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Top 10 reasons to come to western Nebraska

June 3, 2012

Last weekend, Bugman and I and two other members of the Fall Frolic / Monument Marathon & Half race crew traveled to Boulder, Colorado, to promote the races to runners at the Bolder Boulder Expo.

Our booth looked really professional. (Much better than the Santa Fe Marathon booth, IMHO.)

Bugman and race director Dayle Wallien at the Monument Marathon booth.

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.

Here goes:

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.

Nebraska traffic jam

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!

Disclaimer: this is an image of the sky Bugman took in the Southern Hemisphere (suddenly have Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” in my head), but it sort of illustrates the dark sky concept. Guess we need to do a stargazing night and photograph a Nebraska sky.

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.

State Route 2/71 northbound

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.

Me, participating in a torch run through Sioux County

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.

The Most Unlikely Place is an art gallery and coffee shop in tiny Lewellen (population 224).

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 . . .

Many westbound pioneers mentioned Chimney Rock in their diaries.

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.

Chicken plucking machine

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.

Yes, this is really in Nebraska.

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.

Yup. That’s me, riding a Holstein steer. You just never know what you might find yourself doing if you are open to new experiences. (Post on the oxen driving school coming next, as soon as I can find the time!) Photo courtesy of Rick Myers.

If you are from out of town and come for a visit, look me up at the North Platte Valley Museum. 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

15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2012 10:55 pm

    EXCELLENT!!!

  2. Katie Bradshaw permalink*
    June 4, 2012 6:37 am

    Here is my first reader top-ten list, submitted via Facebook: 1. We actually have real country roads. 2. It’s off the “beaten to death” path. 3. There are no ski lodges. 4. Strangers in cowboy hats wave at you on the aforementioned country roads. 5. Smalltown cemetaries sport native wildflowers. 6. You can have 15 minute conversations with complete strangers while buying cream soda at small town grocery stores and walk away smiling. 7. Its ok to stop your car and watch a family of geese cross said country roads. 8. There’s no reason to rush to and fro, most places aren’t that far away. 9. There are actually some places with no cell service. 10. The sunsets are breathtaking.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      June 4, 2012 6:44 am

      RE #9 – I was thinking this when Bugman and I were hiking above Boulder and he kept checking his smartphone.

  3. Katie Bradshaw permalink*
    June 4, 2012 6:38 am

    I’ll keep adding comments as they come in.

  4. Katie Bradshaw permalink*
    June 4, 2012 6:38 am

    Uncrowded fishing and camping spots.

  5. Katie Bradshaw permalink*
    June 4, 2012 6:38 am

    I always tell people you can see the sky here, and see the weather coming hours ahead of time.

  6. Katie Bradshaw permalink*
    June 4, 2012 6:43 am

    Regarding a photo of a lunar eclipse taken early in the morning with Dome Rock in the frame: “I can be in country in 1 minute and have such a wonderful background”

  7. June 4, 2012 10:16 am

    1. Genuinely friendly people. 2. the night sky-I love being able to see so many stars, even in town. 3. So many cool animals live here. 4. Awesome bird-watching, especially during spring and fall migration. 5. The tiny micro-climates that you find around small ponds, creeks, springs, etc…where there is just enough difference in moisture to sustain different species. 6. Friendly and accommodating drivers who generally watch out and move over for cyclists out on the county roads and highways. 7. Community theater and arts (insert shameless plug for ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’ currently at Theater West for which I’m violining). 8. The horizon. The endless, eternal horizon. And the great bowl of sky overhead. 9. Warm and welcoming communities who have made this transplant feel very much a part of things. 10. The stark wildness of the prairie.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      June 5, 2012 6:25 am

      Love this list! I forgot about the joy of microclimate discovery. I’ve found that a lot when hiking the bluffs. Different sides of the bluffs and little pockets in the landscape can be amazingly different from one another.

  8. Roxie permalink
    June 4, 2012 10:45 pm

    1. We have the best-kept secret here and we’re nice enough to let you in on it. 2. You WILL enjoy yourself. 3. You WILL be amazed by the beauty. 4. You’ll get to run in a location that even the locals can’t access. 5. How often can you sport inaugural hardware? 6. You’ll enjoy the early morning smell of harvest. 7. You will be able to find good Mexican food. 8. Our crisp fresh air will lighten your mountain attitude. 9. We’re closer than you think and quite affordable. 10. Have you seen our Monument???

  9. Susan permalink
    June 5, 2012 2:12 pm

    I had to chuckle this past Saturday as I was walking into the West NE All Star Volleyball and passed one of the East Football players and overheard him talking on his cell phone, “It is really pretty here.” This from an 18-year-old young man who had never been here before and probably lives, what up to three hours away. It was nice to hear his observations about our community in Scottsbluff/Gering.

  10. Jane R permalink
    June 10, 2012 7:52 pm

    Thank you Katie! I’ve been defending Nebraska since I first went away to college more than a few years ago. People who have never visited our state are pretty disparaging about it but those who have travel to and through Nebraska (especially the western end) are always pleasantly surprised. I’m with you…. how can you justify being negative about a place you’ve never even seen or visited? I’ll always be a (western) Nebraska girl!

  11. Tracy Bennett permalink
    June 8, 2013 10:56 pm

    Thank you for your photos and blogs!

  12. November 19, 2013 12:21 pm

    I love wide open!! I think that place may well be for me!!! ;-) I’d surely get myself lost… often!!

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