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Lake McConaughy State Park, NE
Saturday, July 16, 2011 - 4:00pm by Herb
419 miles and 7 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay
I had been looking forward to a few days of rest at Lake McConaughy, even before the tribulations of the previous two days. For me, the “real west” begins when the rules and regulations of the east, meant to protect its citizens from themselves, are replaced with a minimum of regulations, mostly disregarded, that give its citizens the right to have fun, or kill themselves trying, without the threat of litigation.
While Lake Anita in Iowa has only one small swimming beach that is closed when lifeguards are off duty, Lake McConaughy is one massively large swimming/boating/fishing/water skiing lake without any adult supervision that I could find. Its location, smack in the middle of the very dry flatlands of Nebraska and Colorado, is a natural draw to anyone looking for some water to help beat the heat and play in. It attracts a wide assortment of water craft for fishing, towing insanely oversized inflatable objects, and going fast to impress members of the opposite sex.
There are several campgrounds that offer electric hookups, and the prime sites with lake front views and access are usually reserved close to a year in advance, as part of a multi-family ritual vacation (similar to what we have done boat camping on the islands at Lake George, NY). Not to worry however, since the rest of the lake's perimeter is fair game for camping as well, for the bargain rate of $15 a night. However, this year the water levels were probably the highest I had ever seen, and many of the beaches and beach-front camping areas were now submerged in 10’ of water.
I approached the Lone Eagle Campground with trepidation since the visitor center said that while there might still be an electric site available, I would have to drive the 10 miles to the campground and check the posts to be certain. I took 2 laps around the perimeter where the electric sites were, and was surprised to see someone leaving a site directly overlooking the lake at 4:00 in the afternoon. Just to be sure, I pulled in and checked the post. No Reservation? “You got Lucky,” said the women in the next site overlooking the lake. She said the previous campers had used the site for most of the day, and then just decided to leave the premier site available to the next taker, ME!
Her next question took me off guard. “What Exit?” I wasn’t really sure what this meant, but when she said she had lived in NJ, I remembered the Exit # bumper stickers that some people in NJ had to advertise their exit on the Garden State Parkway. I was embarrassed to say that I didn’t even really know what exit I was, so I said exit 163 hoping that there was such an exit, or if not, that she wouldn’t call me on it. She also told me that she and family friends had reserved the 3 sites on either side of me on the bluff over 6 months ago for this vacation that they take every year.
The next day was my first non-driving day and was supposed to be a “rest day”. While I started the morning with a light swim and a little beach-front reading, the back of my mind was still asking the unfortunate question, “What would Lolo do?” Traveling with Lorry is rarely just sitting around, so I left in the near mid-day sun for a 5-mile jog. Judging from the looks I got, I’m sure there are not a lot of joggers who go out in the mid-day Nebraska sun (I’m not sure I should have either).
After rehydrating and a shower, I decided to add another “activity” to the narrative of this website. Actually I could add 2 activities if I took the mountain bike down some of the trails in pursuit of a few geocaches that were supposed to be hidden around the lake.
I was about to give up on the first geocache when both the Garmin and Droid gps’s were pointing me into a forest flooded with 18” of water. I didn’t think it would be worth traipsing barefoot in the muck until I saw a plastic container floating around the theoretical position of my targeted geocache. Hmmm, plastic trash or geocache container? It turned out to be the geocache, which I signed and then relocated to higher ground to spare the next treasure seeker wet feet.
The day ended with a great sunset, and the visual of new neighbors setting up a campsite next to mine. Every member of the family, including the dreadlocked boyfriend, set up the camp with the competency that repeated practice brings. The precision mother/daughter tent pitching team was my favorite.
Lake McConaughy, nicknamed "Big Mac," is the largest reservoir in Nebraska. It is located just a few miles off Interstate 80 near the Colorado border. The reservoir, which is over 20 miles long and 4 miles wide when at full capacity, was formed on the Platte River by the Kingsley Dam. The lake has over 100 mile of white-sand beaches along its shore line.
To Nebraskans, the main attraction of Lake McConaughy is water activities--swimming, boating, windsurfing, skiing, and world-class fishing. Trophy size catfish, walleye, stripers, bass, and trout have been caught in "Big Mac."
The park has 200 tent and RV sites. However, most people choose to primitive camp right on the beach at the water's edge. Camping is on a first-come first-serve basis.
Lake McConaughy State Park location map in "high definition"