Hardly anyone takes a journey anymore. Life is lived at a fast pace and is rarely savored or enjoyed. Travelers pop in a DVD so children in the back seat will be entertained, teenagers with flying fingers text endlessly and thus do not have to visit with boring adults.
A journey takes time. It is a passage from one place to another that insists you put away the technology and enjoy the excursion. The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, located in the heart of Nebraska, is one of those jaunts that are sure to lower your blood pressure and revive your soul. The natural beauty and world-class wonders on Highway 2 in Nebraska are truly unique and special.
Starting in the city of Grand Island and rolling like a typewriter ribbon to Alliance, the byway is one of the most scenic 272 miles in the United States. The Sand Hills are perhaps the most astonishing feature of the byway with over 19,000 square miles of undulating dunes covered by native grasses and dotted with sparkling lakes. The Sand Hills area of the byway is home to a ranching culture where the cows outnumber the people and friendliness outnumbers the crime rate!
Every spring near the eastern portal of the byway on the Platte River tourists flock to the area to witness the largest concentration of sandhill cranes. The birds stop to rest and feed during their long journey from the South to their summer home in the arctic tundra of North America and eastern Siberia. You can easily view them during the day; however, you won’t want to miss a magical time in a blind watching them leave the river early in the morning or arriving at night to roost. It is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent.
The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway is also home to the Nebraska National Forest in Halsey. The forest is the largest hand-planted forest in the world. It is a popular site for camping, hiking and bird- and wildlife watching. It is truly a place for the entire family to reconnect with each other.
There are many great museums along the journey, including the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, which has been touted as “one of the top ten places to re-live America’s past” by “Good Housekeeping” magazine. And don’t forget to visit the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance for a real taste of Sand Hills history.
Wildlife is abundant along the byway, and if you are attentive, you will surely see deer, turkeys, blue herons, beautiful swans, pelicans and an occasional camera-shy coyote.
Floating down the Middle Loup River along the route in a galvanized tank is rapidly becoming one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions. The tanks can hold an entire group, who will enjoy seeing the beautiful Sand Hills in a totally unique and fun way. The byway hosts a Polar Bear Tank Race in March for the warm-blooded adventurer.
In the evening the night sky will literally take your breath away as this is one of the darkest places in the United States due to the absence of light pollution. Stargazers are virtually swallowed up in the vast dark sky and can enjoy the firmament like no place this side of the ozone.
The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway is truly a wild and rough paradise, the essence of America at its best. It hosts many other attractions and family-oriented events throughout the year. Windmills are plenty, and troubles are few. Treat yourself to a place where something other than your cell phone gets to roam for a change!