[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

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6 July 2006: Denver, CO to McCook, NE
 
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8 July 2006: Omaha, NE to (almost) Coralville, IA
 

7 July 2006: McCook, NE to Omaha, NE

Our meander through the scenic Midwest continues in McCook, NE. There are so many little towns along the way that it is impossible to catalogue them all (or the small little counties they inhabit), so this will only talk about the few we touch on specifically.

Sorry, I completely forgot to write down the odometer count this morning -_- but I'll do that tomorrow. 259 pictures.

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We pick up where we left off in McCook (see the previous entry where we came into town). US 6/US 34 has an old alignment on the south side which is original double-slab concrete and is even signed as Old Hwy 6 in the field, although NAVTEQ doesn't have it named (the GPS knew it was a road but not what it was called). It connects up into the downtown.

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Memorable among the little towns and cities was this beautiful church in Indianola.

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Road and canal at Mile 117 as we trundle east.

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One for the US highway end collectors -- US 136. This is another semi-minor spur, ending here near Edison after 804 miles. Nebraska is very good about signing the termini for their routes, much better than Colorado, for example.

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If you must drink and drive, drink and drive on US 6. (In Minden.)

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A nice Oregon Trail marker. I talk about the Oregon Trail, which in this region more or less followed the course of the Platte River, in US 395 Part 23. We will cross the Platte ourselves presently.

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Downtown Hastings, NE, the county seat of Adams county (named for the second president with a population of 31,151 [2000]). Named for Colonel D. T. Hastings of the Saint Joseph and Grand Island Railroad (who was instrumental in its local construction), it is also the birthplace of the delight of dentists everywhere, Kool-Aid. Its present population is 25,437 [2005 est.].

Hastings was notable for being one of the few towns left with a CITY US route, namely CITY US 6 along US 6's old alignment through the downtown sector (US 6 and US 34, until US 34's diversion north with US 281, now occupy a bypass alignment on the south end). Although decommissioned in 1970, signs persisted as late as 2003 until they were torn down and replaced with BUSINESS US 6 banners. This picture is taken along the present-day BR 6, at the point where US 34 and US 281 cross the city northbound for Grand Island. While it's a bummer to lose the CITY designation, which is something rarely seen in these less ornamented days, the BUSINESS alignment is very well-marked and this ensures that US 6's ancestral routing will be well-marked, too.

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The Big Blue River, outside of Milford. Looks more like the Big Brown at the moment though (yuck). A tributary of the Kansas River, it is unrelated to the Big Blue in Indiana, or, for that matter, IBM -- do remember that I am a geek, and when I hear Big Blue, I think of mainframes and not bodies of water.

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Approaching Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, US 6 is signed as ALT I-80, which it parallels very closely for some miles until Waverly on the north side of Lincoln. Even after that through Gretna and beyond, there are red ALTERNATE ROUTE banners which continue the Alternate designation, even if unofficially.

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It's very handy when the sign itself says it's OLD (but OLD means Omaha-Lincoln-Denver Highway, the former name in Nebraska for what was later renamed the GAR). It really is old, however; this signpost is at least 80 years old, dating from its earliest signage in the 1920s before there even was a US 6 in the region (formerly NE 7, then US 38 until it was decomissioned and given to US 6 in 1931). I have not seen any others along the route.

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US 6 never went directly here (the closest that comes is US 34 again, a few streets north), but I figured I should stop by and look at the State Capitol. Lincoln is the former village of Lancaster, founded in 1856, but now the second largest city in the state at 225,581 [2000]. Its name and selection were part of a deliberate political move that failed in the throes of the Civil War. Because of population densities closest to the southern shores of the Platte, there was consideration of Nebraska Territory being annexed to the Kansas Territory, and a decision was made to move the capital south of the river and as far west as possible to try to defeat this. Interests in Omaha, however, wanted the capital in their city and not in this (then-)little nowheresville. Their plan was ingenious; they had Lancaster renamed "in honour of" the recently assassinated President Lincoln in order to offend Confederate sympathizers in the south of the territory. Unfortunately, to Omaha's great surprise and chagrin, it was accepted as-was and no objections were lodged; as a result, Lincoln became the state capital on Nebraska's admission to the Union in 1867.

When the Capitol then-in-use started to show serious disrepair in the early 1900s, a committee looked for a new site and design. They found it in architect Bertram Goodhue, who constructed a majestic tower over the plains built between 1922 and 1932 at a cost of $9.8 million. Atop the spire is the Sower, created by sculptor Lee Lawrie, casting "the seeds of life to the winds." Standing 19.5' high, it weighs over nine tons. This picture was taken from Centennial Mall a block or two away.

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Repair on the main entrance meant I had to go in through the bottom, which was like being in a crypt. It really is this dark and brooding, a great scene for a dungeon crawl game. Being an idiot, I left my tripod in the car, so I had to find places to stuff the camera for the long exposure times (this one was propped up on a video display to save the peregrine falcon).

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Going upstairs to the main floor (taken with my fisheye wideangle lens). The vestibule has many ornate mosaics on the floor and ceiling, and several murals up high. The observation decks were closed for renovation, so I wasn't able to get good views of everything, but a lot of it was still accessible.

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The legislative chambers, taken in a way requiring the use of the 5th Amendment (the observation deck was closed, so more creative methods were required). Nebraska is notable for its unicameral legislature, since 1937; forty-nine state senators meet here under a ceiling depicting the settlement of the plains.

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US 6 doesn't enter Lincoln downtown anymore, and really hasn't since the 1940s. Today it is routed along the Cornhusker Highway (yes, really) and skirts most of the city to the northwest on an expressway alignment.

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Towards Omaha, US 6 itself will finally cross the mighty Platte. Platte means "flat" in French, an appropriate name, descended from the Oto Indian term nebraskier "flat water" (and, Paul Harvey says, now you know the rest of the story). First found by white men (the French) in 1714 and well-known to their fur trappers before the Louisiana Purchase, it was mapped by Major Stephen Long in 1820 and became the major plumb line for both the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail. In the modern age, it was also the plumb line of the Pony Express, the Union Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad, the Lincoln Highway, and today Interstate 80. Its comparatively low water volumes should be considered in context of the relatively arid areas it drains; the classic description of the Platte by emigrants was "a mile wide and an inch deep" and I think this photograph demonstrates this well. Roughly 310 miles along, it is a tributary of the Missouri; naturally, because of its pathetic depth, it is quite unnavigable.

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Entering Omaha on the US 6 freeway, Dodge Rd (and Dodge St). The county seat of Douglas county and Nebraska's largest city at 414,521 [2005 est.], it was named for the Omaha tribe, a nomadic bunch that had emigrated north in the 1700s and lived with the local Pawnee, adopting many of their practices. The site of the modern city was first marked by Lewis and Clark at their meeting with the Oto Indians in 1804, and a fort was established in 1819. The modern city was established in 1854 by land speculators from Council Bluffs, IA just months after the Nebraska Territory was established, and incorporated in 1857.

US 6 will become Interstate 480 and cross into Council Bluffs and Iowa. We'll do that tomorrow.

Next: Omaha to Coralville, IA!

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