Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Move West, Day Three: Neverending Nebraska

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We woke the next morning in Walnut, Iowa, not long before we crossed the Missouri River from Council Bluffs, IA, to Omaha, Nebraska. We didn't stop in Omaha, especially when we saw the exit signs and their large numbers, such as Exit 452. Nebraska would be our longest, most monotonous state.

I-80 in Nebraska is 455 miles. Miles and miles and miles of flat terrain and cornfields. Following Iowa, this is more than a reasonable human being can stand. The 455 miles needed to be broken up, punctuated by fairly interesting stops.

I believe it was at this point on the road when Meg pondered aloud, "Do you think when kids from small towns out here get fed up and want to move to the city, they say, 'I'm getting out of this town! I'm going to OMAHA!'" It was a question we'd ask again, in Cheyenne, in Laramie, and in Boise. Sometimes I ask myself that about Portland, too.

At about 11:00, we stopped at Harold Warp's Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska. This museum is nothing short of fascinating, and I cannot recommend it enough.

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What exactly is Pioneer Village? It is a museum of...stuff, meticulously organized and catalogued. If Harold Warp had gone into biology, he would have undoubtedly become a systematist. The museum entrance is in a large building with several exhibits, the first of which highlights transportation in America in exact chronological order. Rows of buggies and wagons become cars, with replicas and parts of early airplanes suspended from the ceiling.

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Much of the museum is dedicated to everyday items. An exhibit of typewriters gives way to computers. One glass case contains lamps from the nineteenth century to the present. Plenty of toys are on display. Advertisements and packaging from everyday items, such as soft drinks bottles and cans, also find a home in Pioneer Village.

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The sights don't end there. Outside of the main building, the part of the museum that seems to be dedicated to progress, is the actual pioneer village. Around a lawn with picnic tables and trees labeled with their English and scientific names (confirming my suspicions of Harold Warp's systematic biologist's mind) are several small buildings, each reproductions of buildings that would have existed in a real pioneer village. There is a schoolhouse, a general store, and a sod house, to name a few.

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The buildings are all open to visitors and contain even more exhibits.

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The shady village and picnic tables were a welcome refuge from Nebraska's summer heat. Even Harold Warp could allow the slight anachronism of a modern snack shop in a pioneer village, and here Meg and I marveled over (but did not buy) a Midwestern delicacy previously unknown to me — Frito Pie. Instead, we got Pepsis or maybe even another frozen Snickers to liven up the Midwestern day.

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With a twinge of reluctance, we went back to our journey and back to I-80. There is little to report for a couple hundred miles. Whoever wasn't driving was sleeping. The flatness and grasses, fields and fields without end, with maybe a tree every twenty miles or so, had a soporific effect. We were both awake to stop and explore a monument in Kearney, some big arch over I-80 that was such a tourist trap I don't even feel like looking up its real name. We kept going until Paxton, where we got a noteworthy dinner.

Ole's Big Game Steakhouse in Paxton, Nebraska, is perhaps worth all 310 of the miles we had to travel to get there. They had good local microbrewery beer on tap, but of course the steak was the highlight of dinner. Here at Ole's Big Game Steakhouse, I rekindled my love affair with chicken fried steak, a fragment of American cuisine somehow absent from my Northeastern home. Chicken fried steak is one of the things that keeps me from becoming a vegetarian. Note that "fried" is only one letter away from "friend." As I wrote that last paragraph, I had to keep correcting myself, because three times I wrote, "chicken friend steak." I am happy to report that in Portland, chicken friend steak is a common menu item, especially at brunch, and that I have had many blissful chicken fried steak meals since that dinner in Nebraska.

We had now arrived just west of a question mark on our trip itinerary. In order to make it to Oregon in time, we could either detour from I-80 north to Scottsbluff, toward interesting Nebraskan sights such as Chimney Rock and Carhenge, or we could detour south to Colorado, before heading back to I-80 in Wyoming. We decided to go to Colorado. It may have been because neither of us had been to Colorado before, so we'd accomplish seeing another state and having another opportunity for a shot glass. It's also quite likely that we based our decision on an inability to stand one more minute than was necessary in Nebraska.

Thirty-three miles later, we left I-80 for I-76, bypassing our "ambitious goal" of spending the third night in Ogallala. It was only minutes before we crossed into Colorado, the state where we'd spend our third night. A few hours later, we checked into a hotel in Denver, a city we'd explore on Day Four.

2 comments:

Meg said...

Dear God, did we really drive from Iowa to Denver in one day?! That seems outrageous!

Sarah said...

We sure did! But we were pretty close to the end of Iowa at that point. I think we just wanted to GET OUT OF NEBRASKA.