The Rocks and a River - Just Another Day in the Panhandle

The stormy summit of Courthouse Rock

Rising prominently out of the low prairie, Courthouse and Jail Rocks are historical landmarks that, once upon a time, guided wagon trains across western Nebraska. Today, the twin towers still loom over the Great Plains and after all these years, they’ve evolved into a formidable challenge to all free climbers.

As Jail’s sheer rock wall is virtually impossible to ascend, we attempted to scale Court on a stormy, Saturday morning this past summer. A careful approach to the base of the beast was necessary because it traversed a rugged grassland rife with deadly rattlesnakes.

We negotiated the lower sections of the imposing ziggurat without much concern as the sticky sandstone offered generous hand and foot holds. To reach the top, the crux of the climb was just below the final tier where we had to overcome the fear and physics of an unimaginable overhang.

While we rested on the slender summit, we enjoyed a panoramic view that ranged from the North Platte River all the way to Chimney Rock. The rapid descent was a little bit dicey because a light rain fell down making the clay crags and chutes extremely slippery.

The ensuing adventure took place on flat land but it traced the contour of a fast-flowing river and it was not less exhilarating. The muddy creek rushed through a flower-filled pasture inhabited by a few horses and a multitude of black cows.

The riparian environment was a haven for all kinds of insects but mostly we saw dragonflies, bumblebees and a profusion of colorful butterflies. A pair of pups led us on the expedition and after the clouds burned off it got hot so they spent most of the time wading in the shallow stream.

The long trek came to a sudden stop when we stumbled into a bog of stinking, sopping mud where we sank as deep as our shins with every step. It was an irreversible dilemma but we slowly sloshed our way out and it wasn’t too long before we found ourselves back on terra firma.

In order to return to the ranch, our final march required us to follow the loud call coming from the flock of peacocks that make our farm home. As we passed through the last gate, we were happy to be greeted by the braying of a little burro.

This annual excursion began on top of the rocks and ended in a soggy bottomland by the river. In our minds this summer’s gathering may have been another misadventure while in reality, it was probably just another day in the panhandle of western Nebraska.

A riparian environment

A fast flowing river

The pups led us on the expedition

A flower-filled pasture

Wading in the shallows

A stormy, Saturday morning

Jail from the Summit of Courthouse Rock

An imposing ziggurat

Jail is impossible to ascend

Historical Courthouse Rock

Just another day in western Nebraska


  1. Your dogs are adorable guides!

    1. Yes they are! Lots of fun to take them out on a hike in one of the pastures. Thanks!


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