Nebraska IS “The Good Life.” This is a very popular slogan with us. Nebraska has a lot of interesting attractions – both historical and cultural. Of course, most people probably recognize Nebraska as home to the Huskers or one of the world’s best zoos. But, we have a lot to offer. I recently made a list of 2- and 3-day weekend trips Lisa and I could take around the state. It would keep us busy for a couple of years.
Instead of breaking down every possible trip (see www.visitnebraska.com for more ideas), I wanted to share my “Top 10” things to see in Nebraska. And away we go!
I’ve lived in Nebraska my entire life (except for 8 ½ years in the military) and I didn’t see the state’s iconic symbol until my early 50s. Chimney Rock, near Bayard in western Nebraska) served as a checkpoint for pioneers on the Mormon, California and Oregon trails. Even before that, Native Americans and explorers likely used it to gauge their travels.
Weather has eroded parts of the chimney portion of the rock, but it still stands proudly in the American prairie. There are areas in western Nebraska where you can still see wagon wheel ruts from the pioneers. Sutherland has an area set aside at a rest stop on Interstate 80 that shows off Oregon Trail ruts.
Regardless, Chimney Rock stands above the land as a beacon to the west and our nation’s history. It is a must-see, and you have to be determined to see it. I suggest combining a visit to Chimney Rock with other western Nebraska sites.
A quirky must-see attraction is in northwest Nebraska – Carhenge. The Alliance attraction is based on England’s Stonehenge, only with gray-painted cars. The attraction was a memorial of sorts to the artist’s father.
Alliance is about a 2 ½-hour drive north of North Platte. It’s a pretty drive on a nice day. You’ll see the sandhills, prairie grass and the beginning of buttes. You can even learn some history, such as a historical marker recognizing the first white woman to ride westward via a horse. She and others eventually died during a fight with Native Americans in Washington. But, still, you learn stuff like this.
Carhenge is an interesting creation. I think it speaks a lot to the artist’s creativity. In addition, there are other vehicle-based pieces, including a bench made from car and pickup parts and a “covered wagon.”
Buffalo Bill Cody’s Ranch
Staying in western Nebraska, North Platte is home to several interesting attractions. But, a favorite has to be Buffalo Bill Cody’s Scout Ranch. The state park attraction was home to the famous wild west show star and promoter. Buffalo Bill was a soldier, scout and entertainer during his life. He settled in North Platte with his family. He is buried near Golden, Colorado, but he called North Platte and his ranch home.
Visitors can tour part of his home – seeing the den where he entertained, while his wife hosted women in the sitting room. The dining room features wallpaper depicting Buffalo Bill and his sidekick Calamity Jane.
The giant barn housed his horses and other equipment. The barn now acts as a partial museum with lots to see.
Buffalo (Bison) are also located on the ranch. We saw a mom and a new calf during our visit in 2014.
Central Nebraska has a lot to offer, as well.
Annual Sandhill Crane Migration
Kearney is the epicenter of the annual northern migration of the Sandhill Cranes. More than 500,000 of the magnificent birds spend time eating and resting along a 100-mile stretch of the Platte River valley (from Grand Island on the east to North Platte on the west). The migration occurs late February through early April. It is an amazing feeling to see these birds (average height about 3 feet) up close. They are timid, as Nebraska and Canada are the only areas that prohibit hunting them along the Central Flyway (Mexico to Alaska, Canada and Siberia).
Celebrities and famous scientists come here annually to see the migration for themselves. Anthropologist Jane Goodall has been to the area to witness what she has called a phenomenon.
The Sandhill Cranes spend their time in Nebraska eating grain, worms and grubs in farm fields and resting for their trips north. They usually gain 1-2 pounds during their stay. The average stay per bird is about two-three weeks.
Classic Car Collection
Staying in Kearney, I suggest checking out the Classic Car Collection museum along Highway 30, AKA the Lincoln Highway. The museum has a great collection of classic cars, each donated to the museum by a man who wanted to keep them together rather than allow each to be junked or sold. A car that once belonged to Evil Kneivel (motorcycle daredevil for the youngin’s) is on display.
The museum displays the vehicles on a rotating basis, so it’s possible you will not see the same cars during each visit. The vehicles are displayed using classic backgrounds, such as a mural of an old downtown, gas station or drive-in.
Nebraska State Parks
Nebraska has a plethora of outstanding state parks, varying in attractions and size. Near Omaha, we have two excellent state parks – Mahoney and Platte River. We enjoy hiking Mahoney. Platte River is on our list to do more with.
Possibly, the ace of the state park system is Fort Robinson State park in northwest Nebraska. This park has everything – hiking, camping, stage-coach rides, lodging, fishing, etc. Fort Robinson has served multiple purposes during the years – a fort during the Indian wars in the 1800s, a World War I horse training post, as well as a prisoner of war camp for captured Germans during World War II. Historically, it is known as the location where a soldier killed Chief Crazy Horse, the eternal spiritual leader of the Sioux Nation.
We’re now approaching the attractions that may be the best known for Nebraska.
College World Series
The College World Series has called Omaha home since 1950. Only two series have been played outside Omaha. The CWS was played at the old venerable Rosenblatt Stadium – “The Stadium on the Hill” – in South Omaha from 1950 to 2010. The national championship tournament featuring the remaining eight teams in the NCAA has called TD Ameritrade Park Omaha home since 2011. We try to see a game each year. It’s easy to get tickets at face value. The stadium seats about 24,000 people.
The games are fun to watch. The fan zone around TD Ameritrade Park is entertaining. You can take in a lot of people watching. Folks from all over the country travel here to take in the CWS. Fans from Louisiana often come to the CWS, regardless if the LSU Tigers make it or not. They are college baseball fans.
Husker Football at Memorial Stadium
Speaking of sports, as I mentioned previously, Nebraska is well-known because of the Huskers. Nothing says college football like a red clad Memorial Stadium during a home football game. The stadium becomes the third largest city in the state when the Huskers play at home. Nebraska has a continuing NCAA sellout record – up to 340 games. I witnessed former Coach Tom Osborne’s 100th, 150th and 250th career wins, among many others. I remember my first Oklahoma game – sitting in the freezing rain the Friday after Thanksgiving, watching NU eke out a win over the then-hated Sooners.
Nothing beats the launching of the red balloons after Nebraska’s first score. The Lincoln sky above the stadium fills with thousands of red balloons. It’s a long-running tradition that would be tough to see go away for a lot of people.
Nebraskans know their college football and love it when visitors do, too. We have our rivals, but Nebraska fans are nice overall and eager to learn about other teams. They’ll talk football with anyone anywhere.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo
Nebraska is home to the world’s top zoo (according to tripadvisor.com). The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium offers quite a bit for everyone. We have some of the world’s largest attractions – such as an indoor rainforest, desert dome and a nationally recognized aquarium. The Madagascar exhibit is one of a few in the world. The zoo is the world’s leader in studying the African country’s wildlife.d
The zoo has started a major renovation – creating natural habitat viewing areas. The African grassland exhibit is due to partially open later in 2015. The idea is to create open roaming and viewing areas based on the continents.
I don’t think a Top 10 list for Nebraska would be completed without mention of steak. The state has several good steakhouses. Chances R in York is a must for anyone passing through. Ole’s in Paxton has a good reputation for steak. Plus, you can see a lot of stuffed animals on display, including a polar bear and a giraffe.
My favorites, of course, are in Omaha. My all-time favorite steakhouse is Anthony’s. It’s the youngest of the five remaining classic steakhouses in Omaha – Johnny’s Café, Cascio’s, Gorats and Piccolo Pete’s are the others. Each has its reason to be considered the best. I think Piccolo’s would be a close second in my view. Though, I am more inclined to eat prime rib there. The steaks are delicious, but I prefer prime rib when I eat at Piccolo’s.
Well, that’s my “10 Things to do in Nebraska.” I know these lists can be altered to fit other interests, etc. I am sure I could always do a part II (and probably will one day). Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my list. And have fun making your own “Top 10” lists. You can never go wrong.
Enjoy The Good Life. Go Huskers!