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John Waelti: A road less traveled - Journey across the High Plains
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OGALLALA, NEB. - It had rained hard the previous night but the day dawned bright and sunny with a slight breeze and mild temperatures.

It was time to leave Ogallala. We had left enough money in that town. In addition to the previous night's motel, some decades ago that fair city hooked me for some money. It was only a few bucks, but still over 15 percent of a PFC's monthly pay. Heck, just because four other Marines and I were in a hurry to get back home for awhile. So I paid the price. Now it's "so long, Ogallala - see ya later, maybe."

Tom and I climb into my GMC, cross the Platte, and head south on Nebraska Route 61, a road less traveled. Once out of the irrigated lowlands of the Platte River Valley, we're on higher ground with dry-land wheat and rangeland.

We reach the town of Grant, population 1,145. This is off the beaten tourist route as our objective is to see country where tourists don't go. We spot a mom-and-pop grill and lounge on the typical looking main street.

We enter and ask if they're serving breakfast. "Yes, but they stop serving at 9." Geez, it was 9 on the dot as we walked in and we're already too late.

The friendly waitress consoles us, "But we're still serving biscuits and gravy." That's not my usual fare but I haven't had that dish in a long time. Same with Tom, and we give it a whirl.

The biscuits and gravy are excellent, best I ever had, although I can't remember when I last had a dish that high in calories.

Knowing the answer in advance - all Nebraskans are Cornhusker fans unless they are from somewhere else, like Kansas - I ask the waitress if she's a Cornhusker fan. She answers with an enthusiastic, "definitely."

Tom is a University of Minnesota Gopher and I'm a University of Wisconsin Badger, and since I earned my living for a couple of decades at U of M, I can identify with both. I reply, "On behalf of the Gophers and Badgers, we welcome you to the Big 10."

She seems pleased with that response. A guy at an adjoining table pipes up, "Gophers and Badgers, huh. We sure thank you Badgers for that running back you let us have."

I sense that he's referring to that sought-after running back out of Texas - Dallas, I think, and I don't recall his name - that was recruited by the Badgers, but denied admission because of academic deficiencies.

"I thought he was going to University of Miami," I reply.

"No," the guy at the next table replies, "He retook some tests, turned down Wisconsin, and decided on Nebraska."

I had not followed that fiasco, and this was news to me. But we all agreed that the scarlet and gray of Ohio State is not something we customarily root for, but it was still good to have the national collegiate football championship in the hands of the Big 10 for a change. Any port in a storm.

So, football matters settled, we compliment the place on the biscuits and gravy, climb back into my GMC and head southwest on another route less traveled, Nebraska Route 23. Amidst harvested wheat fields and dry rangeland we soon reach the Colorado line. A few miles farther and we reach Holyoke, a small town on US 385, dubbed the High Plains Highway. In a column of a few years ago, I mistakenly called it the "Great Plains Highway," and an alert reader caught that error.

The High Plains Highway is a lightly traveled but well maintained trek that traverses the entire north-south axis on the eastern edge of Colorado. There are a few small towns, the largest of which is Burlington, on I-70 that connects Kansas City with Denver. Burlington is approximately midway between the northern and southern Colorado borders. We get away from Burlington, I-70, and the usual chains and fast food joints typical of Anywhere, USA. Heading down the High Plains Highway, the landscape alternates between irrigated crops, dryland wheat, and rolling range land dotted with herds of cattle, grazing on the sparse grass, or huddled around water tanks fed by windmills.

As we reach Granada in the southeastern part of Colorado, Tom notes a billboard advertising the "Sapp Brothers Oil Company." Tom notes that they could use some assistance in branding, but concludes that customers would quickly see through such superficial nonsense. Nothing wrong with doing business with the Sapp Brothers and keeping the original name, and the overhead low.

At Granada, US 385 jogs west for a few miles along the Arkansas River to Lamar. The Arkansas River is the northern, or main, route of the Old Santa Fe Trail that continued to La Junta, then jogged southwest to Trinidad, across the Raton Pass into New Mexico, and down to old Fort Union, and eventually to Santa Fe.

US 385 cuts directly south at Lamar, down into the Oklahoma Panhandle to Boise City, county seat of Cimarron County on the western end of the Panhandle. This is where the southern, or Cimarron Branch, of the Old Santa Fe Trail reached, and from there proceeded along the current US 56 west into Clayton, New Mexico.

As we had not been to Clayton for some time, we take that route. Besides, it was time for a late afternoon snack, and Clayton's Eklund Hotel has great green chile stew. We reach Clayton, only to find that green chile stew is not on the menu today.

So we take lightly traveled NM Route 402 down to US 54 and Tucumcari where we stay at the customary Route 66 Motel.

Tomorrow, instead of our usual route to Las Cruces, maybe we'll head down to Fort Sumner, site of the death of the West's iconic figure, Billy the Kid.

- John Waelti of Monroe, a retired professor of economics, can be reached at His column appears Fridays in The Monroe Times.