Editor’s Note: Nebraska is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017. As the state observes its sesquicentennial, we are revisiting some of the state’s attractions. Today, we take a look at two travel icons – Chimney Rock and Carhenge…
What do Chimney Rock and Carhenge have in common? Were they both creations from aliens? Nope. They both have been the Nos. 1 and 2 western Nebraska attractions on my bucket list.
Well, I can cross them off. I planned a 3-day weekend specifically to drive to Alliance to see Carhenge and then to Bayard to see Chimney Rock. It’s funny, because Lisa had been invited by the North Platte visitors bureau to come out and visit the area. So, what started as a 3-day weekend turned into a great 5-day vacation. Everything worked out well, as we visited a lot of great sites in North Platte, as well as road tripped to my must-see attractions.
I’ve planned trips west to see them before, but they were canceled for various reasons, including one summer when the temperatures were in the 100s, making a trip west unpleasant.
The drive to Carhenge was entertaining and informative.
We drove through Ogallala, stopping at Lake McConaughy. It is a manmade lake sitting above the Ogallala aquifer. The aquifer provides ground water for much of the nation’s plains region.
As we drove north on Nebraska Highway 26, the terrain started changing. From the Sandhills, we started seeing buttes rising from the landscape. As residents of a pretty plain looking area, it is always neat to see them.
We stopped and checked a historical marker that recognized Narcissa Whitman as the first white woman to travel across the country via horseback in 1836. She, her husband and 11 others were killed by Native Americans at their Walla Walla mission in 1847.
We continued our drive north, stopping occasionally for some butte formation viewing.
After spending about four hours on the road (for a typical 2.5-hour drive), we arrived at our first destination – Carhenge. For those who may not know about Carhenge, a Nebraskan (Jim Reinders) created the attraction as a tribute to his father. It is based on England’s Stonehenge, only using old cars painted gray instead of large rocks.
Carhenge was voted as the third quirkiest attraction in the United States once by USA Today.
Reinders used 38 cars to make the monument, just outside of Alliance.
Besides Carhenge, the park features other pieces of work made from car parts. Among the pieces are a dinosaur, fish and a “covered” wagon (which reminds me of the Griswold family truckster from “National Lampoon’s Vacation”).
The park even has a bench made from wheels.
After enjoying our time at Carhenge, we headed off to some other attractions for the day, before the return trip to North Platte.
Our final stop for the day was going to be Chimney Rock. I was excited to see it. As we drove the western Nebraska highways, we loved the view of the Sandhills.
Chimney Rock in western Nebraska stood as a beacon for pioneers heading west during the 1800s. Pioneers on the Oregon, California and Mormon trails used the rock formation to gauge their location.
Our day trip through the Panhandle actually ran longer than I planned. It was about 7:30 p.m. and we still hadn’t knocked off a few sites we wanted to see on the way back to North Platte. I told Lisa that we’d leave North Platte the next morning by 6 or 7 and back track west to see Chimney Rock and a few other places. Then, we’d head home, prepared for a 10-12-hour day on the road.
Well, as we approached Bayard, we saw it in the distance. The long chimney-like pillar standing high above the plains. Just like the pioneers of yesteryear, I was in awe of this geological wonder.
We gazed at its beauty for several minutes. It was kind of tough to head out on the road, but I knew it would be late by the time we arrived back in North Platte.
For more information on Chimney Rock and Carhenge, check out www.visitnebraska.com.
So, as I mark two things off my bucket list, I know I’ll probably find 2-5 more to replace them. But, for now, it was great seeing a couple of personal “must-sees” for me.