You know a girl is from Nebraska when she knows the meaning of “knee-high by the 4th of July.”
Carol writes: For the next three weeks our route would follow the Interstate 80 corridor, a route bordered by miles and miles of cornfields in addition to the great Platte River which bisects across the heart of the Cornhusker State. Corn is indeed king in Nebraska, and many fields had evidence of recently being plowed and planted.
This area of the country isn’t exactly a popular family vacation destination; however, the small-town character of its cities along I-80 were exactly why we chose this route. We would spend two nights each in Ogallala, North Platte, and Kearney as we made our way to our ultimate destination in Omaha for two weeks. As it turns out, there was more than enough in each small town to peak our interest…
Ogallala owns the reputation of being the “Cowboy Capital” of Nebraska. They have a cowboy-themed Front Street,
in addition to a Boot Hill to prove it.
Three historic trails passed through Ogallala during the 1800s: The Oregon Trail, the Pony Express Trail, and the Great Western Cattle Trail. All were nicely commemorated in tiny Tri-Trails Park where each trail was honored with its own distinctive marker.
There are so few places left where the deep ruts of the wagon wheels of the early pioneers can still be seen. One such place is at Ash Hollow State Historical Park.
|Wagon ruts traverse down middle of hillside|
Just as it had been for early man for thousands of years, weary travelers on the Oregon Trail also valued Ash Hollow as a much appreciated oasis. Plentiful excellent water, wood, shelter and food made it an ideal place to replenish energy and supplies for the long journey west. Although the museum and the archaeological site at Ash Hollow weren’t open for the season the day we visited, we happened upon a staff meeting and they were gracious enough to allow us inside to spend all the time we wanted browsing through the museum.
We took the volunteer’s suggestion that we take a look at the tiny one-room schoolhouse on the grounds. The customary little sign warning that rattlesnakes were common in the area didn’t mean much to us until we almost stepped on one curled up beneath one of the schoolhouse windows that we were told to be sure and look through!
Just outside of Ogallala is one of Nebraska’s premier recreation areas at Lake McConaughy. Our first view of 22-mile long “Lake Mac” elicited a spontaneous “Wow!”
In addition to its dual use as a source of hydroelectric power and irrigation waters, Lake Mac was a dandy of a recreation area with an incredibly beautiful shoreline dotted with campgrounds and white sand beaches.
North Platte is the town where America’s trains get routed onto the right track—at Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard.
The best vantage point for a bird’s-eye view of this operation was at The Golden Spike Tower, where we had a panoramic view from the 7th and 8th floor observation decks. In the distance, we watched cattle cars being sorted onto the right track.
In the foreground, was an immense diesel engine repair facility that can handle any maintenance issue from the smallest need to the most complex diesel engine overhaul.
As troop trains cycled through Bailey Yard during WW II , the volunteers who staffed the North Platte Canteen greeted thousands of military travelers each day.
As for the historic wild west side of North Platte…
Buffalo Bill Cody, one of the most famous of all characters from the American West, called North Platte home at his ranch called “Scout’s Rest.”
The setting of the iconic red horse barn was picture perfect, as was just about every other viewpoint on this immaculately kept property on the National Register of Historic Places.
Buffalo Bill’s turn-of-the-century home, built as a place of respite between his famous Wild West shows, was described as the Italianate style. That’s me on the front steps, feeling fortunate just to see the home but frustrated not to be able to go inside since it was open only on weekends.
We definitely found those warm early days of springtime in Kearney. It was time to uncover the bikes and take a short ride to check out that “other arch.” That is… the Great Platte River Road Archway that spans Interstate 80 on the outskirts of Kearney. This arch was an interesting concept on the outside, but the inside was a bit “touristy in the extreme”…
Afterwards, Al took advantage of an opportunity to inventory our tackle box and throw a line into the lake just outside our RV. The fish were small but were biting. If it hadn’t been “catch and release only,” we would have had some delicious pan-fried trout fillets for supper…
Kearney is a university town—home to 7000 students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. We like to check out university campuses because they are always great places to take a beautiful walk, and you can be surprised at times by interesting campus buildings, preserved as a part of the town’s heritage. Frank House was just such a place…
As fortune would have it, the house was open for tours. A very young professor of history, who was the director at Frank House and in the middle of ongoing house renovations, offered to give us a tour. For the next hour we were treated to a mini seminar on the history of 125-year-old Frank House and how that history interwove with Kearney’s early days. The house was never part of the university. Instead, it was the home of a wealthy industrialist named George Frank, who wanted to make his trophy home representative of “modern times” complete with indoor plumbing and electrical wiring. In later years the house was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium.
I was so focused on the story of the home’s history and the early days of Kearney, I didn’t take a single photo of the gorgeous “arts and crafts” style inside, but the Internet had plenty of choices...
What an interesting slow drive it had been across Nebraska… It seems like every town had its story; for us, part of the fun was not knowing what we would find.
For the next few weeks, we are looking forward to settling down at a military campground just outside Offutt Air Force Base. As thunderstorms fire up frequently with warmer spring temperatures, it hasn’t escaped our attention that tornado season in this part of the country is off to an ominous start.
“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” Moslih Eddin Saadi