2006.07.08 Driving Across Kansas and Nebraska


We have survived Day 2 of our journey.  We chewed up about 500 miles of highway today.  We must have three of the best traveling kids in the world!  They have been exceptionally interested in the things we have pointed out to them, and they are adamant they are having a great time!  Marissa (age 2) has been a trooper, and we have rarely heard a peep out of her.

The Kings at the World’s Largest Ball of Twine

Steph and I got up before 7:00 to get the show on the road.  We had our showers, the kids dressed, and the bags packed by 8:15.  After breakfast, we set out for Wal-Mart to check on digital cameras.  Ours was still not responsive this morning.  Not only did we find a brand new Supercenter in Salina, and not only was there hardly anybody there on a Saturday morning, but we truly lucked out by finding the most knowledgeable Wal-Mart employee in the country to help us look at digital cameras.  We bought a new camera, one that Stephanie was happy with (she’s the photography expert), went back to the hotel to throw our bags in the car, and we hit the road at 10:20 a.m. After an hour and a half of driving, we have finally arrived at one of the highlights of our trip – The World’s Largest Ball Of Twine!  And yes, I cannot argue with that claim, as it is the biggest ball of twine I have ever seen.  The Twine is the claim to fame for Cawker City, KS and we spent some time walking up and down the main drag looking at the various twine-related merchants.  There is the Ball of Twine Souvenier & Gift Shop (unfortunately it was closed) and also the Ball of Twine Inn located conveniently across from the Ball of Twine.  We met a couple at the Twine Ball from Colorado who were biking across America, and they took our picture.

Mallory at the Center of the USA

After leaving Cawker City, we headed off to Cool Destination #2 of the day, the Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States.  Yes, it is in the middle of nowhere (2 miles NW of Lebanon, KS) but it was an awesome little place.  There is a stone monument built and dedicated in 1940 that designates this as the center of the US, a covered picnic area, a small chapel (4 seats), and a closed 8 unit motel.  We had lunch at the picnic area, took pictures, and played a little frisbee.  This stop will be one of my favorite on the trip.  You would have to visit it to really appreciate it.  (Side Note – Stephanie has lamented several times up until this point on the trip that the Eisonhower Interstate Highway System has ruined America, and after seeing the closed motel at this site, we once again hear about how Dwight Eisonhower might be the devil himself.)

The kids are very excited about crossing the Nebraska state line!

Stephanie took the wheel and drove us the rest of the day.  Stephanie likes to drive fast and I like to look out the window, so we both agreed this worked out pretty well.  We traveled north through Red Cloud and Hastings, Nebraska on our way to Grand Island, Nebraska.  We stop for an ice cream at a Baskin Robbins. and begin our trip west to Alliance, Nebraska.  We chose a 270 mile stretch of Highway 2 that is called the “Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway”.  Nebraska has a number of roads across its state that it calls Scenic Byways.  The Sandhills Journey byway is considered one of the Top 10 Scenic Drives in the Country.  We had to see what this was about.  The first 80 or so miles is farmland of corn.  They were nice looking fields, but nothing too exciting.  Then, almost immediately, we entered the Sandhill region of the state.  We had never heard of the Sandhills before researching this vacation.  The Sandhills is an area of about 19,000 square miles (or about 1/4 of the state of Nebraska) that is essentially grass-covered sand dunes.  They have ripples and waves, and it is some of the most interesting terrain we have ever seen.  We would all highly encourage anyone to make the drive along Hwy 2 to see what turned out to be about 200 miles or so of these dunes.  Along the way, we stopped at the Nebraska National Forst, which just so happens to be the largest man-made forest in the United States.  Cutting alongside Hwy 2 for quite some time is the Middle Loup River.  It was beautiful.  There are also North Loup and South Loup rivers, but we didn’t come across them.

The Middle Loup River at the Nebraska National Forest

The Sandhill Region does not support many people.  We would run through a small town about every 30 or 40 miles, but in many cases, the population might be about 50 people.  What the Sandhill Region does have is Trains.  We must have seen 3 or 4 dozen huge trains running alongside Hwy 2, and they all seemed to be carrying coal headed East.  Anything headed West was empty.  Another thing that is plentiful are windmills.  We easily saw several hundred operational windmills on this trip.

These are sand dunes covered in grass – the Sandhills

We gained an hour before Alliance, by switching to the Mountain Time Zone, so we pulled into our motel at 7:00 MST.  We had a reservation, and luckily so, because it was their last room.  We decided to go out and have dinner in Alliance, and chose Martin’s Family Restuarant, which was of all things – a Mexican place.  We ate well, got back to the hotel, and jumped in their Indoor Pool.

One of many wetland areas at the base of the Sandhills

The main attraction in Alliance is Carhenge – a simulation of Stonehenge, but made of cars instead of stone monoliths.  That will be our first stop tomorrow on our way to the Badlands National Park.  We suspect the Badlands are only about 3 hours from here. We will be staying for two nights at the Cedar Pass Lodge in the Badlands National Park.  These units we’re staying in do not have telephones, televisions or high speed internet access.  We will update our activities again at our next opportunity, which should be on Tuesday, July 11th

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