The Oregon and Mormon Trails converged in Kearney, Nebraska, and the travelers flowing through the town in the mid-1800s helped it grow into one of the prominent communities along the Platte River. Kearney (pronounced KAR-nee) is located 185 mi/297 km southwest of Omaha.
Pioneer history is the focus of the Fort Kearny State Historic Park (6 mi/10 km south of town). The fort was established in 1848 to assist the pioneers and protect against attacks by Native Americans. It later served as a station for the Pony Express and as a telegraph office. Abandoned for some time, the historic park now contains a restored stockade and other replicated buildings, including a working blacksmith shop, lookout posts and powder magazine. The visitors center has a multimedia show depicting the fort's history.
The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument straddles Interstate 80 just south of Kearney. Built directly over the highway to symbolize the importance of transportation in Nebraska's history, the monument houses a museum that uses high-tech multimedia to tell the story of pioneers, railroaders, interstate highways and the lasting effects of all three on the U.S. Visitors don wireless headsets and proceed through exhibits that simulate travel by covered wagon, a buffalo stampede and a visit to a drive-in theater. You can top off your visit by aiming a radar gun at the traffic zooming by below the arch.
The Great Platte River Road Archway Pow Wow takes place in June. It features Native American dancing and drumming as well as educational exhibits about the Plains tribes.
Kearney is also a center for viewing the migrating sandhill cranes between March and mid-April. The Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary is a prime spot for the birds, with the action taking place at dusk and dawn, when the cranes land and take off.
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