ONLY A 15-MINUTE DRIVE FROM KEARNEY:
The Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary is a great place to observe birds, especially migratory birds. In fact, if you can be there during the last half of March or the first week of April, you will see the migration of half a million Sandhill Cranes through the area (best viewing times are sunset or sunrise). But come anytime.
Take the Gibbon exit on Interstate 80 (just a few miles east of Kearney) and go south on paved road for two miles, then go west on gravel road for another two miles to the center.
Click on the photo to see more photos.
If you like auctions, this is the place to be. This collection of buildings, located about a mile or two south of the Platte River at Kearney, is known as Londer's Auction. Once a week , on Tuesdays, they have a huge auction of everything you can imagine. Furniture, appliances, all kinds of things.
Fort Kearny is located just south and east of Kearney, Nebraska. (The town has an extra "e" in its spelling due to an early-day error when the town was founded.) Going east on Interstate 80, take the Kearney exit (#272) and go south across the river and in a mile or so turn east on the Ft. Kearny road (paved) to the fort. Going west, take the Minden exit south across the river and in a mile or so turn west on Ft. Kearny road to the fort. (note; do not turn into the Ft. Kearny Recreation Area if you are looking for the fort itself.)
Ft. Kearny was the first major stop for the pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Here wagons would accumulate into the famous wagon trains of 100 or more, for protection. There is a nice visitor's center here, a blacksmith shop and other nice displays. Plus plenty of grass for the kids to play on. A park permit is required but it can be purchased at the visitors center.
The picture shows one corner of the "stockade" at the fort. The idea was that, in case of Indian attack, all soldiers and pioneers could take refuge inside the fort. However, no attack ever took place here; it was west of here where the dangers increased.
When the Great Transcontinental Railroad came through Kearney, just north of the river, that spelled the end of the Oregon Trail and the fort was no longer needed.
Kearney has a wonderful, safe, paved pathway through town called the Hike/Bike Trail. From this trail you can see Cottonmill Park west of town, the Kearney Canal flowing through town, Yanney Heritage Park south of town, the Archway Monument out on the interstate, and much more. The path is about six or seven feet wide, and nice and smooth. You can rent a bike from one of the bike stores in Kearney for about $15/day. Altogether the path is about ten miles long.
In the photo you can see the trail passing in front of a Kearney welcome sign.
Fort Kearny was established as a military outpost along the Oregon Trail in 1848 to protect pioneers making the trip west, and was named for General Stephen W. Kearny. It also served as a stop for the stage coach, a pony express station, the headquarters for the Pawnee Scouts, and a supply depot/outfitter during the Indian Wars, along with providing supplies for settlers/pioneers. The post remained active until 1871 just after the railroad came to the town of Kearney. Today you can explore the recreated stockade, parade grounds and blacksmith shop. There are ample interpretive signs to educate you about the fort and its functions. Camping, fishing and other recreational facilities are available next door at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area. Hours are 9 AM to 5 PM daily from mid-May to Labor Day. Admission is $2 per adult and $1 for kids 3 to 12. You will also need a park permit $5 a day or $35 for a year.
MAYBE ITS NOT YOUR NORMAL "TOURIST" STOP, but a stroll across campus is a peaceful and interesting experience. In the union, you can have a Starbucks coffee, buy a souveneir T-shirt, or even eat at the union. The food is really good! (see restaurant tips).
The union is kinda in the middle of the campus, so you will probably have to ask a passing student or two to point you in the right direction. Go ahead, they're friendly.
15 miles east of Kearney on highway 30 is the town of Gibbon. Just southeast of town is the George Spencer Vineyards and Winery, one of Nebraska's newer wineries.
Go to the east end of Gibbon, just past the meatpacking plant, and turn south across the railroad tracks on Pawnee Rd. Go 1 1/2 miles and you will see the winery on the east side. The actual address is 7155 Pawnee Road.
Please note their hours: Thursday thru Sunday only, 12:30 pm to 6 pm. (inquire about special holiday hours) On the third Saturday in May they have an art and garden show on the premises.
They have some nice wines that they are developing, plus wines from other Nebraska Vineyards as well. Also a nice selection of wine-oriented gifts in a beautifully restored house.
Just north-northeast of Funk, a great gathering takes place each spring. Pelicans, Snow Geese, Ducks of many varieties and other waterfowl meet on the Funk Lagoon. It is quite a spectacle to see, and the best time is in mid-March.
To get here: Take the Odessa exit (#263) on I-80 and go south to rd. 736, then east two miles and north two miles. This will take you thru the lagoon area. Then just go back west to the highway. You will see marked viewing areas along the way. From the village of Funk, go north on "T" rd. (on the west edge of town) to rd. 736, then follow the above directions. Bring binoculars and a camera!
"Wild KIngdom" has been here, Jane Goodall has been here, and other various film crews as well
Regarding my photo: Sorry, I wasn't here when the birds were. In fact, there was no water in the lagoon in May. My guess is that, due to the drought, they stopped pumping water into the lagoon after the birds left this year. Usually there is water all summer.
The "Sprout House" is a commercial greenhouse out in the countryside that has two specialities; herbs and orchids. (The herbs are presently being sold at WalMart stores in Nebraska.)
They usually have at least 150 live orchid plants that you can choose from, and they are very good at giving you advice on growing them. They do an excellent job of preparing your orchid for you to take with you.
From Kearney, go north on highway 10 about ten miles to road 280, then go east on road 280 about 4 miles (on gravel) to Sweetwater Road. The greenhouse is on the southeast corner of that intersection. Just walk in the unmarked white door.
Prices will run $10 to $15 more for an orchid here than in a discount or box store, but you have access to real experts to help you keep it healthy and blooming.
You can see the last of the World War II hangers at the Kearney Municipal Airport east of town. This airport was known as the "Kearney Air Base" during WWII. Famed actor Clark Gable was briefly stationed here. Some of the aircraft based here later went on the attack of the Ploesti Oil Fields in Romania.