Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why Western Nebraska?

Warning:  May contain offensive language if you are a Husker Fan.  ~sorry

People are curious about where you are headed on vacation.  If I had a dollar for everyone that asked me “Why Western Nebraska?” I’d have a lot of money.  Before I went on my vacation my answer was simple.  Why not?  Now I can confidently tell you why.

You see I was raised in Iowa.  Iowans don’t like Nebraskans and vice versa.  I was afraid to tell my Iowa friends that I liked Nebraska and afraid to tell my Nebraska friends that I longed to move back to Iowa, but the truth is I moved to small town NE, just across the river, and the farmers grow corn
and beans just like Iowa.  They have a Caseys (and a Runza) and I can even get to a Fareway in Omaha.  Oh yeah Omaha,  I really liked living close to a city.  You can shop for anything you want, see big shows, go to sporting events, visit the zoo and then  come back to the small town for your everyday errands (such as grocery shopping).  I realized shortly though, you can be a fan of Omaha and not be associated with liking Nebraska.  I definitely have the best of both worlds in small town, NE, but for 12 years I wouldn’t admit that I liked living in Nebraska, yet I never found a reason to leave. We have had two kids born in Nebraska. My hubby ended up getting his Master’s in communication from the University of Nebraska Omaha and I got my Master’s in Curriculum and Education from Wayne State University.  Fifty percent of our degrees came from Nebraska and two kids, yet we were still reluctant to call it home.

And so I was lost.  I would get upset when people judged Iowa because once they visited Missouri Valley or Council Bluffs (no offense really, the Missouri Valley pool rocks and I too once lived in Council Bluffs) but those two towns do not define Iowa.  I also realized my judgment came from thinking that in order to love Nebraska you had to be a Husker fan.  I don’t even like football, how can I just become a Husker fan?   I realized that my two Nebraska born children were becoming Husker fan haters.  I never set out to do this (hubby maybe, but not me) and yet it happened.  So I looked within myself to figure out why I was so Iowa proud, but after 12 years did not feel the same connection to Nebraska. How could I help my Nebraska born girls feel the connection to their homestate?  I figured out the difference was the memories.  I grew up on the baseball fields of Iowa, and went to every Catholic church in the state (or so it felt).  There are many more reasons but the common denominator is good memories of Iowa. 

Well Nebraska is a huge state that I knew nothing about so I decided to start with a field trip, a Nebraska field trip.  I was determined to cover as much as ground as I could in the 6 days that we had.  I chose a route that included overnight stays in Lincoln, Franklin, Ogallala, Scottsbluff and Burwell.  I was disappointed to leave out the northern part of the state but it couldn’t all be done, AND someday we will venture to South Dakota that way.  Every stop was worth it and every stay overnight was comfy.  I couldn't have asked for a better Nebraska vacay.

On our first day we visited the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, NE and the Wildlife Safari Zoo right next door.  We ate dinner at Lazlow’s in Lincoln and visited a downtown gift shop (where I bough my first Nebraska t-shirt) before heading to the Americinn in North Lincoln.  It was a good day.  Other places in Lincoln we have visited in the past include the Children’s Museum and Children’s Zoo.  They are also worth visiting but we got a late start. (In fact we quickly got into a pattern of sleeping in and not getting going until 11:00.)

Strategic Air and Space Museum

Wildlife Safari Zoo

The next day included a visit to the Pioneer Village in Minden, NE.  We were truly amazed at the sheer amount of stuff they had collected from the 1800s and pioneer days.  It was very enlightening to see how far technology has come and to see someone preserve all the stuff, tons and tons of stuff, fascinating stuff.  We ended up at a friend's family's hometown of Franklin, NE and we learned how they were small town Nebraska proud, very similar to the same way I was small town Iowa proud.  
Pioneer Village Minden, NE

The third day we headed to the Kearney Arch Museum.  It has another name but it is long and that is what people refer it as.  It was pretty neat.  It gives you the history of the Oregon Trail, and simulates weather conditions while telling you stories of the trails.  M did not like all the stimulation and freaked out for lack of better terms.  I thought it was worth the stop. We also had to take a quick pic of the grain elevators my Grandpa helped pour in 1959? in Kearney. We headed on to Ogallala, ate Prime Rib at Front Street, got our Nebraska Passport stamped and stayed at the Best Western.  We had fun swimming at the hotel.  Another good day, full of a good museum, good food and good hotel.  
Kearney Archway Museum

Grain elevators in Kearney, NE
Passport Stop, Front Street, Ogalalla, NE

Day four was for exploring the Oregon Trail.  Another answer I was giving to my questioners about my trip was "I am looking for peace and quiet".  I found peace and quiet at Lake McConaughy where we got another NE passport stamp.  My hubby couldn't believe all the sand, it really is an oceanlike lake in Nebraska.  The sand was perfect. I could've spent all day there.  We headed for lunch at Lewellen's lunch passport stop, The Most Unlikely Place, but it was closed on Sunday.  Upon further looking I noticed it was not open very many hours so it is definitely something to think about if you are planning on stopping there.  I also noticed we missed our first planned stop of Ash Hollow State Park, the wagon ruts but with hungry girls we kept driving to Bridgeport.  Thankfully there was a lot to eat at Bridgeport, we ended up stopping for a buffet at MeadowLark Motor Inn Restaurant and Lounge.  Next door to it we stopped at a hidden gem of a small free museum and got a lot of local information.  After that we headed out to Courthouse and Jail Rock and then on to Chimney Rock.  Our final leg of the Oregon Trail tour was Scottsbluff Monument (my hubby's favorite stop), and just on to Wyoming before heading back to Chili's in Scottsbluff for supper and an overnight stay in the nicest hotel, Holiday Inn Express, Scottsbluff.

Lake McConaughy

Pioneer Trail Museum, Bridgeport, NE

We were surprised to see cactus in Nebraska.

My first Nebraska t-shirt and Chimney Rock

On top of Scottsbluff Monument

Scottsbluff Monument

Oregon Trail marker on the Nebraska/Wyoming border

We had a long haul west on the next day through the sandhills on Highway 2.  It was worth the drive though, we were in aw of the sandhills most of the way.  We ate lunch in Alliance, NE but we missed the turn for Carhenge and decided to keep on trucking to Halsey.  We got another NE passport stamp at Halsey National Forest Visitor's Center.  After Halsey we kept on going to Burwell, NE and to a cabin at Calamus Outfitters.    This was M and my favorite stop.  It is as rough as we are willing to go as a family.  We had our own bathroom and shower with AC.  We did not have wi-fi, cable or even cell service.  We were in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as peace and quiet.  We caught supper that night at another NE Passport stop The Sandstone Grill :)

Highway 2

Halsey National Forest

Sunset at Calamus Outfitters

When we woke up, M and I went on our first horseback ride ever through the sandhill of  Calamus Outfitters. UH-MAZ-ING!  Quiet and beautiful.  Then we headed down the Calamus River in a cow tank.  That was J's favorite part. 


So now I can talk proudly about the fine state I live in, I have many talking points, and none of them include Husker football games.  :)

To see how I prepared for this trip go here.

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