A Road Trip. Day 3. Nebraska and the Sandhills Journey.
The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway wasn’t originally on our road trip itinerary. The plan was, at first, to drive I-80 the entire way from Omaha, Nebraska, to Cheyenne, Wyoming.
About a week before our trip was set to begin, Tim suggested the switch-up, reasoning that it was something different and would be more scenic than the highway. And so, of course, that sent my anxiety-ridden brain into a state of massive panic.
We had already decided on the route. I had already mapped out all the stops. I had already crossed “decide on a route” and “map out all the stops” off my to do list.
Changing things now just meant that I had to re-add something back onto my always-expansive to-do list. It meant that I had to do even more research that I didn’t have time to do. It meant that I had to cope with a last minute change. And I don’t cope well with last-minute change.
I was all set to text him back and say, “um, no,” but, instead, I decided to step back and breathe through my mild panic attack and remind myself that this wasn’t just my road trip and I guess I had to let my travel partner make some decisions too. Even if he was the original one to map the route. But whatever.
So after a deep breath and a moment of calming my brain down, I looked at my road map and realized that there wasn’t anything too exciting off of I-80 between Omaha and Cheyenne. I mean, there was the World’s Largest Covered Wagon and the World’s Largest Collection of Marbles and the World’s Largest Plow and Fort Cody Trading Post with an Indian Muffler Man. But I guessed those could be skipped.
And when I looked up what the Sandhills were and where they went I saw that at the very end of this new route was one of my favorite roadside attractions of all time: Carhenge.
Carhenge, an exact to-scale replica of England’s Stonehenge made of American-made cars.
Now, I had been to Carhenge before, back in 2008 on the way home from Mount Rushmore. And it briefly had made an appearance on this road trip itinerary when I was first plotting things out. But I had determined it was too far off our pre-determined route and so I scrapped it because I didn’t want to even think about it being so close but so far away.
And so I said OK to this last-minute route change because Carhenge is worth more to me that the World’s Largest Collection of Marbles and the World’s Largest Plow and Fort Cody Trading Post with an Indian Muffler Man combined. Plus I have a much better camera and am a much better photographer than I was in 2008, so I was kind of excited to update my Carhenge photos.
I still wanted to see the World’s Largest Covered Wagon, though, so I made sure we at least started our journey on I-80. Actually, wrong, we first started the day’s journey going to Wahoo, Nebraska to see the sign that declared it as “Home Office of The Late Show with David Letterman,” but it was covered up and was a terrible disappointment and I didn’t even take any photos.
So after that we went to see the World’s Largest Covered Wagon in Milford, Nebraska (not to be confused with the World’s Largest Covered Wagon in Illinois).
This roadside attraction has definitely seen better days. At one point in time it was a beautiful novelty building attached to a gas station, complete with giant wheels and a cowboy muffler man next door. Today it stands dilapidated, abandoned. But at least, I suppose, it still stands.
From there it was onward to tackle the length of the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. The Sandhills stretch for 272 mile along a rural route, among plaines of sand dunes, that runs from Grand Island to Alliance, Nebraska. There isn’t much to see on the four and a half hour drive, but what you do see is scenery, scenery that surely trumps anything you’d see from the window on the highway.
There weren’t really any roadside attractions on the route, other than a pyramid and camel in the aptly-named Cairo and a couple of Sinclair dinosaurs. But I was actually kind of stupid excited to spot the first Sinclair Dino on the trip. Because I’m always excited to see one, especially since so many of the gas stations are dino-bare.
And we did stop for lunch at a local diner where I had a French Dip because French Dips are pretty much the best sandwich invention ever invented.
But, other than that, we just drove.
At the end of the Sandhills was, of course, Alliance, Nebraska and Carhenge. Now, the entire time we were driving the byway, you could tell there was a storm brewing from afar. You could see the dark skies, the deep clouds. And as we approached Alliance, about 15 or 20 minutes out, it started to rain. Hard.
I was worried. I had allowed us to change our route for Carhenge. I had been looking forward all day, all week for Carhenge. I had an epic idea for a video I wanted to film at Carhenge. And it was raining. Hard.
Would it be too dark and cloudy? Would it be too muddy? Would it be wet and miserable?
As we pulled into the parking lot the sky was still deep and drizzles of rain were still pouring down. But we chanced it. And got out of the car and went to explore this ancient monument built with modern vehicles.
And, soon after, the rain stopped, the clouds opened up to a perfect overcast warmth, and a double rainbow formed across the sky.
It’s as if Nebraska knew I was coming. And it was pretty magical.
And it was surely better than the World’s Largest Collection of Marbles and the World’s Largest Plow and Fort Cody Trading Post with an Indian Muffler Man combined.
After properly exploring all of Carhenge and the Car Art Reserve that surrounded it and the gift shop (where I picked up a magnet and a pressed penny for my collection) we set off for more driving. It was getting late and there was still plenty of road between us and Wyoming.
We arrived in Cheyenne late, later than we would have if we had stuck to the highway but with an epic trip to Carhenge behind us. And by then, we were hungry. So we found a brewery and had some pour your own beer and scarfed down some fish tacos and chips. And we saw some giant boots and a couple of statues that I didn’t photograph because it was too dark. And we checked into our AirBNB. And I pretty much passed out of exhaustion from the long, long day, with anticipation looming in my head of another day of road tripping and a whole lot of roadside attractions to come…
p.s. watch this video I made for my road trip blog, Silly America, (WITH SOUND UP!) because it’s pretty amazing if I do say so myself and I was out of breath for like 20 minutes after filming it and I am totally the world’s best video editor so what I’m saying is you should watch it: