Leaving I-80 for a better view

Leaving I-80 for a better view

In case you didn’t know, I’m usually a get-there-as-quickly-as-we-can kinda guy. So when Ann told me that she and Meghan preferred to avoid the interstate on trips around Nebraska, I felt a little queasy. The thought of trailing long lines of cars and putting along behind slow moving tractors with no chance to pass made my palms sweat and my heart race.  As long as I was driving, we’d be interstate people, I thought.

When we headed out on our annual Nebraska trip this summer, our first planned stop was in Hastings, Nebraska, about  77 miles straight west of Crete. We started out on and stuck to Highway 6 merely because using the interstate would have taken us 28 miles out of our way.

We made it a whole 7 miles down the highway before we had to stop to get something out of the back of the car.

We made it a whole 7 miles down the highway before we had to stop to get something out of the back of the car.

From Hastings we headed north to Grand Island where we spent the first night. After a visit to the Stuhr Museum the next morning, we set our sights on Kearney and North Platte. Of course, I looked for the quickest way to the interstate, but Ann had another idea: “Let’s take Highway 30.”

I’ve got to tell you — I died a little inside when she said those words. Then, trusting my wife, I  took a deep breath and reassured myself that we didn’t really have to be there by a certain time. I turned the steering wheel and somewhat reluctantly headed down Highway 30. Little did I know at that time that I was not only heading to North Platte, but also into a new appreciation for a different pace of travel.

First, let me say that my fears of long lines of cars were unfounded. It turns out, those stretches of cars were actually on I-80 and not the highway. We had the road to ourselves. Sure we had to slow down every 10-15 miles for a little town, but it was fun to actually see the towns, parks, and attractions that had always just been names on interstate turnoff signs before. Like this stop at the dam at Lake McConaughy.

Meghan had a great idea for a funny photo at the dam at Lake McConaughy.

Meghan had a great idea for a funny photo at the dam at Lake McConaughy.

Steve took it one step further (and perhaps, a little too far).

Steve took it one step further (and perhaps, a little too far).

Gradually, I became more comfortable with the idea of staying off the interstate and away from the rat race of that 4-lane nightmare. At some point, we noticed that signs that said we were on the Lincoln Highway, and not knowing much about that, we Googled it. It turns out we were on the very first road across America that runs from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Who knew? With that tidbit of knowledge in my mind, I was set on staying on this highway as long as we could.

There are lots of interesting things to see and do along the way and each small Nebraska town gave us glimpse of something you just can’t see from the interstate. Sure, you can cross the 100th meridian on I-80, but you won’t know it. Driving down the Lincoln Highway, Cozad, Nebraska, reminds you of the crossing with a large, lighted sign and a street named Meridian.

The 100th Meridian is nicely marked in Cozad, Nebraska, which even has a street named Meridian.

The 100th Meridian is nicely marked in Cozad, Nebraska, which even has a street named Meridian.

Yes, you can stop at a rest area on the interstate for a picnic lunch with all the other weary travelers. You’ll hear cars and trucks zoom past as you eat. Along the Lincoln Highway, we stopped in the small town of Shelton, looked for a park using our GPS, and savored our lunch as we listened to kids playing and birds chirping. Remembering Ann had a cousin in Shelton, we sent a quick text and she and her daughter were at the park for a visit in a just a few minutes.

It was great to say hello to our cousin, Rachel, as we stopped for a picnic lunch at a local park.

It was great to say hello to our cousin, Rachel, as we stopped for a picnic lunch at a local park.

I learned this summer that getting off of the interstate and slowing down makes the trip itself be the destination. You don’t just enjoy where you’re going but taking your time you can also enjoy getting there. That 1,100-mile trip changed me and my outlook on road trips. There came one point where the highway was closed for construction, and the detour took us back to the interstate for 13 miles. It was awful. I couldn’t wait to return to the back roads and a slower pace so I could enjoy the moment.

From now on, if time permits, we will travel away from the interstate  — there is simply too much to see off the beaten path.

Have you ever taken a trip on a scenic highway? Let us know about it in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Nebraska’s Nicest #6 – A Kiss on the Butte

Nebraska’s Nicest #6 – A Kiss on the Butte

Can I tell you something personal?  I kissed my wife on the butte.  It’s okay, though, because there was no one around to see us, and the scenery was so beautiful, I just had to kiss her.  On the butte.  And she liked it.  I know that joke is a little juvenile, but I work with middle school students who would think that was pretty funny.

Seriously, though, NW Nebraska is a beautiful place filled with interesting land formations like the Sandhills, and yes, buttes. Driving down these long, empty roads together was a special time for us; a chance to connect, have conversation, and just be together.

I think the real winner of the #6 spot here isn’t the kiss per se, rather it is the absolutely amazing scenery that surrounded us in every direction–scenery that created many romantic moments (until Ann began to hum the theme from Little House on the Prairie).  The Sandhills and the buttes are unique and not seen many other places.  Some of the best views we had were driving along back country gravel roads…open range country with cattle out and about and wandering across the road in front of the car.  In fact, we could drive dozens of miles without seeing another person, alone together without cell phones, emails or other distractions of our everyday lives back home.

If you’re driving in Nebraska, make some time and hop on Highway 2 out of Grand Island over to Alliance, or take 61 north out of Ogallala around Lake McConaughy, or drive across the north part of the state on Highway 20, and you’ll treat yourself to some of the most beautiful country you’ve ever seen.  If you stick to I-80, you’ll never know all the beauty that Nebraska has to offer, and you’ll miss your opportunity to give your significant other a kiss on the butte.

Note:  I’m pretty sure Sir Mix-a-lot would also like Nebraska what with all our big buttes and everything…