Postcards from the Johnstone family

Postcards from the Johnstone family

Ann’s brother and sister-in-law, Stephen and Carrie, took their two sons, Nathan and Noah, on a driving adventure last summer. They headed out across northern Nebraska, through Valentine, and up into the Badlands of South Dakota. They wanted to take a trip that felt far from home without actually going that far, and they chose some neat destinations and made a lot of memories.

Nathan, Steve, Carrie and Noah at the iconic Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

The Badlands have some very cool geography, and are worth a visit if you ever find yourself in South Dakota. Stephen and Carrie sent us a really cool postcard that has a 3D effect which highlights the landforms found in that area.

From there, they headed west to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. It sounds like they had a great time while there.

They had one more stop in South Dakota before coming back to Nebraska: Wind Cave National Park. We have not been there, yet, but a little research about it makes me think that we need to put it on our list of places to go. The postcard they sent was based on a poster designed circa 1939!

Their final stop was at Scottsbluff National Monument, one of Ann’s and my favorite Nebraska locales. Scottsbluff was an important landmark for pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail, and is a wonderful stop for families driving west across Nebraska today.

Stephen, Carrie and their sons had a blast traveling as a family last summer–and they didn’t have to go too far from home. We can’t wait to see where they’re headed this summer!


Next time you’re traveling, send us a postcard. We’d love to hear from you. Mail to: Postcard Jar, PO Box 334, Crete, NE 68333.

Nebraska’s Nicest #7 – Chimney Rock/Scottsbluff Monument

Nebraska’s Nicest #7 – Chimney Rock/Scottsbluff Monument

Any trip through western Nebraska should include a stop at Chimney Rock National Historic Site and the Scottsbluff National Monument in the Scottsbluff/Gering area.  I say this, because these are beautiful places with cool history.  These monuments are located along the Oregon Trail and were key landmarks for pioneers as they headed west seeking a better life.  Today, each has a modern visitors’ center (complete with restrooms) so you can learn the geologic history of the site.  We’ve combined them in this post because they are close to each other (in fact, you can see them from each other) and were geologically formed in the same way.  We include them at #7 on the “Nebraska’s Nicest” list because we loved the vistas, and we really enjoyed our visit.

At the Chimney Rock visitors’ center, we went through the museum, and then stepped out back to take in a view of the rock.  It is an incredible formation–I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  And that’s about all there is to do there.  Standing there, I felt kind of like Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” when he looked at the Grand Canyon.  I looked at it, and then I’d seen it.  Still, it’s worth the stop…plus, in the museum you can learn lots of fun facts like the somewhat inappropriate name given the formation by Native Americans (Elk Penis) before any pioneers appeared on the horizon.  I guess those jokes work in all times, places and cultures–which I think is awesome though I’m not sure Ann agrees.

View from the top of the Scottsbluff Monument (Photo by Ann Teget)

View from the top of the Scottsbluff Monument (Photo by Ann Teget)

At the Scottsbluff Monument, we hurried to drive to the top so we could be in front of 4 massive RVs that pulled in right behind us. At the top, we had the place to ourselves and took some time to walk along the short path to take in a view looking off to the south and east.  It was an incredible view.  As I stood there, I could imagine a wagon train lumbering along the ground below–and no, I couldn’t even see the RVs at that point.

Taken at the overlook at the top of Scottsbluff Monument (Photo by Ann Teget)

Taken at the overlook at the top of Scottsbluff Monument (Photo by Ann Teget)

Both sites have a small admission charge.  At Scottsbluff monument you can do like we did and drive your car to the top and back down.   (There is NO shame in doing this.)  If you’re feeling more energetic, there is a hiking trail that leads to the top.  Workers told us that most folks plan on about 1.5 hours for the climb and 45 minutes for the descent.  Finally, there is a service that will drive you to the top so you can walk back down to your car.  (If you’re planning to hike any of these trails, take note of the signs warning of rattlesnakes–there have been some reported this year.  Just be sure you stick to the trail and watch your step.)

Trail at the top of Scottsbluff Monument (Photo by Ann Teget)

Trail at the top of Scottsbluff Monument (Photo by Ann Teget)

Finally, there are some unique gifts you can pick up in the gift shops–for instance, we picked up a blue bonnet for our daughter.  I mean, how often do you find a bonnet these days that would fit a junior in college?

Nebraska’s Nicest Nine 2014

Nebraska’s Nicest Nine 2014

I have to admit, I wasn’t thrilled with Nebraska’s new tourism slogan, “Nebraska Nice” when it was introduced a few weeks ago.  I felt it lacked a certain something and didn’t capture all it could.  “Nice?”  Really?  I felt the tourism board could have said “Nebraska Swell” or “Nebraska Nifty,” or some other milquetoast word like that and captured the same idea.  But then we traveled the state.

At this point, I’m pretty sure you’re wondering why anyone would tour Nebraska.  Ann has had some health challenges recently, so we wanted to stay close to home should she need to get back quickly.  But we also wanted to take some time, get out of town, and relax.  A slow tour of our home state fit the bill perfectly.  We never did more than about three or four hours in the car in a day.  This slow pace over six days allowed us to do a variety of things, from touring the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte to wading in the water under Smith Falls; from attending a country music concert (Billy Currington!) in a rodeo arena to spending a night in the hotel General Nelson Miles used as his headquarters when he investigated the incident at Wounded Knee.  Throughout our trip one thing became clear: Nebraska has some exceptionally nice people, places and things; perhaps the slogan is more on-point than I first realized.

We decided to highlight some of Nebraska’s Nicest from our 2014 trip–nine things, to be exact.  We’re calling them “Nebraska’s Nicest Nine.”  Over the coming days and weeks, we’ll share those things, beginning with number nine, and working our way up to number one.   The list was compiled from the places we traveled this week on our 1,260-mile journey that took us west to North Platte, then off I-80 around Lake McConaughy to Alliance, then to Scottsbluff/Gering, up to Chadron, across Highway 20 to Valentine, and Norfolk, then down through Columbus to home.  These nine are the nicest sites, attractions, and people we found on this particular trip off the beaten path–a place definitely worth going.