- 272 miles (437 km)
- 5 hours
Nebraska's Highway 2 has been deemed one of the 10 most scenicroads in the country. This byway will take you through some of themost remote and beautiful countryside you'll ever come across fromthe largely metropolitan area of Grand Island to Alliance at thebyway's western edge.
On the eastern end of the byway, the city of Grand Island wasdubbed by Forbes FYI magazine, "the Number ONE place in the worldfor bird-watchers." Each year, Nebraska's central Platte RiverValley comes alive with the spectacular sights and sounds ofmigrating sandhill cranes. The largest such gathering of cranes inthe world—some half million—it is a phenomenalexperience to see each spring. In Grand Island you can experiencepioneer heritage, cool off in the Island Oasis, enjoy an ethnicfestival, take a prairie wildflower hike, cheer on your favoritehorse or rider, visit wonderful art galleries, or shop forantiques.
Further west, the Nebraska Sandhills, 20,000 square miles ofsand dunes tentatively covered with grass, are the largest sanddune formation in the Western Hemisphere. Things are just bigger inthe Sandhills—the sprawling ranches, the endless sky, themiles upon miles of rolling grass dunes. The Ogallala Aquifer, theworld's largest underground water supply, underlies much of thestate. In the midst of this "desert" is the largest hand-plantedforest in the country, the Nebraska National Forest, which sitsabove the dunes and Dismal River.
Traverse into one of the most unspoiled and beautiful landscapesfound anywhere in America—where cattle, fence posts andwindmills are the skyline. Cattle and buffalo outnumber people hereand hunters, fishermen, and wildlife enthusiasts are drawn to thispristine area where water sports and outdoor recreation abound. TheSandhills Journey is just that—a journey!
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
You'll know you've come to the end of the Sandhills Journey whenthe Sandhills stop. Once again the land will be flat and you willbe surrounded by farms. Alliance offers many recreational as wellas cultural opportunities. Alliance was a central point for theBurlington Santa Fe Powder River Basin coal train operations,giving Alliance the distinction of being the "Coal Capital ofNebraska." The area was also a key place for homesteaders becausethe land office was located here. These homesteaders braved theelements to settle the land that is now known as the SandhillsJourney.
Alliance offers visitors many opportunities to relax and rest upfrom the journey through the Sandhills. Laing Lake gives kids thechance to feed the ducks, the opportunity to go walking or joggingalong the nature trail, or the chance to go fishing from afootbridge. Box Butte Reservoir is located 9 miles north ofHemingford on Highway 385 and is a wonderful spot to go fishing,boating, or swimming. In the summer months, Alliance is also alivewith events such as Heritage Days during the second week of Julyand Iron Rail Days in the early fall. Golfing, hunting, tenniscourts, and swimming pools are also available.
One of the most unique attractions along the Sandhills Journeyis Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge built out of cars. The heelstone, or in this case, a 1962 Cadillac, was raised using the samemethods of the ancient people who raised Stonehenge. If moretraditional arts and historical stops are what you are looking for,Alliance is home to the Carnegie Arts Center. There are exhibits ofNebraskan artists, as well as those from surrounding states.Literary and performing arts, shows, workshops, classes andprograms are also held here throughout the year. The Knight Museumof High Plains Heritage showcases military memorabilia from the1870's, railroad exhibits, turn-of-the-century kitchen, a parlor ofthe 1880-1900's, and Oglala and Lakota artifacts.
Broken Bow (NE)
Broken Bow, located in Custer County, got its name after agentleman found an old Pawnee arrow which was broken into fivepieces by a creek. He had already submitted two names for possibletown names, but once he suggested Broken Bow, the name wasaccepted. This small town has many parks, with the most notablebeing Melham Park, which hosts a miniature ghost town. This is thearea for you if you like small town fairs and events. There arealso many recreational opportunities such as fishing, camping, andhunting on the nearby creeks and rivers. Historically, this area isunique because it is known as the sod house frontier. With no treesor stone, early settlers in the area made their houses of sod.Custer County, named after George Armstrong Custer, is the best ofboth worlds, with the western border entering the Sandhills and theeastern border lying in prime crop growing land.
Crane Meadows Nature Center, located on the south side of Interstate 80 at Exit 305 (Alda), is one of the best places in the world to experience spring bird migration. The Nebraska Bird Observatory leads eagle-watches in January, waterfowl tours in February and crane-watching in March and April, which is when the Platte River fills with the largest congregation of sandhill cranes in the world. The prairie wildlife spectacle continues through May with prairie chicken, burrowing owl and prairie dog viewing. Bat and butterfly programs are held in the summer, and the Celebrate Nebraska festival occurs here in October. The Center's facilities include 7 miles of trails through the 240-acre prairie, a treetop observation tower and two pedestrian bridges spanning the middle channel of the Platte River.
Grand Island (NE)
Grand Island is the beginning of the Sandhills Journey, and itis no wonder this town was named an All-American city three times.Small town charm is combined with the advantages of shoppingdistricts, restaurants, and lodging facilities. The area is home tounique festivals and events, as well as classic events such asfarmers' markets along the road. Whether it is the excitement of"live" thoroughbred racing at nearby Fonner Park or a relaxingnight at a theater or concert, Grand Island is the place to be.
Grand Island gets its name from La Grande Ile, an island namedby French fur traders in the 1700's. Channels of the North andSouth Platte Rivers formed this island, but the island was ruinedwhen the North Platte had to be dammed to prevent flooding ofcrops. This unique inland island was an important landmark forthose traveling on the California and Overland Trail. This trailwas used by those traveling west, such as gold seekers rushing toCalifornia, the Mormons, and the military. Six markers follow thetrail through Hall County. At the Murdock Site, located just southof Alda, the last visible signs of the trail can be seen.
There are also many other attractions at Grand Island. Theexciting world of racing comes alive at Fonner Park as the parkhosts live thoroughbred racing February through mid-May andsimulcasts of nationwide racing. In the summer, the family willenjoy the Island Oasis, a water park with four giant waterslides, a350 thousand-gallon wave pool, and lots of fun. The CentralNebraska Ethnic Festival is a taste of many different cultures fromaround the world, and the Hall County Fair gives visitors a tasteof a good old western style fair. There are opportunities to enjoythe arts as well, through the Island Little Theatre and ConcertAssociation.
At one time, Hyannis had the greatest concentration ofmillionaires, making Hyannis "America's richest little town." Thetrue heart of Hyannis lies in the Sandhills, however. The openspace of the Sandhills is the major characteristic out here, andthere are an abundance of windmills over the vast sea of grass. InJune, Hyannis hosts Windmill Days, a good time that includes atrail ride, chuckwagon fee, performances by the Village Players,and a Rocky Mountain oyster feed. June is also the prime month forhaying, but after the hard work is done, there is time for fun witha rodeo, fair, air show and black powder shoot. Gudmunsen Ranch isa working ranch just south of Whitman. Although Hyannis is a smalltown, it is home to a community theatre which serves Hyannis andthe surrounding areas in the Sandhills region. The VillagePlayers/Council for the Cultural Arts provides entertainment andopportunity for those in the area.
Mormon Island State Recreation Area (NE)
This developed recreation area is easily accessible to thetraveler who wants to enjoy the great Nebraskan outdoors. Locatedjust south of Grand Island, this is a wonderful opportunity forvisitors to experience Nebraskan natural beauty. The Mormon IslandState Recreation Area is part of what is called the "Chain ofLakes." These lakes were created from areas where fill had beentaken out as part of the I-80 construction. These areas were thenfilled with water, and now a stretch of 160 miles from Grand Islandto Hershey boasts these lakes. Mormon Island is one of the largestareas, with a 46-acre lake. Visitors are able to go fishing,swimming, boating, camping, and picnicking. This region isnationally known as a stopover for sandhill cranes during theirspring migration season.
The recreation area is named after a group of Mormon pioneerswho set up camp near what is now the recreation area because theyhad started for Salt Lake too late in the season. This area was animportant stopover for these early pioneers; interestingly, theMormon Trail followed the Platte on the north side, whereas theOregon Trail mainly stuck to the south side. Today, the area can bea nice resting place for the traveler to relax and enjoy a picnicor a nice fishing spot.
Nebraska National Forest-Bessey Ranger District (NE)
Despite popular belief, Nebraska does have a forest, and it isone of the most unique in the country because it is man-made.Indian legend recalled a time in Nebraska when pine trees coveredthe Sandhills. Dr. Bessey decided to see if that was possible, andthe result is the Nebraska National Forest. There are two sectionsof the National Forest, the Pine Ridge Ranger District, located inthe northwestern section of the state, and the Bessey RangerDistrict, located along the Sandhills Journey. 20,000 acres oftrees such as Ponderosa pine, Eastern red cedar, and jack pine areonly a few of the tree species that grow on the 90,444 acres thatmake up the Bessey District of the Nebraska National Forest.
Not only is the National Forest a unique feature of Nebraska'slandscape, but it is an excellent place to stop for somerecreational fun. There is a swimming pool, tennis courts, afishing pond, and the chance to go horseback riding or tubing downthe Middle Loup River. Spend a night out under the immense Nebraskasky at one of the many camp spots, or explore the forest on thetrail system that winds through the man-made forest for three milesto the Scott Lookout Tower. From this vantage point, you can get anoverall picture of the forest, as well as the Sandhills area. Ifyou are lucky, you might even spot sharptailed grouse, prairiechickens, wild turkeys, antelope, white-tailed deer, or muledeer.
Potash Ghost Towns (NE)
In the southern part of Sheridan County along Highway 2, thesigns of a wartime boom industry can still be seen. During WWI,potash was in great demand because imported German potash hadstopped. The business set up in south Sheridan County gave the areaa rise in population. Today, only a sparsely populated area andtowns now exist, but the remains from the enterprise can be seen inthe concrete, brick, and steel structures located near Antioch andLakeside. At one time during the war period Antioch was said tohave had between 2,000 and 5,000 people. When the war ended,however, cheap German potash was once again available, and thepopulation of the small Nebraskan towns diminished almostovernight.
Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area (NE)
Sherman Reservoir is located on Oak Creek. The reservoir is a mainstay for about 50,000 acres of Nebraska farmland, and recreational enthusiasts traveling on the Sandhills Journey and Loup Rivers Scenic Byway. Here, fishing and power boating are the most popular activities. In the area surrounding the reservoir, camping and day-use facilities are available for the traveler. There are also many trails in the recreation area that lead to different recreation areas. Fisherman's Bridge, a pedestrian bridge, is a popular spot for fishing.
Step back in time to the early history of Hall County. At theStuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, visitors can walk over themuseum's 200 acres and experience what life would have been like.The museum focuses on early town building and settlement inNebraska. Historic buildings have been moved to the area andrestored to give the visitor a taste of life on the earlyprairie.
There are many displays which show what life was like on theearly prairie, from early Indian dwellings, to pioneer settlements.The Pawnee Indians were the first ones to call this Nebraskaprairie home and the Stuhr Museum has reconstructed an earth lodgewhich measure 38-ft in diameter. An earth lodge such as this wouldhave housed between 30-50 people. In addition to the Indiandisplay, there is also a pioneer settlement showing what an earlypioneer settlement along the California and Overland Trail wouldhave been like.
A town built around the coming of the railroad has beenreconstructed at the Stuhr Museum and it depicts life in the late19th century. Here, life is busy as historical interpretersrecreate life in the town. Included in the Railroad Town arehistoric homes, such as the birthplace of actor Henry Fonda. He wasborn in 1905 and the house he was born in was built in 1884 inGrand Island, making it an example of what some homes may have beenlike at the time.