We love being home together on Valentine’s Day. Typically, we spend the evening cooking together while listening 80’s love songs and then enjoy a nice dinner by candlelight. This year, our Valentine’s Day celebration started a bit earlier in the day, as we were invited to give a lunch presentation to the PEP (People Encouraging People) Club at Capitol City Christian Church in Lincoln.
What we love about midlife travel
Tami Shefford, a friend of Ann’s who works there, recommended us to Todd Grove, the church’s pastor of communications and care. He invited us to come present to the church’s PEP Club for its February meeting, which happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. We happily agreed, and were excited to celebrate with new friends. We got there early, in time for a potluck lunch which included incredible chicken and noodles as well as delicious ribs and desserts.
Valentine’s Day table decor
As a bonus, we got to hear singers from Lincoln Christian School before it was our turn to speak.
PEP Club at Capitol City Christian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
We called our presentation, “Falling in Love With Midlife Travel,” and shared some of what we’ve come to love while traveling. Given the day, we just had to start with the most Valentine-y of cities: Valentine, Nebraska. Regular readers of this blog know that we’ve long been fans of Valentine, its people, and all the amazing things there are to see and do while there like visit Smith Falls, float down the Niobrara, or drive through the wildlife refuge.
We began our presentation with this slide about Valentine, Nebraska.
From Valentine, we expanded a bit and talked about our love of small towns. Over the past year or so, we’ve really come to appreciate the time we’ve spent in towns and smaller cities. We talked about the rich history of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, its friendly people, and the Pioneer Woman Mercantile. We discussed dinners on the plaza in Salamanca, Spain, where Meghan attended Spanish classes for a summer and where we delighted in relaxed dinners with amazing wine.
We used this slide to talk about some of the things we loved in Salamanca, Spain.
Finally, we talked about our hometown of Crete, Nebraska, and how we even surprised ourselves by finding so many things to do right in our own backyard.
A Nebraska event we simply had to include, though, was the annual sandhill crane migration. As we told the folks in PEP Club, if you have not spent time in a blind along the Platte River and seen the incredible sight of these huge birds descending onto the river, you have missed out. It is a humbling experience in the grandeur of nature that takes place in late February and March every year.
A slide from our presentation talking about the sandhill crane migration.
We also shared some of our favorite destinations in the tropics. We talked about the Florida Keys, where I’ve been going since I was a child, and all of the places we love there like the Dolphin Research Center. We discussed plane spotting on Maho Beach in St. Maarten. And of course, we talked about our wonderful day touring St. Kitts with Michael, one of the Doane University students we know though our work with our church’s college ministry program.
One of the slides we used to attempt to show the incredible beauty of St. Kitts.
Next, we spent a little time talking about how much we’ve come to love cruising and some of the advantages we’ve found in this form of vacation. For instance, you only have to unpack once, and your resort moves from location to location providing you with new scenery each and every day. There is so much to do on the ship, you simply can’t be bored, and the food and drink you’ll find provide an incredible culinary experience.
A slide we used to show the beautiful presentations of food and drink on a Celebrity cruise ship.
Finally, we moved on to the most apropos topic of the day: Where we travel for romance. We shared memories of our honeymoon in Costa Rica and the time we spent wallowing in the volcanically heated river that flows off of Arenal Volcano. We talked about long lunches sipping wine and savoring freshly made pasta carbonara at a sidewalk cafe in Rome. And we talked about Bath, England, a place people have been going to relax since Roman times.
We began with the history of Bath; that the Romans built a temple there and brought naturally heated spring water into a pool. Clear 2,000 years ago, today, the water is green because it is exposed to the sun allowing algae to grow. The original pool isn’t considered safe to use today because it is lined with lead, but you can walk around it on the same flagstones that held Romans 2,000 years ago.
The slide we used to show where Bath, England is, and to show the original Roman bath there
But no visit to Bath, England, is complete without taking some time to enjoy the ancient thermal waters for yourself. Our hotel was able to tap into them, and this was their modern day version of a bath that was part of the hotel’s spa. We spent one of our most relaxing afternoons ever in this pool. If the picture makes it look amazing, it’s only because it was. Yes, it seemed a little expensive when we booked it, but then we actually went there. Worth. Every. Penny.
The modern spa located in our hotel in Bath, England. They prepared personalized pouch for visitors with specially selected scents to inhale throughout your treatments.
At the conclusion of the presentation, we took a few questions, and then had a wonderful time hanging around for a while and meeting some of the friendly PEP Club members.
We were super excited when one person told us that we’d inspired him to take his daughter on a Nebraska trip to see the cranes. That affirmed for us why we take the time to write this blog. Nothing makes us happier than when we hear that someone is taking a trip they wouldn’t have taken had it not been for something we said or wrote.
We live in a big, beautiful world and you only have to step out and go places to enjoy it and find new places to love.
We’d love to come present to your club or organization. If you’d like to partner with us, just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I got to show my parents that 14-year-old me was right. On the second day of our trip across Nebraska this summer, we woke up at our hotel, mere steps from the place I’d wanted to go when I crossed the state with mom and dad 30 years earlier: Fort Cody Trading Post.
This life-sized statue of a bison greets visitors to the Fort Cody Trading Post in North Platte, Nebraska.
Fort Cody has all the things that grab kids’ attention: big, colorful signs, soldiers lined across the stockade wall, a statue of a bear ready to take a bite out of someone at the entrance and a two-headed calf displayed inside.
When I suggested we go there this time (now at age 44, mind you), they reacted with what I’ll call reserved enthusiasm which basically translates to: “We’ll humor you” this time.
My dad falls “victim” to the bear in front of the Fort Cody Trading Post.
Ann, Meghan and I had gone to the Fort Cody Trading Post the summer before, and had been impressed enough that we wrote this blog post about our experience. Now I got to share a stuffed two-headed calf with my parents — who could ask for anything more?
See? There really IS a two-headed calf inside the store.
We wandered into the store, my parents surprised (I think) that it was actually a pretty neat place. My mom and Ann found the section of gifts from Nebraska and began Christmas shopping while my dad wandered the store with me, checking out all the little doohickies and odds and ends that pack the display floor. We tinkered with slingshots and the Wyatt Earp rubber band gun.
Never say we didn’t help you find that Wyatt Earp rubber band pistol you didn’t know you needed.
I even got to hold a bullwhip, and while I was tempted, I respected the store’s request that it not be cracked inside.
My mom pretty much ignored me as I acted like a 14 year-old.
They had all the great things you remember from your childhood–boomerangs, wax bottle candy, Pop Rocks, bicycle license plates and even a Hillbilly 401K Starter. I mean, just look at this stuff!
Remember wax bottle candy? Why did we like these things?
Slingshots, wooden hatchets and wooden knives. What a time to be alive!
A large selection of pop rocks on the shelves of the extensive vintage candy section of the Fort Cody Trading Post.
They have a huge selection of vanity bicycle license plates to help you pimp your two-wheeled ride at the Fort Cody Trading Post.
For only $5.99, you can start a Hillbilly 401K–far less than the management fees for other investments these days.
I asked at the person at the counter what time the miniature Wild West Show ran, and was told every half hour, if they remember to start it.
At the appointed hour, we made our way over to the show, eagerly anticipating seeing the 20,000 hand-carved miniatures come to life. The appointed hour passed and the show sat silent. So I went and asked about it and the nice lady at the counter (now embarrassed from having forgotten it after just having told me they sometimes forget) went to start it up.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is worth watching at the Fort Cody Trading Post.
If you go and watch the miniature Wild West Show, at first you’ll likely think, “Wow, this is it? This is all it does?” while feeling slightly under impressed. But then you’ll begin to reflect that each and every one of the 20,000 (twenty thousand!) figurines was hand carved and the mechanism was built by some guy basically as his hobby.
Buffalo Bill himself, in miniature. Note the detail in the hand carved figurines, and then remember there are 20,000 of them.
And then you’ll turn around, realizing the sheer size of the thing, and you’ll find yourself quietly impressed, secure in the knowledge there is probably no way you could ever build something like that. And yet here it is, and you get to see it for free. Roadside America at it’s best.
We started with a tour of Scout’s Rest Ranch. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (which had up to 1,200 performers at a time and which we had just seen in miniature) was wildly popular and toured all over the United States as well as Europe between 1883 and 1913. The show was also pretty profitable. So, Buffalo Bill built Scout’s Rest Ranch near his home in North Platte — sort of the ultimate “man cave” of his day — a place for when he wanted to get out of town and relax. We followed the self-guided tour through the inside of the home first downstairs, then up, checking out the furniture and his buffalo coat and being a little overwhelmed by the wallpaper that was popular back in the day.
A bedroom in Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte.
A buffalo skin coat worn by Buffalo Bill on display at Scout’s Rest Ranch.
We came back down the stairs, through the gift shop and then went outside and over to the barn. Inside, we looked at rows of stalls for horses imagining back to a day when they would have been full, and commenting to each other what the smell must have been like on a hot July day. I even got to try my hand at riding wooden “horse.”
The inside of the barn at Scout’s Rest Ranch. Imagine what it would be like if it were still full of horses.
Yee-haw! Steve is an expert rider from way back.
From Scout’s Rest, we drove around the corner to the historical museum. While we enjoyed looking at other displays, we were especially interested in the exhibit on the North Platte Canteen.
Memorabilia from the North Platte Canteen, including this silver coffee pot.
Early in WWII, the town of North Platte caught wind that a group of Nebraska National Guard soldiers would be stopping at the local train station on December 17, 1941, on their way to be deployed. The town got together, made sandwiches, chicken, pies, cookies and other refreshments as well as gifts to give to their home state heroes when they came through. While they waited for the train to get to the station, they learned that they weren’t Nebraska soldiers, after all, but actually soldiers from Kansas who would be on the train. The folks from North Platte didn’t let that deter them, and when the train stopped, they welcomed the Kansans as their own giving them everything they’d prepared.
Realizing how much they’d lifted the morale of the soldiers, they quickly decided they should meet every train that came through town. An organization formed soon thereafter, and the people of North Platte and surrounding communities met every troop train that came through the city for more than five years, from Christmas day, 1941 until April 1, 1946. Over that time they received no government funding for this project — everything was a donated. By the end of the canteen, it had served over 6,000,000 servicemen and women on their way to war. Some of those people have come back to North Platte over the years, and have written their memories of the Canteen in a notebook at the museum.
This notebook was filled with memories and thank-you notes from veterans who had visited the North Platte Canteen.
The museum also has a display of photos of servicemen in uniform. They are from a collection from a lady named Doris Dotson, who owned a local bar (Doris’ Tavern) in North Platte for years.
Doris Dotson played a key role in canteen and this display was in her memory.
She worked at the canteen, and she never lost the soft spot in her heart for those who serve in the military. At her bar, she offered a free drink to any soldier who would give her a copy of his service picture to hang on the wall. Doris’ Tavern is long gone, but her pictures remain at the historical museum where they are displayed on a rotating basis. Also displayed is a jacket that Doris wore while she worked at the canteen.
Outside the museum, there was an entire village with small houses and buildings from the area, as well as displays from the Union Pacific Railroad.
A Union Pacific caboose is situated in the museum village.
A look inside the Union Pacific Brady Island Depot (c.a. 1885).
I’d never seen one of these antique water fountains before our visit to the Lincoln County Historical Museum.
The shield is from the North Platte Union Pacific Depot and home of the North Platte Canteen.
We’d had a great morning in North Platte, and were now ready to head north, across the Sandhills. Our sights were set on the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey. Fourteen year-old me couldn’t wait to climb the observation tower there.
Up next, we get off the interstate and head north through the Sandhills to Valentine.
Having been on Interstate 80 a thousand times, we opted for the more scenic Highway 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway, as we headed west. Just a few miles down the road, we stopped at Gothenburg, which is home to two Pony Express Stations. We stopped at the Sam Macchette station which is located in Ehmen Park. The station was originally used as a fur trading post/ranch housing along the Oregon Trail before it was used as a Pony Express station in 1860-61.
Pony Express station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.
It was moved to Ehmen Park in 1931 and has been open to the public since 1954. Admission is free. We loved looking around and reading all about the Pony Express and seeing items like the ones that were used by riders who delivered mail.
Inside the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.
There were also books and other items for sale, along with some great postcards (we love those) and special Pony Express stamps.
Lots of great postcards at the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska
Of course, we purchased a few postcards, wrote them out, and mailed them from a saddlebag on the door.
Mail bag at the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.
After a short visit there, we got back in the van and drove further west to North Platte, where I’d lived right after college when I got my first job as a newspaper reporter at The North Platte Telegraph.
My first job after college was as a reporter for The North Platte Telegraph newspaper.
I hadn’t been there in years, so we made a quick stop for me to go inside and reminisce with some of the staff there about what newspaper life was like before digital cameras and pagination. (I can still remember the smell of the hot wax we used to paste up the pages.)
Our next stop was one of our favorite Nebraska attractions — the Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center overlooking Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard. Steve and I had been there before and we were excited to take Steve’s mom and dad there, as well.
Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard.
We took the elevator to the open-air observation deck at the Golden Spike Tower and walked out into the fresh air to see and hear the hundreds of trains below in the world’s largest railroad classification yard. The massive yard covers more than 2,850 acres and is eight miles long. It handles 12,000 railroad cars every day and services 9,000 locomotives every month.
The beautiful view of the prairie from the top of the Golden Spike Tower at Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska.
One of the things we love most about visiting Bailey Yard is that there is typically a retired railroad employee who is on site to answer questions and tell you about his experiences on the rail road. Check out this video below of the trains “humping” at Bailey Yard.
We spent more than an hour watching the trains and learning about the railroad before perusing the gift shop and purchasing (of course) a couple postcards.
The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.
The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.
The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.
We checked into our hotel before dinner. Most of the time when we’re in North Platte, we stay at the Hampton Inn near the interstate. It is seriously one of the very best Hilton properties we’ve ever seen. The staff is super friendly and helpful, the rooms are extra clean, and you will not meet nicer ladies than the ones who work in the breakfast area there.
At the recommendation of the hotel desk clerk, we decided to try a new restaurant for dinner and were not disappointed! Mallory’s offered several options for seating, inside the Irish pub bar, outside on a patio, or inside in a coffee shop space. We all enjoyed our dinners and adult beverages there.
Mallory’s in North Platte, Nebraska.
After supper, we relaxed with a nice drive through a local favorite, Cody Park, where we took time to watch the geese, peacocks and other wildlife. The park also has an iconic carousel, lion’s mouth water fountain (do you remember one from your childhood?), and an ice cream stand that serves up special treats.
The carousel at Cody Park in North Platte, Nebraska.
Ice cream stand in Cody Park in North Platte, Nebraska.
Knowing that there was lots more to see and do in North Platte, we called it day, and planning to continue our exploration of this western railroad town in the morning.
Next up: What we found at Fort Cody Trading Post, our look inside Scout’s Rest Ranch, and what we learned about the North Platte Canteen.
When I decided to leave my full-time job as a middle school principal this spring, one of the things Ann and I wanted to do in this interim stage was spend more time with our families. For years, our jobs have dictated when we could travel and how much time we could spend each year with the people we love most.
So, as my colleagues are returning to their offices at school and attending a three-day conference for administrators, we thought it would be nice to take a short road trip vacation with my parents, John and Gayle Teget.
My folks live in Iowa part of the year, but spend the cold winter months in warm and sunny Florida. We don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, so we’re really looking forward to this week’s travels.
As Ann and I have traveled our home state of Nebraska, several towns and attractions have sounded appealing to my mom and dad and we’re excited to have the opportunity to take them to some of those places this summer.
We’re planning stops at Bailey Yard in North Platte, the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey, and Smith Falls near Valentine. We’ll be giving my parents their first view of the incredible Nebraska Sandhills and seeing a few things that are new to us, as well.
We’ll plan to post some updates on our social media pages and will write more complete blog posts about our adventures when we return. We hope you’ll come along for the ride and when you have the opportunities, you’ll go places, too.
The first time I visited North Platte, Nebraska, I was 14. My family drove there via I-80 to attend the wedding of a close family friend. After almost 30 years, I don’t remember too much from that visit, but I do remember being intrigued by the western stockade I saw sitting just off the interstate there. My parents didn’t stop the car to visit then, so I soothed my disappointment by telling myself that it was probably just another cheesy tourist trap.
Over the years I’ve driven been past North Platte several times, and even stayed in hotels right next to the Fort Cody Trading Post — each time without going inside. I’d look at its weathered, wooden stockade walls, the mannequin-soldiers defending it from some unseen foe, and wonder what was inside. So on this trip, I decided to end my wondering and actually visit the store, and not just look at it from the outside. Boy, I’m glad I finally went inside.
When we walked in, we were overwhelmed with all the cool stuff this trading post had to offer.
Just as they opened the doors for business that morning, I walked in to a huge souvenir shop, filled with toys and trinkets from my childhood, oddities I’d never seen before, and country music playing in the background.
A two-headed calf. Sadly, it only survived for 48 hours.
The Fort Cody Trading Post is special. It has been family owned and operated since 1963. It takes its name from “Buffalo” Bill Cody, who was a longtime resident of North Platte. The store bills itself as “Nebraska’s largest souvenir and western gift store,” and it has the four different pressed-penny designs to back that up.
They also offer some free attractions inside the store. One is the “Old West Museum” where you’ll find hats, chaps, and other western stuff like a two-headed calf. The other is a miniaturized “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.” This tiny show really isn’t so tiny…it is made up of 20,000 hand-carved wooden figures, many of which march, dance, and spin to music and a narrated history of the show every half-hour.
The miniature Wild West Show includes more than 20,000 hand-carved pieces.
You can also step out the back door and into the “yard” of the stockade. Back there you’ll find a variety of covered wagons, a little cabin, a tiny Old West jail cell, and even a teepee. It was a fun place to walk around, take pictures, and imagine the Wild West.
Meghan was a good sport and posed for a photo in the Fort Cody Jail.
Back inside, we enjoyed perusing thousands of souvenirs and gifts. In addition to the typical trinkets like postcards, pencils and shot glasses that are in any store, we loved checking out books, Nebraska grown honey and popcorn, steak seasonings, and dip mixes. I felt like a kid again looking at the slingshots, hand-buzzers, polished rocks, over-sized pennies, retro-sunglasses, and those little bicycle license plates that you always check to see if they have your name (they did!).
Fort Cody Trading Post had hundreds of souvenirs including slingshots, giant pennies, Nebraska-grown popcorn, polished rocks and those little bicycle license plates (including the correct spelling of Meghan’s name).
They even had car Bingo cards to help travelers like us pass the miles. Word of caution: If you buy the Bingo game make sure you pick out different cards. Meghan and I were so excited to play this game in the car but didn’t check that before we left the store. Forty miles down the road, we realized our Bingo cards were exactly the same, and somehow the game just wasn’t as fun.
Our visit to the Fort Cody Trading Post served to teach me a little lesson about travel. If you see something that catches your interest and time allows, stop the car. Visit it. I left North Platte with such regret that I had not stopped here before. I realized I had missed out all these years because I never took the time to go in to a place I had pre-judged. No worries. I plan to start making up for those misses now, as the Fort Cody Trading Post will be on my “must-see” list of places whenever I’m headed west.
Have you been to Fort Cody Trading Post? What was your favorite souvenir or attraction? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.
We’re Steve and Ann Teget. We spent more than two decades in corporate America and public education before Ann’s health and Steve’s aversion to middle school girl drama convinced us to try something new. Now we are making the most of midlife and telling authentic stories about extraordinary travel. And yes, we send ourselves postcards.