The Oregon Trail

East of Chadron, US-20 winds along the northern edge of the Sand Hills, coming within a few miles of the South Dakota border. The town of Merriman (pop. 131) may not look like much, but it does mark the turnoff north to the nearby Bowring Ranch State Historical Park (308/684-3428, Thurs.-Tues., $2), a working cattle ranch preserved pretty much as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The site is lovely, with a sod house surrounded (in springtime, at least) by rolling green hills. A modern visitors center has displays on windmills and other facts of Sand Hills life, plus biographical displays on the politically powerful Bowring family, who lived and worked here from 1895 until 1985. To get there, head 1.3 miles north of town on Hwy-61, then 2 miles northeast following good signs.

Between Merriman and Valentine, US-20 passes through flyspeck former railroad towns including Kilgore (pop. 79), Crookston (pop. 71), and Cody (pop. 157). Kilgore marks the dividing line between central and mountain time zones; adjust your clocks and watches accordingly.