Author’s Note: The last of my travel adventures from the past. This trip was taken two years ago but posted one year ago today on another blog just as I had done with my Rwanda and Italy trips. See links below for the rest of those stories.
Yep, Nebraska. USA.
A state that always intrigued me and a place I always wanted to visit.
Americana. The heartland of America. The Midwest. All these things and more. When you’re from Nebraska you wonder why anyone would want to visit much less be so enthralled with the place. But I suppose just the same for any other place on the globe. Familiarity breeds contempt.
I was not familiar at all with Nebraska last year when the now routine Father Sons trip was planned. My brother and I pretty much let our dad chose the place or at least find somewhere of interest he’d like to go. Nebraska it turns out is home to one of the largest train yards in the world and North Platte, NE for train buffs represents a Graceland of sorts for these foamers.
Bailey Yard and Golden Spike Tower
Visitors to Nebraska can take in Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard in North Platte and ride the elevator up the Golden Spike Tower for one-of-a-kind views of the world’s largest railroad classification yard. Bailey Yard also has “hump hills” for humping cars (now you know what “Do Not Hump” refers to on a passing freight car) which allows train yard personnel to quickly and efficiently dismantle an arrived freight train and distribute the freight cars to other waiting trains by disconnecting the cars and sending them free falling down the opposite side of the hill.
It’s fascinating to watch as the engines of the arrived train slowly move its load in reverse up the hump hill while a yard employee unhitches one, two and even three cars at a time sending down the other side of the hump hill towards the appropriate waiting train on any number of rail lines for the continued journey east or west. Despite viewing from perhaps half a mile away the crash of the free-wheeling cars, let loose from the arrived train, into the back of other cars attached to the waiting train, reverberates quite loud.
United States Air Force Academy
But first, our visit to Nebraska began in Denver so we took in a Colorado Rockies game and visited the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. As we headed east, Nebraska was fully explored as we took Interstate 80 to North Platte and across the state to Omaha.
Omaha is an outstanding city (except for the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown) and our short time there was spent at the famous Omaha Zoo and catching the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Triple A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, at Werner Park in Papillion, NE. We missed Lincoln, though we saw the city skyline from the freeway, and regretted not making the time to at least pass through.
North Platte, NE
Our trip back to North Platte featured a drive along the Nebraskan countryside off the main highway that involved reaching 100 mph at one point to get past a slow moving caravan of trucks that probably have not arrived to its final destination today. The sometimes swirling two-lane highway required some gutsy driving and a good look forward to ensure no cars were approaching in the opposite direction for some distance, otherwise, a slow role it was.
A classic Midwest thunderstorm and perhaps even a tornado also invited reasons for the visit to Nebraska. Those familiar with tornado season know May offers an excellent opportunity to experience a thunderstorm and that we did.
Our last night in Nebraska, back in North Platte, after our second visit to the Bailey Yard, brought a raging storm. We knew it was coming but had no idea what was coming. Travelers fleeing the Denver area said the coming storm shut down the freeway thanks to six inches of hail. We also heard golf ball sized hail dropped from the skies.
I stood on the back porch of the patio at the hotel and watched a torrent of rain through the street lights maybe a quarter mile away. Mere drops were settling in where I stood. Within minutes the rain, thunder and lightening engulfed us. Hail followed. I raced from the porch on the west side of the hotel to the front entrance on the east side and settled on the front entrance as the porch was completely saturated in rain and hail.
The thunderous claps were louder and more consistent than anything I had ever experienced. Quick thinking guests snuggled their cars underneath the small front entrance covering to prevent hail damage. My brother got our rental car mostly underneath just in time. This allowed us to watch with fervent joy something we had never experienced.
And just as quickly the storm arrived it moved east leaving a flooded parking lot and hail everywhere. Occasional bursts of lightening and explosions of thunder continued through the next few hours including one punch that I did not hear in the middle of the night that my brother and dad recounted the next morning.
Our Midwest trip to Nebraska was by all accounts a complete success and one the three of us would have no hesitation revisiting again.