Join me in welcoming Laura to the glimpses of our country series as she shares about Nebraska.

Having grown up out "East", although I was Nebraska born, I was used to seeing the Pennsylvania farmhouses and barns built in the 1700's. I often felt that Nebraska was a "young" state in comparison. But, after living here for 15 years, I stand corrected. There is history everywhere, you just need to know where to look!

Here are some field trips you can enjoy here in Nebraska, where the slogan is "Possibilities... endless."

Ancient History:

The Agate Fossil Beds: A must see for any family who wants to see real life proof of the Biblical Flood, while the displays are from an evolutionary worldview, it is easy to show your kids the miracle of a large number of animal fossils, deposited all at one time. It is also a great place to visit another aspect of Nebraska history, the Cook Collection of Plains Indian artifacts includes over 500 items!

Not far from there, you can visit the Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed, another active archaeological site. The site was accidentally discovered by a rancher in 1954. There is an enclosed area where the excavation is ongoing, and nice modern bathrooms. The entry fee is very reasonable, and we loved that because of its remote location our tour by the ranger there was pretty much one on one. After checking out the dig site, we had the opportunity to practice trying to hunt bison, or at least the plywood shape of one, like a Native American with an atlatl. (a tool used to launch a spear or dart). It was a LOT of fun!

Early Exploration:

Nebraska was smack in the middle of the Louisiana Purchase, and had already been explored by the French in the 1700's before Louis and Clark sailed up the east border on the Missouri River. They barely touched this place called "Nebraska", a name which comes from the Omaha word for "flat water". This was a reference to the Platte River which spans the state and was a mile wide in places. All of modern day Nebraska was spread out 450 miles to the west of the Missouri River. In fact the main route of crossing the state was to follow the Platte, which was often called the Platte River Road. The California Gold Rush Trail, the Mormon Trail, The Pony Express, and the Oregon Trail all traversed this same "road".

It takes nearly 7 hours to drive from the Panhandle of Nebraska to the largest city of Omaha on the Missouri River, and that is via the Interstate, with speed limits of 75mph! It is a long ride with not much to look at, aside from the prairie and cottonwood trees (the state tree) that line the Platte River. Imagine how long it took to cross by wagon. When the pioneers reached the buttes and hills of Western Nebraska, they were SO excited just to have something to look at. Several wonderful stops that tell the pioneer story are:

The Chimney Rock Visitor Center, tells about this landmark with was often drawn in many a pioneer's journey. It is also often an emblem of Nebraska. While there you can watch a video presentation, load your wagon, and sketch your own rendition of the famous site.

The Scottsbluff National Monument, an amazing place where you could until recently see the very wagon wheel ruts in the trail. You can also drive up on top and hike around to see all the way over into Wyoming and identify one peak on the Rocky Mountains, Laramie Peak. For a bigger adventure, hike up from the bottom, or take a shuttle up and hike down.  In the summer there are living history presentations every day.

The North Platte Valley Museum. From Fur traders to old settlers, this often overlooked spot has a great bit of history of the North Platte Valley. You can see a real sod house, and plenty of history of the life of the early plains settlers. It is currently joining with another museum, the Farm And Ranch Museum (F.A.R.M.) to become The Legacy of The Plains. I am excited about this, as both places have been a favorite field trip for our family, and a treat to many an out-of-town visitor.

Early Statehood:

Nebraska became a state on Feb. 8, 1867. The State Flower is the Goldenrod and the State Bird is the Western Meadowlark.

In Nebraska, all 4th grade students spent that school year on state history. While homeschooled students aren't required to, we have followed the pattern. We had a great opportunity to step back in time. A small prairie school, operated by the local educational services unit, allows 4th grade students to attend a day of school, just as one would in 1888. Our kids enjoyed dressing the part and baking home made bread to pack in their lunches. I hoped that they would feel the part, as my own ancestors attended such schools and lived in sod houses.

Recent History and Present Day:

Nebraska ranks #1 in number of irrigated acres. This is due to the arid climate, and the mighty Platte River has been partially diverted into reservoirs and irrigation. It is no longer a mile wide. One of these irrigation measures, the Kingsley Dam, is the second largest hydraulic fill dam in the world. The lake created by this dam, Lake McConaughy, is 22 miles long and 4 miles wide.

Nebraska also sits on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground lake that is under a large portion of the Great Plains, and is deepest under Nebraska. It is one of the world's largest aquifers, and covers 174,000 square miles. See here for more information, or visit the Knight Museum in Alliance, NE, where there is a wonderful display about it.

Notable people from Nebraska include:
  • Johnny Carson
  • Miss America, Teresa Scanlan (who was, for a time, homeschooled)
  • Willa Cather
  • President Gerald Ford
  • Buffalo Bill Cody
  • Bob Kerry
  • Fred Astaire
  • Marlon Brando
  • Henry Fonda
  • Mari Sandoz
  • Warren Buffett
  • Peter Kiewitt

I hope this fills you with interest about the Cornhusker State, and on your next family vacation you will consider following the trails going west... and visit Nebraska!

Laura is redeemed by Jesus, a wife to Ben, and a mom to 4 miracles on Earth. Making her home on the high plains, far from the east coast bustle she grew up around, she loves worshiping, homeschooling, gardening, baking, chicken keeping, reading, and being a birth Doula. Laura writes about her adventures in country life on her blog www.homeschoolhighplains.blogspot.com.

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