Paddling through Nebraska
Nebraska often seems an endless prairie, said Helen Olsson in The
New York Times. But the Niobrara River Valley in the north-central part of the state offers “an inspiring collection of conifers and hardwoods, 200-foot sandstone bluffs, and spring-fed waterfalls.” The Niobrara (pronounced nigh-oh-BRAH-rah) starts in Wyoming and flows for 400 miles across Nebraska before emptying into the Missouri River. About 76 of those miles, beginning just east of Valentine, have been designated a national scenic river. Here canoeing or kayaking is not so much an athletic challenge as an opportunity for socializing. “The rapids are mostly riffles,” and the water knee-deep. In autumn, “leaf peepers” drive to this area “in search of solitude in one of the country’s most diverse environments.” The birch, aspen, and cottonwood trees along the banks turn shades of gold, with sumac supplying occasional flashes of red. The river courses through ponderosa pines, deciduous forests, and tall-grass prairie. Smith Falls, the state’s tallest, plunges 63 feet onto a bell-shaped rock.

A slow train to Seattle
A train journey from Chicago to Seattle covers 2,206 miles and lasts 46 hours, said Tom Hundley in the Chicago Tribune. That works out to an average of 48 mph, or “about the same speed trains were traveling in the late 19th century.” My wife and I were in no hurry, and more interested in the journey than in the destination, so we booked a “bedroom” with sleeping berths, a sitting area, and a bathroom on Amtrak. The train set off exactly on time from Union Station, and supper was served just as the train began its 140-mile run upriver to St. Paul. “The upper Mississippi at sunset is a magical, majestic, and slightly mysterious waterworld.” The 1,000-mile stretch across North Dakota and eastern Montana offers an undulating terrain “as seductive as anything” in Tuscany. We spotted the Rockies at Cut Bank, Mont., and enjoyed dinner while passing through Glacier National Park. Most memorable of all was sitting in the observation lounge, taking in the country’s “simple vastness.”