This past week our little family of four jam packed the Jeep and took off down the Interstate to explore the other side of our state. Western Nebraska. It was mainly sparked by our desire to complete the Nebraska Great Park Pursuit, and it was well worth it! Nebraska Game and Parks succeeded in getting us to explore and learn about some new parks in our state and we found some favorites along the way that we want to explore more.
Both my husband and I have lived in Nebraska all our lives, but because the state is so big we’ve never taken the time to explore the other side of the state so we figured it was about time and the park pursuit was the perfect excuse. Western Nebraska is filled with some amazing geologic formations as well as a ton of American history. Plus, we were able to swing up a little further north and visit Southwestern South Dakota for some fantastic educational experiences. Of course I took a ton of pictures, so here’s a little tour of our vacation.
Let’s start it all off with the family vacation selfie! This only took us four tries to get right.
We spent some time checking out parks that were closer to us. I was amazed at how many parks we’d never visited even though we drove by them hundreds of times when we were younger, such as Windmill State Recreation Area between Grand Island and Kearney.
We also found some playgrounds and splash parks to play in. I may have gotten a sunburn. Oops. Guess I should have found the shade like the rest of the family.
There were about twelve parks on our vacation, not counting the stops in South Dakota. Many bugs, birds and fantastic plants were discovered. Including these amazingly huge seed puffballs! I’m not sure what they’re officially called, but we like huge seed puffballs for now.
We really started to get into some history when we visited Buffalo Bills Ranch. On it was the headquarters cabin he worked out of for several years. It’s no longer on it’s original site, but it’s still fun to explore. That little pedestal in front of the cabin is one of the Great Park Pursuit’s pedestals. Those little towers is the whole reason for our vacation choice, and I’m glad we discovered it! This is a location we want to visit again. We didn’t get a chance to tour the mansion, and Charlie wanted to stick around and learn even more about Buffalo Bill (she loves history). Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stick around too long because we had a lot of parks to explore still!
Finally we made it to the panhandle. For those of you not familiar with Nebraska lingo, just take a look at the shape of the state. It’s that narrow bit at the Western end of the state. It’s also home to some breathtaking geologic formations known as the bluffs. I took this picture from the top of Scotts Bluff.
As we were driving up to Scotts Bluff National Monument, the bluffs in the distance, Lena made the comment that she’d sure like to go to the top of a cliff someday. It was my pleasure to announce to her that maybe we’d just make that dream come true right then and there. She thought I was kidding and didn’t believe it until she was sitting right there on top of the bluff. That’s my job right? Help kids make their dreams come true.
(Don’t worry, there is land right under her feet and it’s not an immediate drop off. Plus her dad is right next to her out of frame. Just thought I’d clarify before anyone thinks I’d put her in a dangerous situation. The trails were more of a drop off than this!)
We passed Chimney rock on our way into Scottsbluff (the city) but it was storming and we were in a tornado warning, so we thought it was a good idea to not stop at the monument and instead find shelter in a hotel. After we hit up Scotts Bluff (the monument) and picked up another park pursuit pedestal at a nearby park, we backtracked to Chimney Rock in much better weather and spent a good chunk of time exploring the museum there and admiring the view of Chimney Rock wondering just what people passing it for the first time thought when they seen it. After traveling along the plains for so long, it really is impressive.
On our way up to our last Park Pursuit pedestal in Chadron State Park we made a mini detour to Car Henge. That’s right, one of the craziest tourist attractions in Nebraska, and one I’ve only heard of but had never had the chance to visit. It’s a replica of Stone Henge made out of old cars. It was a fun stop and the kids enjoyed darting around, exploring the cars. Unlike Stone Henge where you are only allowed to admire it from a distance, at Car Henge you get to walk among the cars!
We camped out at Chadron State Park for the night, then we were on the road again first thing in the morning. Being only a couple hours from Mount Rushmore we decided it was time to visit that monument. Luckily we found a pamphlet for The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, SD. My oldest, Charlie, wants to be a paleontologist so it was a no brainer that we needed to stop and I’m so glad we did! We arrived just in time for the girls to get in on the Jr. Paleontologist class and they had the opportunity to learn a little more about paleontology and dig up a replica mammoth bone in a replica dig site.
After they earned their certificates for completion of the hour long class we took a tour of the official Mammoth dig site. I was amazed to hear that they only dig for 6 weeks out of the year, but that’s because it takes the rest of the year to analyze the findings. They’ve uncovered so much, and learned so much, and there are still at least three stories of dig site left below them which means The Mammoth Site will be active for years to come. Oh, and this is the biggest Mammoth dig site in the world as of right now. That is amazing!
After pulling the kids away from the million questions they were asking any paleontologist they could find (don’t worry, we spent at least four hours learning, and the girls would spend four weeks there if I let them. We’ll be back so they can ask even more questions!), we continued north and drove past the Crazy Horse monument. We didn’t stop this time because I want to come back for the special events when they let people hike up the arm.
Instead we carried on just a bit further through winding roads to Mount Rushmore. Charlie was thrilled! She’s been asking to visit Mount Rushmore for months, and finally her dream came true. I’m really good at making my kids happy! Ha.
From here we spent the night in Rapid City, then took the interstate straight home the following day. That was a long drive, but the kids were fantastic through the whole trip. I can’t wait to get back to visit some of these locations again, and I can’t wait to see what our next trip will offer!
Have you ever visited Nebraska or South Dakota? What were your favorite destinations there? Tell me in the comments below!