The Great Platte River Road Archway in Kearney is a modern marvel that tells the story of westward migration in numerous engaging ways.
The Archway is something of a museum in the sky. Resembling a covered bridge, it spans 308 feet across Interstate 80, resting 30 feet above the surface of the road on two large towers. Visitors enter through one of the towers and then proceed up into the exhibit area above the roadway, where they learn about the Pony Express, telegraph wires, buffalo stampedes, railroads and the other developments that helped to connect the East to the West.
Groups touring the Archway can see a number of video presentations that detail the history of the area before seeing the artifacts and exhibits on display. The museum also includes a gift shop and Chuckwagon Concessions, and the staff can arrange catering for group meals.
While you’re there: The Kearney Classic Car Collection showcases more than 140 vintage automobiles from the early 1900s through the 1980s. The Museum of Nebraska Art is housed in a converted 1911 Renaissance Revival post office and has more than 5,000 pieces of art that depict Nebraska and the Great Plains.
On the heels of westward expansion, a nationwide rail network was built to transport people and goods back and forth between the Eastern cities and new frontier towns in the West. The eastern and western sections of the Union Pacific railroad came together in North Platte.
Today, North Platte is home to a massive rail yard, as well as the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center, which tells the story of the railroad and its impact on the area. The tower serves as an observation platform, elevated 100 feet and offering 360-degree views of Bailey Yard below.
The rail yard isn’t an ordinary train station; at 2,850 acres, it’s one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world. The yard has 114 tracks and processes some 14,000 railcars a day. Visiting groups learn about the history of the site and the technology used in managing its operations today.
While you’re there: Buffalo Bill State Historical Park preserves the home and historic barn of “Buffalo” Bill Cody, the famous American scout, hunter and showman who made a name for himself touring the country with animals from the West.
Much of the territory in northwest Nebraska has changed little since the days of westward expansion. At Fort Robinson State Park, groups can explore a historic military outpost and the wilderness surrounding it.
Fort Robinson was first established during the Indian Wars and was used until after World War II. The State Historical Society museum at the fort details significant events there, including the 1879 Cheyenne outbreak and the death of famous Sioux leader Crazy Horse.
The University of Nebraska operates the Trailside Museum at the park, which interprets the area’s geology and natural history. But the best way for groups to get to know the area is to take a horseback or open-air jeep ride through the buttes and the herds of bison that live at the park. Horse-drawn carriage tours and nature tours are also available.
While you’re there: In nearby Chadron, the Museum of the Fur Trade is dedicated to preserving the history of the fur trade that flourished on the western frontier. The museum grounds are also home to the 1837 Bordeaux Trading Post.