The north-south US-83 route takes you through the heart of North Platte, but historically the main way through was heading west. First along the Oregon Trail, then along the Pony Express, the Union Pacific Railroad, and today’s I-80 highway, the Platte River has long been one of the country’s most important transportation throughways. Paying tribute to all stages of the river corridor’s long history, The Great Platte River Road Archway (308/237-1000 and 877/511-2724, daily, $12 adults) is an expansive interactive museum dedicated to America’s freedom of mobility. Exhibits cover everything from Lewis and Clark to the Lincoln Highway; one highlight offers a chance to look for speeders on I-80 with a radar gun. The $59.7 million museum actually spans I-80, just south of the town of Kearney (pronounced “CAR-knee”), 1.5 hours or so east of North Platte.
Some 22.5 miles southeast of Kearney in Minden is another great monument to America: the Harold Warp Pioneer Village (800/445-4447, daily, $14.25 adults), a middle-American version of Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village with a much better sense of fun. The 20-acre site preserves dozens of historic structures, along with the proclaimed world’s oldest steam-powered merry-go-round; 350 classic cars, trucks, and airplanes; and some 50,000 other items of varying historical interest. Almost everything here dates from 1830 to 1950, illustrating Mr. Warp’s sense of history:
For thousands of years man lived quite simply. Then like a sleeping giant our world was awakened. In a mere hundred and twenty years of eternal time man progressed from open hearth, grease lamps, and oxcarts to television, supersonic speed, and atomic power. We have endeavored to show you the actual development of this astounding progress as it was unfolded by our forefathers and by ourselves.