Apr 16, 2024

Driving the Road To Nowhere – Nebraska

After navigating a lengthy section of "deconstructed" highway, followed by a quick drive through the Rosebud Tribe reservation (including a rather impressive and seemingly out of place casino on the South Dakota-Nebraska state line), it was mid-afternoon on one of my longest days of driving down the “Road To Nowhere.”  And I still had one of the loneliest stretches of U.S. 83 ahead of me before day’s end – the sandhills of west-central Nebraska. 

Before that, however, I wisely made a rest stop at the first sign of civilization just nine miles past the South Dakota border.  And it turned to be a very worthwhile stop in lovely Valentine, Neb.

With a population of roughly 2,600 people, Valentine is the closest thing to a metropolitan mecca in northern Nebraska.  Its broad main streets appear to be built for the cattle drives of the Old West, as evidenced by this beautiful brick mural on the façade of the town bank.

Unsurprisingly, the western store seems to be one of the most prosperous businesses on the main drag.

But I was looking for a place to relax, not to shop, and the Corner Pub in the *ahem* heart of Valentine seemed to be the perfect spot.

It turned out to be one of the best spur-of-the-moment stops I made on the entire trip.  Even though I was a stranger who just stumbled into town, a nice lady bartender and her clientele made me feel right at home.  I was almost instantly befriended by a trio of regulars who had been out hunting elk earlier in the morning and were proud to show me pictures of their catch.  They even bought my first drink to help ensure my attention. 

My newfound friends had also selected some Wheeler Walker, Jr. songs on the jukebox, and while I was appreciative of their choice in off-color outlaw country music, I was a little worried about how the bartender would react.  As it turns out, she was quite accustomed to their tastes.    

A couple of drinks later, I reluctantly decided I needed to hit the road again if I was to make it to North Platte on the southwest side of the state by sunset. 

Mere minutes south of Valentine, the beauty and vast openness of Nebraska’s sandhills began to dominate the panorama ahead.  There are long stretches of open road almost anywhere you go in the western United States, but the 128 miles of U.S. 83 from Valentine to North Platte almost takes loneliness to the next level.  You will almost certainly have spaces of several miles without seeing another vehicle on the highway, even in the middle of the afternoon. 

The land seems just about perfect for grazing cattle, though.  The highway also runs through a portion of the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, so if you’re into birdwatching or have hopes of spotting a random coyote, here’s your chance.  

And even on a landscape as sparse as this, you’ll find some hidden historical gems – as long as you take the time to stop at the occasional roadside marker.  If I hadn’t, I would have never learned about the largely forgotten Black rancher settlement of Dewitty.

By the time I was halfway across the sandhills, I have to admit I was ready for a break.  Fortunately, I noticed signs pointing to this scenic outlook next to where the highway passes over the Dismal River. 

It was an easy decision to pull over, stretch my legs, admire the view from the top …

… and take the obligatory road trip selfie. 

With my senses rejuvenated, I finished the drive across the sandhills and into North Platte, Neb., my stop for the night, before sunset.  The hotel was nothing the blog about – just your typical no-frills chain on the south side of Interstate 80. 

As for North Platte, while driving back through looking for a suitable place for supper, I started to regret not being able to devote more time to explore the town, its longtime importance as a major railway hub and its own place in Wild West history.  Oh well, maybe on the next trip through. 

As for dinner, I looked to downtown and fortunately found Good Life on the Bricks, which is known not only for its barbecue but also some of the better pub food in North Platte.  So what if I already had barbecue for lunch?  Sometimes it takes more than one meal to satisfy a craving, especially when it smells so good inside the restaurant. 

I suppose I could have settled for one of Good Life's many intriguing sandwich and burger offerings, but I was more interested crating my own barbecue plate according to the menu. 

Plus, while the pizzas seemed to be flying out of the kitchen, as a solo traveler I didn’t want to waste any leftovers that I might have.  

It took a while to make my final decision, which I pondered over a cold beer from their 14-tap draft selection.

The liquor selection at Good Life was pretty tempting, too.  In fact, the bar as a whole felt both classy and comfortable.  Just the right spot to enjoy dinner and engage in small talk with the staff.  

As I had hoped, the copper ale I chose paired very well with my two meats:  pulled pork and a bison sausage. And of the two, the bison sausage stole the show – lean, smoky, a little spicy, and a lot of flavor.   My sides of Cole slaw and creamed corn were also huge hits with my taste buds.  And much like the bison was a pleasant surprise, the creamed corn impressed me as much as any I’d had in a long time.

In hindsight, Good Life on the Bricks was one of the dining highlights of the road trip.  It was a great meal to end a very full day on, and once I was back to the motel, I slept full and content.  I would need the rest, too, for another long day on the Road to Nowhere was ahead.  Next on the itinerary:  Kansas, and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas.  

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...