NEBRASKA, the Cornhusker State

What to see

Alliance CarHenge
Chimney Rock | Scotts Bluff landmarks
Sidney Sidney to Black Hills Trail
North Platte Buffalo Bill Ranch
Lexington military museum
Gothenburg Pony Express station
Kearney Great Platte River Archway monument
Omaha Mormon Trail Center
Other pages other states | articles

~ ~ ~ ~


This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North West - Part 2

In the travel series View America, North West - Part 2 covers Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

~ ~ ~ ~


NEBRASKA is known as the Cornhusker State, as its main agricultural product is corn. The name Nebraska comes from the Indian Oto word Nebrathka, that designated their main river, the Platte River, and which means flat water. In 1867 Nebraska joined the U.S. as the 37th state. The capital is Lincoln and the largest city is Omaha. Nebraska has approximately 1.7 million inhabitants, with a density of nine per km2. More than half of this population lives in Omaha and Lincoln.

Its surface is approximately 200,000 km2, and it is forested for only 2%. The rest of the surface was originally covered with grass. The loess soil belongs to the most fertile soil in the world, which is why 95% of the area is used for agriculture. The economy is based on agriculture, with mostly corn for cattle feed and grain.

The Platte River flows through the state and empties into the Missouri River. Irrigation is usually done with a center pivot irrigation system, which is a mobile and 400-meter-long water pipe with sprinklers and on wheels, of which there are more in Nebraska than in any other state. For irrigation purposes the vast reserves of groundwater are being used.

The temperatures are those of a continental climate, with variations from -4°F (-20°C) in winter to 100°F (38°C) in the summer. Snow-blizzards, heavy hailstorms and rain storms are common.

Located halfway between the Atlantic and the Pacific, Nebraska is a land of transition. The first land claim under the Homestead Act of 1862 took place in Nebraska, and Omaha was the eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad. Points of interest are Buffalo Bill's ranch in North Platte, and many rodeos.

~ ~ ~ ~


Alliance : CarHenge

Driving from South Dakota into Nebraska, the landscape doesn't change much. The hills become somewhat smaller, and gradually the landscape becomes flatter. The prairie shows more agricultural fields, and more massive sprinkler installations.

Alliance is an ancient coal mining town, that seems to have been bypassed by modern times. Although everything is neat and clean, it seems hopelessly outdated, except for its local attraction CarHenge.

This work of art is named after Stonehenge in Great Britain, with its "magical circle" of ancient runes or stones. In Alliance however, you'll find a slightly less magical circle of old car wrecks, planted upright in the ground and spray painted in a drab gray color. Somewhat further on, a second "exhibition" has been painted in more attractive colors.

Not really "art" with a capital "A", but certainly special... Though the project is somewhat unusual, it can be compared with a similar exhibition at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Alliance : CarHenge 1 Alliance : CarHenge 2
Alliance : CarHenge 3

Alliance : CarHenge 4

Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff : landmarks

Chimney Rock

Highway 385 continues south toward Interstate 80, and it runs through a seemingly endless prairie, in which there are no more fields or farms.

Chimney Rock is located just past the city of Bayard. It is an unusually shaped rocky peak, which became known all over the nation as a landmark for the settlers and the Mormons on their way to Oregon. Except for this, the only other things of interest are the many warning signs to watch out for rattlesnakes...

Scotts Bluff

A similar landmark is found in Scotts Bluff, after which this town was named. The local museum displays information about its history and the trail used by the settlers, and the visitors are once more warned to proceed with great circumspection, with the same warning signs about rattlesnakes.

Chimney Rock Scotts Bluff
Chimney Rock
Scotts Bluff

Sidney to Black Hills Trail

Route 92 east leads toward Sidney. This road is a scenic highway and displays intensive farming with well-kept farms and fields, nice homes, and lots of pitch-black cows, grazing in vast fields.

The town of Bridgeport proudly proclaims its 194 inhabitants, and further along the way, even more intensive agriculture and larger sprinkler-systems gradually rear their heads, with smaller family farms, instead of the giant industrial farms in South Dakota.

The city of Sidney became well-known in 1880, because it had its own railroad station and because between 1861 and 1866 it was the starting point of the 267-mile-long Sidney to Black Hills Trail, that supplied food to the mine workers and brought back gold.

In 1866 however, the railroad reached Pierre in South Dakota. All later shipments to the mine departed from Pierre, and the once so profitable "Sidney to Black Hills Trail" dried up in no time at all.

North Platte : Buffalo Bill ranch

In Nebraska you'll sometimes discover rather peculiar city names, such as Oshkosh and Ogallala, but the average tourist's harvest of points of interest remains somewhat limited.

Which doesn't mean that there aren't any interesting attractions, such as entertainment, restaurants, shopping, and replicas of old 1880-style Wild West towns. The Buffalo Bill Ranch in North Platte is actually more of a large show, than a point of interest. There are also more active pursuits, such as hiking, fishing and hunting.

North Platte : Buffalo Bill ranch 1

North Platte : Buffalo Bill ranch 2

Lexington : military museum

In Lexington you can visit a museum of surplus military vehicles such as tanks, jeeps, trucks, ambulances, helicopters, amphibious vehicles, rocket launchers, and much more!

Lexington : military museum 1 Lexington : military museum 2

Gothenburg : Pony Express station

Just outside of the city of Gothenburg a restored Pony Express station can be admired. The Pony Express was an express mail service which was established in 1860. It was not unlike the Roman model of express mail service, more than two thousand years ago, between the city of Rome and the warring Julius Caesar, way up North in what is now the Netherlands.

Gothenburg : Pony Express stationAnyway, the Pony Express managed to transport a parcel or a letter from Saint Joseph in Missouri to Sacramento in California in only ten days, instead of the normal three weeks.

The distance of 2,000 miles was quickly covered by a team of 22 riders and 140 horses, and cost five dollars per parcel or letter. Every 40 miles there was a station, and every rider was supposed to drive at least 120 miles per day. Buffalo Bill was a famous Pony Express rider.

However, just one year later the transcontinental telegraph line was built, and it linked both oceans conveniently and quickly, causing the Pony Express to come to an abrupt end.

Financially speaking the business certainly hadn't been a success since it went bankrupt, but the dramatic aspect of its heroic dispatches and the folk heroes who delivered them turned the service into a legend!

Kearney : The Great Platte River Road Archway monument

In Kearney, right on Interstate 80, you'll find the Great Platte River Road Archway monument. Its construction is remarkably similar to the well-known French interstate restaurant L'Arche, built over the Autoroute du Soleil that runs from north to south.

The two-story building contains a most interesting exhibition about Nebraska's historical evolution. The monument's concept dates from 2000, and at the entrance each visitor receives a headphone that provides a detailed explanation of every scene. The visit is informative, exquisitely presented, and very detailed, as much visually as auditory.

The story begins with the different Gold rushes to California and Montana in the 1860's. Thousands of gold prospectors and fortune hunters put all of their belongings in wagons and began their long trek over desolate territories, toward the states where they thought that money could simply be scooped off the ground. They were followed by thousands of Mormons, fleeing religious persecution. The visitor will see a buffalo stampede, he'll get in the middle of a thunderstorm, and he'll even see a few families succumb on their long trek west.

Kearney : Great Platte River Archway 1 Kearney : Great Platte River Archway 2
Kearney : Great Platte River Archway 3 Kearney : Great Platte River Archway 4
Kearney : Great Platte River Archway 5 Kearney : Great Platte River Archway 6

More scenes describe the startup of the Pony Express and the arrival of the telegraph. The state of California rapidly gained in stature and importance, and the Washington politicians soon realized only too well that their influence was not worth a dime in the west. In fact, California even doubted whether it would remain in the Union, which was so far away and didn't offer much help.

Therefore in 1862 Congress approved an extremely huge investment, and they assigned a contract to the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. They were to build a transcontinental railroad that would connected East and West. Next to their remuneration, these companies would also received millions of acres of land in the west, which they could resell later. This political deal would ultimately cost the American taxpayers an extraordinary amount. And merely by accident of course, at the same time well-connected investors and local politicians just happened to make a bundle...

The Union Pacific Railroad built westward from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific started in northern California and crawled across the Sierra Nevada. In 1869 the two railroads met at Promontory Summit in Utah. The Union Pacific had progressed more rapidly than the Central Pacific, and so its president was allowed to hammer down the Golden Spike, that was the last nail of the transcontinental railroad! This touching story prefers not to mention the comical but true anecdote that the poor guy, who probably never picked up a hammer in his entire life, completely missed the spike at his first try...

The early 1900's saw the introduction of the automobile. Outside of the cities the roads usually were made of crushed earth, and when it rained, these turned into a complete mess of mud and deep ruts, in which all cars hopelessly bogged down.

The 1915 World Exhibition gave rise to the idea of building a transcontinental highway from Chicago to Los Angeles. In the euphoria of the moment the new highway was called the Lincoln Highway. However, whereas in the east it may have somewhat resembled a highway, in the western states it usually remained just a muddy dirt road.

Only after World War II a serious approach of Interstate Highways was planned, that would connect all the states. President Eisenhower was a strong supporter of this enormous project, after he had been able to evaluate the German autobahns and their practical value during military actions. And so the Eisenhower Interstate System was born.

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is a remarkable and outstanding achievement, and certainly more than worth a visit. Simply splendid!


Mormon Trail center

Omaha is the largest city between Chicago and Denver, and the birthplace of President Gerald Ford. But it also houses the Mormon Trail Center. This Mormon exhibition (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) describes the history of their "Great Trek" from Nauvoo in Illinois, where they were driven out, to Salt Lake City in Utah.

Like most Mormon achievements, the exhibition is very well conceived. It begins with a somewhat syrupy movie that hangs up a rather rosy picture of the hardships of this enormous relocation over 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers). Most of the Mormons covered the distance in covered wagons, pulled by huge oxen, but many poor European Mormon settlers only had small handcarts that they had to pull themselves.

** Read more about the life of Joseph Smith **

Nevertheless the Mormon migration of some 80,000 people was a perfect example of organization, discipline and mutual assistance. As such it was an enormous success and almost unique among other major migrations. But let us not forget that their obvious qualities in that respect were also one of the reasons for their religious persecution, because they simply did too well. In 1844 the temple city of Nauvoo even successfully competed with Chicago, with 12,000 residents, a private militia, a strong organization, and great economic prosperity.

The Temple's architecture is similar to other Mormon temples. It is well designed and beautifully implanted in the scenery. Real expertise at work!

Omaha : Mormon Trail center 1 Omaha : Mormon Trail center 2
Omaha : Mormon Temple 1 Omaha : Mormon Temple 2

the Doorly Zoo

Omaha also houses the Doorly Zoo. According to the documentation, it contains the largest cat complex in the States, and the world's largest indoor rainforest. Its geodesic Desert Dome is the world's largest indoor desert!

Omaha : Doorly Zoo 1 Omaha : Doorly Zoo 2

~ ~ ~ ~