I missed the bison migrations in America’s West, but these
cranes present an annual opportunity to experience another
wonder of world-class importance.
The cranes show up for six
weeks or so every March and April and people devoted to them
created sanctuaries and viewing centers for serious birders to
document and rejoice, and casual travelers like me to simply
crane arrival in Nebraska one of world's greatest
Where to go? Grand
Island, Nebraska is a fine headquarters for exploring the
flyways, and so is a town named Kearney. Keep in mind two kinds
of crane viewing—one in the Rowe Sanctuary run by the National
Audubon Society near Kearney and the other with the Crane Trust
in Grand Island.
|Stuffed fellow at the Crane
Be in place before the sun comes up to
silently watch thousands of cranes waking on the Platte River
sandbars, stretching and then soaring into the colorful Nebraska
Return for dusk when they return after a
day of foraging in spent cornfields throughout this river
|The cranes at sunset
I recommend both places and both times of
day next spring to engage in different ways with the cranes and
with scientists and volunteers devoted to this “splendid
In the meantime while anticipating the
return of the cranes through the flyways, experience some other
Nebraska trails and byways.
This is the land of pioneers and accessing
portions of the Oregon, California and Mormon trails is well
documented. Here are some Nebraska travel tips you might add to
The Lincoln Highway is America’s first
automobile road to stretch across the country, dreamed up in
1912 and dedicated the next year. Find a stretch of the original
3,389 miles from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park
in San Francisco in Gothenburg, Nebraska, and conjure up images
of what those travelers might have been driving.
stretch of the original lincoln highway can be seen near
Then go find the Classic Car Collection in
Kearney and see the real deal vehicles. Anticipate more than 200
autos with perfect spit shines in a 50,000 square foot building.
To hone in on the models likely to have
been driven on the Lincoln Highway, volunteer and enthusiast
Brad Kernick told me to look for the ones with wooden spokes on
Autos likely to have traveled the
Lincoln Highway are among 200 classic cars in Kearney,
Another good clue are the cars with
water-cooling bags strapped to the front. Too much here to see
everything in an afternoon, but I found the 1927 Ford model T
with the water bag.
I also found memories of my father who
often drove Packards. Turns out Henry Jay, president of Packard
Motor Company, was instrumental in the Lincoln Highway
|1927 Ford Model T with a water
Auto names I never heard of abound in the
Classic Car Collection, like Tucker and Crosley, and Kernick
taught me that 2,600 brands of cars have been marketed in the
U.S. with some manufacturing fewer than 100.
Instead of only an historical marker noting
a spot where the Pony Express raced by in 1860 or 1861, the
little town of Gothenburg features a Station – fully restored
log building housing exhibits giving new understanding to this
brief mail delivery system.
The art is whimsical and the pony express station is
authentic in Gothenburg
Riders knew they could change horses at a
relay station and swap out with another rider at a home station.
Open every day mid-April to the end of
October, the Gothenburg Pony Express Station welcomed 25,000
visitors in 2014, suggesting to me the romance and allure of
this short-lived concept captured the fancy of all of us who
follow trails, byways and flyways.
Save some time to visit the history museum
across the street, and perhaps picnic in the park that joins
them. Don’t assume
population 3,500 means nothing much is happening in
Gothenburg---quite the opposite was my experience.
Migrating cranes chose the Great Platte
River Valley for 10,000 years but the stories of original people
and arriving settlers offer a shorter timeline.
Experience it in a dynamic, respectful, technological way
in the most unlikely place---spanning Interstate 80.
I’ve been guilty of skipping travel
opportunities, assuming they might be contrived, but Exit 275
from this Nebraska east-west highway should not be missed. Trust
the contents when you approach the “what is this all about” arch
suspended between two towers. This is way more than a
construction marvel—although it is that too.
Immersion is immediate, riding a 28-foot
escalator up and into the visual midst of a wagon train rolling
west. Painted murals, engaging video, changing lights and audio
stories, music and sound effects propelled me through 15
experiences spanning150 years of travel along the Great Platte
River and its banks.
of pioneer realities are real themselves throughout the
I’d credit my experience in the Archway to
tying together the bits and pieces I’ve learned over the years
of westward ho movies, history books and static exhibits.
Hang out a while in front of the massive
map of the Great Platte River where lights trace the route of
each trail and muse about the lives of those engaged on the
trails in front of murals painted in a Thomas Hart Benton style:
complex, filled with overlapping imagery of people in their
I think it would be a shame if you headed
back to Interstate 80 right away.
Instead, walk across the 1914 bridge to the
Pawnee earth lodge and pioneer one-room sod house, then stroll
the paved trails of one and a half, three or five miles and
enjoy the whimsical wire art shaped into buffalo of many sizes
looking back toward the Archway.
Two good reasons for that:
Let your heart and soul absorb
the dynamic vignettes in the Archway
Turn your thoughts toward the
Museum of Nebraska Art where contemporary exhibits and historic
painters and photographers share the stories of the trails and
flyways in stirring ways.
Museum of Nebraska Art
Sod houses need to be more than a line in a
history book if traveling western trails for you means
connecting with the people.
Solomon Butcher helps with that in this
downtown Kearney museum because his photographs from the 1880s
and 1890s document not only the structures but the people who
lived within them.
He too was pursuing the dream of the
Homestead Act and I felt his photographs expressed personal
engagement with his neighbors and their collective dreams of new
lives. Do you love the title of his book of images, carefully
displayed behind glass? “Sod Houses: Development of the Great
American Plains and the men and women that have conquered this
With 5,000 works in the Nebraska state art
collection, exhibits change often. Perhaps the Alfred Bierstadt
is always out. He camped at nearby Fort Kearney with a wagon
train and this work, painted on site, is realistic, not
I saw my first Alfred Jacob Miller exhibit
at MONA, as the state museum of Nebraska art is known, thrilled
to learn he was the first artist to travel the Oregon Trail and
first to paint Chimney Rock, the landmark most mentioned in
Building your own itinerary
To plug in your own agenda uncovering the
vastness and richness of a Nebraska holiday:
Nebraska Tourism Commission
Kearney Visitors Bureau
Grand Island Hall County Convention and
Gothenburg Community Development
Great Platte River Road Archway
Museum of Nebraska Art