Friday, June 13, 2008

Tales from the road: The Plainsman Museum

When driving across the country, there are two ways to do it. One is to just go. You burn rubber down the interstate, barely stopping to eat, sleeping in your car at rest stops, careening towards your final destination in as little time as possible. The other way is to mosey along, drinking in everything. Driving two hundred miles out of our way to see the Largest Ball of Twine, snapping pics at every scenic overlook, learning the life story of every diner waitress you meet.

For this trip, I’ve been somewhere in between. The whole reason my dumb ass chose to drive a small SUV 2500 miles across the country when gas is hovering at or around $4/gallon is because I was excited about the journey. I wanted to take the time to clear my head, and use it to truly wrap my mind around what exactly I am undertaking with all of this, both literally and figuratively. Plus, I too was excited to become connected with parts of the country that I hadn’t visited yet. However, that being said – I need to get there. No time to dawdle too much. No balls of twine for me.

My chosen route down I-80 was causing me to drive all the way across Nebraska for most of yesterday. I was not predicting the best of conditions. I figured it would be corn, corn, as far as the eye could see. Wrong. Not a single stalk. It was lush, and green, and fertile with rolling hills and beautiful blue sky. And chock full of tourist… let’s not call them traps… attractions. Yes, attractions.

In the space of one afternoon I whizzed by signs for the Pioneer Museum, Buffalo Bill’s Ranch, the Sod House Museum, and a formerly functioning Pony Express Stop. I could barely contain my excitement. Rather than waste the entire day stopping and starting, since I was supposed to be on the road for about ten hours anyway, I decided to choose one and go for it.

The Plainsman Museum is in Aurora, Nebraska, about two miles North of I-80. The whole museum is a facility that sits on about two acres of land, has two huge ware-house type buildings that house the different exhibits, as well as an old train car, schoolhouse, and cottage, all completely set up with authentic pieces to depict typical “Prairie” life in Nebraska. They have two full time employees, the lady who showed me inside the first exhibit said, along with eighty-one volunteers who help catalogue things and give tours – all of whom are over the age of seventy-five, and every item in the museum had been donated by benefactors and locals.

After I paid my $4.50 admission ($1.50 AAA discount – what’s up?!), I walked through the covered wagon and into the mock town setup. Many of the items were labeled with hand written cards, and they had exhibits showing off everything from rifles to wedding gowns, dentist offices to saloons.

I wandered the property for about 45 minutes, and truly enjoyed my time there. To wrap up, let me just say that when wandering these fifty states, I really believe that you should take a few minutes and stop at things like this when you can. There is a lot to see and do out there - some of it educational, some of it kitschy, some of it big, some of it small, and most of it fun.


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