An Unintended Stay
I watch out the window of the Holiday Day Inn Express as Jim starts loading our backpacks into the car. He closes the hatchback, walks around the car looking at the tires, then stops and frowns. Soon, I hear the card key slide in the door and he walks into the room. The news isn’t good. There is a bubble on our front tire. It could explode at any moment. We will not travel on until it is fixed.
We are returning home after a wonderful activity filled week in the Rockies with our children and grandchild. Then, we drive to, hike and visit Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. We have been going non-stop for ten days. Now here we are in Chadron, a town of 5,800 in the northwest corner of Nebraska on a Sunday morning. All the tire shops are closed until tomorrow, Monday. Our trip comes to an abrupt stop.
We unload the car and reclaim our motel room, settling in for at least another day in Chadron and take in our surroundings. The town is set on the Great Plains, with an interesting landscape around it, reminiscent of the Badlands and the Black Hills both located about sixty miles north. Though the town itself is mostly flat, it is surrounded with the everpresent buttes and canyons of the west, a terrain that is barren yet warm. Chadron State Park is only a few miles away but a little too far for us to travel on a bum tire. So we explore the city park, and just like we would at home, we walk briskly up and around its green expanse. Back out on main street, we find an ice cream shop with interesting flavors and get a couple of ice cream cones. Then stop off at the grocery store for a few staples, happy to find some organic vegetables and some good quality cheese. We spend the rest of the day at the motel catching up: I finally crack open one of the three books I brought along to read and Jim researches on his computer for his guitar shop. We are happy for this down time.
On day two, we carefully drive over to the first tire shop and discover that it will take them a day to get the new tire. We check in with the other two tire shops in town with the same result. So back to Nebraskaland Tire to order a tire, then back to the motel to claim our room for a third night. It’s time to investigate this town a little more. We discover the Museum of the Fur Trade just outside of town. We think our car can make it that far. We spend the morning learning about the fur trade in this area and all across the north American continent. One room houses only rifles and guns used in trading. Exhibit cases display point blankets and moccasins, all kinds of beads and furs, canoes and clothing. The back door leading to the garden and old trading house warns of rattlesnakes. Out here, old sod houses from the 1840s are reconstructed and give us a visual representation of what life might have been like almost 200 years ago. A garden planted with Indian heirloom seeds preserves the agricultural history of the era. We imagine these Great Plains before they were taken over by the whites and, for a few hours, we disappear into another world, pre-Chadron.
Our hunger pulls us back. We leave the museum and search out the local coffee shop. The lunch menu and coffee selections look familiar. We feel totally at home. Even the music softly playing in the background, the posters on the wall, the flavors remind us of our world in Goshen. We order a sandwich and a bowl of soup, then play “Sorry” as we sip our coffee. Later, we walk around downtown and notice a music store, a secondhand clothing store, a food coop, a bank. We are learning our way around. We see a house for sale and wonder if we could live here. Finally, we return to our motel room and I challenge myself to make croissants in this space. I can do it!
Early the next morning, we drive to the tire shop, get our new tires, and it’s time to pack up and leave. We sit out on the patio to have breakfast, taking in the countryside, and then leave Chadron behind for the two-lane open road. The car is humming, the wheels are turning, we call it Antelope Road for all the antelopes we still see. In those two days, we make ourselves at home in a different landscape and discover that, wherever we are, we can find something familiar. It’s those things that make us human. An unexpected stop turns into a learning experience. We might always have a soft spot for Chadron, Nebraska.