Our family relocated from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska Saturday, May 30, 2015 and three days later I was riding shotgun as my husband Ken drove 4 hours west on I-80 to North Platte, Nebraska for business. I’m no fan of interstate travel, but in this case expediency trumped curiosity. While riding, I logged onto the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website to find attractions to visit upon arrival and to explore on Wednesday while he was working. Our first stop was at The Archway, which is a 310 foot museum over I-80 near Kearney, NE. Once inside, we learned a fee is charged for a self-guided museum tour and we hadn’t allotted time for this. Instead, we toured the sod house and outside grounds before making a joint commitment to come back and explore the entire Kearney area later this summer. Back on I-80, we continued west and took Exit 177, or Highway 83 North, to North Platte. The first thing I noticed was the sheer volume of traffic for a town this size. It appears it’s a stopping point for many travelers as evidenced by the number of popular hotel chains near the interstate. The Golden Spike Tower caught our attention and was phenomenal. Get off Interstate 8o and see this, even if you’re not a train fanatic. You pay an admission fee and watch a short video before taking an elevator to the outdoor 7th floor to get a panoramic view of Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard-the world’s largest train yard. Ken and I were the only visitors on the deck at this late hour and I literally could have stayed there until the 7pm closing time. There is so much activity and the view alone is breathtaking.We then ventured up to the 8th floor and were greeted by 3 Union Pacific retirees who eagerly shared their industry knowledge and answered all questions, and I had a lot of them. I am not going to post images of what you see. Doing so is the equivalent of revealing the end of movie or book. Trust me on this. It is worth the entrance fee and time!
By 7pm we were hungry. Yet again, I relied on other traveler’s advice on several websites and convinced Ken to drive further west to the little town of Hershey, NE to dine at Butch’s Lounge and Steakhouse. Ken will testify that the 15-ounce steak was right up there with some of the best beef he’s had in the Midwest. It’s not fancy and it certainly is a community gathering place-a group of middle-aged women were playing a card game at the 60″ round table next to us, while passing an infant boy between the players. The joint was full of travelers and locals-a hallmark of a great dining spot.
After a good night’s rest and getting Ken to his work site, I started on my North Platte adventures list. The first stop was right next door to our hotel: Ft. Cody Trading Post. I looked past the retail section and headed straight to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in miniature that runs every 30 minutes. The wood carvings are intricate and the story itself is fascinating, as is the display of a double-headed calf in the building. The backyard certainly appeals to children more than adults. Admission is free and the staff very helpful in guiding visitors to other interesting sites in and around the area. I was strongly encouraged to visit Cody Park on Highway 83 North on the outskirts of town. Wow! A park custom designed for my taste. I drove to the back and visited the Railroad Museum (free admission), hopping on and off the trains and delighting in the freedom to wander through the various cars and read the informational placards throughout. Several citizens had told me the concession stand here has the most affordable food in town and the best ice cream in the state. So, I drove past the baseball diamonds, swimming pool and tennis courts, all being used by day campers and counselors, and ordered some lunch. The cheeseburger was yummy! And, because I’m lactose intolerant, I just observed dozens of others licking their cones, while craving a twisted cone myself. Courtney, a concession stand worker, shared that the amusement rides are open from 5-10pm and that the weekends are so busy they have multiple orders backed up in the kitchen. I sat on a park bench and observed fowl seeking their own lunch in the puddles from the overnight rain. No matter what direction I looked, I saw markers and Memorial Day flowers, so I got up and walked to the nearest tree to discover citizens donate trees and park benches in honor of deceased loved ones. It seems a fitting way to memorialize someone who grew up enjoying the natural setting of the park. I headed to the zoo portion of the park. By this time the sun warmed the area past 80 degrees and most animals were resting or under shelter. I, however, was fortunate enough to capture some great images and to see multiple peacocks spread their feathers, revealing stunning colors. I wandered off to the river and visited with grandparents having a picnic lunch with a toddler grandson and then headed back near the park entrance to view the Wild West Memorial before bidding Cody Park farewell after nearly three hours. My final stop in North Platte was the Arts and Gift Gallery. It is a fine art co-op gallery with plenty of stunning work and a friendly, helpful volunteer greeting you upon arrival. Sadly my time in North Platte was too short. I will return. Perhaps for the annual Rail Fest held the 3rd week in September or the NEBRASKAland Days held annually the 3rd week in June.
Get off the road.
Copyright. June 2015. Linda Leier Thomason.