Road Trip Day 17 – Nebraska, I Can’t Decide if I Love You or Hate You

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Have you ever visited a place where, one day you hated it, and the next you felt like maybe you were being too harsh on it?

That's kind of how it was for me and Nebraska.

“The good life”? I may have to beg to differ…

Everyone warned me that driving through Nebraska would suck. They said it was flat. And boring. And flat. And they were absolutely right. Nebraska certainly won't win any awards for interesting or scenic drives. Driving 6+ hours across this state felt like it took days. And it didn't help that all the farmers had apparently just fertilized their fields, which meant that the whole state also smelled like cow manure. Lovely.

When we arrived in Kearney, roughly halfway across the state, my sister and I both had no love for Nebraska. We spent about 15 minutes trying to scrape dead bugs off our windshield, and deemed the state to be the worst we had visited yet.

But I'm never one to completely write a place off.

Nebraska, sunflowers
Nebraska DID have pretty sunflowers. That has to count for something, right?

Since we knew Iowa was up next and that it likely would be very similar to Nebraska, I decided to try and find something for us to do in Kearney to break up the monotony. A quick Internet search came up with the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument.

Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska

Its name really doesn't do a very good job of describing what this place is — yes, it's a big archway (resembling a covered bridge) that stretches across I-80, but it's actually much more than that.

In fact, this place totally redeemed Nebraska for us.

Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska
When you go in, you're greeted with a “Howdy!” by this guy.

Between 1843 and 1869, roughly half a million men, women and children rode and walked the trails to the West Coast. You know — those pioneer trails you learned about in middle school: The Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Oregon Trail… And it just so happens that all of these trails converged at Fort Kearney — the last stop before the pioneers really set forth into “the unknown.”

The Archway Monument was built to pay tribute to “the enduring spirit of the pioneers” by bringing the westward migration to life through a multimedia smorgasbord that's essentially all about travel. Could there be a more perfect place to visit for two sisters on a road trip out West??

Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska

For a $10 admission fee, we got to go on an interactive adventure through history, complete with an audio tour, film clips, computer graphics, light and sound, life-size dioramas, re-enactors and classic cars. Within a couple of hours, we traversed through over 150 years of American history — a history that focused solely on the way people have traveled across our country.

Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska
Love this quote.

If you grew up in the '90s, chances are you played the computer game Oregon Trail at least once. Or (if you were like me), perhaps hundreds of times. You forded rivers with your oxen, hunted for buffalo, and probably lost at least one person in your party to cholera or dysentery. But playing the game didn't really give you a sense of what it was like for the people who actually braved these journeys.

But the Archway Monument does.

Drawing from diary entries and stories from the people who survived the westward migration, this interactive museum actually helps you understand what it was like to traverse the Oregon Trail or Mormon Trail.

Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska

From there, the monument moves along through history, from train travel to the invention of the automobile to the advent of roads and the very first cross-country road trips. How fitting.

Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska

What began as a way to just kill some time in Nebraska turned into one of our favorite stops on our road trip. Totally worth $10.

It just goes to show you that even flat, boring, stinky places can still offer up something worth doing, if only you're willing to dig a little deeper.

Each day, I’ll be cutting together a quick video to show you what we’ve been up to. Here’s Day 17:

Tomorrow, it's on to the corn fields of Iowa!

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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38 Comments on “Road Trip Day 17 – Nebraska, I Can’t Decide if I Love You or Hate You

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  1. I was like you… I hated Nebraska, it was just an annoying several hours to drive through on the way to my destination… Until I discovered Kearney. I was just at the Archway last month and really enjoyed it. I blogged about it and made a video too. Nebraska is much more beautiful than you might expect if you get off the interstate and go on the trails. The prairie has a lot of soul. Oh and there’s even a great Thai restaurant! I liked Kearney so much, I plan to stop there again next time I’m on my way to Denver or beyond.

    Gah almost forgot, and in march, the Crane Migration on the Platter River around Kearney is a must see. Until you’ve seen and heard it, you can’t understand what half a million cranes gathered on the river is really like.

    Nebraska by Interstate is definitely not the way to see the place. State is so much larger, with so many more places to see and explore that unfortunately… aren’t on the interstate.

    A day on the Niobrara (a top rated rafting rivers in the U.S. with waterfalls, Ne isn’t completely flat), Inidan cave, Toadstoo Geologic park, Chimney, Courthouse, and Jail rock, Chadron state park, Henry Doorly Zoo (top 5 nationally), Ashfall fossil beds… the list goes on and on.

    But again, sadly most of those aren’t on the interstate.

    Okay yes I’am from Nebraska. Yes Nebraska may seem flat and boring if you drive through on the interstate but if you get off the interestat and take some of the highways thoughout northhern Nebraska you’ll see hills and some rough train such as in the devils nest where jessie james and his crew hid out at. You can also tour a chalk mind, have fun at a chicken festival, visit waterfalls, car hinge, a national forest planted mostly by people, and so much more. I do like the opened feel of a long ways in between each town and not a lot of trees and mountains. There is something about being able to see the sun set and sun rise that can be so different yet so similar each and everyday that out does any big city and tree and mountain covered terrain

      It’s great that you have so much love for your home state! I’ll have to go back and explore more next time.

    Nice, I definitely wish I would have done a little more digging on my road trip. I went alone, and because of that, I rushed through most places. Plus, when it came to places like Kansas, Nebraska and other “plain” flat places…I avoided them like a plague! Next time though, I’ll stop and smell the manure.

      Hahaha “Stop and Smell the Manure” — that could be Nebraska’s new motto! 😉 But yes, even though the plains states are rather flat and boring, my sister and I did our best to try and find at least one interesting thing in each one. But I can understand just wanting to zip through them if you were on your own.

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