Hiking in Cottonmill Park | County Counting & Courthouses from Kearney to Omaha | March 2021
Our night camping by the Platte was temperate weather wise, but extremely windy. Gusts of wind were constantly blowing through, shaking the tent. Charlotte got up a few times and used her new ‘trick’ of opening the tent door by sticking her head through the zippers, so that kept us alert trying to make sure she didn’t sneak out. We managed to get some sleep somehow between all that, and were wide awake at dawn.
We had planned on going back to the pedestrian bridge to watch the cranes fly out from their nightly roosts, but decided standing on the exposed bridge in this much wind didn’t sound enjoyable at all. Instead, we watched and listened as the cranes flew out above our tent. Once we were ready to face the wind, we got up and quickly packed everything away, then set off on today’s adventure. As we drove down the empty highway, we had a front row seat of the cranes that were leaving the Platte and flying to the nearby fields.
We decided to start our day off with a hike so that Charlotte could use up some energy before our long drive. We drove to Cottonmill Park on the West side of Kearney where Curtis had noted there was a letterbox hidden. The park was nearly empty when we arrived. We parked on the East side near a pavilion, and started on the trail right across the road.
The letterbox turned out to be missing, of course, but we still enjoyed our walk through the prairie landscape. The sunrise gave the area a light pastel look, and the brisk morning air felt so refreshing. We made a big loop through the whole hiking area which ended up being just over 2 miles long — if you’re interested, view our trail recording here.
It was time to get on the road — but instead of heading East, we went West on US-30 to US-183, then South to Holdredge. This was, of course, in pursuit of a new county and county courthouse. We figured the more we could knock out on this trip, the less we’ll have to stop on future trips out West. The courthouse in Holdredge was pretty unique, and we liked that while they had clearly expanded on the original building, they did so in the same style so it still looked nice.
From here, we began our long drive East on US-34/6. Our next courthouse was in Minden, Kearney county. The first thing we noticed was that they still had Christmas lights up — but it wasn’t until we were driving away that we noticed a sign proclaiming that this is actually called “the Christmas city” for some reason, so I guess that was intentional. Also, we arrived right at 11 when the church or courthouse bells were playing some hymn, but then after the hymn was finished the bells continued right into the Star Wars theme. Both of these factors would have made our visit to Minden interesting enough, but to top it all off the courthouse was also appealing.
Our next stop was in Hastings, which was not quite as enjoyable as Minden and the courthouse wasn’t as interesting. It was also the busiest city we visited this morning, so Charlotte and I stayed in the car while Curtis got out and quickly snapped some pictures.
After this, we began driving on US-6, then took NE-14 South to Clay Center. This was the smallest and quietest county seat for today’s drive. From here, we started driving East on NE-41, and inadvertently ended up driving it all the way to its end at NE-50. The stretch between Clay Center and Geneva was probably the quietest highway we’ve driven in a while; we saw only 3 other cars in that 25 mile stretch.
Our final two counties for the day were Fillmore and Saline. We stopped for each of the courthouses and took short walks around each one. As we drove, Curtis and I reflected on the history of the region. At the Fillmore Courthouse, the epitaph on the history sign said ‘Honor To Pioneers Who Broke the Sod That Men to Come Might Live’. What was interesting to us is that those pioneers didn’t break the sod until the 1860’s, barely 150 years ago. Before them, the American frontier explorers were in the early 1800’s, and then an enormous gap of almost 250 years before the Coronado Expedition explored the great plains. How quickly things have advanced in the past century that not so long ago, this entire state was almost completely covered in prairie. Curtis loves talking about generation of humans and the collective memory of history.
Finally, we made it to NE-50 which we took back into the Omaha area. The drive certainly took longer than if we had taken I-80, but was 100% more enjoyable and relaxing for us to take the empty highways. We felt we were able to accomplish a lot for our county goal, and crossed off a big item on our Nebraska bucket list — though we wouldn’t be against going to see the cranes again next year!