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An Amazing Adventure

The Nebraska Passport has been such a fun way to choose travel destinations the last few years. In July I planned a four-day trip through western Nebraska that would have put our stamp total over 50 and taken us to several spots that we had never been to. Two bouts of Covid and several babysitting stints (no complaints about the babysitting!) kept us from heading out on that trek until the end of September. At that point there was only one day left on the Passport so I altered our itinerary to include some out-of-state attractions.

We started our adventure by traveling to Kearney and enjoyed a glass of wine at McCue’s Taproom. This cute venue is located near downtown in a rustic old building with lots of character. The next day we collected a quick drive-by stamp at the Rooted Plant Co since they weren’t open yet before we headed northwest to Stockmen’s Bar and Grill in Amherst. The owner made us an unbelievably good breakfast pizza and the four guys having coffee at the next table were quite chatty and made us feel very welcome.

Our next stop was Ollie’s Coffee Shop & Boutique in Sargent. Tom enjoyed a cup of coffee for Free Coffee Friday while I shopped.

We then continued through the Sandhills to Calamus Reservoir State Recreation Park near Burwell. The water was very low and it wasn’t nearly as pretty as I was expecting. The Harrop Sandhills Park near Taylor was our next stop. This is a small park beside the road with a picnic area and a few short hikes. We then traveled north to Valentine where we planned to spend the second night. We collected stamps at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area (a beautiful lake with sandy beaches), the Niobrara National Scenic River (also very beautiful), and Old Mill Bulk Food (closed by the time we arrived but we had breakfast there the next morning).

In the evening we headed to Niobrara Valley Vineyards near Nenzel to collect a stamp on our Nebraska Wine Passport. There we visited with a couple from Lincoln whose kids were students of mine at Irving. Small world!

The next day after breakfast at Old Mill Bulk Food in Valentine we headed to Smith Falls to see the scenery and enjoy a morning hike. When we arrived we discovered that they had just closed the trails for the winter. Bad timing on our part! So we hopped back in the car going north towards South Dakota and our destination in the Black Hills. On our way we saw gorgeous views in the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge just outside of Valentine and interesting terrain in the Badlands National Park east of Rapid City. On the way to our evening destination we stopped at Wall Drug. It is the kind of place where one trip is plenty! We then stayed the night at the Powder House Lodge in Keystone which reminded us very much of our trips to Colorado.

Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial were the must-sees on our list for the third day of our trip. We enjoyed both sites and were in awe of the workmanship exhibited. These two spots should be on everyone’s bucket list.

We then headed south towards Scottsbluff where we logged another wine stamp at Papa Moon Vineyards which had a beautiful outdoor space. We then enjoyed the views of Chimney Rock as we traveled to our evening destination in Ogalalla.

Unfortunately we hit a fox on the way and the darn thing did about $2000 worth of damage to our car. We were able to make it home the next day so it could have been a lot worse.

This was the first real trip we had taken since we went to Las Vegas in November 2019 so we enjoyed every part of our adventure. The variety in the land in that part of the country is just amazing - from the Sandhills and the Badlands to the Black Hills and the plains of western Nebraska. So many beautiful areas to see and we look forward to going back again soon.

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