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. If I ever find myself driving across Nebraska I’ll be sure to stop and see that place. Living out here *in* the west, I’ve always found it fascinating that I’m (by and large) surrounded by the descendants of the people who packed their world into a wagon or two and hacked & fought their way to new lives.. right here, where I live.

    Not that any of that spirit lives on in those descendants, of course.

      It’s worth a stop! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that part of our country’s history presented in such an easily accessible way before.

    Amanda, I drove through Nebraska and a few of the other states that you mentioned a few years ago, when I did the cross-country thing from New York City to San Francisco. I have to agree with you that it was pretty flat and boring! However, I commend you for your truly positive and optimistic attitude; you truly know how to see the good side of the situation!

      I’m just of the opinion that every destination has something to offer, as long as you’re willing to look for it. It may not exactly be staring you in the face, but it’s probably there. I hate stereotyping a place as “bad” or not worth visiting if I haven’t at least made an effort to see something good about it.

      Now, will I be moving to Nebraska anytime soon? Absolutely not! Haha. But I can at least say that we made the best out of a rather boring situation.

    lol, from the video it seems you guys are enjoying it well enough 😉

      That video is secretly my favorite of all the road trip videos, I think. Haha. My sister and I had a lot of fun being silly on this trip!

    Loved the bloopers on the video! 🙂

    Awwww I love Nebraska! My aunt and uncle live in the countryside outside Omaha, and their property is absolutely gorgeous! There’s a creek with deer and rabbits in their backyard, and their walking route winds through cornfields. I almost went to Creighton University in Omaha as well–if it hadn’t been for my East Coast born mother thinking her California-raised daughter couldn’t survive Midwest winters, I would have been there! People are nice, food is hearty…and there are few rolling hill bits 🙂 Glad you ended up enjoying it!

      Your aunt and uncle’s house sounds a lot like where I grew up in Ohio! I think it’s a Midwest thing. 😉

      Though, after having lived in Ohio all my life, I’m fairly certain I’d never pick Nebraska to live in! Haha. But, that being said, we did end up enjoying it in the end.

    My aunt and uncle did a motorcycle trip through the states a few years back and the only thing they had to say about Nebraska was that it was boring. I’m glad you were able to look on the brighter side, and find something really cool to do in Nebraska. Attitude is a big part of travel, and if you have a good attitude about a place, even a seemingly boring one, you’ll come out with a better experience.

    I used to play Oregon Trail as a kid all the time. If this museum gives a better understanding about early American settlers than that games I’ll definitely have to check it out.

      I would still probably say that Nebraska is boring. Lol. But I wouldn’t tell someone that it’s the worst place ever and that they should never go there or anything. With travel, I’m all about people forming their own opinions of a place.

      But it’s true that I tend to travel with a positive outlook, no matter where I’m visiting. It just makes for a better all-around experience I think. 🙂

      And yes, the beginning of this museum was like Oregon Trail on crack! Haha. It was great.

    WHOA. Hold on ONE MINUTE. Nebraska should never, ever be referred to as similar to Iowa – absolutely not! Iowa is full of beautiful rolling hills and is in fact a pretty cool state.

    That is all. 😉

      Hahaha. I sense some neighborly state rivalry!! I will agree that Iowa wasn’t *quite* as flat as Nebraska, at least. 😉

    I wasn’t too impressed with Nebraska when I drove through either. But the teacher in me reeeaaally wants to see that pioneer exhibit!!

      The Archway Monument was so awesome! Even my sister, who really isn’t all that into school or reading, really enjoyed it. Like I said, it made the material really accessible, and covered such a huge span of time (from the pioneers to modern I-80) without becoming too overwhelming. If you’re ever passing through Nebraska again, definitely stop in Kearney!

    $10 for a fun interactive museum experience… that’s not bad! Sounds like Nebraska exceeded your expectations 🙂

      And it was totally worth the $10, too!

      And I’d say Nebraska ended up just about meeting expectations… at first, it was worse than we expected. Lol. But then it definitely improved once we found something cool to do!

    Nice story. You just made me like Nebraska, too! Also love that travel quote. Might have come back and steal it. 😉

      Thanks, Katrina! That’s awesome that this post made you like Nebraska. Haha. I think that’s definitely an accomplishment on my end!

      And feel free to steal that travel quote any time! I, too, thought it was a great one.

    This cracks me up! Last fall when we were driving from Boise to Vermont we took the same route. We stopped for a few days in Nebraska to visit a friend who had just moved to Lincoln for her Ph.D. program, and we were…. underwhelmed with the state, lol. Anyhow, I very much remember passing by this museum (well, under the arch on the freeway) and laughing, but we didn’t stop. Now I kind of wish we had!

      Nebraska can easily be an underwhelming state… in fact, I think the whole Midwest can kind of leave you bored if you’re not careful. But this little slice of Nebraska, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, was actually kind of awesome! I’m really glad we stumbled upon it.

    Watch the movie “About Schmidt” sometime. Jack Nicholson’s character lives in Omaha and stops at the Archway Monument as he travels from Omaha to visit his daughter in Denver.

      Really? I have seen that movie once, but it was so long ago I don’t even remember much about it. That’s funny though! Maybe subconsciously I wanted to be like Jack Nicholson. Haha.

    Ohhh Nebraska! Loved this post and can totally relate!

      Thanks, guys! Nebraska is kind of a weird state, but I can’t say I hated it!

    There is something mesmerizing about the great plains. I was pleasantly surprised by North Dakota a few years ago. I wouldn’t want to spend weeks there, but I’d only ever heard it referred to as boring.

      I think it takes a special sort of person to actually *love* the plains. But I think I can somewhat appreciate them at least. Though, having lived for years in the flattest part of Ohio, I guess I’m just used to that sort of landscape…

    Loving these travel blogs of yours, bloody brilliant! Giving me lots of ideas for my big holiday to the States next year (I’m an Englishman living in Aus). However, now you’ve got me hooked, where’s the final instalment of your grand Road Trip 2011? Can’t find a link to it anywhere…

      Thanks! Glad you’ve enjoyed my road trip coverage. I still have a lot left to write about eventually.

      And I haven’t posted the final installment yet (which will be about Iowa and Chicago). Haven’t had time to cut together the video!!

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

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