For those of you who have driven the stretch of Interstate 80 from Cheyene, Wyoming through the state of Nebraska and on to Iowa know that there is nothing between Ogallala, NE and Lincoln, NE in the way of tourist stops. That was of course the case up until the year 2000. All of that changed then.
The Archway is a relative newcomer to Great Plains tourism, it was installed in grand style one night five years ago and opening in 2000. Using giant multi-wheeled transporters, the 1,500-ton, 309-foot structure was rolled across the highway in one piece on the night of Aug. 16, 1999. The interstate was closed for eight hours while the archway was locked onto its support platforms.
The exit access problem was a shock to investors, no doubt; the workaround is a winding service road from a public exit a few miles west. Teepees and wire buffalos decorate the roadside. "Oh Shenandoah" plays on loudspeakers in the parking lot. For us too this turned out to be quite an effort to just get to the Arch once we got off at the exit.
The structure -- a dream of Nebraska’s last living three-term governor, Frank B. Morrison Sr. -- was designed by a Walt Disney team from Orlando.
Under a giant log arch, the two story lobby escalator -- the longest in Nebraska -- spares modern pioneers a stair climb, and leads up into the Archway's multi-media experience. Statues of Lewis and Clark era guides stand along both sides, pointing the way up. The impressive entrance leads through a moving video display of the prairie.
As we went up these escalators, it was as if we were going not only back in time to the days of Lewis & Clark, but also as if we were going into the back a larger than life prairie skooner. The also had us put on a headset that seemed to be set to what ever the scene you were viewing at the time. If you got there in the middle of the segment, you had to wait for it to start over in order to catch it all.
Once up, in a big, cavernous space, we are transported back to the first white man exploration of Nebraska, as they traveled west the hell out of Nebraska. A periodic thunderstorm adds to realism. Off to one side, a large video of a field suddenly erupts with a buffalo stampede, a la Glen or Glenda. This was one of my personal favorites, but you really couldn't capture with a 35MM camera.
Another large diorama tells the story of the doomed Mormon Handcart Expedition, an obscure historical footnote receiving more play these days in the region as Mormon tourism has grown.
Yet another one showed a Pony Express Rider at a horse exchange outpost as he jumped from one horse to another. I especially liked this one because it was done so well with a huge projection screen behind what looked like a real log cabin. It really kind of gave you the feeling that you were there watching the real thing.
Another of my favorite stops on this tour was a log bridge, now an undeniable part of the interstate. It was lit up to look as if a real steam locomotive was passing over your head as you went under it. A really amazing feat of trying to create something that looked real, in a place you knew that it could not have been.
The whole idea behind the exhibit was that this was the evolution of the roadway west from the Missouri River and how it transitioned from the days of the native Americans, through the settlers, the Mormon Trail, to the Lincoln Highway the all the way to its present day use as Interstate 80. In fact one of the last part of the tour is to peek out a rather small one way window that is directly over the east-bound lanes of the Interstate. I thought that was kind of neat to look out of, but it sort of made Mrs. LZ a little nervous.
After the tour was over, it brings you back down to the area where there is what is known as the Platte River Trader Gift Shop, which they say is considered to be one of the best gift shops between Omaha & Denver.
The Platte River Trader offers you a wide variety of patriotic, western, and Archway merchandise to satisfy all your gift giving needs. They featured hand-made, home-made and home-grown products from native Nebraskans in the state’s Grow Nebraska collection, and have our holiday shop open all year. We also feature a wide variety of Native American made products brought to us by Stagecoach Jewelry & Gifts. They also had a place to eat that was called appropriately "The Chuckwagon Restaurant", where they said to come in for the special of the day. And that they were always serving buffalo burgers, hamburgers, hot dogs, soup and salad bar. To say nothing about having a variety of homemade pies and desserts.
The Miami Herald newspaper in Florida has recently named the Great Platte River Road Archway as one of 10 cool kids museums in the nation. Travel writer Michael Schuman and his family toured the country, noting museums that appealed to youngster's special interests.
Schuman describes the Archway as a "splashy, loud and brassy history museum that uses film, computer graphics, light and sound, life-size dioramas, re-enactors and classic cars to document 150 years of transportation and communication across America."
Another thing that the Archway touted was that fact that they were written up in a book called "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" and although I am not sure I would rate it quite that high on my personal list, I would say that I just thought it was kind of a cool place and in my opinion, not only worth the money, but also a nice rest stop in an other wise extremely long drive from Ogallala to Lincoln.“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”
~ G.K. Chesterton