Yellowstone (Part 4 - Nebraska)
After exploring Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, we decided to take a few days going across Nebraska to see some of the sights. Our visit would include three campgrounds and two regions of the state.
Our first stop was Lake Minatare State Park, our basecamp for exploring Scotts Bluff National Monument. There was a strong storm when we got to Lake Minatare, we struggled to find our site, and set up in soggy conditions. After a long travel day, we picked a restaurant that looked good and headed out to find the place we'd picked out was closed for the evening. We are no flexible eaters, so it was a great disappointment after the long day. Our memory is therefore not fond of Lake Minatare, which is probably often a great State Park. Our site was huge and situated amongst giant trees. However, we opted to stay only the night, daytrip to Scott's Bluff, and head east earlier than originally planned.
Scotts Bluff is cool. It rises 800 feet straight up over the town and river valley below. The National Monument is bisected by Mitchell's Pass, or Devils Gap, named for the passage between the bluffs that guided emigrants west on the Oregon and California Trails. We climbed to the top of the bluff to enjoy the commanding view. Although a short hike, stretches of the hike may have been among the steepest and sheerest trails of our trip. We also walked through Mitchell's Pass, following a stretch of the Oregon Trail where we tried to spot wagon wheel ruts that are still visible in some stretches of the trail. Mitchell was all about this trail thinking that it had been named for him.
Our next destination was just one night at the West Omaha/NE Lincoln KOA, located between Lincoln and Omaha. We took one night here after leaving Lake Minatare early because a site at our final campground of the trip wouldn't be available until the next day. A night at the KOA was just what we needed. We took the time here to play putt-putt golf, bounce on the jump pillow, and have a relaxing evening.
The following morning we took a gamble that our site would be ready at our next location that paid off. We moved campsites to be settled for the last two nights of our trip and to not have the camper in tow while we explored Lincoln. The final campground of our trip was Mahoney State Park. This may have been the best campground, the best state park, and the best site of our seven campgrounds 2020 Yellowstone journey.
There is a lot of outdoor fun happening at Mahoney State Park, and it seems to continue year round. The long list includes a ropes course, a pool, waterslides, wave pool, golf, miniature golf, disc golf, a marina with free rental equipment, paddle boating, fishing, arts and crafts center, activity center with indoor playground, ice skating pavilion, climbing wall, theater, horse trails, winter sports, hiking, biking, alpine slide, and probably a lot more. There is a lodge/resort for those not camping, We took advantage of the walking loop to get a few miles in running and get a taste of all of the features in the park. This park seems to be a favorite spot for those in Omaha and Lincoln and its easy to see why; the park alone is a top-notch vacation destination.
The two campgrounds were both close to all of the action in the park. Combined, the campgrounds offer about 150 sites, roughly half are electric, half are electric plus, which are oddly still electric only, and seven full hookup sites. Our site was huge and park-like with a lot of grass and good tree cover, backing to a wooded area.
We spent one day in Lincoln and one day in Omaha to get a taste of both cities. In Lincoln, we visited several gardens, including Sunken Gardens, which is a small 1.5 acre garden but is a top 300 garden in North America. We walked Union Plaza and grabbed a snack at the Hub Cafe, walked Haymarket District and Downtown, and took a self-guided tour of the Lincoln Capitol. We found lunch at Shen Cafe, and had great burgers that evening at Honest Abe's Burgers and Freedom.
We started our day in Omaha with tickets to visit Lauritzen Gardens which is the botanical garden in Omaha. The garden had a number of nice exhibits, including a train garden. Next to Lauritzen Gardens and worth a stop is Kenefick Park, where two massive Union Pacific locomotives are on display, One of the two, Big Boy, is the world's largest steam locomotive. We also walked the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, a 3000 foot pedestrian footbridge over the Mississippi River into Iowa. Without a doubt, the height of Omaha to the kids was the Omaha Bricks and Minifigs, where we paid out on our bribes of two weeks of hiking, smiling for pictures, and keeping the composure on long days. We rewarded ourselves with drinks and appetizers at Upstream Brewing as well as an incredible dinner at Pitch.
Reflecting back on this journey, and the journey that 2020 has been, we are thankful that we took advantage of taking an epic trip in a year of so much uncertainty.
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Shane and Jessica
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