North Platte, Nebraska, embraces its western heritage. But, it offers much more.
The city of nearly 25,000 sits almost exactly midway between Omaha and Denver, the two major cities in the region.
North Platte has served history as part of the Mormon and Oregon Trails, the Pony Express, as well as the westward movement of the train. It is home to the world’s busiest railyard.
To call the county seat of Lincoln County a “Cowboy town” would be wrong.
It’s not common to see someone wearing a Stetson hat and boots. People do don this gear for the annual Nebraskaland Days activities, such as the rodeo. It’s also just as likely to catch people heading to the local art gallery or community theater downtown.
That is the impressive thing about North Platte – I don’t think you can truly define it as a specific type of community.
Buffalo Bill Cody played a major role in the city’s history. He settled here and called North Platte home. The former soldier, scout, Pony Express rider and showman loved the area. His home at the Scout’s Rest Ranch was once the most expensive house built in the area.
Businesses bear his name and likeness, including Fort Cody Trading Post. This shop and museum is home to the area’s largest inventory of souvenirs. It also houses a miniature model of a Buffalo Bill-style Wild West Show.
Buffalo Bill was the founder of the Wild West Show – combining aspects of rodeo and show performances to entertain thousands around the world. He started what became the wild west show after expressing his disappointment to the North Platte mayor in 1882 over the lack of events for the July 4th holiday. The mayor appointed him to organize an event.
The Old Glory Blowout eventually turned into the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. He took the show to Omaha in 1883. That launched worldwide performances, including a performance for Queen Victoria of England. Buffalo Bill took his show to almost all the states and 14 countries.
A Wild West Show recently helped the city celebrate its 50th anniversary of Nebraskaland Days. The almost two weeks-long event includes carnival rides, a parade and rodeo.
A statue of Buffalo Bill stands in Cody Park. It is behind a glass case and bars. It’s difficult to see, but it’s quite an honor for the man. It stands at the Wild West Memorial.
Cody Park is an interesting visit itself. The large city park has something for everyone. From a three-piece child amusement park to a museum honoring Union Pacific Railroad, a person can spend hours here.
Cody Park also has tennis courts, swimming pool, ball fields, picnic and camping areas. The park is home to a wildlife viewing area, featuring deer, elk, llamas, bison, geese, ducks and even a white peacock.
As mentioned previously, North Platte has played a key role in the nation’s rail system. Union Pacific, the nation’s largest train company, has its headquarters in Omaha.
The Golden Spike Tower stands above the Bailey Railyards along an 8-mile stretch that sees 140-160 trains come through daily.
Rail cars are separated from the trains they arrived with and reassigned to trains headed to their final destinations. Watching the work being done is mind boggling when you consider up to 3,000 rail cars roll through the yards daily.
Fortunately, the cars get assigned to the correct track via computer programs. In the old days, a volunteer said, an employee would drive a truck along each train to identify each car for transfer.
The Golden Spike observation tower recently celebrated its sixth anniversary. It provides visitors a 360-degree view of the area. Check out the open air terrace on the seventh floor before moving to the eighth floor observation deck.
North Platte with its rail location was a vital stop for American soldiers during World War II. About six million men and women visited the North Platte Canteen 1941-45. Soldiers could get a place to rest, a cup of coffee and something to eat. The canteen was staffed by local female volunteers. Of course, love stories grew out of those stops. Some couples became couples for life.
The actual canteen is gone, but the Lincoln County History Museum keeps the story alive with an interesting exhibit. It includes photos from the era, exhibit items, such as an American and captured Nazi flag.
A soldier’s uniform and his true love’s dress are on display, along with snippets of their love story.
The Lincoln County museum also has a living history exhibit. Old buildings that the museum has acquired through the years are open daily for visits. You can check out a log cabin that once stood at nearby Fort McPherson. A blacksmith’s shop is located among the 16 buildings.
A church and one-room school house can transport visitors to the 1800s.
One of the best military memorials in the country resides in North Platte. I love military and veterans memorials. The 20th Century Veterans Memorial honors men and women who have served the United States in battles ranging from World War I to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The Canteen volunteers are even recognized with a tribute.
The memorial, in my opinion, rivals any in this country, including Washington, DC.
If you are interested in some short road trips, there are a few attractions to visit.
The Fort McPherson national veterans cemetery is home to the graves of veterans from the Indian wars in the 1800s, the Civil War, as well the 20th century combats.
The grave markers are aligned in military perfection.
A few miles southeast of North Platte is a unique antique market.
Grain Bin Antique Town is both a marketplace and a tourist attraction. The location has 15 Depression-era grain bins which house various antiques. The grain bins were distributed to farmers during the American Depression in the 1930s.
Through the years, an area farmer obtained 14 of them.
Pat and Lori Clinch had their own grain bin. They used it as a spot to enjoy the landscape views around their farm. They used the building to entertain guests.
One day, Pat suggested they buy the remaining 14. He later suggested they keep the buildings and use them as an antique market.
It’s worth the short drive.
About 25 miles south of North Platte lies Dancing Leaf earth lodge and cabins. The cultural center in Wellfleet tells the story of Nebraska’s history from prehistoric times to the days of the Native Americans living freely on the land.
Nebraska is home to key mammal fossil finds, including quite a few in the Lincoln County area. “Archie,” the world’s largest mammoth was found in the county. He sits at Morril Hall on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
If you’re in the mood for a nice quiet drive along some of the most beautiful land you’ll ever see, take a local highway and head north along the Sandhills.
We took a road outside of Sutherland, where we stayed at an Air B&B. The drive was beautiful and relaxing. You only drive a few miles and you are in an area that seems like God made for his own pleasure viewing.
The Sandhills are rolling hills of mixed grass atop of sand dunes. Cattle graze on the farmland.
We even saw a spot where wagons along the Mormon Trail created wheel ruts. You see them by the erosion of the land.
All in all, the three solid days we spent in the North Platte area were packed with activities, but we were able to take our time and enjoy them.
Over the next several days, we’d like share our experiences during our visit – not just to North Platte, but in the panhandle of Nebraska, as well. We drove the byways to check out Carhenge and Chimney Rock among a few other stops. We hope you enjoy the stories.
For more information on North Platte, Lincoln County and their attractions and activities, please visit the website www.visitnorthplatte.com.