Day Trips

SANDHILLS JOURNEY SCENIC BYWAY

The late Charles Kuralt called Nebraska’s Highway 2 “one of America’s 10 most beautiful highways” exclaiming, “This road will take you to one of the last unexplored frontiers where vast treasures can be discovered.”  Like the sea, the emptiness of the Sandhills gives the traveler a strange sense of comfort. Highway 2 is not just another highway that goes somewhere, Highway 2 is somewhere.  The Sandhills Journey Byway extends from the city of Grand Island on the eastern end to the western city of Alliance along Nebraska Highway 2.  Hooker County lies midway between the two portal cities.  Visit www.sandhillsjourney.com for information on communities, attractions, and events along the Byway.

SANDHILLS JOURNEY SCENIC BYWAY VISITOR CENTER

Located at the east end of Broken Bow, 100 miles east of Mullen, the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway Visitor Center is scheduled to open in April 2009. It will feature indoor educational, recreational and historical information on the unique Nebraska Sandhills. Additional outdoor displays are planned to feature the numerous grasses that make the Sandhills region such a valuable ranching area. Housed in the historic O K Luther barn, this center offers restrooms, plenty of parking, picnic spaces, and walking trails. It is handicapped accessible. Hours of operation are yet to be determined, for more information contact Stan Sedlacek, Visitor Center Coordinator, 308-872-6192, or visit Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce at 444 South 8th Avenue, 308- 872-5691.

NEBRASKA NATIONAL FOREST – BESSEY RANGER DISTRICT

Located 40 miles east of Mullen on Nebraska Highway 2, the Nebraska National Forest, Bessey Ranger District, near Halsey, is the largest hand planted forest in the nation. The Bessey Ranger District lies in the heart of the unique Nebraska Sandhills grasslands. The ranger district lands encompass over 90,000 acres of a very fragile terrain with high wind erosion potential. The forest’s heritage runs deep as numerous Civilian Conservation Corps workers hand planted the over 20,000 acres of forest on the district in the 1930’s. When President Franklin Roosevelt revitalized the faith of the nation with programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, he brought together two wasting resources, unemployed young men and the land, in an effort to save both.  Currently, the Bessey Tree Nursery is the oldest Federal tree nursery in the U.S. It was established in 1902 and is producing over 3 million seedlings annually of over 40 species.

VALENTINE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1935 to protect a portion of the Sandhills and their wildlife. The unique nature of the Refuge was recognized in 1976 when the Sandhills prairie was designated as National Natural Landmark.  Valentine NWR is one of over 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System – a network or lands set aside specifically for wildlife. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Refuge System is a living heritage, preserving wildlife and habitat for people today and for generations to come.

Nesting water and marsh birds include American bittern, blackcrowned night heron, upland sandpiper, long-billed curlew, American avocet, Wilson’s phalarope, grebes (eared, Western, Clark’s and pied-billed), American coot, black and Forster’s terns, Canada goose and nearly a dozen species of ducks. There are also burrowing and short-eared owls, Bell’s and warbling vireos, and red-winged and yellow headed blackbirds.

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge lakes are prime fishing areas for bullheads, bluegill, northern pike, large mouth bass, muskellunge, and yellow perch. Please refer to the federal fishing regulations for these lakes. Ice fishing is very popular on these lakes.  Visit http://www.fws.gov/valentine/ for more information.

NIOBRARA RIVER AND SMITH FALLS

The Niobrara River is known for its beauty, biological significance, and paleontological resources, and is enjoyed as a superb canoeing river of the northern Great Plains. In 1991, Congress designated 76 miles of the Niobrara east of Valentine, Nebraska, as part of the National Scenic River System - a river that merits special protection and recognition.

 

The Niobrara River begins in the high plains of eastern Wyoming and flows 535 miles to its confluence with the Missouri River in northeastern Nebraska. Hundreds of springs feed the Niobrara as it flows through the Sandhills region- one of the largest grass-stabilized dune regions in the world. The Niobrara River drains 12,600 square miles in Nebraska and cuts through several rock formations including the Ash Hollow, Valentine, Rosebud, and Pierre. These unique geological formations include fossils of many mammalian species including beaver, horse, rhinoceros, and mastodons; as well as fossils of fish, alligators, and turtles.

 

Waterfalls occur where streams flowing into the Niobrara run over the erosion resistant Rosebud formation. Over 90 waterfalls occur along the westernmost part of the Niobrara, including the state’s highest- Smith Falls, (left) which plunges more than 70 feet from a cliff before flowing several hundred yards into the river. Some drop directly into the river, while others are found on tributary streams hidden within side canyons.

 

Visitors can float the river by tube, canoe, kayak or raft from mid-April to mid-October. Local outfitters provide boats, tubes and kayaks for rent. Most floaters come on weekends in June, July and August, when summer temperatures can soar from the 90’s to low 100’s. Visit http://www.nps.gov/niob/index.htm for more information.


CRESCENT LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge includes Crane Lake, Island Lake, Smith Lake and others and is located …. Miles west of Mullen and 26 miles south on spur…... .  In the late 1920s when the continuing decline of waterfowl became a national concern, steps were taken to establish a refuge in the Sandhills. An initial land purchase was completed in 1931 and Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge became a reality.  Subsequent small purchases and land exchanges increased the refuge to its present size. Because the wetlands are randomly scattered, it was necessary to purchase a large tract of prairie grassland to provide the needed lakes and ponds.  This 46,000-acre refuge in west-central Nebraska consists of native Sandhills prairie dotted with numerous shallow lakes, ponds, and wetlands. The grass covered dunes were created from the wind blown sands of an ancient sea.

The rolling green hills provide a glimpse of native prairie. Current management and future plans are to emphasize the untouched character of the landscape. Expect to see vast panoramas of mostly untouched grasslands much as great-grandpa might have seen. The twenty-one lakes and numerous ponds are supported by an aquifer lying below the hills. The grasslands range from the densely vegetated meadows to the sparsely covered “choppies” and support a wide variety of wildlife.  Anglers should check with the refuge headquarters as there are special regulations for each lake. These lakes are known for light fishing pressure.  Common species available are yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, large mouth bass, walleye and black crappie.  Visit http://www.fws.gov/crescentlake/ for more information.

 

 
CARHENGE


Carhenge, which replicates Stonehenge, is located 100 miles to the west of Mullen on Nebraska Highway 2 and 3-½ miles north on Nebraska Highway 87. It consists of the circle of cars, three standing trilithons within the circle, the heel stone, slaughter stone, and 2 station stones, and the Aubrey circle, named after Sir John Aubrey who first recognized the earthworks and great stones as a prehistoric temple in 1648. It was not until excavations undertaken in the 1920’s that they were found to be holes cut to hold timber uprights. A total of 56 holes were discovered and named the Aubrey Holes in honor of John Aubrey’s observation. The artist of this unique car sculpture, Jim Reinders, experimented with unusual and interesting artistic creations throughout his life. While living in England, he had the opportunity to study the design and purpose of Stonehenge. His desire to copy Stonehenge in physical size and placement came to fruition in the summer of 1987 with the help of many family members. Thirty-eight automobiles were placed to assume the same proportions as Stonehenge with the circle measuring approximately 96 feet in diameter. Some autos are held upright in pits five feet deep, trunk end down, while those cars which are placed to form the arches have been welded in place. All are covered with gray spray paint. The honor of depicting the heel stone goes to a 1962 Caddy.

Carhenge was built as a memorial to Reinders’ father who once lived on the farm where Carhenge now stands. While relatives were gathered following the death of Reinders’ father in 1982, the discussion turned to a memorial and the idea of a Stonehenge replica was developed. The family agreed to gather in five years and build it. The clan, about 35 strong, gathered in June 1987 and went to work. They held the dedication on the Summer Solstice in 1987, with champagne, poetry, songs and a play written by the family.  Carhenge opened its new Visitors’ Center in 2007. Souvenirs and restroom facilities are available.  See http://www.carhenge.com/ for more information.

 

MERRIT RESERVOIR       

Almost any activity involving water sports can be enjoyed in and around Merritt Reservoir’s 72,900 acre-feet of water. Located 50 miles north of Mullen on Highway 97, this reservoir provides seventy three miles of tree lined shore providing swimming, camping, picnicking, pan and game fishing. Whether you plan to roam the prairie or walk in peaceful solitude along miles of white sandy beaches, the area will meet your every need. Water skiers and sailboaters find the reservoir a haven, and ice fishing remains a popular wintertime sport.  A park permit is required in most areas.  Visit http://www.merritttradingpost.com for more information.

The Sandhills area is one of the largest “dark spots” left in the continental United States and a highly desired destination for astronomy buffs.  Much of the Sandhills is considered remote and sparsely populated, yielding high visibility of the night skies and awesome spectacles that the Milky Way Galaxy produces. Because of elevation around 2,500 feet and the dry nature of the region, the haze is low and the transparency high, creating excellent star gazing opportunities. The Prairie Astronomy Club of Nebraska holds its Nebraska Star Party at Merritt Reservoir during the new moon cycle in July each year.

 

 

 

 

 

SANDHILL CRANE WATCHING

Visitors to the area may want to view the annual spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes in the Grand Island area – 160 miles east of Mullen.  Eighty percent of the world’s population of Sandhill Cranes (nearly 600,000) returns to the Platte River valley, which is part of North America’s Central Flyway, for about six weeks every year. In fact, this is the only place where all sub-species of Sandhill Cranes gather and co-mingle. The very rare and endangered whooping crane also traverses this route. The central Platte River is one of the whooping crane’s principal stopover sites on its 2,400-mile migration. The area is renowned by birding enthusiasts and hosts the largest gathering of crane species in the world.

They usually begin arriving along the Platte in February and the numbers continue to climb until they peak in mid to late March. In early April most leave with a few stragglers remaining through early May. The area around the Platte River provides food and nutrients that sustain Sandhill cranes for the rest of migration and for nesting. While they are feeding and resting for about a month, their diet consists mainly of waste corn that they find in the fields after the harvest of the previous fall.  This actually is a benefit to the farmers since they eat corn that would become volunteer corn in the next year’s crop. About ten percent of their diet is made up of earthworms, snails, and insect larvae. At dusk, the cranes gather along the broad, shallow waters of the Platte to roost for the night. There can be more than 12,000 cranes per half mile of river. When the river freezes they roost in the fields adjacent to the river.

As the cranes feed in the fields, bird watchers can expect to be treated to the dance of the cranes. Pairs engage in elaborate bowing displays with outstretched wings and leap high into the air. Although they usually mate and remain faithful for life, as partners die this area is an excellent opportunity for the cranes to find new mates due to the availability of potential partners in a small area. The behavior is believed to strengthen established bonds and help new pairs bond.  For more information see the website:  http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/wildlife/guides/migration/sandhill.asp.

 

STUHR MUSEUM 

The Stuhr Museum - near Grand Island, 160 miles east of Mullen - is the perfect place to learn about early prairie life.  Praised as “one of the top ten places to re-live America’s past” by Good Housekeeping magazine, Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer offers a living history experience that tells the story of early town building in Nebraska. Stuhr Museum, 175 miles east of Mullen on Nebraska Highway 2, provides visitors the experience of life as a pioneer through over 70,000 three-dimensional artifacts plus historic photographs, books, and documents.  Set on 200 acres, the 1890s Railroad Town comes to life from May 1 through September 30. Four historical homes grace Railroad Town, including the cottage where Henry Fonda was born in 1905. Dressed for life in the 1890s, the “residents” of Railroad Town help visitors experience the lifestyle of the early prairie town builders. Walk the town’s wooden boardwalks or stop at the blacksmith’s shop to see demonstrations. Play an old-fashioned game, create a hat at the Millinery, visit the one room school, write a telegram at the Depot, see what the Tinsmith is making, or have a snack at the Silver Dollar Cafe. Shop for handmade tin, iron, and wooden reproduction items at the Mercantile, where women’s jewelry, hat pins, bonnets, candy, coffee, pottery and scented soaps are just a sampling of the items available. South of town, Runelsburg is home to a turn of the century farm, charming rural church and authentic one-room schoolhouse. To the north, a collection of log cabins represents a Road Ranche, an early settlement on the Plains.

The Stuhr Building, open year-round, includes indoor exhibits such as period rooms, tools, household articles, and furnishings on the 2nd floor. It introduces visitors to Nebraska’s history by tracing pioneer lifestyles from 1880 to 1920. The lower level features changing exhibits from those created using Stuhr’s collection of nationally touring shows on any number of historic topics. The Prairie Treasures Gift Shop carries a wide assortment of unique gift items as well as books on Great Plains history and people. Outdoors, visit the restored, authentic Railroad Display, and view a 1901 Steam Locomotive, a 1912 Caboose, and an 1871 Coach at walk-in level before taking a stroll through the beautiful arbor with dozens of varieties of flowers, native plants, and friendly ducks.  Visit www.stuhrmuseum.com for more information.

CEDAR HILLS VINEYARD

            This vineyard and gardens are located near the South Loup River north east of Ravenna and 140 miles east of Mullen on Highway 2. The tasting room & dining room offer a wide range of food and Nebraska wines to satisfy any palate.  They also raise raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries for their wine, homemade pies, cobblers, jams and jellies. Visit www.cedarhillsvineyards.com

CUSTER COUNTY MUSEUM

The Custer County Museum, in Broken Bow – 100 miles east of Mullen - is featured in the movie “All About Schmitz” starring Jack Nicholson. It offers historical information on the settlement of Custer County and a new display opened in 2007 featuring the works of renowned artist Solomon Butcher. In the museum you’ll find exhibits that provide a glimpse into 19th century life in Custer County. A wonderful bit of Americana can be seen in the museum’s large front room - a recreation of the Wescott, Gibbons, and Bragg General Merchandise Store of Comstock, Nebraska-complete with the most of the store’s original display cases and merchandise.  The store was first established in 1886 in Westcott, Nebraska, by Walter Wescott, a Wisconsin cattleman, who was later joined by son-in-laws Walter Gibbons and Charles Bragg. After the railroad came to the east side of the Middle Loup River, Walter is said to have slid his store across the ice to Comstock in December of 1899. By 1912 a drug store had been built onto the original store then operated by J. D. Rockhold. The pharmacy as it appeared in the Comstock store is also on display in our museum’s front room. You can contact the Custer County Historical Society at 308-872-2203, or write to them at Post Office Box 334, 445 South 9th Avenue, Broken Bow, NE 68822. The email address is: cchs@inebraska.com

 

LAKE McCONAUGHY 

 

Nearly everything about Lake McConaughy is big!  Its 35,700 surface acres make it Nebraska’s largest reservoir with over 100 miles of shore line.  At full storage, McConaughy is 20 miles long, four miles iwde and 142 feet deep at the dam.  The dam is among the largest of it’s type in the world.

To most Nebraskans and residents of neighboring states, McConaughy is known as a place for outdoor good times. Its waters and white sand beaches provide the setting for many different kinds of outdoor recreation. Obviously such a fine piece of water offers excellent fishing and boating. But, Big Mac has become a favorite with campers, sailboaters, wind surfers, swimmers, water skiers, picnickers, scuba divers, hunters, ice boaters, and many other outdoor fun seekers.

Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area is managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and is located 37 miles west of Mullen on Highway 2 and 63 miles south on Highway 61,  Visit http://www.lakemcconaughy.com/ for more information.

 

GOLDEN SPIKE TOWER & BAILY YARD

Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, 75 miles south of Mullen on Highway 97, is the largest classification yard in the world; drawing rail fans from all over. It was named in honor of former Union Pacific President Edd H. Bailey. This massive yard covers 2,850 acres, reaching a total length of eight miles, well beyond the borders of North Platte, a community of 24,500 citizens.       

Every 24 hours, UPRR’s Bailey Yard handles 10,000 railroad cars. Of those, 3,000 are sorted daily in the yard’s eastward and westward yards, nicknamed “hump yards”. Using a mound cresting 34 feet for eastbound trains and 20.1 for those heading west, these two hump yards allow four cars a minute to roll gently into any of 114 “bowl” tracks where they become part of trains headed for dozens of destinations. Together these two yards 18 receiving and 16 departure tracks.

Bailey Yard also sports a diesel repair facility on it’s grounds, providing “one-stop” servicing to trains and a locomotive repair shop. Bailey Yard mechanical forces fill locomotives with 14 million gallons of diesel fuel every month. The shop replaces 10,000 pairs of wheels yearly and has a fleet of trucks to repair small defects in the trains. The shop can also repair 18 to 20 cars per hour, with shifts running 24 hours. They fix 750 locomotives annually. Bailey Yard’s goods tell the story of American commerce, for through here pass refrigerators, TV’s, coal, automobiles, potatoes, fruit, wine, lumber, corn, sugar, steel, chemicals, and hundreds of other commodities used every day. As goes Bailey Yard, so goes the nation, for it is an economic barometer of America.

The Golden Spike Tower Visitor Center is located on the southern edge of Bailey Yard and offers tours and a panoramic view of the yard.  Visit http://www.goldenspiketower.com for more information.ail Fest

SCOUTS REST RANCH

Scouts Rest Ranch, also in North Platte 75 miles south of Mullen, is the historic home Buffalo Bill Cody.  William F. Cody took up residence in Scout’s Rest Ranch in 1886. The house was built during the heyday of his Wild West Show which had its start as a July Fourth show in North Platte. He spent much of the time during the winter months here and a large barn housed much of the show’s stock.

The house was built at a cost of $3,900 and contained much new technology of the era.

Scouts Rest served as a resting place for many famous people, show performers and various friends of Cody.

The ranch is now a Nebraska State Park. Many of the rooms in the house have been restored to their turn-of-the-century look. Displays there chronicle Cody’s career. Visit http://richgros.com/Cody/scouts_rest_ranch.html for more information.

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