The 222 miles of U.S. Route 83 in Nebraska offers travelers some spectacular river valleys the beautiful and unique Sand Hills, North Platte, Nebraska, which this website declares the “Crossroads of America,” and one of the few homes built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright west of the Mississippi. Route 83 is named the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Highway in Nebraska.
Valentine-Niobrara River Valley
The Niobrara River just south of Valentine has been declared a National Scenic River, and it’s not hard to see why. Canoers, tubers and kayakers love the shallow, meandering path of this spring-fed river that cuts through the Sand Hills. Several outfitters in Valentine can rent or arrange trips. Valentine has a variety of hotels and campsites to accommodate those who want to explore this beautiful river valley.
An access road on the west
side of the valley along 83 will take motorists and bikers to a campground as
well as a legacy bridge that spans the river. This was the original path of the
highway before the new bridge was built. The arched cantilever truss Bryan
Bridge, which spans the river, was named the “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge of
1932 (Class C)” by the Institute of Steel Construction, for compatibility with
its environment. A State Historical marker gives more details. This is also a
great spot to take pictures of the river since it is much closer to the water
than the new bridge.
The Sand Hills
The Sand Hills of Nebraska encompasses 19,300 square miles of stabilized dunes and is one of the most scenic areas along Highway 83. While it has been recognized by such organizations as the Nature Conservatory and the World Wildlife Fund for its ecological importance, very little of it has been developed for tourism. There are only two towns in the 130-mile stretch between Valentine and North Platte (Thedford and Stapleton). However, the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles south of Valentine offers travelers a closer look at the intricate mixture of wetlands and grasslands. There is an overlook on the east side of the road with some information about the Sand Hills environment. A spur on the opposite side of the road will lead visitors into the heart of the refuge. This is prime ranchland and there truly are more cows than people. A lot more cows!
Another beautiful scenic overview is at the Dismal River, just south of Thedford (right). The spring-fed river cuts through high bluffs dotted with pine trees. The “dismal” moniker has nothing to so with its appearance. It was treacherous to cross in the days before the bridge, hence its name.
Runza. It's a meal in a bunza! The Czech people's contribution to American fastfood can be found in Nebraska at its Runza Huts. This unique local chain offers what some call a "cabbage burger." Inside the baked bread is a blend of ground beef, cabbage and spices. You can get it traditional style or with cheese. Travelers on Route 83 can find two Runza Huts in North Platte, one near Interstate 80 as Highway 83 goes north, and another in town as it goes south. So you can't miss it. The other is in McCook along 83 on the north edge of town. The chain is renown for its burgers as well.
North Platte — Crossroads of
If Interstate 80 is the
nation’s main east-to-west freeway, and Route 83 is the longest and most
central north-to-south highway, then it can be argued that North Platte is the
“Crossroads of America.”
The Oregon and Mormon Trail
passed by here as it hugged the south side of the Platte River, and later the
Union Pacific Railroad and the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast
railroad and highway.
At the new Golden Spike
Tower west of town, observers can peer down on the world’s largest trainyard.
It handles some 10,000 railcars per day.
Summer hours are 10 a.m. to
7 p.m., and 1 to 7 p.m. Sundays. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 1 p.m.
to 5 p.m. Sundays.
North Platte was the home of
Buffalo Bill Cody, and visitors can drive west for a few miles on Highway 30,
formerly the Lincoln Highway, and visit the Scout’s Rest Ranch, which was built
in 1886 when the showman was world renowned for his Wild West Show. It is now a
Nebraska State Park, and has numerous mementos from his heyday.
Open 9 to 5 in the summer
and 10 to 4 in the offseason.
McCook Army Air Force Base
A few miles north of McCook and about three miles to the west of Highway 83 are the last remaining Word War II hangars standing in Nebraska. Towns all over the West and up and down Route 83 hosted training bases for B-17, B-24 and B-29 pilots and crews. Read more about the base at the Highway 83 Chronicles blog HERE.
McCook is another railroad town, and the Amtrak line still passes by here. Route 83 intersects with Highways 34 and 6, which was once a main federal east-to-west highway.
Fans of architect Frank Lloyd Wright will want to take a turn north up George Norris Ave. to the corner of F Street , where the Sutton House sits (left). This prairie–style home was built early in Wright’s career before he became a household name. It is one of the few homes he designed west of the Mississippi that is still standing. It is a private residence, though, and not open to the public.
George Norris Street is named after the Nebraska Senator, one of the most powerful lawmakers of his day. His home is one block north of the Sutton House.
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 4:30 p.m. Call ahead to confirm opening times. 308-345-8484
Learn more about the history and sites to see along U.S. 83 in The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas and the second edition, Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma.
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