Founded by German immigrants in 1857, Grand Island, Nebraska, located 150 mi/240 km west of Omaha, became a prominent center when the Union Pacific Railroad was built through the area in the mid-1860s.
The region's early history is the focus of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. Indoor exhibits are housed in a building designed by Edward Durrell Stone. Outdoor exhibits include a re-created prairie town made up of more than 60 historic buildings that were relocated from around the state, including the cottage where actor Henry Fonda was born.
The annual Husker Harvest Days celebration takes place in Grand Island (September), as does the Nebraska State Fair (late August-early September).
An 80-mi/130-km stretch of the Platte River around Grand Island is a prime stopping point for sandhill cranes as they migrate north from March to early April. Some 500,000 birds make use of the river and surrounding fields to feed on corn and perform mating rituals during their travels north. At the peak of the migration as many as 40,000 birds may descend on the river at one time, a startling sight to behold. The Rowe Sanctuary near Grand Island is a great viewing spot.
Two nearby cities make interesting day trips. Aurora, 20 mi/32 km east of Grand Island, has the Plainsman Museum, which documents the history and prehistory of Nebraska. You also might check out the Hastings Museum in Hastings, 20 mi/32 km to the south, which has a Kool-Aid exhibit (the sweet drink was invented in the town), natural history dioramas, a hands-on water activity for children, the J.M. McDonald Planetarium and a Lied Super Screen theater.
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