Just west of the 100th meridian, the small town of Valentine (pop. 2,737) is a center of the extensive cattle ranching industry of the Sand Hills region, and the kind of tiny but prideful town that makes road-tripping fun. Seat of enormous Cherry County and situated at the northern edge of the 20,000-square-mile Sand Hills region, Valentine, which takes its name from a U.S. congressman, is a broad, well-maintained place that pays its bills with beef cattle fed to tenderness on the hundreds of species of grasses coating the region.
Considering the long stretches of road ahead, it’s prudent to check out what the town’s got, and there’s quite a bit. Downtown, the streetlights are hung with red and white banners emblazoned with the unsurprising town motto “Valentine, Heart of the Sand Hills.” The facade of the Security First Bank (253 N. Main St.) holds the “Largest Brick Mural in Nebraska,” with 1,200 square feet of images of longhorn cattle and the building of the transcontinental railroad built out of dark brown bricks.
Four miles southeast of Valentine on US-20/83, an absolutely huge old railroad trestle bridges the broad Niobrara River, at the heart of the inviting Fort Niobrara nature reserve.
Valentine has the usual motels scattered along US-20 and US-83, including the 1960s-era Trade Winds Motel (16011009 E. US-20/83, 402/376-1600, $70 and up) on the southeast edge of town; there’s also a Comfort Inn. The place most people go for a sit-down meal is Peppermill Steakhouse (520 E. US-20/83, 402/376-2800), featuring steaks, seafood, and alfresco dining in summer.