I didn't seriously consider traveling for The Great American Eclipse in 2017 until Brandon mentioned how cool it would be to be in its path of totality. In fact, I hadn't paid much attention at all to this event that many people had started planning for years ago. It wasn't until the end of Spring (only a few months from the date of the Eclipse) that we started to really think about situating ourselves where we could experience the total eclipse, when the sky goes dark for just a minute or two as the moon moves in front of the sun blocking everything but the light of its corona. The shortest distance to totality was southeastern Nebraska or northwestern Missouri and after a few days of research we decided that this might be the most interesting thing we would ever see in Nebraska so we made plans to head that direction.
Although the Omaha and Lincoln areas are only six of seven hours from us respectively, we left on a Friday afternoon and stayed overnight in Iowa so that we could have more of the day on Saturday to explore. I was surprised by how much I had found ahead of time to see and do but I was still pretty sure that, outside of the eclipse, there wasn't a lot to get excited about. Quite the contrary!
Brandon and I absolutely loved our time in Nebraska. Everything we did was worth seeing and experiencing and the more we saw and learned about, the more our reasons to return stacked up. I don't think I've ever had my expectations exceeded as much as they were by the state of Nebraska. From the grandeur of the capitol that was built debt-free to the beauty of the prairie, the state wowed us with both its nature and innovation. It seemed to us that the pioneers who had first settled that land had laid a foundation of independence and perseverance that showed itself in many unique ways.
The total solar eclipse was truly spectacular (we would definitely travel again to see one), but the days we spent in Nebraska before and after left their own special mark on us. We can't wait to go back and see more (especially since we only say the eastern edge).
Dear [Itinerary] Diary,
Saturday, August 19th
Having spent the night before in Iowa, we crossed the border and arrived shortly thereafter at the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park about about 10 in the morning; we had only planned to be there for a couple of hours but were really taken with the history, creativity, beauty and attractions that the lodge offered and end up staying into the late afternoon
Skipping the RibFest that we had tentatively planned on attending in Lincoln, we headed straight from the Arbor Lodge to Omaha where we would be staying that night
We had a tasty (and unique) meal at Brother Sebastian's which is a steakhouse that has been designed to look like a monastery (complete with servers in monk costumes)
Sunday, August 20th
After enjoying the continental breakfast at our hotel, our first stop was the First National's Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park (the largest installation of bronze and stainless steel work of art in the United States and one of the two or three largest in the world) where we spent lots of time admiring the incredibly detailed and inspirational sculptures of pioneers and nature (bison and geese)
We made a pit stop at Coneflower Creamery for an eclipse-themed ("Total Darkness") scoop of chocolate ice cream and local root beer
Our trip lined up perfectly with the one weekend a month that the Joslyn Castle does public tours so we went there next to make our 1 pm appointment
We wanted to make sure we didn't have far to travel on the day of the eclipse not knowing what the roads would be like and having heard some pretty crazy predictions about how many people would be traveling that day, so we headed south after our tour, stopped at the Pioneers Park Nature Center on the way to take in more of the nature beauty of the state (the grazing bison and geese we saw were a great compliment to the statues we had visited earlier in the day!)
We arrived at Gage County Fairgrounds and were relieved at how quick and organized the check in process was. Within about 10 minutes we were choosing a campsite among the 3,000 other travelers who choose this location to spend the night before the eclipse
Having set up our tent, we drove the short drive back into town to have a delicious, relaxing dinner at The Black Crow
Forgoing the movie that was being shown in one of the fairgrounds movie, we turned in for the with the strong and refreshing wind being the only relief from the heat that was still in the 80's after dark (but not before we used some cool star-gazing apps to take advantage of the clear night sky and locate different planets and constellations overhead)
Monday, August 21st
It had been our plan to take advantage of the free shuttles that were running between the Gage County Fairgrounds and the Homestead National Monument, but at the last minute we decided to try our luck with parking at the monument with our own vehicle; not only would that allow us to drive into town to grab a quick breakfast, but it we thought it would give us more flexibility after the eclipse to leave the area on our own time table
We were packed up and out of the campsite before dawn and when we arrived at the monument we discovered to our relief that we were within the first hundred or so cars to arrive, making our walk to the monument only about a half mile from our car (we heard later than others had parked up to six miles out from the monument!)
We spent the morning listening to NASA seminars and checking out some of the exhibits available
As the partial eclipse began, we made our way back to where the majority of planned activities were taking place (like an in-person interview with Bill Nye the Science Guy)
Though it was cloudy and rainy, we caught glimpses of the partial eclipse while we grabbed lunch from one of the food trucks on site and then started toward a site in a cleared field that we had spied earlier in the day that we thought would be ideal for watching the rest of the eclipse
When the remarkable total eclipse had ended, we, with the thousands of other spectators, slowly started to gather our things and start the process of leaving the area (with took at least an hour inching down the packed roads)
On our way up to Lincoln where we had reserved an Airbnb for the night, we stopped at Spring Creek Audubon Prairie Center, visited their center where all the employees were discussing the eclipse and had a lovely afternoon walk in their prairie reserve which was so beautiful and relaxing
After dinner at a ramen restaurant, we checked in to our Airbnb and did little else for the right of the night, pretty much exhausted by that point
Tuesday, August 22nd
It was another early morning this time starting at the Crescent Moon coffee shop where we enjoyed coffee and crepes
Then it was off to tour the state capitol which is probably my favorite state capitol building so far (including our own in St. Paul) - it is absolutely amazing!
From there we went to the Sunken Gardens which is an area right in the city that feels totally sequestered, full of trees, shrubs, flowers and even a large koi pond with lilies in colors I didn't even know existed
Though we had planned to visit the Quilt Museum, we had pretty much hit our limit and not wanting to get home too late, we stopped for lunch at the Engine House Cafe and left town
We stopped at a Barnes and Noble in the border city of Sioux City to try to find a children's book about Iowa (we already found some for Nebraska) for our signature souvenir (which they didn't have), but the town had an A&W so we decided to end the trip just as we had started it: with a root beer "freeze"
I suppose the actual end of the trip was coming home to a sick kitty and making a late-night emergency vet visit! We found out that Derby had a double ear infection which caused her to develop Vestibular Disease sometime in the last day or so since my mom had been checking on them regularly while we were gone. Lots of money, medication, special food and a day admitted to the vet's office and Derby was finally on the mend from her ear infections and the liver failure that was developing from her lack of appetite...and thus we knew we were back to real life after a great trip! We have a running joke that every time we try to come home from our trips, things start going badly. From crabby people, to getting stopped by security and missing our flight, to getting sick on the place...this was just another experience to add to the list!
See our "Favorite Fifteen" photos of Nebraska below (and check out our other posts about Nebraska for more)!