September 17, 2017

Nebraska!

by Rosemary West

We rarely make reservations more than a few days in advance. However, back in May, as we were preparing to start our trip, we knew we wanted to view the total eclipse on August 21, and advance reservations would be vital.

Studying the map of the path of totality, we decided that the city of Beatrice would be the perfect viewing spot. (At the time, we didn't realize that a huge viewing party with organized events and special guests had been planned.) The closest reservation we could get was in Omaha, about a 90-minute drive away. For more than two months, we gradually worked our way east.

Our first stop in Nebraska was North Platte. The town's big tourist attraction is the Golden Spike Tower, which overlooks Bailey Yard, the world's largest railyard, covering 2,850 acres. Every day, thousands of railroad cars are managed here. Cars are sorted according to destination, while others are inspected and serviced, and locomotives are fueled or held for repairs. An ultrasound inspection system identifies wheels that need to be replaced.


After our visit here, we continued driving east, surrounded by seemingly endless cornfields.


We spent the next night at Kearney, home of the Great Platte River Road Archway. This elevated monument spans Interstate 80. Inside, the museum uses life-size displays and audio guides to document 170 years of westward expansion along the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails.


Nearby is a covered picnic area, some educational exhibits, and hiking trails.


We didn't know it then, but we would be back.

Our hotel in Omaha was in what was once the Omaha Federal Building. All government agencies had left the building by 2008, and it was sold to developers in 2011. Because it is on the National Register of Historic Places, the important architectural exterior of the building was preserved during renovations.


Nearby are two huge sculpture parks, built by First National Bank. "Pioneer Courage" is a series of bronze sculptures portraying a westward-bound wagon train. The sculptures are larger than life (the wagon master is 11 feet tall, and the covered wagons are over 40 feet long) and highly detailed.



Nearby buildings are incorporated into the park, as buffalo and geese seem to pass through the structures.


Down the block and around the corner is the second park, a huge lawn and fountain area called "Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness".


The more we read about Beatrice's plans for the eclipse, the less appealing it seemed. Weather predictions were also discouraging, indicating that clouds might obscure the view throughout much of eastern Nebraska. We decided to skip Beatrice and drive further west. We could simply stop anywhere that parking was possible.

On the morning of the eclipse we got up at 4:30 am, giving ourselves plenty of time to deal with weather and traffic. We headed west on I-80. Shortly before dawn we were caught in a powerful thunderstorm; we and many others pulled over to the side of the road until it had subsided a bit. We continued to check the weather reports and consult our map. We kept heading west.


Eventually, we made our way back to Kearney, the place we had stayed two nights before, about 180 miles west of Omaha. We parked at the Archway. There were other people there to view the eclipse, including a large tour group, but we were surprised to see that the place was not at all crowded. We set up our food and supplies on a sheltered picnic table and spread our blanket on the nearby grass. The weather was perfect.

The eclipse, strange and beautiful, was an amazing experience. We don't have the right kind of equipment to photograph the sun, and in any case, I haven't yet seen a photo that fully captures the beauty and emotion of that moment. Just for the record, here is a picture from Getty Images:

Embed from Getty Images

Our drive to Kearney had been easy, but the drive back to Omaha was not. Everyone everywhere left at about the same time, and traffic was at a crawl. It took over four hours to get back to the hotel. It was worth it.

We spent another day in Omaha before continuing our journey east.
 

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