Traveling families giving real-life experiences to school-based history lessons might spend every summer in western Nebraska.
My first visit came in time to take grandchildren but I missed the wonders of prehistoric treks and hoodoo sightings not taking the boys I birthed three decades ago to this far corner of a frontier state.
Sure it’s fun to climb on a covered wagon along the Oregon Trail at the Scotts Bluff National Monument and access all the programs of the National Park Service there.
Homesteading means more here
But northwest Nebraska offers up way more than I imagined to give life to those lessons about homesteading, and that means gasp-inducing beauty with dramatically changing vistas.
Be ready for a road trip even if you fly in to Denver CO or Rapid City SD. Keep the tank at least half full always because spaces between the places are as vast as the view.
I can back up big claims with facts and photos but if you’re skeptical, just go to Mt. Rushmore because that’s familiar and then overnight an hour away in Nebraska at High Plains Homestead.
You’ll be living in the wild west with historic buildings recreating a frontier town, eating at the Drifter Cookshack (don’t skip the rhubarb pie) and sleeping in themed spaces: cowboy, saloon girl, etc.
Meet real ranchers
Not hokey this place; it’s the heartbeat of real ranchers who understand the lingering effects of the nation’s Homestead Acts and who embrace the night sky, delighted to share starry shows with guests.
Defining a western Nebraska modern journey through your accommodations could make the discoveries easy if you also choose Fort Robinson.
Excessive for me to tell you Highway 20 is a Scenic Byway since everything here is scenic but that’s the fact.
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Fort Robinson State Park is a tad north of this road, between Harrison and Crawford just to help you look at the map.
Sleep where frontier soldiers did
Real settling-the-west history happened here starting in 1874. Families big or little can stay in original officers’ quarters or enlisted men’s barracks, air conditioned today.
Horses were conditioned here by the thousands for issue to the mounted services, with soldiers playing polo for recreation. You can tour much of the 22,000-acre ground in a horse-drawn wagon or sign up for a guided trail ride.
A multitude of western experiences are walkable from all lodging: historic like stagecoaches, chuck wagon cookouts and rodeos or modern like kayaks and tubing, mountain bikes, 9-hole golf, jeep rides and the swimming pool.
Exhibits in the Nebraska Historical Society Museum and the university of Nebraska Trailside Museum give context to all the outdoor activities.
Are the kids studying Crazy Horse in history classes? He was killed at Fort Robinson and being here, standing on the high plain where soldiers, Indians and the Red Cloud Agency struggled to figure out rules and relationships broadens at least the lessons I remember.
First in a series of family travel stories about western Nebraska.