BAYARD, Neb. — Dear Nebraskans,
Don't let anyone reword your state's panhandle. On an official organized sightseeing trip week before last, a couple of official sightseeing organizing people scowled when I used the term. They allowed as to how they prefer the 11 counties and 14,180 square miles of Nebraska perched on top of eastern Colorado to be called western Nebraska.
To which I replied: Do what? I really didn't get the issue, and they didn't explain it much beyond saying something about the Nebraska Panhandle, which is about 100 miles east to west and about 125 miles north to south, being too square to be a panhandle.
Bull. Baloney. Bologna bulls, I say. That ought to sound familiar in cattle country — whether Nebraska or Oklahoma. Bologna bulls are old bulls that make low-quality beef at slaughter. That's about what the idea of de-panhandling Nebraska is worth, if you ask me: potted meat.
Of course, I'm biased: I love the Oklahoma Panhandle. I love the Texas Panhandle.
And now after a five-day dash around western Nebraska, I love the Nebraska Panhandle.
Maybe it's “pan” that the Nebraska Panhandle's detractors don't like. That suggests “flat” — and if there's just one thing I could say about the place, it's this: It is not flat. Not. Not flat. Tell your friends. The notion that all of Nebraska is flat — a misconception I took with me, and left at the foot of Scotts Bluff, hard by the Oregon Trail — is flat wrong.
Scotts Bluff juts 800 feet over the North Platte River. Then there's Chimney Rock, a 325-foot spire formation close to Bayard. And Jail Rock, near Bridgeport, rising some 400 feet over the North Platte Valley.
And the Sandhills, with grass-covered dunes up to nearly 350 feet. And, here and there, breaks so sharp and beautiful, you'll swear you're on a western movie set.
I was in western Nebraska — I mean, the Nebraska Panhandle — with writers from all over the country and Canada, on a trip sponsored by the Nebraska Tourism Commission.
The place is full of things to see and do, especially if you're outdoorsy or a history lover.
I am not saying that just because the Nebraska Tourism Commission pretty much paid for everything, or arranged for it, and they fed us steak or prime rib wherever we stopped every night for five nights running. Nebraskans, it turns out, are as proud of their cattle industry history and the beef business as Oklahomans are.
As they say, the West wadn't won on salad.
Nope, I fell for this rugged place, whatever Nebraskans want to call it, for real. It hit me right in my beef-lovin' historian's heart.
In coming weeks, in an upcoming Sunday feature section and on NewsOK.com, I'll have stories, photos and video of some of what we saw.
I'll also have a real estate column or two about historic replica and restored 1870s U.S. Army structures and the site of the Red Cloud Agency at Fort Robinson, which will hit home in Oklahoma because of direct connections to 1870s Indian Territory and the Southern Plains.
You might say I brought back a pan plumb full of tales, and I can't wait to tell 'em.