Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nebraska Byways Passport: Forts, Clans, Poets

Last year the Division of Travel and Tourism of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development held a Nebraska Byways Geopicting contest to promote tourism along the nine scenic byways around the state.  After winning first prize I was looking forward to seeing what the state would do this year.  The result, announce a few months ago, was a Nebraska Byways Passport Program.

The passport program gives out free passports in which you can get stamps from twenty-seven different attractions, three on each byway.  If you get nine stamps, you get a free T-Shirt.  Eighteen stamps gets you a digital picture frame.  All twenty-seven stamps gets you a FLIP video camera.  To top it off, for each nine stamps, you get entered in a drawing for a $1,000 Laptop.  When I first heard of this I was excited.  A flip camera sounded like a cool addition to my gadget collection.  Then I started doing the math.  To get all twenty-seven attractions you would have to go all over the state and, to get to some, would require hotel stays and lots of gasoline.  Over 1,400 miles of driving over 27 hours.  A FLIP camera at Amazon.com costs between $100 and $200 depending on the bells and whistles.  You would spend much more on hotel, food, and gas.  The only thing that made it worth the while would be winning the $1,000 which was not guaranteed.

Of course, that is not the point of the contest.  The point is to get out and see Nebraska.  So that's what I did.  I figured I could get stamps from twelve attractions on three day-trips.  The first day-trip was along the Lewis & Clarke Scenic Byway and the Lincoln Highway Scenic & Historic Byway.

The Wife was attending a teacher's workshop at Fort Robinson (One of the 27 attractions, by the way) so my first byway foray was a solo mission.  (I am writing this weeks after the actual roadtrip.)  I set out to the closest attraction, Fort Atkinson which, strangely enough, is located in Fort Calhoun, NE.  I went in the visitor's center and sat through an interesting DVD about the history of the fort which was set up to protect fur traders in the area.  After the movie I pickup my passport pre-stamped with the Fort Atkinson stamps.  I drove from the visitors center to the restored fort.  There's a short hiking trail that leaves from the fort going down the bluff through a wooded area.  Since I had a few more places to hit that day I decided to save the hike for another day.  Fort Atkinson pictures can be found here.

Fort Atkinson, Fort Calhoun, NE.
My next stop was Winnebago, NE, location of the Woodland Trails/Honoring-the-Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza.  Of the four places I would visit today, this was the one that interested me the most.  I had this image of Native American sculptures on some grassy hilltop honoring great warriors and statesmen.  As I entered the town of Winnebago I noticed the new hospital advertising substance abuse clinics beside rundown buildings and dusty roads.  I cruised down the main street looking for some sign.  I was about to give up when a small, generic green DOT sign that simple said "Sculpture Garden" came up on my right side.  I turned into what appeared to be a strip mall with a Dollar Store and a few other stores.  The road ended in a circle.  In the middle of the circle were twelve lifesize statues.  At first I thought that this couldn't be it but then I noticed, over the entrance of a building on the opposite side of the circle that said Woodland Trails.

Honoring the Clans Sculpture Garden - Winnebago, NE.
I walked over the building and went in expecting a visitor's center.  What I found instead was a consignment shop.  The owner said hello and said that the art in the store was all Native American from the region and was sold on consignment for the artists.  I got my passport stamped and walked around.  Some of the art was pretty good but it was also expensive (One small painting of some quail was $2,400).  There was no movie or any real explanation about the statues outside though the owner of the place said they represent the twelve clans of the Winnebago and that they had been carved by a local artist.

I went out, took pictures of the statues and the plaques (In English and Native American).  They were well made but, frankly, I was a little disappointed.  A mini-mall was not the place for these statues.  They deserved better.  Honoring-the-Clans Sculpture Garden pictures are here.

I left, shaking my head, and headed for my third destination, Bancroft, NE.  Bancroft was the home of the first Poet Laureate of Nebraska commemorated by the John G. Neihardt State Historic Site.  John G. Neihardt wrote about the prairie, pioneers, and Native Americans.  One of his best known works was "Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux".  The museum had a small movie theater, a research library, and an exhibit room in the shape of a medicine wheel.  In the gardens outside the museum was a small cabin where Neihardt did some of his writing along which a medicine wheel garden.  While the garden had some flowers, colored to match the symbolic colors of the medicine wheel (White, Yellow, Black, and Red), I was a little too late in the growing season.  Nevertheless, it is very well done.  A few John G. Neihardt Museum pictures can be found here.

John G. Neihardt Museum - Medicine Wheel Garden - Bancroft, NE.
The last stop of the day was the Louis E. May House in Fremont, NE.  The house, owned by the Louis E. May foundation, was built by the first mayor of Fremont, Theron Nye.  (Why it's not called the Theron Nye House, I do not know.)  Built in 1874, the Lincoln highway would pass by the house almost 40 years later.  When I got there, the elderly ladies who gave tours had no idea about the passport program.  They had seen the passports and the stamps and had wondered what they were.  I grabbed the stamp and stamped my passport as I explained the program to them.  They gave me a tour of the house.  Of the four places I went to this day, this was the most underwhelming.  It was just a grand old house filled with rather amateurish displays.  Returning the house to period setting would have been a better use of the house.  A few Louis E. May House pictures can be found here.

Theron Nye House, Fremont, NE.
All together, I was on the road and at attractions for about eight hours.  I took mostly two lane country highways.  It's the only way to see the country.

Part two of my Nebraska adventure was on the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway where I visited three more attractions, this time with the Wife.  Stand By.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for giving us an update on your travels to the Passport stops. Great photos too... You capture the attractions well.

    Cheers,
    MG

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  2. MG: No problem. Thanks for visiting Homer's Travels.

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  3. How long do you have to collect the stamps? I mean, if it goes on for a while, I'm sure you'd make all the stops before too long, 'travlin-man.

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  4. GH: the contest end Sept. 30. Unfortunately a lot of these places are really off the beaten path and can not be reached in a day.

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