall grass covered sand dunes so you couldn't see what was on the other side of the dunes. I back tracked and went down a couple of sandy side roads but still no golf course. I saw a house down a sandy lane and drove up to it. As I got out of my car I saw a teenage girl walking up the front steps of her house. She was carrying a shotgun in her right hand. She stopped and looked at me but said nothing. I asked her where the golf course was. She said “just a minute” and she went into her house. A few seconds later a man came out and asked me what I wanted. I told him I was driving from Utah to David City and took a detour just to see the Sand Hills Golf Club. When he told me it was closed for the season I asked him if there was a sand hill where I could stand on just to see the course. He looked at me for a few seconds and said I could follow him in his truck to a vantage point. So I did. We drove a few hundred yards down a sand road where he stopped his truck. I got out of my car and there it was, the famed Sand Hills Golf Club spread out and meandering through the seemingly endless sand hills of Nebraska. The holes did not run parallel to each other but end to end routing through the hills and valleys surrounded by native grass which by this time in late November was dormant. I took a few pictures, thank my guide and headed back to highway 97 where I turned left back to Mullen.
Photo by Patrick Drickey
The Drive Part 2 will be the next entry