‘After a long drive from Denver, we decided to spend the night in Kearney, Nebraska before moving on to Kansas City, Missouri…’
We headed to Kearney, drove the Great Plains and found a whole bunch of poker straight roads and nothingness. 6 hours of nothingness, to be exact. It’s quite incredible how much space Nebraska has, and also how completely flat it is. It can be difficult to concentrate on driving when there’s little to see. However, that soon changed when we rolled into Kearney.
Kearney is a University City in the South of Nebraska. It’s the home of the University of Nebraska-Kearney, which is also one of the city’s major employers. The city is well located on a major highway and within easy reach of Denver, Kansas City, Des Moines and Wichita.
It’s pretty small in relation to other US cities but has a lot to offer. It’s situated on the Pony Express, which was an early postal service route. The Pony Express delivered mail from Missouri to California, by way of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. That’s one hell of a mail route. You can’t help but wonder if there was any point in paying for first class back then.
Kearney is also on the Lincoln Highway, which was America’s first transcontinental road for ‘automated vehicles’ I’m going to guess this includes cars and that horses were probably frowned upon.
The Highway originally ran from Time Square in New York aaaaall the way to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Most of it still exists, with a number of improvements, obviously. The road still traverses the US from East to West coast. Helpfully, it also goes West to East, so you don’t have to stay in SF if you decide it’s not for you.
If you have time to spend in Kearney – these are some of the fantastic attractions you could check out…
Fort Kearny State Historical Park
A 39-acre state park, Fort Kearny was originally built to house Overland Trail travellers. It’s also a home station for the Pony Express. Its history has been well preserved and there are many trails to be walked, fish to be caught and camping to be done. The old blacksmith’s shop has been rebuilt and the old fort fencing and sod house can also be viewed. If you are interested in the history of the old west – it’s a great place to enjoy a stroll.
Museum of Nebraska Art
MONA houses a collection of 6,000 works and tells the history of Nebraska through its art. Pieces include those by Nebraska locals, as well as internationally renowned artists. The museum celebrates the culture and background of the state by showcasing its talent.
As well as the permanent collections, MONA has a rolling programme of events and exhibitions. This ensures there’s always something fresh to experience on your visit. Admission is free of charge and there’s also a fantastic shop on site.
Forming part of the University of NE, Frank House was designed by local architect, George William Frank, Jr. I’ve no idea how he came up with the name, but he gifted the house to his parents, presumably also called Frank. The house was the first to be wired for electricity West of the Missouri, people. That’s incredible, even if the name is boring. The ‘We Have Lights and You Don’t House’ would have been so much more satisfying.
In addition to being used as a regular house, the property has also spent time as a sanitarium and tuberculosis hospital. It’s now preserved on the register of Historic Places.
It is a fine house, both inside and out, and admission is free of charge.
Nebraska Firefighter Museum
It might not sound like that much fun at first but stick with me. The museum not only serves as a memorial to Nebraska’s Firefighters but also as an educational centre to teach people about their work. It gives you an insight into what the Fire Brigade does, as well as providing information on fire safety and prevention.
If that wasn’t enough, they have Fire Engines, y’all! Lots of ’em. And you know what they say about fire engines? Yep…they usually come equipped with Fire Fighters. That might be worth the $6 entry fee in itself.
The Archway represents the settling of people in the West of the US via the Lincoln Highway. This highway is now one of the busiest interstates in the US. You can go back almost 200 years in history here and see the transformation of people and lands up to the present day.
The bridge itself is beautiful and the displays are well thought out and of a high standard. If you, like me, knew absolutely nothing about the history of Kearney and Nebraska, you won’t be disappointed. Also: The Archway has a mascot called Archie (obviously) and he looks a bit like a Highland Cow. He’s fabulous.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you might be lucky enough to see the Standhill Crane migration. There are literally millions of them*, and Kearney is famous for having some of the best viewing sites along the Platte River for watching the birds take flight.
One of my favourite things about road tripping across the US is finding cities I would otherwise never have seen I’ve yet to be disappointed with anywhere I’ve stopped…apart from LA, but that’s a whole other story… Kearney is a compact and attractive city and the perfect pit stop.
Have you visited Kearney, Nebraska?
*That’s probably not true, but there are a LOT.