Nebraska doesn't have very many claims to fame. But boy, they sure do try.
In North Platte, you'll find Buffalo Bill Cody's Scouts’ Rest Ranch, where you can watch re-creations of his old Wild West show. Also in North Platte, you'll find the Golden Spike Tower, which offers “a panoramic view of the world’s largest railyard,” the Union Pacific.
If you’re not interested enough in these particular attractions to fork over the cash to get the insider’s view of them – as I was not, as the above non-panoramic view of the railyard should make plain – you can also visit an original Pony Express station, or Scott’s Bluff Monument, a landmark on the Oregon Trail. But mostly, Nebraska is famous for this, and it’s entirely free to see:
Crops. Acres and acres of crops. And where there are no crops, there are grasslands. Nebraska isn’t as flat as Kansas, as I recall, at least not in the northern part, where hills surround the roads leading north to South Dakota. But even those hills are covered in grass.
It's farm country, the very heart of it, and everywhere you look, you find fields of corn and fields of greens and bales of hay and cattle munching away at the plentiful fields of grass. Nebraska, like Nevada, like Wyoming, has its own unique colors. Green and yellow, yellow and green. They're everywhere: in the grasses, in the haze, in the sunflowers, in the corn. It's a green and yellow world. Golden and glowing, yet green and growing; everywhere growing.
It looks calm, peaceful, harmless. One would never suspect that this gentle-looking land could be subject to such violent outbursts of weather, such as the severe thunderstorm that came upon me yesterday outside of Big Springs.
You know it's a bad sign when the National Weather Service breaks in on your radio station to warn you of a thunderstorm of such ferocity that it’s expected to damage vehicles and roofs with its 60 mph winds and quarter-size hail. They weren't kidding about the quarter-size hail. I heard it striking the roof of the motel I had fortunately checked into just twenty minutes before, and then watched as it crashed down just outside my window.
If Nebraska has its characteristic colors, it also has its characteristic sounds. There are two that dominate what you hear when you're out in the countryside: the noises of the irrigation equipment, and the noises of the insects.
The ground seems to be alive with them. The grasshoppers, especially. Also yellow and green, also covering the landscape nearly as completely as the grasses. If you walk upon the grass, you’ll be treated to a flurry of them, jumping up all around your legs, fleeing your unexpected feet. But even these are not nearly so abundant – or annoying – as the flies. All day I've been swatting them away from me. There are so many of them that they managed to permeate my motel room even with the windows closed, as well as the back of my truck, in the few minutes I had it open. I've never seen so many flies, and such determined ones. This, too, is likely characteristic of farm country. Undoubtedly they are drawn by the cows, the widespread manure.
Fortunately, Nebraska's characteristic smell is not that of manure, as it often is in cattle country proper. Rather it is the smell of grass: of growing grass, or freshly mowed grass, or fading, yellowing grass. It's a potent, powerful smell, powerful enough, perhaps, to cover the aroma of cattle, to extinguish the methane gas that's generated by these beasts we love so much to eat, but hate so much to smell.
Nebraska has its charms. Still, I'm looking forward to leaving it, even though I was pleasantly surprised to find something here I have not seen since I last visited the East Coast:
It was not a part of my plan to come here – indeed, I left Wyoming much too soon, and will have to revisit it on my way back. At the last moment something happened to cause me to change my plans, and reroute my trip. But at least I’m headed north again. All along, since I began planning this journey, something's been calling me north; I've yearned to go north. And although I won't be going as far into the wilderness as I had originally hoped, I so long to get closer. Nebraska simply doesn't suit my mood, not this time around.
If my body holds out and my eyes stay open, I will be spending the night in South Dakota. It's one of the places that, often in the last several months, I've longed to be, goodness knows why. Perhaps as I'm wending my way towards Rapid City, I'll remember.
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