South of North Platte, there’s nothing much, community-wise, in the 70-odd miles along US-83 until you reach McCook, but the road and rolling landscape will definitely hold your interest. You’re privy to the few acres of genuine Nebraska corn, which eventually fold into encroaching knobby little rises, hollows full of oaks, or open range. Though there are no real sights to look out for, a detour east of the highway brings you to one truly unique place: the Dancing Leaf Earth Lodge (6100 E. Opal Springs Rd.), located among cottonwood trees along the banks of Medicine Creek, midway between North Platte and McCook in the town of Wellfleet, two miles east of US-83. An as-authentic-as-possible re-creation of a Native American dwelling, the 20 by 20-foot lodge is the heart of a cultural learning center that endeavors to give visitors a total immersion into the life ways and spirituality of ancient Plains Indians. Constructed by hand from willows and grasses and plastered with thick mud, the two earth lodges stay cool in summer and warm in winter and provide primitive but comfortable accommodations and an unforgettable experience of what life might have been like before the arrival of European cultures.
Guided tours (308/963-4233, daily during summer, by appointment the rest of the year, $7 adults) give a good overall introduction to Plains Indian traditions, but nothing beats an overnight stay. Families and groups are especially welcome at the Dancing Leaf, where rates include a buffalo stew dinner and a soothing session in the sweat lodge. The lodges ($100 and up) each sleep a maximum of 15 people, but this is a re-creation of an ancient lifestyle, not a luxury experience; all guests need to bring a sleeping bag. Even if you don’t stay overnight, canoe rentals and hiking trails, plus informal instruction in the crafts of tool-making, basket-weaving, hunting, fishing, and cooking, are also available from the hosts, Les and Jan Hosick.