Thursday, August 26, 2010

Western Nebraska

Aug. 25, 2010

Western Nebraska—who knew? We have had a beautiful drive today, and added Nebraska (a quite large state, btw) to our states sticker map. We left Hot Springs around 9 a.m. and headed south, crossing into Nebraska at about 10 am or thereabouts. A roadside marker informed us that this portion of our trip was following the Fort Pierre-Fort Laramie Trail, originally used for fur trading. Our first stop was an hour later, in Alliance, to see “Carhenge”. Carhenge is a roadside sculpture, basically a combination of Cadillac Ranch and Foamhenge, two of our previous roadside sculptural stops (you can get the impression from this blog that we like this kind of funky, idiosyncratic roadside creation!) I think Carhenge might be a little bit smaller in diameter than the original Stonehenge which it was made to resemble, but it is definitely cute.
The field in which Carhenge stands is marked with a sign as an “Car Sculpture Preserve”, and there are a number of other automobiles in various stages of rearrangement. There is “The Fourd Seasons”, cars painted green, tan, white and pink (why did they start with summer, I wonder?) and there are several cars buried up to their noses with markers indicating that they are time capsules from various classes of Alliance High School (Alliance has about 9,000 people and there sure isn’t much around there other than fields, so I suppose the high school kids get creative in self defense!) There were also a few other oddball sculptures—a salmon and a dinosaur. Equally fun for us was the fact that the field was filled with thousands of grasshoppers, and with each step, they would fly up ahead of us. They had different colors and sizes and were pretty amazing. I didn’t appreciate it when they flew into my head, however—they don’t have great aim.
After Carhenge, we had a quick lunch and then hit the road in earnest. We headed south-east on US 26, which was marked on the map as a scenic route, and we were definitely surprised. We passed rock escarpments which were obviously carved out by a river, which looked much more like “out west” than the Midwest. I looked at the map, though, and realized we really were not that far from the state line between Nebraska and Wyoming; and later on, the line between Nebraska and Colorado. I think some of the remarkable rock formations of those states came over into western Nebraska.

Then we came to a detour which turned out to be to our advantage—instead of following US 26, we were directed onto NE 92, which ran just along the northern shoreline of Lake McConaughy, a very large lake which was a beautiful blue color and which was obviously a destination for recreation in south-central Nebraska. I forgot to mention, but pretty much all day we’d been on roads with very little traffic, and that sure is nice. Once we rounded the eastern end of the lake, however, we were only a few miles away from I-80, and we had to give up our week of empty roadways.

On I-80, I stopped at the first rest stop I came to, hoping for some tourist brochures. There was nothing like that, but it was a worthwhile stop anyway—the info on the walls told us that we were following (in reverse, of course) the same route which the pioneers travelled—the Oregon Trail, the Great Platte River Road, the Mormon Trail, the pony express, and the first interstate railroad line. All of these followed the Platte River, as does I-80. At the rest stop, they had set up wagon wheels to indicate ruts in the grass across the back of the rest area, which was the path taken by wagon trains which were coming around the bluff we were on. It was very cool and of course made me wish I could travel slowly on US-30, the Lincoln Highway, which also follows this route and has lots of interesting sites to see along the way.

At that point, though, we hit the gas, and travelled at about 70mph (the speed limit is 75) until we stopped for gas at the town of Gothenburg. Right at the gas station was a small museum with a recreation of a sod house. Unfortunately the museum was closed, but we were able to look in the sod house, which was interesting. Also in Gothenburg is an original pony express station building, and so we drove a few blocks into town to see it. That was still open (it was 6:45pm) and the lady inside gave us a little shpiel about it. It was really very interesting, and we enjoyed our stop.

One more hour on the interstate, and we are now in Kearney, NE for the night. In looking at the map of the US, it seems to me that Kearney may just be exactly in the center--east-west AND north-south! As the pioneers did at Fort Kearney, we too are stocking up on provisions for our journey—but our general store is a Walmart. Tomorrow morning we will be going to the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, a museum dedicated to the westward migrations and to the subsequent freedom of travel across America. The monument itself is built right across I-80. I have wanted to visit this for a long time and we will spend some time there tomorrow before heading east again. As with so many other places I’ve visited, my quick trip through Nebraska just make me want to come back again at a slow, leisurely pace and stop at all the museums, historical markers, and other points of interest along the Lincoln Highway without having to always pick and choose between them.

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