Top 10 reasons to come to western Nebraska
Our booth looked really professional. (Much better than the Santa Fe Marathon booth, IMHO.)
At a tourism kickoff meeting at the Gering Civic Center Wednesday, the director of the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism, Kathy McKillip, praised the community for hosting a new marathon. She pointed out that runners, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts tend to travel significant distances for events, and having another marathon in the state helps bring more people to the state overall. (There are just three other marathons in Nebraska, in Lincoln, Omaha, and Cherry County.)
But we have a major challenge to face. Kathy said that Nebraska ranks next to last in terms of state spending on tourism promotion. (I wonder who was last?) Because nobody hears about us, Nebraska is a big, blank space in people’s minds that’s mainly filled up with corn and cattle spread out across a flat landscape.
I bumped into this attitude at the Bolder Boulder Expo.
More than one person said with wrinkled nose, “Why would I want to go to Nebraska?”
There are probably other people out there who think the same thing (I was once one of them), so I am putting together my own personal “top 10 reasons to come to western Nebraska” list. (I am limiting my list to western Nebraska because it’s what I know best.) Everyone’s Nebraska list will be different. I invite my readers to create their own.
The Top 10 Reasons You Should Come to Western Nebraska
1. There are more cattle than cars here. Consequently, stress from crazy car traffic is pretty much nil. You do not have to jockey for parking spaces like your life depended on it. Driving can actually be relaxing.
2. Stargazing. The lack of big cities and abundance of open land means that the skies are dark at night and perfect for stargazing. There’s something elemental about looking up at the stars and wondering about what’s out there. A friend of mine posted a Calvin and Hobbes comic: “If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently. … When you look into infinity, you realize that there are more important things than what people do all day.” Exactly!
3. Solitude. The wide-open landscape, the enormity of the sky, and the solitude (and lack of cell phone coverage!) of some areas out here strip out the distractions and force you to confront yourself in a way that built-up landscapes don’t. Being alone on the land can be a very spiritual experience.
4. People. There are lots of genuinely friendly, helpful people here. An example of helpfulness: I was participating in a relay torch run in Sioux County and was sitting in my car waiting for a runner to catch up. There was no oncoming traffic, except a woman in a pickup truck. She stopped to see if I was OK. You can smile at a stranger here and say hello and share a little moment of human interaction. It’s not like those big cities where you have to studiously avoid eye contact. You can let down your guard.
5. Arts. Yes, we are rural. But that does not mean we are uncultured. We have crazy talented creative people out here – enough to support a theatre company and arts center in Scottsbluff alone. I’ve not been there, but I hear the arts center in Alliance is pretty awesome, too. There are also all kinds of art galleries big and small. My favorites are the ones that are also coffee shops, like this one.
6. Western history. OK, so I might not be the most unbiased source to be touting the interesting history of western Nebraska, since I work at a history museum … located RIGHT ON THE OREGON TRAIL!! If any of you readers are of a certain generation, you may recognize a certain landmark from the Oregon Trail educational video game . . .
Want to check out fur trader history? The Museum of the Fur Trade is your bag. If you are into “prehistory,” there’s a unique western Nebraska place for you: Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed. Lotsa history here – the kind that winds up in schoolbooks.
7. Hiking. Western Nebraska is, hands-down, the best place I’ve lived since Southern Illinois that had so many interesting day hike areas. Western Nebraska contains the majority of public-access land in the state. There are lots of places to hike around here.
8. Agriculture. When you live in a community surrounded by agricultural land with some forward-thinking people in it, you are in a prime farmer’s market territory. For a community of this size, we have a great market – summer AND winter! Agriculture is what made the communities in this region thrive. You can check out some ag history (and some odd implements) at the Farm And Ranch Museum.
UPDATE: Farm And Ranch Museum exhibits temporarily closed in early 2014 to join forces with the North Platte Valley Museum to become Legacy of the Plains Museum. Artifacts from NPVM and FARM will begin to go on display as new phases of Legacy of the Plains Museum are developed. See the Legacy of the Plains Museum website for the most recent updates.
9. Interesting topography. Soooo many people think of Nebraska as being totally flat. Those are the people who have never ventured off of I-80. Anyone who has ridden BRAN will know that Nebraska is not flat.
10. Opportunity to learn about a new place. I think the thing that most turned me off about the people who asked “why would I want to go to Nebraska?” was their lack of intellectual curiosity. How can you dismiss a place without taking the time to investigate it first? Chances are, if you are open to the possibility of having amazing new experiences in Nebraska, you will have amazing new experiences in Nebraska.
If you are from out of town and come for a visit, look me up. I would be happy to give you suggestions on things to do and see in the area.
If you are from western Nebraska, add your own top 10 list in the comments!
Copyright 2012 by Katie Bradshaw