PLAINS, TRAINS + CRANES – Adventures Through Central Nebraska
by: Kristen Kellogg
You may have heard of Nebraska referred to as one of the flyover states. Hearing that now after my first visit, all I can think about are the beautiful sandhill cranes swirling in circles overhead as they north migrating up the central flyway.
We snaked our way across the state from Grand Island to central Nebraska’s Kearny exploring the great outdoors, wildlife, and tastes with touches of history along the way. My favorites below for helping you plan your own trip!
BIRDS BLINDS + OUTDOOR ADVENTURE
I’m always attracted to visiting places with big conservation efforts as the island I call home (Nantucket) does so much to keep wildlife safe and land preserved. This is one of the main reasons I fell hard for Nebraska and what they’re doing for the local wildlife.
The Ian Nickelson Wildlife Center Audubon Row Sanctuary takes groups out every morning and evening on bird blind tours. A blind is basically a wooden box that camouflages the birds from seeing you and being scared off. I never thought I would get so much satisfaction sitting in a wooden box for three hours!
For a more exclusive experience, overnight at the Crane Trust on Shoemaker Island, a non-profit with 45,000 acres of land focused on conservation efforts for the cranes and other animals calling this area of the Platte home throughout the year. They have a range of cabins lying just moments away from crane viewing areas. This place is so peaceful and they even cook all of your meals for you and cocktail hour. Other active outdoor adventures include fat tire biking, kayaking down Platte River, and a buffalo drive where you can get up close and personal picture to take home with you.
For an entirely different birding adventure, head to McCook to watch the Prairie Chickens dance in the ‘lek’, a Scandinavian word for gathering place. It’s basically like a mating arena for the Prairie Chickens. These curious looking creatures come back to the same spot each spring to mate. The males ‘dance’ around for hours showing off their feathers and trying to see who will be the top dog.
You’re suppose to sit silently while they do their thing, but it was honestly so hard to because the birds are hilarious to watch!
TASTES OF GRAND ISLAND
Grand Island is home to where the Nebraska State Fair takes place each year. In 2014, Raising Nebraska opened its doors (year round) to an interactive exhibit helping to connect consumers to where their food comes from. We had the most lovely farm-fork-breakfast (eggs, bacon, and berries) prepared by Brent Lindner, a mover and shaker in the local food scene.
If you’re lucky and awake early enough like we were, you can catch the horses warming up across the parking lot at Fonner Park where thoroughbred racing takes place from February through May. It’s a truly magical thing to watch.
Downtown Grand Island is filled with vintage shops, and beautiful little movie theatre, and even some modern food spots like the Chocolate Bar where they serve the obvious, chocolate, along with great coffee/ bakery and also serving lunch and delicious dinner.
If American history is your thing you’ll love all of the interesting museum concepts Nebraska has to offer.
Stop by the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg. Although only in operation for 1 year, the Pony Express lives on through a tradition where a group of locals and travelers re-ride the route each year.
I’ve never been a museum goer, but Nebraska does a great job making learning about American history an interactive experience. The Buffalo Bill Ranch Historical State Park in North Platt and The Archway museum in Kearney where the great american transformation truly happened and literally overarches the highway.
The Sturh Museum of the prairie pioneer – Every year during the sandhill crane migration, you can see the Wings Over Platte Exhibit on the first floor where local artists share they reinterpretations to life on the Platte. Walk just across the street and journey through Railroad Town, a staged step back in time staffed with living historians where you can participate in hands on activities like traditional hat making and woodwork.
If you’re into nature and adventure infused with some good ole’ history, add Nebraska to your list of states to explore, anytime of year, but especially durning the migration period. You’ll be in for a real treat!
Nebraska is also a great place to watch the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st!
FOLLOW Kristen on Twitter @borderfreetravels
Photos: Kristen Kellogg