Nebraska

The Union Pacific Railway and the River Platte were our constant companions today, driving through Nebraska. The long freight trains were still running despite the Independence Day holiday and just as back home in the UK on a holiday, rail repair work was going on. Another similarity to our bank holidays was the cloudy sky and some drizzle as we left Omaha. The Lincoln Highway leaves the city by R6 (passing through a community called Dundee) and then heads back up to R30 on R275. Here we could see signs of recent heavy rain with pools of water in the fields and irrigation machines standing unused. I overheard a local say that they had had 2 inches last night which was very welcome. Just out of Fremont there were rusting old motel signs by the road and anti-abortion posters which we had also seen in western Iowa. We passed through Rogers (population 95 and the smallest town so far) where for the first time on this trip I had no signal on my phone. Further on, we then crossed the Platte into Columbus and had brunch at the T-Bone Truck Stop. There were no trucks there today, just a few locals.
T bone Truck Stop 2 Columbo NE 4 July 2016-1
There was a speedway circuit nearby but nothing happening there today. We had at last started a gradual increase in elevation, with each town we passed through being a little higher above sea-level. My first view of the Great Plains was from a plane. I had been invited to give a talk in Santa Barbara in 2002 and having not been further west than Chicago before, was very keen to watch the landscape changing below. Our next encounter was on the California Zephyr which takes 2 and a half days to get from Chicago to Emeryville CA. I remember the excitement when an incline and a curve appeared in the track after miles of a straight flat line through the cornfields. Today, the sun appeared just before Grand Island. In the town, Kermit’s Car Wash were trying to sell fireworks and someone in a frog outfit was outside trying to entice customers in. We had another break in Cottonmill Park on the west side of Kearney where people were fishing and boating. It has a prairie reserve which you can walk or ride through. Hundreds of insects were buzzing in the grasses and feeding on the flowers and I saw a red bird which I think was a cardinal bird.
Prairie Grasses 2 Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
Flowers Cottonmill Park Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
We now had prairie grass instead of flowers by the road and in Cozad, crossed the 100th meridian. I saw a raptor being mobbed by smaller birds but this was such a quick flash above the road that I could not identify them. Before our stop in North Platte we kept seeing persistent mirages of water across the road ahead and the temperature was up to 90 degrees. We were now in rolling hills with horses in the fields and the saw the first sign for a ranch. Our route also coincides around these parts with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails and the Pony Express. Tomorrow we are taking the Lincoln Highway loop to Denver.

Through Iowa to Omaha

Heading west from Cedar Rapids this morning I kept seeing a bird sitting on the poles alongside the road and flying over the cornfields. I have now identified it as a red-winged blackbird. This blue flower grows on the roadside here but I have yet to identify it and all the other flowers seen so far. I am slowly finding websites that can help with the flowers and have the Audubon Bird app on my phone which saves me lugging bird books around.
Flower by cornfileds Iowa 3 July 2016-1
Much of the old Lincoln Highway in Iowa is a gravel road so we created a fair bit of dust as we drove along them. We even passed a couple of wineries which I did not expect to find here but it was too early in the day and they were closed. Near Colo, we saw the first sheep and goats in the state (cows being the only farm animal seen so far) and also more deer. We stopped for coffee at Niland’s community-run café which sits at the intersection of Routes 30 & 65; the Lincoln Highway and the Jefferson Highway. I had never heard of the latter ‘From Pine to Palm’ route which runs from Winnipeg to New Orleans. Something to explore perhaps? The old gas station has been restored and is now a museum but the motel is up and running again.
Nilands Cafe Colo Iowa 3 July 2016-1
Further on, lunch was in a small park in Carroll where this stall was selling shaved ices. He was not doing great business as the temperature stayed stubbornly in the low 70s with a fair amount of cloud cover. He was a Jimi Hendrix fan we assume, as he had a large poster of him on the back of the stall door. Other musical snippets from today are: 1. I read somewhere that Antonin Dvorák stayed in Iowa with his family in the summer of 1893 and wrote the ‘New World Symphony’ while here and 2: at one point we were passed by a car in which the passenger (who looked as if he should be auditioning for ZZ Top) sat combing his beard.
Cart in CArroll in Iowa 3 July 2016-1
Today we crossed the Missouri-Mississippi Divide and then crossed the Missouri just before entering Omaha and Nebraska. Iowa has the section which is the most northerly of the entire Lincoln Highway. The best sign of today was one for ‘Woodbine Optimists’ Club’. This was intriguing and after a bit of digging around I have discovered that they are a community organisation who do youth work. R30 continues past Omaha but as the highway goes through Omaha and passed through the very street we are staying on, we are staying here for a night. The downtown area around the old market has lots of interesting shops, restaurants and bars. There is a fantastic secondhand bookshop: Jackson Street Books which was even open on a holiday Sunday evening. We had dinner at the Louisiana Kitchen which has live jazz but on Saturday not Sunday sadly. Tomorrow we head further into Nebraska.