Anchored in the east by two of the Midwest’s coolest cities, and in the west by some tantalizing monuments to the Oregon Trail, much of NEBRASKA is blanketed in a vast expanse of flat farmland. The two sides of the state, connected by four hundred fairly dreary miles of I-80, are well worth exploring, from hip Omaha and state government and university hub Lincoln to the rugged outcrops of Scottsbluff.
Nebraska Territory opened in 1854 and was settled rapidly, beginning with Omaha, a major transport crossroads. Statehood was granted in 1867, and during the 1870s and 1880s, rail companies, encouraged by grants that allowed them to accumulate one sixth of the state’s land, laid down such a comprehensive network of tracks that virtually every farmer was within a day’s cattle drive of the nearest halt. Thus the buffalo-hunting country of the Sioux and Pawnee was turned into high-yield farmland, which even now has few rivals in terms of beef production. Today, fiscally conservative Nebraska bans government debt by law, and is the only US state to have a unicameral legislature.
Fifty miles southwest of Omaha, its smaller neighbour, LINCOLN, is another real surprise, a dynamic capital city with a thriving economy, site of some enticing museums and culinary attractions and home of University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and the beloved Huskers sports teams. The jaw-dropping State Capitol alone warrants a stop here: dwarfing the rest of downtown, the Art Deco tower protrudes 400ft into the sky like an elegant Byzantine skyscraper. The “Tower of the Plains” is topped by a golden dome and a statue of a seed sower on a pedestal of wheat and corn, but the interior is just as awe-inspiring. The soaring, mural-smothered vestibule and rotunda are as grand as a cathedral, while the unicameral chamber has a gold-stencilled ceiling. Take the elevator up to the fourteenth-floor observation deck a for a birds’-eye view of the city.