We finally got on the road. It was later than we planed, but then again, we’d planed on being late.

We loaded a bag of tools, assorted duct-tapes and fix-it goops, handfuls of iThings, a bursting backpack of camera gear, 12-days’ worth of clothing, a couple days’ worth of food, 3 pair of footwear (each), schoolbooks, boardgames, credit cards, and adventurous spirits. It’s freeing to leave the safety and comfort of the Known. Between now and January, along more than 10,000 miles, things will go wrong; we will face and solve the problems as a family.

With that in mind, it’s fitting that the first place we explored was the Great Platte River Road Archway—a museum dedicated to early settlers who explored westward via the Great Plains.

This morning, we were barreling westward along highway 80 into Nebraska. I was driving and enjoying the audiobook, Hyperion, Rachelle was dozing, and the kids were watching Shanghai Noon. Up ahead, I noticed a massive bridge-like building that spanned the entire highway.

“You guys! Check it out!”

“Woah!” was the stereo quip, followed by variations of “what was it?” I asked if they wanted to go check it out, and—despite a 7-hour drive ahead of us, we did.

Outside the Entrance of the River Road Archway

Outside the Entrance of the River Road Archway

It was $36 for the family to walk through the 2-story museum. It covered the region’s history from the time of the Mormons cutting a trail west, to the era of the 50’s diners. Shel and I found ourselves commenting on more than one occasion on how it was surprisingly well done.

Siblings on the Stairs

They really are best friends.

After we walked through the exhibits, I spoke with the cowboy, who greeted us upon entry. A 12-year veteran of the company, he was friendly and spoke knowledgeably about the history of the location.

Campfires warm the soul.

The kids warm themselves by the campfire.

The Archway is owned an operated by a non-profit. 2 former staffers at Disney designed the exhibits and interiors, a famous architect worked on the exterior, a famous painter did the extensive murals inside, and a famous sculptor created the metal horse/bird that tops the structure. (Sorry that I forgot all the names he ran by me!)

Pull, Oxen!

Then kids help the settler get the wagon up the muddy slope.

Coke, please!

Some friendly strangers exchanged family photos with us.

When they opened, 13 years ago, they had 250,000 visitors a year for the first couple years. 92 full-time employees staffed the museum, gift shop, and assorted attractions both in and out of doors. There were excited projections that exceeded 1 million yearly visitors.

They never saw those numbers.

The attraction needs 70,000 yearly visitors to break even; last year, one of their worst, they saw only 40,000. Cowboy attributed it to the down economy and fuel prices. They are running now with just 7-8 staff—some of those volunteers. The outdoor attractions are left to the visitors to explore on their own, which turned out to be pretty cool for us, as we got to visit the maze and the Earth Adobe sans cost or rules.

They have held pow-wows the last couple of years, inviting all the Nebraska American Indian tribes to partake. While the events were well attended, resulting in good publicity for Archway, they didn’t generate any real revenue.

Last year, they filed bankruptcy. Today, they’re debt-free, but broke. The state and county have offered some funds to help them survive a couple years, but if they can’t stabilize by then, the funds stop and the building will be torn down (at a cost of over five million dollars).

Cowboy had his own idea to save the building… Turn it into an Indian-run casino. Since the land is federally owned, they could bypass state gambling laws. There’s plenty of room for a smallish casino in the upper two floors, and a bar/restaurant combo in the entrance area.

I hope they can figure something out, since the place is very unique. I’m glad we detoured!

Hit the Trail

These guys were great.

Nice bison; big.

Nice bison; big.

The River Road Archway

The River Road Archway

Talon-Girl

Eden holds a talon we discovered on the ground.

Mother and Daughter

Mother and Daughter