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Monument Marathon and its western Nebraska scenery

May 1, 2012

This weekend, I depleted my glycogen stores and “hit the wall” on a 26.2-mile bike ride along the course of the Platte Valley Companies Monument Marathon (I’m a little out of shape at the moment), just so I could show the world how beautiful the course is.

This will be a lengthy blog post, due to all the pictures. I’ll link to other blog posts as the course passes things to see and do in the area that I have written about previously. (Note: the course is a bit different for the half marathon, obviously. Maybe once I recover from this ride, I’ll do another post on the half marathon course.)

Check out the official webpage for the marathon here.

Racers will be shuttled up to the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area.

It’s a great place to hike with plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing.

We startled a mule deer when we pulled into the parking lot.

We got to the Wildcat Hills right after sunrise. The race will start an hour after sunrise on October 13, at 8 a.m.

Here is our motley crew of course cyclists. That’s me on the left, then T.R., who has the course calibration counter on his bike, then Bugman, and Paul Janda. Race director Dayle Wallien, who took this picture, drove a support vehicle. T.R. is standing right on the race start line in the Wildcat Hills Nature Center parking lot. Racers will exit the parking lot and turn right towards the highway.

At Highway 71, turn right and begin a loooong, steep downhill. (Prepare your quads well!) There’s another member of the Wildcat Hills nature brigade in this photo. Do you see him?

Mountain bluebird

Remember what I said about the downhill? In the first 8-9 miles of the race, runners will drop more than 600 feet in elevation.

Down . . .

Down . . .

Down . . .

Down . . .

Until the valley starts to flatten on underneath you. Note in the far distance: Scotts Bluff National Monument on the left, the steam from the Western Sugar sugarbeet factory on the right. Fall is the sugarbeet campaign (harvest and transportation to storage piles and the factory), so keep an eye out for beet-filled semi trucks.

The early morning scenery is just gorgeous, with dew glittering on barbed-wire fence and last-year’s dry grasses.

Perhaps these critters will be watching the marathon runners pass by as intently as they watched us bikers. The young’uns will be much bigger by October.

This is County Road T leading off west. If you follow it, you can hike at Cedar Canyon Wildlife Management Area and maybe see the bighorn sheep. Aside from mulies and the sheep, other large ungulates that have been spotted in the region include white-tailed deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and moose.

Here’s the turn off the highway at about mile 6, at the Sandberg implement dealer. If you went west, you’d be heading towards Robidoux Trading Post. The course heads east on Sandberg Road.

Head east into the sun for about 2 miles.

Beware of ducks! These guys were trucking away from us so fast, you can see the dew they kicked up behind them.

Heading north on Lockwood Road 2 miles, you’re likely to see irrigation equipment. You can see Mitchell Pass at Scotts Bluff National Monument (the top of the pass is around mile 14-15) in the distance.

Shortly after passing under a highway overpass, you’ll turn west and head into town on County Road P / D Street. This is where the wildlife gets a little strange. Jurassic-Cretaceous, even.


Aaaaaah! Incoming!!!!

The course crosses Kimball Avenue (which turns into 10th Street in downtown Gering to the north) right at the Armory and Ever Green House. (If you take the Overland Trails Road access road just in front of the armory and head north, you’ll wind up at the museum where I work. UPDATE: where I used to work. The museum has closed to merge with the Farm And Ranch Museum as Legacy of the Plains Museum.)

The course passes Geil Elementary School. I suspect this will be the location of a hearty cheering section.

At Five Rocks Road, turn right and go right past Five Rocks Amphitheater, which is where the race will end (in about 12 more miles).

At Old Oregon Trail Road (yes, THE Oregon Trail – runners will be following in the footsteps of westbound pioneers), turn left towards Scotts Bluff.

The uphill portion of the course began about 1-1/2 miles ago, but this is where you really start to feel it.

Distractions on this portion of the course include the Farm And Ranch Museum . . . (UPDATE: now Legacy of the Plains Museum)

And Scotts Bluff National Monument. Two of the “five rocks” guard Mitchell Pass – Sentinel Rock to the left and Eagle Rock to the right. There’s lots to do at SBNM. There’s a visitors center and small museum, and a hiking trail that you can take to the top of the bluff (you can also drive up there, through Nebraska’s only road tunnels). Off-trail hiking is possible, too.

Destination: top of Mitchell Pass (gasp, pant!). This was a unique point along the Oregon-California Trail. While wagons would spread out across the plain in most areas to avoid the dust wake of the wagon ahead of them, here in Mitchell Pass, the wagons had to go single file. The highway is right on top of sections of the old route through here (cars have to go single file, too!) If you look on a satellite image of this area, just west of the pass you can see where the Oregon Trail roadbed heads north, back towards the river. Kinda cool, eh?

Yay! Top of the hill!!

Just over the pass, on the left side of the road, is the “old picnic area” – a good point for hiking.

The National Monument area is patrolled by a law enforcement ranger, who stopped to chat with our group.

“I want YOU to sign up for the Monument Marathon!” (Note: I may have fudged Ranger Legault’s quote in the interest of humor. He may actually have been cautioning us to beware of traffic.)

Leaving Scotts Bluff behind . . . but not for long . . .

The route curves north …

And passes the Fort Mitchell historical site. You can’t throw a stone in this valley without hitting a historical site. In the distance behind the sign is Barn Anew Bed and Breakfast.

At the intersection with Highway 92 / 20th Street, turn right.

The route only follows the highway for a short time before it turns off onto gravel at Ridgeway, which parallels the tracks. If you cross the railroad tracks, you’ve missed the turn!

The road turns right as Ridgeway turns into Hunt Dairy Road.

Don’t be deterred by the “dead end” signs – the route will continue on irrigation canal maintenance roads when the official road ends. The canal road can be bumpy and muddy with areas of loose gravel, which is why this course is, alas, not wheelchair friendly.

At the intersection with the canal road, head left and start meandering along the Mitchell and Gering Irrigation Canal, which passes through National Monument property on the north side of Scotts Bluff – “backstage.”

Not too far along the canal road, you will likely elicit chirps of alarm from the prairie dogs residing on National Monument property. There are at least three in this photo – the two standing just left of center, and one in the lower right corner, which is the one that was chirping at me.

You get some really gorgeous views of Scotts Bluff from the canal road. It’s possible that the earlier runners may startle deer. The road is lousy with deer hoofprints. The irrigation canal company wants to make sure that runners know that it’s possible to encounter rattlesnakes on the canal road, too – a good reason NOT to wear headphones during this race. (To give some perspective, I have lived here for two years, and have so far only encountered two rattlesnakes. The snakes tend to prefer to turn tail and flee rather than coil up and act threatening. Just give the snake space and an escape route, and it’s all good.)

On the canal road, you get to see a beautiful portion of the National Monument that most visitors miss – the badlands.

If you’re lucky, you may spot the rare badlands goose. (There seems to be a pair of Canada geese that have taken to the bumpy bandlands terrain and return year after year.)

The final portion of bandlands before the route heads off National Monument property and back into Gering neighborhoods.

When the canal road intersects Country Club Road, turn right.

Head west (uphill) on Country Club Road towards Scotts Bluff, past the golf course. At Monument Shadows Road, turn right for a quick neighborhood loop to add necessary distance to the route.

When you come to the other end of the Monument Shadows loop, go right to catch the Monument Valley Pathway, which parallels the National Monument property. (Beautiful scenery, with Scotts Bluff on the right and a view of the valley on the left.)

When the path splits, head left, towards the U-Street pathway (going right would take you to the Scotts Bluff National Monument visitors center).

The U Street Pathway goes downhill (yay!), right past the community landfill and transfer station.

Where the U Street Pathway intersects Five Rocks Road, turn right onto the highway.

Lovely view!

Turn right at Prairie Street into a neighborhood and zig-zag through it. Left! Right! Left! Right! Left!

Meadowlark Boulevard will take you back out to Old Oregon Trail road. Turn right and head to the entrance to Westlawn Cemetery on your left.

You can’t miss the beautiful double row of trees flanking the road to the cemetery.

You won’t actually enter the cemetery. Take the service road right just before the cemetery entrance, and follow it as it curves left behind the cemetery. Enjoy the peacefulness of the cemetery now, because if you have not prepared yourself mentally and physically, the next little segment of the race may make you wish you were peacefully in a grave. (I have run some distance races and know how near-exhaustion at the end of the race can affect your thinking.)

Due to the quirky topography of the region, which also bedeviled the westbound pioneers, to get from the cemetery to the finish line at Five Rock Amphitheater, you have to go down and then back up a fairly steep ravine. Where the road splits when you leave the cemetery, take the low road down.

Use whatever mantra you need to get yourself up this hill. “I think I can, I think I can.” “Go, go, gadget legs!” Imagine yourself being chased by a mountain lion (there are some resident big cats in the region). Give yourself permission to walk. Do what it takes, because the end (of the race!) is near.

Once you get past the “devil’s dip,” there is some relatively flat path, and even a bit of a downhill to lead you to the finish line in the amphitheater.

This is the view over a closed gate into the amphitheater (which will be open on race day) as the crew wheels the course-certification bike over thick plastic to avoid popping the tires on goatheads before the finish line (between the orange gates separating the gravel parking lot from the green grass). Another note: this is not a course to run in bare feet due to nasty, spiny weed seeds like goatheads, unless your feet are tougher than shoe leather. In my experience, the rubber on the bottom of Fivefinger or similar “barefoot shoes” are sufficient to protect against pain, though you may need to pause occasionally to remove the seedheads from your shoes – they feel like rocks stuck in the tread or something.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your visual tour of 26 miles of my stomping grounds. Now – learn more about the race! Go sign up! Tell your friends! Especially tell your friends, family and associates who may live or do business along the race course, so they know it’s coming! Share this link!

UPDATE 5/2: I just had to share this comment from John Seiler, one of the top runners in our region:

Home town Marathon in Western Nebraska promises to be one of the most scenic and beautiful marathons in the country. I have run 11 so far in my life from Pikes Peak, Twin Cities, Leadville, Estes Park, Denver, Wyoming, Omaha Marathon, Lincoln which are from some of the hardest, highest to most beautiful and I would come to run this one if I did not live here in Scottsbluff Nebraska! You will be amazed at the 13.1 or 26.2 we have in store for you!

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I did not explain some changes to two tourism references in this post. The North Platte Valley Museum permanently closed in 2013 to join forces with the former Farm And Ranch Museum to become Legacy of the Plains Museum at 2930 Old Oregon Trail in Gering. Artifacts from NPVM and FARM will begin to go on display as new phases of Legacy of the Plains Museum are developed. See the Legacy of the Plains Museum website for the most recent updates.

Copyright 2012 by Katie Bradshaw

13 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2012 7:56 am

    Your posts are always very engaging!

  2. May 7, 2012 11:40 pm

    Hello Katie! I would love to be able to share the beautiful scenery that I grew up with by running the half marathon with my Athletes in Tandem partner, Zachary! I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think I’ll check into it! Please check out my blog to learn more about AiT! Thanks for posting about this!

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      May 14, 2012 8:17 pm

      Hi, Susan! I checked out your blog. Athletes in Tandem looks like a really cool program!! Regarding running the Monument Marathon with your AiT partner: the idea makes me hesitate, simply because anyone on wheels might have their teeth jarred out of their heads on that canal road north of the Monument (almost happened to me on my bike). I would definitely recommend that you personally inspect the course, and keep in mind that the quality of that canal road can change, depending on the weather.

  3. May 16, 2012 10:35 pm

    Oh my, you’re right! I can’t imagine pushing Zachary (or anyone) on the washboard canal road! Thanks for pointing that out! I still might check it out on my bike next time I’m home!

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      May 18, 2012 10:35 pm

      Yeah. It’s easy enough on foot, but tough if on wheels. The race organizers really struggled with this issue, since a more inclusive race would be the ideal, but the canal road was necessary to make the scenic route work.

  4. June 5, 2012 1:14 pm

    Enjoyed the visual tour/course description.
    Thank you for putting that together. I also enjoyed the narrative; it increased my excitement.
    I am from the Pacific Northwest. I look forward to experiencing this course.

    I also agree with your mentioned scenic aspects of the region. I recommend the web site include a gallery containing professional photos of the area to showcase what you have to offer.

    Here is a link exampling the type of production I am referring to;

    RS Lucke

  5. Katie Bradshaw permalink
    May 31, 2014 8:37 am

    Reblogged this on Wyobraska Tandem and commented:

    Hey, marathon registration procrastinators – sign up TODAY (May 31, 2014) for the September 27, 2014 Monument Marathon or half and save 10 bucks on registration: . The prices go up tomorrow! Here is a post I wrote in the leadup to the inaugural race in 2012.


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