I’m happy to post this guest blog from of Joe Laing, El Monte RV. They’ve taken notice of our area and offer their input for travelers on what to hit while vacationing in the Loup Valley.
An Unforgettable Ord Family Adventure
If you want to see the beauty of Nebraska, you can’t go wrong with a trip down the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway. If you drive it at the right time of year, you can take in a few rodeos along the way, take time to go hiking and fishing, and possibly even observe the annual migration of the sandhill cranes.
If you are interested in history or wildlife, you may want to begin your trip in Kearney. Here, you can visit the Buffalo County Historical Society and the Trails & Rails Museum. You can see a 19th century railroad depot and locomotive, historical homes and churches, including a log cabin, and historic carts and buggies. If you are there between September and May, you can enjoy free admission to the museum on Tuesdays.
You may want to try to be in Kearney during an even more specific period – the six weeks from late February to early April when 80 percent of the world’s sandhill cranes congregate on the Platte River. The crane migration is a one of a kind experience, especially for families – and it’s the reason Kearney has been designated the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World.
For best viewing, head for the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, which offers guided trips to observation blinds (keep in mind that you’ll have a bit of a hike to reach a blind). The Rowe Sanctuary also hosts a Rivers & Wildlife Celebration in mid-March, at the height of the sandhill crane migration. If you do come during the migration, make sure to plan your trip and make any reservations that you plan to need – including reserving your space on an observation field trip at the Rowe Sanctuary, as spaces are limited.
Other attractions you may want to see in the area include the Museum of Nebraska Art, the Hastings Museum, and the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. Head east to Wood River on US-30. From 1858 to 1860, Wood River operated ranches along the road used by Western bound settlers during the Gold Rush and during Mormon emigration west. The town was based at the local Union Pacific Railroad Station in 1866, but in 1874-1875, Union Pacific moved its station, and put the original station, post office, and Jackson’s store on skids to pull them to the new spot.
Here is where you pick up the beginning of the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway. Follow Highway 11 for 24 miles north and you will come to Dannebrog, the “Danish Capital of Nebraska.” Danish immigrants founded Dannebrog in the 1870s. See if you can find the town’s historical marker, placed there in 1989 by the Nebraska legislature. Your children will enjoy your trip to Dannebrog most in June or December, when you can enjoy one of the town’s festivals. Grundlovsfest takes place the first weekend in June, and includes games such as a cake walk, clogging, cow bingo, horse and buggy rides, tractor pulls, a quilt show and a parade. You can also enjoy Aebleskiver (Danish pancakes). On the first Sunday in December, you can enjoy an Old-fashioned Danish Christmas, with many of the same activities but adding visits from Old Father Christmas, as well as Santa and Mrs. Claus and even a few elves.
If you are visiting in June, and have time for a side trip, take some time to drive west. You will enter Ravenna and enjoy Annevar, the Buffalo County fair, complete with midway, demo derby, a two day tractor pull, kids ranch rodeo, barrel races, a parade, sand volleyball, a frog hop and turtle races, fun run/walk, golf tournament, basketball, quilt show, and the pre-Annevar horseshoe pitching contest.
Drive another 28 miles north, and you will come to Scotia. Here you can visit the Happy Jack
Chalk Mine. If you are at all interested in geology, you won’t want to miss this – Happy Jack is one of only two underground diatomic mines in the country, and it is the only underground diatomic mine to remain open to the public. An Army explorer found the “chalk” at Happy Jack in the 1850s, and local settlers were mining it by 1877. For a time, it was used as a foundation stone in buildings. See if you can find the one remaining “chalk” building in Scotia today. Later, miners sold the chalk for use as a paint filler. There is more to see at Happy Jack besides chalk, however – it’s a beautiful site rich in wildlife, plant species, and hiking trails.
Seventeen miles north of Scotia, you will find Ord. In and around Ord itself, there are several sites where it is possible to camp with your RV: Bussell Park (right in Ord, with RV hook-ups), Anderson Island (east on Highway 70), Calamus State Recreation Area (about 22 miles to the northwest), the Davis Creek State Recreation Area (18 miles to the south, just off Highway 11), or the Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area. Any of these locations will provide you and your family with a beautiful spot to relax and reconnect with nature – you may want to stay and enjoy getting away from it all for several daysAnderson Island provides access to a sand-bottom river, where you can swim, canoe, or tube.
The Calamus State Recreation Area is located on the Calamus Reservoir, the 2nd longest lake in Nebraska. There you can fish, boat, wind-surf, or canoe – and if you get lucky you may see a bald eagle or a prairie chicken. If you go fishing, expect to find walleye, white bass, wipers, channel catfish, carp, drum, and crappie, as well as a fish hatchery with tours and educational displays.
The Davis Creek and Sherman sites are also located on reservoirs where you can fish and boat.
But don’t spend all your time camping – take some time to come into Ord itself and visit the Valley County Museum and Historical Society.
From Ord, take Highway 11 toward Burwell and turn towards Elyria, and you will come to Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park. The visitor center at Fort Hartsuff used to be the commanding officer’s office, back when the fort was built in 1874. The entire fort has been restored to approximately the condition that it was in during the 1870s gold rush to the Black Hills and the war with the Plains Native American nations.
When you have finished exploring Fort Hartsuff, drive another ten miles north, and you will come to Burwell – home of Nebraska’s Big Rodeo (which is also the Garfield County Fair) the last week in July. If you can manage to be there for the rodeo, it’s well worth it. In additional to the typical rodeo events, you’ll get to see rodeo clown acts, chuck wagon races, chariot races, a wild horse race, junior steer riding and bull riding, and the dinner bell derby. If you are in Burwell on a Sunday, you may also want to take some time to visit the Garfield County Historical Museum, half a block east of the post office. The museum contains 21 rooms of historical artifacts from Garfield County and is open Sundays from May 1 to October 1, from 2-5 p.m.
From Burwell, drive another 46 miles and you will come to Brewster. To say that Brewster is a small town is a bit of an understatement – the population in 2000 was 29. The seat of Blaine County, Brewster has the honor of being the smallest county seat in the United States. Out of Brewster, the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway parts ways with Highway 11 and continues on Highway 91. Drive north 16 miles, and you will come to Dunning, where the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway comes to an end.
Enjoy your Ord area adventure – no matter what time of the year you decide to go, you’ll find that no other part of the country is quite like central Nebraska.
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