|Thursday, May 24, 2001...
Greetings from Cheyenne, Wyoming, a city utterly devoid of the scenic beauty possessed by so
much of the state. Hard to believe that in two days I'll be in southern California.
On Bob Dylan's 60th birthday, the Iowa weather paid him tribute: a hard rain was gonna fall. It
lasted until I had crossed the Nebraska line. As I maneuvered through Omaha to a
well-preserved three-mile stretch of brick Lincoln Highway, I passed a local whose bumper
sticker proclaimed, "I'm moving to New York so I can vote against Hillary." Unfortunately for
him, her victory margin last November was so large that moving every Nebraska voter to New
York to vote against Hillary wouldn't have changed the result. And an electorate which sent the
state university's football coach to Congress really has no business complaining about anyone
(Speaking of choices, let's hear it for James Jeffords! Think Bush's Texas goons may be
regretting their strong-arm tactics?)
From Omaha, the Interstate curves southwest to Lincoln, while the Lincoln Highway avoids its
name-mate by heading straight west through a series of small agricultural communities. One of
these towns, Columbus, honors its brethren with a signpost in the town square showing the
distance to a dozen other Columbuses across America. The Union Pacific Railroad became a
steady companion, never more than a mile away for 400 miles. (Alas it's not more than 200
yards from my motel room...)
In central Nebraska, enthusiastic locals who know that anyone driving through here will stop for
anything that offers a brief diversion have constructed three notable museums: the pretentious
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Rapids, the eclectic Harold Warp's Pioneer
Village in Minden, and the new Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney, which
opened July 4, 2000.
Someone from here must have serious political clout in Washington, because the new Museum
was constructed directly over the Interstate. It's a two-story building two miles east of the
Kearney exit, accessible only by a long access road on the north side. As befits a modern
museum, it uses video loops and a stereo soundtrack, in addition to the usual paintings, dioramas
and artifacts, to enhance the experience . The exhibits focus on four key periods of local history:
the early explorers, the Oregon Trail, the transcontinental railroad, and the Lincoln Highway.
Well worth a visit -- and if you're driving by on the Interstate, it's impossible to miss.
Kearney's the perfect place for this museum, too: not only on all the old trails, but the rough
midpoint between East and West. Grand Island, an hour to the east, is an Eastern, agricultural
town; while North Platte, to the west, is a Western, ranching-and-railroads
community. Lexington, another town on the route, was recently featured in a book about fast food
: a huge beef processor has imported hundreds of Mexicans and other Central Americans to
work in a nearby slaughterhouse. They're cheap, easily replaced if the knife slips once too often,
and have never heard of OSHA.
After North Platte, the road opens up, with fewer small towns and nothing but rangeland between
them. At one otherwise unremarkable intersection with a pair of gravel roads west of Brule, a
left turn leads to an unimproved 85-year-old section of the Lincoln, while a right turn leads
directly onto the Oregon Trail and past 150-year-old wagon ruts. Stopped to photograph several
small-town Main Streets, but otherwise kept going to Cheyenne, largest city on the route for 450
miles in either direction. Tomorrow it's up into the mountains, then down into the desert...
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