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By Adam Hlasny

When you think of Nebraska, the state’s prodigious corn production or central location may come to mind. Some have even dismissed this as “flyover country,” given a passing 30,000-foot glance by travelers gallivanting between the coasts. However, a Sandhills Journey through the rolling hills, dunes, and intergalactic skies will confirm that this underappreciated US state is not to be missed.

Starting in the city of Grand Island (population 50,000), get a taste of the old west at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. A stop here isn’t just about reading dusty plaques; it’s about breathing in the scents, sights, and sounds of living history as you experience Railroad Town, an authentic peek into life in the year 1891. Visitors of all ages will come away with a deeper appreciation of prairie history and the hardships faced by our brave forbears.

Then, bolstered by that pioneer spirit, follow the figurative wagon ruts westward along Route 2 toward Broken Bow. As you push on, look for wildlife that calls these undulating grasslands home. A White-Tailed Deer or Pronghorn may gambol on your flanks. Listen to birds calling all around you, speaking a language only they understand. Then, there are the cranes. The annual migration of Sandhill Cranes is considered one of the most spectacular in the world, as over half a million sojourn here for six weeks each year (late February-early April). Watch these majestic fowl glide elegantly over the marshlands, infinite grasses dancing rhythmically below.

If you still aren’t impressed, wait until the sun goes down. After the sky darkens from crimson to charcoal, the stars will multiply before your eyes, numerous as the dreams of a child. Perhaps you’ll become a child again yourself, basking in the astonishing simplicity of the moment. Stargazing here is second to none, a feast for the eyes and the soul. Whether you hold your significant other’s hand or just enjoy the breezy solitude, your impression of Nebraska will never be the same. Next time you fly over, do not dismiss these lands as “just the plains,” but gaze down with the keen eye of the crane, appreciating the bounty of the earth and the variety of its landscapes.