Saturday, April 19, 2014

Top 10 Things to Do in Nebraska

After completing my top 10 things to do in Nebraska and living here for the past 8 years, I feel qualified to make my own top 10 list.

Senator Mitch McConnell is coming right for us!
Here it is, Matthew's Top 10 places in Nebraska (a bit Omaha centric, but whatever):
  1. Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo - The zoo here is simply fantastic. I don't really remember the San Diego Zoo from when I was a kid, but I've heard that Omaha's zoo is at least on par if not better. As they expand, it's only going to get better. My favorite part is the aquarium.
  2. Memorial Stadium - As a non-Nebraska fan, it's a little odd to put the Huskers stadium on my list. But, it's a pretty great experience to be in the 3rd largest city (on game day, the stadium is the 3rd largest city) in Nebraska and hear the crowd chanting Husker Power.
  3. Holland Center - I've only been to the Holland Center once, but it's a beautiful facility. It's a nice modern facility. The theater itself is actually built for sound quality so anything you see here is going to sound amazing.
  4. Lincoln Haymarket - The Haymarket has a soft spot in my heart because it has some of my favorite eateries, and I love eating.
  5. Orpheum theater - The Orpheum is where the Broadway shows play when they're in town. It's an older theater than the Holland and has that type of feel. It feels like I imagine an 18th/19th century theater would feel.
  6. ConAgra Foods Campus - The campus of ConAgra foods is one of the most beautiful business complexes I've seen. The Omaha marathon used to go through it which made that little half mile in the middle a nice little mental detour. I get quite jealous of my wife because I would love to be able to run here over lunch.
  7. Hot Shops - Hot shops is one of those places that I keep meaning to go back to but have only made it once. It's a collection of different types of art studios that includes glass blowing, metalworking, carpentry, painting, etc.
  8. Branched Oak Farm - While you wouldn't really consider a dairy an "attraction", but I really enjoyed it and think more people should go. You can read more about this in my earlier blog posts.
  9. Sandhills cranes - The Sandhills cranes were a pretty cool site. I would like to go back and see them at dawn sometime.
  10. Barn Anew - Again, a B&B isn't what you would typically call an "attraction", but it's a pretty relaxing place. You definitely need to go on a Friday so you can listen to the bluegrass jam session.
There you have it, my favorite things in Nebraska.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Western Nebraska Tour (Part 2)

The second day of our western Nebraska trip (see part 1) was filled with snow. I had a grand ol' plan of running 10 miles or so. I was pretty excited about the run because it was going to be on back country roads with views of the bluffs. I managed to make it 2 miles in the blowing snow and called it quits.

Once back in the warmth of the B&B we had a delicious breakfast served in their sun room.

It was then time to get underway for our day of sightseeing. First up was Scotts Bluff (after grabbing more coffee in town). The bluffs had high potential for good hiking, but the snow ruined that for us. Additionally, the road to the top was closed, so we couldn't even drive to the top. So, we poked around in the museum a bit and learned about the settlers and the trails that ran through here.

Next up was Chimney Rock. Thankfully, we drove by this the day before because it was essentially completely obscured by the snow. If you stared long enough, you could barely make out the outline.

Treat it like a magic-eye, just stare long enough and you'll see it.
Chimney Rock is such a great symbol for Nebraska (it's even on the state quarter). Honestly, it is a super boring and unimpressive site. The only reason it has significance is because everything east of there is utterly desolate. So, as settlers were headed west, anything beyond flat plains was exciting as the Blue Angels dive bombing some Apache helicopters (I couldn't think of a better analogy). Once again, we checked out the museum and learned even more about the trails and settlers that came through these parts.

Our final site of the trip was Carhenge. For those of you who don't know what Carhenge is, it's exactly what it sounds like. A replica of Stonehenge made out of cars. As I parked I started giggling at the absurdity of the site. One, how laughable Carhenge itself is. Two, we drove about 1.5 hours through a snowstorm to see it. We didn't spend much time here due to the snow and wind and there's not much else to say about it.

Who knew they had a problem with the world's fastest hedgehog around here...
We then drove to the Roadside Inn in Thedford, NE. When we originally planned this trip, we thought we were going to get to the hotel at around 8:00pm since we thought we were going to be hiking and whatnot at the various sites. But, because of the snow, we ended up getting to the hotel at 4:30. Instead of recognizing our sunk costs and just heading home that night, we stayed in Thedford and increased the town's population by over 1% (Thedford's population as of 2010 was 188). The restaurant next door to the hotel was closed, so we asked the woman at the front if there was any other place to eat dinner in town and she suggested the two gas stations or the bar. We decided to just eat the food we brought with us.

Cool pattern of ice that developed on the wheels while we were driving.
I was then planning on running 20 miles in the forest nearby in the morning, but wussed out due to the cold and wind. And we just drove back a bit earlier than we planned.

Overall, it was a fun trip. It was good to see some of the better parts of Nebraska since I pretty much had only seen the I-80 corridor. We will definitely be doing this type of trip again in the future as it was fairly low key and relaxing.

Cold sunrise in Thedford

Monday, April 7, 2014

Western Nebraska Tour (Part 1)

In order to finish off my list item of visiting the top 10 things in Nebraska, my wife and I took a 3-day weekend trip out to western NE. Despite driving a lot on I-80 to Colorado, I had never really seen the western part of the state. We thought it would be a good couple's weekend and see some nice sights. It was a simple weekend getaway sort of trip. I'm breaking this into 2 posts so I can show some pics and talk more about each topic instead of a simple list.

The things we ended up going to see were:
  1. Sandhills cranes
  2. Lake McConaughy
  3. Scottsbluff
  4. Chimney Rock
  5. Carhenge
  6. Sandhills of Nebraska
Below is the route we took:

Day 1

Sandhills Cranes

The Sandhills Cranes stop in Nebraska every year on their migration back north. About 75% of their population stops along the Platte River to plump up before they head further north. Essentially, this means birds everywhere.

We stopped at the Rowe Sanctuary at about 10:00am in the morning. I guess I don't give small towns much credit because I didn't expect much because we were in the middle of nowhere. 10:00am is not the ideal time to see the cranes, because they're out of the river and into the corn fields after the sun rises. Still, it was pretty nice and the sound of the thousands of cranes (whose calls can be heard from miles away) was quite impressive.

Lake McConaughy

The end of March isn't really peak season for Lake McConaughy, but it was interesting nonetheless. Essentially, the only thing to do was to drive around it and hit up the visitors center. During the season, there's, you know, lake stuff to do. Still, it was interesting to learn about the construction of the lake's history and the Ogallala Aquifer. I had no idea how huge the aquifer was until this. Basically all of Nebraska and much of the great plains are on top of this massive underground supply of water.

Driving around the lake was actually a fairly scenic thing to do. I didn't realize that this lake was gigantic, with  about 74 miles of shoreline. I can see why a lot of people head out here during the summer for water sports. One thing I couldn't figure out was why the entire area was full of trailer parks. So, feel free to leave a comment if you have any ideas as to why that might be.


For Friday night, we stayed in Scottsbluff, out in the panhandle of Nebraska. We spent the night in a B&B named Barn Anew. We've never stayed in a B&B before, but based on this place, we will definitely be doing it again. This place is called "Barn Anew" because it used to was a former stable for Percheron horses. The upstairs where the rooms were, was the old hay loft.
The large beams are the original wood from the stables

You get a pretty solid "middle of Nebraska" feeling since it's right in the middle of a bunch of cornfields.
Look closely and you can tell that calf was born just a few minutes ago

The place is right next to Mitchell Pass which is where the Oregon, California, Pony Express, and Fur Trapper trails passed through the bluffs. This is also how they named the 4 rooms. We got to stay in the Pony Express Room.
I stupidly didn't take many pictures of the view Friday thinking I could get more the next day. That was the wrong thing to do.

The couple that runs the place was super nice. The first thing we did was go on a tour and learn all about the artwork they have displayed. They have a lot of native american artwork, both "ancient" and modern designs.

For dinner, we went to the Emporium. Quite frankly, I'm shocked that a place as nice as this was in such a small town (Scottsbluff has about 15,000 people in it). I had a delicious watermelon and beet salad and tomato soup with fancy grilled cheese.

The best part of Barn Anew (and unfortunately the part I didn't take pictures of), was on Friday nights they have jam sessions. A bunch of musicians from around the area get together and play some bluegrass. There were about a dozen people there that night and they would just go around in a circle choosing what song to play. It was just great to sit and listen to these people just have fun with their instruments. Unfortunately, we only stayed for an hour because I kept falling asleep in my chair. I really think Barn Anew should advertise this more. It's something I doubt you can find many other places in the country.

All-in-all, a nice little jaunt out into the country. Fairly laid back and entertaining. I will definitely hit up a couple of these sights again during their "proper" times later in life.