Breaking with our standard protocol, we left Kansas and headed for I-80 near Kearney to see the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. A large arch that extends from one side of the Interstate to the other, it is a commercial tourist trap, but it is well done and worth a visit.
A large mosaic outside the entrance traces much of the history of the “trail” across the country: buffalo then Indians, trappers, traders, wagon trains, gold seekers, railroads, roads, Interstates and finally the first transcontinental fiber optic cable.
As one enters, there is a large gift shop to one side and cafeteria to the other. A costumed “mountain man” greets you and explains what you are about to see. You are given headsets and ascend an escalator to the arch. From that point on, you walk through a diaorama as a narator explains the history of this great passage. What gives it particular impact, however, are readings from various diaries much as Ken Burns does in his historical documentaries.
Returning to back roads, we visited Fort Kearney, begun in 1848 to protect the wagon trains. Like most western forts, it had no walls. The sheer presence of so many troops was a defense. But in 1864 during the “Indian wars” they did construct a wood palisade much like one sees in movies. It was never attacked and was used to confine cattle.
Another great road, US 6, goes from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast, the only highway to do so. For a while, we drove along a straight portion parallel to a rail track matching our speed with a freight train until we paused for lunch in Holdrege.
Much of Western Nebraska is flat with huge farms and small towns with big grain elevators. But then all of a sudden one is in cattle country. And as one enters the high plains of Colorado, one sees what really flat empty country can look like. But we did see a huge oil drilling rig. We didn’t realize they were that big. Notice the full sized trailers and equipment near the base.