I Fell In Love with Nebraska.
We rolled into Omaha around Noon. We passed Kenefick Park, where two grand trains welcome visitors to the city. One of then was a large yellow engine that had the words UNION PACIFIC painted on its side. Like Des Moines It seemed like a small city. It met us immediately after we left Iowa, its footprint sitting right on the border of both states. It was my turn to drive, and I looked around as I made my way along. Near the Iowa border I had taken the wheel and the plan was for me to drive a couple hours into the state.
Dark clouds met us, laying on the far side of the city. The openness of the landscape allowed me to see the size of the storm. Large dark clouds bent out towards each corner of the horizon. I had looked at the forecast, it had predicted storms throughout the afternoon. As we drove through the city I could feel the strong winds buffering the car.
It was the type of storm where you to curl up in the house and wait till it passed. Yet we did not have that luxury. One of my biggest fears roaming West had been tornadoes. A week or so before we had left dozens of tornadoes had crisscrossed the West. Looking at the dark clouds that looked to meet us, I felt a misgiving in my stomach. Yet I set my jaw and clung to the steering wheel. There was nowhere to go except forward.
The rain started one drop at a time, until we hit the brunt of the system. Suddenly it came down in heavy curtains. Even with the windshield wipers full blast it became hard for me to see. Holding tight to the steering wheel, all my concentration was centered on keeping us safe. It was a new road, in a new city halfway across the country. Yet somehow we made it through. Later when I called home I would find out that the system had later produced tornadoes. to the South they had Tornado warnings, yet we had been lucky and passed through it unscathed.
As we passed into the center of Nebraska the weather cleared up. I drove for a bit longer, and the clouds cleared as we passed the system. By the time that we had stopped, the sun was out. We made a quick stop at the Grand Isle. The Rest Area was a tiny oasis in the large open plain. While under the cool shade of large tree, I looked out at the vista. Only a few yards from where I stood, The Plains stopped. The land opened once again into wide farmers fields.
After I took a moment to read the worn blue that gave the history of the area. Grand Island had been a stop for many people in the move west. What had been their thoughts as they had moved across this unfamiliar landscape. They had no idea what the land was like past the Mississippi. Unlike us, there was no ticket home waiting for them. The only direction they could go was forward.
After the stop I relinquished the wheel. Settling into the passenger seat, I got the chance to take the countryside in. Nebraska had many reminders of its past. Everywhere I looked I saw relics of our push West. Billboards dotted fields,trying to lure unsuspecting tourists in. Horse rides, an Old West Store, and in one field there was a huge covered wagon. All of them trying to offer the quintessential western experience. None of these truly caught my attention. I wanted to get off the highway for other reasons. This country was so new and exciting. I wanted to get off the highway, and delve deeper into Nebraska.
Nebraska is wide open country. The land had been manipulated to foster agriculture, and it was a true plains state. We went by numerous fenced in yards, that had been created to foster cattle, and crops. Like in Iowa, there were forgotten farms and overgrown fields. There were old fences, the gnarled old barbed wire rusting, grassing growing up near the posts. Old weathered poles pulled power from the road, pulling it to buildings unseen over the horizon.
There were new farms too. Large metal silos sat low and fat upon the ground, much different from their wooden slender predecessors. Houses had cropped up, Many cow grazed lazily in well maintained fields. Their calves ran across the fields, or sat lazily sunning themselves. The many herds were much larger than any I had ever seen. We passed so many dirt roads that soon I lost count. Many ran adjacent along the highway before snaking away and making a straight shot to the horizon. Little white churches sat upon the flat plain, the steeple reaching up towards the pale blue sky. The flat landscape had long ago been converted for agriculture. Every field seemed a little different. Many had fences and small ponds for water usage.
We passed towns that were surrounded by warehouses and grain elevators. Trains passed us hauling coals and goods across The Plains. We saw gas stations and hotels off the exits, and strange metal gates. They were at each exit, and for a while they mystified me. Later when I asked about them, I was told that the gates were meant to close the highway in a blizzard. In this wide open landscape, storms could cause motorists to become lost.
Nebraska is boring, there is nothing in Nebraska.
I heard this numerous times as I readied myself to head West. Yet as I traveled through the state, I found that these people were wrong. Nebraska does not have the trees, or the large mountains of Colorado. Instead it home to wide open spaces. You are surrounded by field and sky. The large landscape reminds you of how small we are. In such a large, open landscape you are forced to contemplate your place in this world. I fell in love with Nebraska, and the way that the open landscape meets the sky.