Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area

April 22-24, 2024.

Photo album

I dropped Aaron off at the Denver Airport early in the morning. While he attended a work trip for a few days, I gallivanted off to Nebraska. My first stop: Panorama Point, the highpoint of Nebraska. This was not a hike; I drove on back highways and long gravel roads for a awhile to an entry to a private bison ranch. I dropped my $3 entrance fee in the box and finished the drive to the parking area.

Since leaving Oregon nearly a year ago, I’ve visited the summits of three state highpoints: Black Mesa (OK), Taum Sauk (MO) and Mt. Sunflower (KS). While I was way out in the middle of the country, I figured I may as well grab Nebraska’s highpoint. I might not be in spitting distance anytime soon. Now I’ve got nine peaks out of 50, which is not much to write home about, but I’m much closer to completing the list than I was last year!

Flora and fauna

By the time I arrived at the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area, I was so sick of driving. I booked a campsite for the next two nights and settled in. My spot had a couple of trees perfect for setting up a hammock, so that’s the first thing I did. Looking up from my relaxing perch, I noticed quite a bit of bird activity. I spent the afternoon switching between reading, napping and birdwatching. I noticed a pair of mountain bluebirds gathering up nesting material and bringing it to their hole in a snag near my hammock trees. Then I observed as a pair of finches flew in and out of their nesting site in a jumble of mistletoe right over my head. And on the ground, several chipping sparrows bobbed their cute little red heads up and down searching for snacks.

I had spent so much time on the go lately that I didn’t even know how much I was craving this down time. My body melted into the hammock in a way that was so soothing and natural. Tomorrow, I thought, I’d gather myself up to explore.

The next morning, I set off on a nature walk. Well, after coffee in the hammock, of course. Along the way, I met many birds: mountain chickadees, pine siskins, red breasted nuthatches and even a turkey. I searched relentlessly for cactus flowers. While I never found a single one, I did make a wonderful discovery: SAND LILIES! I was very excited to see them, since they are one of my favorite Central Oregon wildflowers. I love how I get to visit the Oregon natives even while out of the state.

Much to my surprise, I was also delighted to see dandelions because of what else was attracted to them: bees and butterflies. I spent quite a bit of time crouched down in a squat watching them gather pollen and nectar.

Having no agenda

The best part of my day was not having to move the van. I really embraced having so much downtime with nowhere to be, no reason to be productive and no one to answer to. Aaron is an extremely easy person to live with, but things just feel different when I’m totally on my own. I found out today that he bumped his flight back out one day so he could visit with a friend in the Portland area. Great, I thought, I just got another day to enjoy having no agenda. The Wildcat Hills, kind of a bleh place that’s managed primarily for hunters, ended up being a decent spot to see wildlife and flowers while mostly relaxing under shade trees (did I mention it was HOT).

It’s important in life in general, but also while doing long-term travel, to have some days as nothing days. As a recovering Type-A planner, this is a lesson that I’ll likely need to learn a few more times before it truly sticks. But, it’s becoming easier the longer we spend on the road to go with the flow and not try to jam-pack every day with activities and/or driving. A relaxing hammock day is just as valuable, and necessary, as a double-digit hike day or long drive to some epic destination.

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