Brenda Thomason, affectionately known as “Granny” in our family, enjoys traveling. In honor of her 75th birthday we planned a trip around two of her favorites: Neil Diamond and travel.
It was a bit of a challenge. She’s not a fan of large concert arenas or crowds. That meant it wasn’t as easy as purchasing tickets for Neil’s Omaha, Nebraska performance. Alas, a Neil Diamond Legend Show was scheduled in southwest Nebraska, simplifying the task.
The greater challenge became building side-trips along the route to and from Red Cloud, Nebraska. Joining the adventure were two twenty-somethings and his parents: 3 generations, each with its own preferences and tastes.
The result was a remarkable trip celebrating Granny’s milestone birthday, re-connecting while listening to Neil Diamond CD’s on the journey over Nebraska highways.
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Our first stop after leaving Omaha shortly after 9:30 am on a Friday was in
- Located about 96 miles from Omaha, approximately 90 minutes.
- 37 miles directly south of Lincoln on four-lane US-Highway 77.
- Nearly 13,000 residents live here.
- Click here for list of “Things to Do in Beatrice.”
- 124 23rd Street Beatrice, NE
We were the first diners when the restaurant opened at 11 am. Everything from the brisket platter to the pulled pork sandwich was flavorful and plentiful. The service was quick, efficient and friendly. Favorite sides included baked beans, green beans and corn muffins. The homemade coconut cream pie topped with meringue was a family favorite.
- 8523 West State Highway 4
- Located 11 minutes (6.9 miles) from Back Alley Eatery
- Includes Heritage Center, Education Center and Freeman School
This site commemorates the lives and accomplishments of all pioneers and the changes brought about by the Homestead Act. It is staffed by well-trained rangers. The area includes exhibits, a bookstore/gift shop, a 20-minute video, a barbed wire outdoor exhibit, a cabin and 100 acres of restored tall-grass prairie. There is plenty of information on the Homestead Act and its far-reaching effect on the development of the west. Guests can even narrate and record their own family history with the Homestead Act.
The monument salutes the Homestead Act of 1862 by preserving the 160-acres of the Act’s first claimant, Daniel Freeman. For over a century the Act allowed men and women, many immigrants, to claim and develop 160 acres of free land.
There is no park entrance fee. One can often find artists-in-residence at the Education Center. During our visit Susan Lenz, a full time, professional studio artist from Columbia, South Carolina, was present. That afternoon, she was working alongside two volunteers on a quilting project.
- Located 105 miles, or about an hour and 48 minutes, southwest of Beatrice (Highway 136).
- Hometown of author Willa Cather.
- The town also hosts a number of cultural events at the Red Cloud Opera House and The National Willa Cather Center, attracting over 10,000 visitors annually.
- Population of 1020 residents.
- County seat of Webster County.
- Red Cloud is home to the largest memorial of an American author; even larger than Mark Twain’s in Hannibal, Missouri.
National Willa Cather Center was completed and dedicated in June 2017 in a ceremony where former first lady Laura Bush was the keynote speaker. Mrs. Bush also cut the ribbon to officially open the $7 million Center.
In addition to being the headquarters of the Willa Cather Foundation, the building features a climate-controlled archive, a bookstore, a museum, and conference rooms. Tours of various locations, lengths and prices are offered.
Visit the town’s website to see a number of travel packages.
Pick up a “Town Tour” brochure at the Foundation Welcome Desk. It includes 26 notable locations worth walking to or driving by.
Cather Second Home Guest House
Willa Cather’s parents purchased this home in 1903, leaving behind their little rented home at Third and Cedar Streets where Willa Cather had spent her formative years. Over the years, the home had several private owners and also served as a hospital, nursing facility, and bed and breakfast. It was acquired by the Willa Cather Foundation in 2011 through the generosity of a Cather family descendant.
Guests may rent the Frankfort room that was Cather’s, or the rooms of her parents-Sweet Water-Virginia Cather and Moonstone -Charles Cather; or her brother Douglass’s room-Haverford. The family maid’s room Hanover, has two twin beds. The Blackhawk room is on the main floor and has an ADA entrance. It is the former family kitchen.
The entire home may also be rented for family retreats, meetings, and special occasions.
10 Tips about Staying at the Guest House
- Hairdryers, toiletries and bathrobes are provided, as are slippers; shoes must be removed.
- No pets or smoking are allowed.
- Continental breakfast is provided.
- Most rooms do not have closets; clothing hooks and luggage racks are available.
- The house is unattended; no innkeeper lives here.
- Juices, tea and coffee are available as are homemade granola and oatmeal.
- The kitchen is fully furnished (flatware, kettles, plates, etc.) for guest use.
- The home has 2.5. shared bathrooms.
- A washer and dryer are on the second floor.
- A gold plate on the back of each door locks the room from inside.
Fat Fox’s Restaurant
Granny chose Fat Fox’s for her birthday trip celebration dinner. Their specialty is pizza; they also have daily specials. Pork chops were featured during our visit. We chose a supreme pizza that had an outstanding crust and plenty of toppings.
The restaurant was at full-capacity.
Notes about Fat Fox’s
- Gluten free pizza is available.
- Save room for homemade desserts.
- Roasted in-shell peanuts are on each table.
- Beer and wine are not served here. You may order pizza at The Brix-a wine tasting room down the street. It will be delivered.
- A salad bar is offered.
- Specials are noted on a chalkboard
- Celebrate a special occasion here. Communicate through Facebook Messenger. The owner is responsive and does a great job helping you plan. He’s not a bad singer either.
Our trip was planned around the Neil Diamond Tribute Show.
Keith Allynn is an award-winning entertainer. His career began in stand-up comedy at age 14, warming up for Chris Rock, Tim Allen and Robin Williams. His musical talents were discovered at age 21. In 2004 Graceland voted him one of the world’s top 10 Elvis Tribute Artists.
More recently he’s headlined the Neil Diamond Tribute Show in Branson, Missouri. There, he’s been awarded the Tribute Artist and Tribute Show of the Year and multiple Trip Advisor certificates.
His 2.5 hour show at the Red Cloud, Nebraska Opera House was sold out to an appreciative audience of 300. Keith’s voice and stage presence are top-notch. He provides fascinating history behind the songs and interacts well with the audience. Keith encourages participation, roaming the aisles, shaking hands while singing, especially pleasing to female attendees.
He will be leaving the Branson stage in 2017, making him more available for corporate events and independent shows throughout the world.
You can find Keith Allynn on Facebook. Check out his upcoming show schedule.
Notes about the Opera House
- Beer, wine and premium mixed drinks are available for purchase.
- Popcorn is sold.
- Tables for 8 can be reserved.
- Doors open 30 minutes prior to show time.
- Bathrooms are on both the main floor and second floor-where stage is.
- Come early and browse exhibits on main floor.
- Chairs are movable and do not have arm rests.
- Ask staff prior to taking photos during performances.
Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
- Located 5 miles south of Red Cloud, Nebraska on the west side of Highway 281.
- Roughly 612 acres of native prairie in southern Webster County.
- Hiking trails are open.
- The horizon is unbroken.
- Purchased by the Foundation in 2006. They are working to restore the Prairie to its pre-1900’s condition.
Side-Trip #2, Unplanned Find
- About 14 miles south of the Prairie is the geographic center of the United States.
- Watch for the sign to your right, traveling south on Highway 281.
- The gravel road (K-191) will dead end into the location that includes a very small chapel.
- It is a free attraction and open all the time.
- Lebanon, Kansas is located 2 miles southeast of this location.
- A small Visitor Center is in Lebanon.
Odyssey Restaurant, Hastings, Nebraska
The biggest surprise on the trip was the food quality at this restaurant in Hastings, Nebraska, the birthplace of Kool-Aid.
We left our meal proclaiming Odyssey as our family’s “newest food crush.”
- Located in historic downtown Hastings at 521 West Second Street off Highway 281 North, traveling from Red Cloud, Nebraska.
- Across from Rivoli Theatre.
- Odyssey occupies two buildings united into one.
- There is an outdoor patio; dogs welcome.
- Casual, modern and innovative cuisine, including grilled Caesar salad and chocolate crème brulee.
- The atmosphere is as appetizing as the food; get up and look at the historic maps on the walls.
- Here’s one place you’ll like getting the check. Won’t ruin surprise.
A Catholic Chapel on the highway is a place for I-80 travelers to rest, be at peace, pray and be comforted.
- 23132 Pflug Road, PO Box 507, Gretna, NE 68028
- Between Omaha and Lincoln off I-80, exit 432 and go south on Hwy 31 (1.3 miles), then turn west onto Pflug Road (1 mile). DETOUR July 2017 due to construction.
- Open 10am-5pm Monday through Saturday and 12pm-5pm on Sunday.
- Averages 20,000 visitors a year.
- Catholic Mass Saturday mornings at 10am.
- Open to travelers of all faiths.
- Gift shop in visitor center.
- Free entrance. Goodwill offering/donations accepted and needed. Not supported by Archdiocese.
- Outside life-size walking Stations of the Cross are currently under construction.
- Does not host any weddings, funerals, baptisms, renewal of wedding vows, proposals, or anything connected with wedding parties.
Our party of 5 returned to Omaha at 4:30 PM Saturday. We’d seen and experienced so much. We are committed to doing it again. Are you?
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Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.
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