Dean's Bucket List
Sunny Hothan of North Platte kayaks a section of the Dismal River in western Nebraska.
Fast-moving Dismal River Leaves Little Down Time
The fast-moving water of the Dismal River made it a challenge to scope out wildlife. High in the sky the sound of a hawk pierced through the air, as a black bird tormented the hawk into leaving the area.
A young white-tail doe popped up her head and ran off into the Sandhills. The beginnings of a beaver dam held back the water of a nearby spring. A vine of wild grapes covered a dead tree that arched over the river. Nature was here. But if I took my eye off the water for too long, it was easy to get into trouble on the river.
A bull frog sits in the grass along the edge of the Dismal River in western Nebraska.
Along portions of the river’s edge, the Ogallala Aquifer seemed to leak clear water into the Dismal. The Dismal River is only 80-miles long, but it is constantly fed water along the route from the groundwater below. Several times I took my paddle, poked it straight down and couldn’t touch bottom.
At one point, I stopped along the river to view a small waterfall. I hopped out, pulled my canoe onto the bank and walked up to view the falls.
When I came back to the river, my canoe was gone! I forgot to tie it to something secure. A feeling of panic ran through my body as I started running down river.
Suddenly the water was up to my chest. The words “float and roll” jumped into my mind, advice from Susan Cook who is a park ranger at the Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice, NE. I scrambled back to shore and found a trail running parallel to the river. Two blocks later, out of breath from running, I found my canoe. It was waiting on the water, held up by a fallen tree. Nothing was missing.
I learned quickly the Dismal is not a place to let my guard down.
Sunny and Alecia Hothan, Jim and Toni Guthrie leave a large spring to continue floating the Dismal River. Both couples are from North Platte.
An hour later, two couples from North Platte in four kayaks came floating up behind me. This was their second time on the Dismal. I was happy to see someone else on the river who knew what was ahead.
They helped me portage through barbed-wire fences strung across the river. A fun break was a stop at a large spring. This spring was 10-feet wide, bottomless and bubbled with fine sand. Stepping into the 53-degree spring turned a human body into a living bobber. The constant water pressure from the Ogallala Aquifer thrust everything upward.
Another stop gave us the chance to float a small section of whitewater rapids on the river. This section of the river greatly narrows over a rock bottom and cascades down for 20 yards. With the encouragement from my companions, I attempted to canoe down the rapids.
The fast-moving white water propelled my canoe down river at a rapid pace. The speed of the water made it difficult to maneuver the canoe. As a result, the canoe slammed straight into the bank. This threw me forward off my seat and rammed my shins into a wooden support cross beam.
“Ouch!” But the canoe never flipped. So, I regained composure and completed the whitewater section to the applause of my new friends.
I finished the rest of my canoe trip with my North Platte companions.
It was a great challenge. I think the Dismal River might be one of the best true adventures Nebraska has to offer. Once on the river, you are committed. There are no ranch houses to approach if trouble arises. The only way out is by river, 15 miles down to the Seneca bridge.
It’s not for beginners. There is little downtime to just float and relax on the river. A relaxing trip will have to wait for another time on the Middle Loup River.
But if you are hungry for adventure, the Dismal River is waiting for you.
A butterfly visits a flower along the edge of the Dismal River.