Once known as the “Great American Desert,” Nebraska is a state situated on the Great Plains region of the United States of America. It is the only state in the nation to be triply landlocked, meaning that one must travel across three other states to get to the nearest body of water.
The state derives its name from the Omaha words Ní Btháska and Otoe words Ñí Brásge, both meaning “flat water.”
The state houses 93 counties, split into two different time zones – the eastern part of Nebraska follows Central Time whereas the western part follows Mountain Time.
Did you know that Nebraska’s Lied Jungle rainforest is the largest indoor rainforest in the world? Did you also know that the ‘911’ emergency call system was first used in the capital of Nebraska – Lincoln?
Indigenous tribes such as Omaha, Otoe, Pawnee, and Missouria occupied the state for several thousand years before settlers from Spain and France sought control over the region. Nebraska, the 37th state of U.S., was admitted to the union in 1867.
Nebraska is rich in history, geography, and culture yet it is one of the least visited states. Let us explore some of the hidden gems in Nebraska and see what they offer us.
1. Sioux Army Depot, Potter
Founded on March 23rd, 1942 as Sioux Ordnance Depot, the Sioux Army Depot was the only Ammunition Depot of the U.S. Army in Nebraska that was in use during World War II, the Korean War, as well as the Vietnam War. Initially managed by the Ordnance Department, the Army Depot was handed over to the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
The Depot was established with an aim to receive, store, and issue all types of weaponries ranging from small arms to 10,000-pound explosives. The Depot was also responsible for providing all types of automobile parts and other critical materials that may be required by the U.S. Army.
Spread across 19,771 acres of land, the Sioux Army Depot comprised 801 ammunition storage igloos, 392, supportive buildings, 225 residential quarters, 22 general warehouses, 203 miles of road, and 51 miles of rail tracks.
Deactivated in June 1967, the “igloos” are now used by farmers as a storage facility and garage to house their supplies and equipment.
2. Carhenge, Alliance
An unusual way to commemorate a loved one, Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska was created by Jim Reinders, an experimental artist, as a way to honor his beloved father who passed away in 1982.
Greatly inspired by Stonehenge, the iconic monument in Wiltshire, England, Carhenge was established in 1987 with a bunch of 38 automobiles arranged in the exact structure of the original England monument. The vehicles used in the composition include cars, trucks, a 1962 Cadillac (the heel stone), and an ambulance.
All the pieces in this unique formation have been spray painted in the shade of grey and the installation was completed just in time for the Summer Solstice. A visitor center was added in 2006.
Carhenge has played a significant part in several movies and television programs. Most recently, it was the site where State Governor Pete Ricketts and 4,000 Nebraskans watched the solar eclipse that occurred on August 21st, 2017.
3. The Villagers, Taylor
What do you do when the residents in your town keep abandoning your town? Simple. If you can’t keep the old residents or attract new, you make them (not literally).
Marah Sandoz, along with a local development team in Taylor, came up with an idea of creating life-like plywood cut-outs of real people that resemble the inhabitants of the town from 1890 to 1920, a time when Taylor was at its peak.
Since 2003, Sandoz has created around 13 businesses including motels, inns, historic buildings, parks, and plumbing services. The idea behind the artist’s creation is to capture the cut-outs in their normal routine – kids playing, a couple getting married, sheriff, and window shoppers. Sandoz plans to create as many cut-outs as there are real people in the town which is approximately around 180.
The ongoing project has been successful in attracting a few visitors over time and hopefully, it continues to do so.
4. Monowi, Nebraska
World’s biggest this and world’s smallest that are some of the terms which are thrown around pretty liberally these days, however, in the case of Monowi, Nebraska, the term “America’s smallest town” fits absolutely accurately.
In the 1930s, the town of Monowi had a vibrant community of 150 residents living within its boundaries. By 2000, the number reduced to two – Rudy Eiler and his wife, Elsie Eiler. As the younger population moved to more developed and far-off cities in different parts of the country, the married couple stayed back and held the fort.
Sadly, in 2004, Rudy passed away, cutting the town population of Monowi in half.
Today, Elsie is the only citizen still living in the town, but that’s not all – she also owns Monowi’s only private business, the Monowi tavern; she is the town’s mayor, and she has also established a library to honor her late husband.
In other words, she pays taxes to herself, renews her own liquor license, and presents an annual road plan to secure funds for the four stoplights in her town!
5. National Museum of Roller Skating, Lincoln
The National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Nebraska is home to the largest collection of roller skates in the world, going back as far back as 1819. The museum aims at educating skating enthusiasts from all around the world about the history and evolution of skating as something more than just a hobby.
At the museum, the staff works towards collecting and preserving the enriching past of skating. Along with the biggest collection of historical roller skates, the National Museum of Roller Skating also houses patents, trophies, artworks, photographs, costumes, videos, and any other memorabilia related to the world of Skating.
There are approximately 1,500 books and journals related to roller skating. Among the museum’s most prized collections are the James L. Plimpton (the Father of contemporary roller skating) family collection, Antonio Pirello’s jetpack skates, and pictures of Scott Baio on roller skates.
6. Panorama Point, Pine Bluffs
The highest natural point in Nebraska, Panorama Point in Pine Bluffs stands at 5,429 feet above the sea level and as opposed to what you may believe, it’s not a mountain or even a hill – it’s just a small rise on the High Plains!
Located on the ground of High Point Bison Ranch, the summit at the Panorama Point has a stone marker and a guest register. There used to be several bison roaming freely in the area as well, but now they remain behind fences. As you reach the Point, vast plains extend in front of you as far as your eyes can see and on a clear day, you can spot the Rocky Mountains in the distance.
As a visitor, pay the nominal entrance fee and if you come across a bison on your way, don’t scare it away.
7. Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village, Minden
Spread over 20 acres of land, Pioneer Village is a replica town which was established by a small-time business turned millionaire, Harold Warp, who, through his creation, wanted to portray the typical rags-to-riches American dream.
Warp, a boot-strapping businessman from Minden, Nebraska worked his way through from living in a “soddy” to becoming a millionaire. And, once he acquired all that wealth, instead of investing it in a mansion or a yacht, he decided to dedicate his life’s earning in creating a replica town that celebrated the opportunities that America rewarded him with.
Founded in 1953, the Pioneer Village includes a collection of 28 buildings which include some of the historic buildings from Warp’s hometown, an exact replica of his sod house, a vast collection of automobiles, and unusual artifacts such as Lincoln’s sugar bowl. All the structures in the village are positioned in a chronological order, depicting a gradual process of America’s evolution and achievements.
8. Old Lincoln Highway in Omaha, Omaha
Originally constructed in 1913 to run between New York City to San Francisco, the Old Lincoln Highway was the first coast-to-coast highway built in the United States of America. Among the 13 states that it catered to, Nebraska’s section of the highway ran between Omaha and Elkhorn.
However, in 1929, after the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge was constructed, the highway was rerouted onto U.S. Route 30 through Blair (a city in Nebraska). After the rerouting was completed, officials from Blair, inhumanely, dug up the markers from the highway section in Omaha and placed them in their town.
Though this resulted in a long-standing resentment between the two towns, it is perhaps also the reason behind this century-old stretch of an old highway to remain so well-reserved.
This three-mile stretch may not remain as crucial as it once was, but it definitely is the longest surviving brick-paved section of America’s first coast-to-coast highway. The Old Lincoln Highway was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
9. Ruins of Prairie Peace Park, Pleasant Dale
A transboundary protected area is a protected area with no political boundaries. It may expand across countries and nationalities and its aim is to allow humans and animals to live freely. A physical boundary, however, may be established to prevent unauthorized border control. Such areas are known as Peace Parks.
Sometime in the 1990s, the peace park movement began to spread rapidly across the United States. The aim was to create as many public spaces as possible around the nation, so they could serve as sanctuaries and promote world peace.
The Prairie Peace in Pleasant Dale, Nebraska was established in 1994 and received a great amount of recognition among the believers and followers of the movement. However, the efforts and recognition weren’t enough and in 2005, during the “War on Terror,” the park was shut down and sold to Maharishi Vedic City, a transcendental meditation group.
Though most of the park is now barely a rustic memory of the past, a clause requiring the owner of the Prairie Peace Park to preserve at least two of its artwork have ensured that the “World Peace Mural” (a rainbow painting with sunshine and humans) and “The Dance of Children” (a metal globe with doves and children) still stand within the grounds.
10. The Hastings Museum Kool-Aid Exhibit, Hastings
The colorful packets of Kool-Aid powder have been quenching America’s thirst since its discovery in 1927 by Edwin Perkins.
Perkins, tired of how easily the glass bottles of Fruit Smack (Kool Aid’s predecessor) broke and how much the liquid bottles cost in shipping, decided to transform the product and reduce it to a powdery form. And, thus came Kool-Aid.
Formerly known as Fruit Aid, Kool-Aid was inspired by Jell-O.
To commemorate this yummy discovery, the Hastings Museum dedicated a specific segment of its display to preserve and showcase the history of Kool-Aid. Known as Kool-Aid: Discover The Dream, the exhibit comprises all things Kool-Aid – samples, old bottles, history, old packaging, and even marketing and promotional strategies. The original Kool-Aid Man suit can also be seen at the museum.
11. Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge, Paxton
Established by Rosser O. Herstedt (aka Ole), the Steakhouse and Lounge is not just a simple steakhouse, although it does serve some mean steaks. It, in fact, is a private collection of taxidermy gathered by Ole during his 30+ years as a Game Hunter.
Purchased in 1933, the Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge got its first taxidermy object in 1938, an elk’s head that Ole had killed during one of his many hunting sprees. He traveled the world in search of bigger, better, and rare games and brought home the heads of his catch as a medal to be showcased at the steakhouse. Among the rare collection are giraffes, elephants, moose, and even a full-size taxidermy polar bear, which is also the bar’s mascot.
Ole retired from hunting in 1988, however, new owners kept adding to the collection. Today, over 200 taxidermy mounts, as well as celebrity photos, are on display at the Steakhouse and Lounge and the watering hole continues to attract local hunters to date.
12. William Thompson’s Scalped Scalp, Omaha
In August 1867, William Thompson, an English repairman hired by the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, was sent to the small town of Lexington to fix an inoperative telegraph wire. Thompson, along with his fellow repairmen, were on their way to the town when a group of 25 Cheyenne tribe members attacked the train.
The rail coach derailed, and all men aboard were killed except for Thompson – he was shot in the shoulder and his scalp was scraped off of his skull. Thompson fainted due to the torture, which must have saved his life since the attackers mistook him as dead and left the scalp next to him.
Upon regaining senses, Thompson went back to Omaha and consulted Dr. Richard Moore on reattaching his scalp. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible, so Thompson put his scalp on display instead and capitalized it. In 1900, Thompson sent the scalp back to Dr. Moore, who in turn donated the weird specimen to the public library.
Today, William Thompson’s scalp rests in a darkroom and is displayed only on special occasions.
13. Hudson-Meng Bison Kill, Harrison
In 1954, Albert Meng, a Nebraskan cattleman, decided to expand a historic spring to provide water for his cattle when he stumbled upon bones – lots and lots of them!
Discovered within the grounds of Oglala National Grasslands, the seriously alarming number of carcasses were later confirmed by researchers and scientists to have belonged to over 600 bison from approximately 10,000 years ago.
Meng consulted with his friend, Bill Hudson, an amateur archaeologist, and after digging for almost three years, Meng and Hudson were accredited with unearthing the largest collection of Alberta Culture bison found anywhere on earth.
Though the area was reportedly a hunting ground from the time when Native American tribes inhabited the land, research showed that the bison found at the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill died of inexplicable natural causes.
14. Nebraska State Capitol Mosaic Floor, Lincoln
Designed by Hildreth Meiére, a New York-based artist best known for her glass and mosaic artwork, the Nebraska State Capitol Mosaic Floor depicts the life of Nebraska as it was in the prehistoric times and as it is today.
The artwork displays a creative reflection of life and the natural elements that comprise it – fire, water, air, and earth. Interestingly, the elements, instead of being represented as is, have been depicted by animals and plants that relate to the specific elements – fish for water, land animals for the earth, dry desert from 300 million years ago for fire, etc.
Ironically, the mosaic floor also has dinosaurs though Nebraska has never been known to have the species; perhaps the artist wanted to expand her vision to include Nebraska Territory which included Utah, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.
Meiére, as it is known, consulted with Erwin Hinckley Barbour, the director of University of Nebraska State Museum, and drew inspiration from Barbour’s sketches of prehistoric plants and animals.
15. Site of a Japanese Balloon Bomb Explosion, Omaha
Towards the end of World War II, Japanese came up with a new kind of bomb which came to be known as “fire balloons.” These fire balloons were filled with hydrogen and carried bombs weighing between 11 to 33 pounds. One of these bombs were dropped in Omaha on April 18th, 1945.
Around 9,000 bombs that were deployed by the Japanese military and the one that exploded on Omaha was among the 300 that were found around the United States of America. Only a handful of residents realized that a bomb had gone off in the neighborhood as most believed it to be fireworks.
A plaque was placed in to commemorate the event of the bombing, which fortunately didn’t cause any damage. The news of the bombing was only made public after the war had ended.
These Japanese “fire balloons” were dropped in 26 other states apart from Nebraska and while most of these didn’t cause any substantial harm, one explosion in Oregon claimed the lives of a pregnant woman and five school children.
16. Nebraska National Forest, Chadron
Amidst the great plains of Nebraska lays 141,864 acres of National Forest made of ponderosa pines and grassy plains which were established in 1907 by compiling three small forests namely North Platte National Forest, Dismal River, and Niobrara. Once simply a flat plain, the Nebraska National Forest was regarded as the world’s largest man-made forest before it was bested by a forest in China.
Nebraska National Forest was an initiative taken by Charles E. Bessey, a botanist, who had a hunch that the great plains area may have been home to a natural forest sometime in the past, and so in an attempt to recreate his vision, Bessey ended up creating a national forest in one of the most unlikely regions in the country.
Thanks to a farsighted botanist, the Nebraska National Forest is the largest manmade national forest in America and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the 1950s.
17. Pioneers Park Pillars, Lincoln
In 1908, the Treasury Department in Washington D.C. underwent a much-awaited restoration work on its east wing. While most of the structure was built of granite, a specific section of the building was made of sandstone, a building material easy to work with but not so withstanding.
As the constructors realized that the sandstone columns used in the construction couldn’t be considered stable anymore, they decided, rather painstakingly, to remove around thirty of the old sandstone pillars and keep them aside for future use.
Unfortunately, funds couldn’t be gathered for putting the pillars to any use and they laid in a vacant lot, slowly decaying. While 26 of the ancient pillars met an unfortunate fate, thankfully, in 1916, Cotter T. Bride, Commissioner of the District Excise Board, commissioned four of the sandstone columns to be moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in honor of William Jennings Bryan, a Nebraskan politician.
18. Fort Robinson State Park, Harrison
In 1873, the Red Cloud Agency relocated from North Platte River to White River near Crawford, Nebraska. Soon after, a military camp was established by the American government on the agency site. Around 13,000 Lakota were repositioned at the Agency.
Robinson Camp was named after Lt. Levi H. Robinson who had died in the hands of Native Americans during a wood detail in February 1874. The same year in May, the agency moved 1.5 miles west of its location to the current location and was renamed to Fort Robinson.
Fort Robinson has played a significant part in the American History. In fact, at the end of World War I in 1919, it was the largest quartermaster remount depot in the world. During World War II, the fort served as a K-9 training center, and later, it was used to house German POWs.
The State Park was established in 1956 and expanded to its current size in 1972 after the park officials acquired the adjoining James Arthur Ranch.
Visitors can enjoy walking through the rich and diverse history of the park and observe fascinating artifacts that have been left behind from when it was functional.
19. World’s Largest Ball of Stamps, Boys Town
Since email and messenger services took over the traditional forms of communicating, stamps have been treated as obsolete and as a collectible for hobbyists. However, in Boys Town, Nebraska a group of bored stamp collectors gave a whole new meaning to time pass.
In Leon Myers Stamp Center sits an enormous ball of stamps with a 32-inch diameter and over 4.6 million canceled stamps. Built between 1953 and 1955, the Ball of Stamps project began as a way of killing time when a group named Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club, apparently out of boredom, started sticking stamps around a golf ball.
Discovered by Ripley’s Believe It or Not around the time it was almost complete (the makers allegedly got bored again), the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps once drew spectators from all around the world, however, today, it sits unguarded in a quaint corner of the stamp center.
Weighing more than 600 lbs., the Ball of Stamps has remained as is since 1955.
20. Morris Press Cookbook Store, Kearney
Love cooking? How about a chance to get your hands on random family recipes dating back to the 1980s?
Fred Carlson purchased a small printing business in Kearney in 1933. After operating it until 1956, Fred handed the business over to his son-in-law, Harold Morris. After acquiring Fred’s printing business, Morris sought out to expand the same and purchased another printing company in 1972. By 1975, the company was known as Morris Press and Office Supplies, Inc.
As the business went down a bit in the 1980s, Morris Press shifted their focus to personalized cookbooks for local communities, schools, and residences. The business soon became highly popular and today, Morris Press Cookbook Store is regarded as the top publisher of cookbooks in the United States of America.
21. Petrified Wood Gallery, Ogallala
Harvey and Howard Kenfieldin, identical twins from Ogallala, Nebraska like collecting things since their early years. Over a period of time, the boys grew up and so did their attraction towards collecting strange items. What started with arrowheads expanded to petrified woods, prehistoric fossils, and rare artifacts.
The Petrified Wood Gallery in Ogallala is a collection of all that the brothers gathered throughout their lives along with several unique fossils on loan from other artists and collectors from around the world.
Among the many intriguing objects on display are the hand-crafted petrified wood figurines created by the brothers, specimens from Arizona’s petrified wood forest, and the Therizinosaurus egg from China.
Though a lot senior now, the brothers can sometimes still be seen working around the gallery.
22. Toadstool Geologic Park, Harrison
Located in the vicinity of a former river that flowed in the area around 45 million years ago, Toadstool Geologic Park, amidst the Oglala National Grasslands, is a unique section of bare desert that is home to several fascinating geological formations that have taken shape due to millions of years of water and wind activities in the area.
The Geologic Park has a wide variety of dramatic formations, but it is the peculiar mushroom-shaped formations that give the area its name.
Also known as the “badlands of Nebraska,” the Geologic Park is open to visitors 24 hours a day and allows camping onsite. Its mile-long loop trail offers amazing picturesque views and an opportunity to observe prehistoric fossils that date back to several million years ago.
23. First Arthur County Courthouse and Jail, Arthur
Arthur County was established in 1913 and was named after President Chester A. Arthur. In 1914, the town of Arthur was incorporated and designated as the county’s seat. Small farmhouses, a general store, and a small county courthouse was established in the center of the town along with a county jail which was located a few steps away from the courthouse.
$900 and a year later, in 1915, the courthouse was open to the 2,500 residents of Arthur County. The structure was merely a wooden shack spanning only 26 by 28 feet. Unfortunately, in the 1930s, depression and drought resulted in several town residents to relocate to other parts of the country.
After serving the farming community of Arthur for 48 years, the Courthouse and the Jail were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. It also featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the smallest courthouse in the world.
24. Chimney Rock, Bayard
Once known by a name that meant “elk penis,” Chimney Rock is an iconic geological formation located in Western Nebraska. Towering approximately 300 meters above the North Platte River Valley, the Rock’s first proper mention dates back to 1827, however, as researchers believe, Chimney Rock has been in existence since before the Native Americans inhabited the area.
Listed as a National Historic Site since 1956, Chimney Rock is surrounded by a designated National Park Service area. Reportedly, the summit of the Rock is 4,228 feet above sea level. Additionally, it is believed that a small town by the same name once sat at the base of the geological formation and had a post office which served from 1913 till 1922.
Chimney Rock served as an important landmark to travelers along the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trail in the mid-19th century, and today, it serves the modern visitors along Nebraska Highway 92 and U.S. Route 26.