We haven’t planned our route and schedule too far in advance during The Lower 48 in 48 Tour, but we do generally have a reservation at ‘the next’ campground when we pull out on travel days. That wasn’t the case when we left South Dakota, though. Mike had his heart set on staying at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park on I-80, directly in the middle between Omaha and Lincoln. The only problem was that all the reservable full hook- up sites were booked. The park also had three full hook-up spots (water, sewer and 30 amp) that were available on a first come, first served basis. Mike was hoping our travel angels would be looking out for us and one of the three spots would come available when we needed it. I was skeptical. I’m a professional organizer, for heaven’s sake. I need a plan. I typically enjoy a confirmation number too.
We left Mitchell, SD around 10 AM and drove east on I-90, around Sioux Falls, south on I-29 past Sioux City (which was completely under construction), around Omaha and then west on I-80. When we reached the exit just before the state park, we stopped for fuel and Mike called to see if one of the spots was open. No openings.
Plan B was a KOA about 3 miles from the Flying J Fuel Station. We drove the Monaco to that campground and asked if they had a spot that might be available for a time span of 2-days to 2 weeks. They loved me at the check-in counter. I convinced them to move some reservations around so that the spot they gave us would be available if we needed it. Then I asked them to hold it open for two weeks until we came up with a plan. I must be some sort of smooth talker, because they agreed.
The KOA was awful and expensive. The spaces were very tight and there was no place to walk the dogs. I guess their location means they can charge anything they want, because the place was full by the time we were on our prior-to-bed-dog-walk. Most of the campers were just in for an overnight stay while on a bigger trip.
The next morning we drove over to the State Park around 9AM. We went to the main office and asked if any of the three magic spots were available. The ladies said that they were occupied at the moment, but one camper was due to leave that day. The only caveat was that the camper had the option of extending their stay (up to two weeks within a 30-day period), and they didn’t have to make a move until check-out at 2PM. We would be first in line to get the spot if they left, but if WE left the office and someone else came in for that spot… it would go to them. We had to physically wait there in the office if we were going to be ‘first in line’. I convinced Mike to drive down to spot #46 and just ask the people if they were indeed planning on leaving that day. The answer was yes!
I left Mike at the state park’s main office and I drove back to our spot at KOA to get the coach ready to move again. We had paid for two nights, but we just decided to take the loss on the second night. He waited for a couple of hours. The people left, he paid for us to stay two weeks, and called me to come get him. I brought him back to the KOA and we moved the rig 6 miles down the highway to the spot Mike was hoping for.
I’d like to say we got all settled in and enjoyed the next two weeks exploring the area, but I can’t. Yet.
The first priority was finding a place to stay in this part of Nebraska for two weeks. Once that was settled, Mike had another objective. He needed to get the Monaco’s engine serviced and our generator had stopped working. The Cummins shop in Omaha had a Coach Care unit. While he was waiting in the state park office, he called Cummins and scheduled an appointment for us at 8am the next morning. As we moved the rig to spot #46, it was hard to relax because the next morning would start our third travel day in a row. We had a couple of martinis and went to bed extra early.
The next morning he started the engine in the dark at 6:30 AM. He pulled out of the park while the dogs and I followed behind him in the Honda. The plan was to drop the rig at the shop, then go have breakfast and explore around Omaha while they serviced the engine. We would pick up the coach later in the afternoon to go back to the state park and get settled once and for all. The first part of the plan went great. We had a big breakfast at a Cracker Barrel down the road, then we drove to downtown Omaha and walked the dogs around the city. After we had wasted as much time as we could stand, we drove back to Cummins.
The shop manager greeted us with some not-so-great news. The engine was fine, but they needed to replace a stater and control board on the generator. Our bill was going to total around $3,000 and the job wasn’t going to be finished before the end of the day. New decision. Do we drive the coach back to the park and do this all over again the next day? Or do we hook-up to the water and electricity in the Cummins parking lot and wait it out on site. We decided to camp at Cummins until the generator was fixed. We drove the Honda back to the park, covered the stuff we left with a tarp (in case of rain), told the camp host about our dilemma and then returned to the shop for a night of camping with the mechanics.
The following day turned into another waiting game. The control panel issue was fixed, but now the generator needed a new belt. The long story short is that we spend two-nights and three full days at Cummins. We finally made it back to #46 by Friday evening. We were tired and ready to get busy relaxing!
In retrospect, we should have driven directly to Cummins when we left South Dakota. We did not know they had free hook-ups for customers, or that might have factored into our logistics. We could have dealt with the generator repairs, and then taken our chances on a spot at Mahoney. However, we had such tunnel vision for one of the three magic spots, we couldn’t think of anything else until we got that issue settled. If our coveted spot in the Little Creek Campground section had been any less spacious and pretty, I might have had regrets. In the end, we had a wonderful stay in Ashland, NE, and the cluster of getting there was all worth it.
The Omaha KOA was really more of a glorified RV parking lot than it was a campground.
We had to keep our fingers crossed and jump through some hoops to secure this spot at Mahoney State Park for two weeks, but it was all worth it. The park is an outdoor wonderland, featuring an aquatic center, tennis courts, disc golf, a driving range, a fishing lake, paddle boats, horse back riding, hiking trails, volleyball courts, miniature golf, an observation tower, a conservatory and a restaurant. They also have an ice rink and toboggan runs in the winter.
The very first night we stayed in the state park, it was basically empty aside from us and the camp host. The deer roamed throughout the area during the evening before sunset. This picture was taken from our dining room window.
Checking the Monaco in at Cummins. The morning errand that turned into a 3-day waiting game.
The Cummins Coach Care facility had four hook-up spots with water and 50amp power. We stared at concrete for two days while our green and roomy spot waited for us back at Mahoney State Park.
I didn’t know Omaha had a canal running through its downtown until we stumbled upon it. Lots of nice public art in the area too.
We found a pleasant walking path in the 31-acre Heartland of America Park near the Old Market Entertainment District in downtown.
The fountain in Heartland of America Park sprays water 400-feet into the air and has a light show at night. It is considered one of the tallest shooting fountains in the world.
A cool baseball sculpture in the middle of the city where they play the College World Series every year.
At the end of the 1800’s, Omaha was thriving as a great railroad center. Its location provided a connecting point between the country’s established eastern side and the wide-open west. The Old Market Area in downtown was a busy commercial area filled with produce dealers, buyers and transporters.
June of 2015 was the 65th year for the College World Series to be played in Omaha.
While we were in Omaha, we treated ourselves to lunch at a Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives place called Brewburgers. Since we were waiting for news on our generator repair, I drove over and placed an order for take-away. Mike ordered a West Texas Burger and it was ginormous. Local lore says that the Reuben Sandwich was created in Omaha, so I went with local tradition and ordered one of those. We were stuffed at the end, but at least it made waiting in the Cummins Driver’s Lounge a little more bearable.
Our lonely spot #46, waiting for the Monaco to return.
The paved walking trail through Eugene T. Mahoney State Park was really pretty.
Morning coffee and computer time.
The entrance to the Holy Family Shrine is highlighted by perennials, displaying colors symbolic of a pilgrimage with the Holy Spirit.
The Mission of the Holy Family Shrine, as a Catholic Chapel on the Highway, is to be a gateway to heaven for pilgrims and travelers to experience the healing presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that awakens them to God’s will in their journey through life.
An estimated 25,000 people visit the Shrine each year to pray, meditate, have meetings, or stroll the grounds in tranquil peace. Mass is offered Saturdays at 10AM.
The view from inside the Shrine is glorious as it sits high up on a bluff and looks down on the rolling countryside in all directions.
I tried to go to mass on Saturday at 10, but the morning I got there, they were having a special pilgrimage walk and confessions. Mass was to follow around noon. I wasn’t signed up for the event that was already in progress when I arrived, so I missed out. I was so bummed!
One of the 57 cabins at Mahoney State Park. Most are two bedroom. A few are four bedroom, and a handful are six bedroom. They all come with linens, tableware, basic cookware, A/C and heat, fireplace, satellite TV, refrigerator, range, outdoor deck and grill.
The 70-foot tower at the state park offered panoramic views of the area. I’m afraid of heights, so I didn’t make it all the way to the top. Mike did.
My view from the tower climb.
Mike’s view of the tower climb. I almost made it, but no one was going to pay me money for making it to the top platform, so I chicken’d out and turned back down.
An air boat on the Platte River.
Mike was born in Lincoln so when we drove over to explore, I insisted on finding the hospital where he was born. He refused to take a photo in front of the building. My in-laws don’t even believe it was the same hospital… said it looks totally different (53 years later).
A beautiful church across the street from the Nebraska State Capitol.
The Nebraska State Capitol. Constructed between 1922 and 1932, it is home to the only non-partisan one-house legislature in the United States.
We enjoyed lunch on an outside patio in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket District.
I thought this sculpture in Lincoln looked so friendly!
Geese. I wonder how many pictures of geese Mike has taken since February of 2013…
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium boasts the world’s largest indoor desert, nocturnal exhibit and America’s largest indoor rainforest. I went by myself on a beautiful afternoon. It was a lovely facility, although it seemed like two-thirds of it was under construction at the time I was there.
Inside the Omaha Zoo’s rainforest exhibit.
At least I got to see my favorite animal, the sloth. It is understandable that the laziest animal in the rain forest was asleep…
The butterfly garden at the zoo was very lush.
Pumpkins carved with all sorts of animal designs lined the sidewalks at the Zoo.
The Cathedral of Saint Cecilia in Omaha is located on the highest hill in the city and can be seen for miles around. Begun in 1905 and consecrated in 1959, the historic Cathedral was designed by renowned architect, Thomas Rogers Kimball. Like 60,000 other visitors each year, I stopped in for some quiet time and to light some candles.
The altar inside Saint Cecilia Cathedral.
The Lodge at Mahoney State Park has 40 guest rooms, a restaurant, a gift shop and a bar.
The view from the Lodge at Mahoney State Park. The guests on the back side of the building can see the Platte River off in the distance.
The Strategic Air and Space Museum is located right next door to the state park. The permanent exhibits include a huge collection of famous aircraft, missiles and spacecraft. Local Omaha pride abounds in the exhibits featuring Clayton Anderson: Heartland Astronaut and the Martin Bomber Plant, the largest and most historically significant structure on Offutt Air Force Base in nearby Bellevue, NE.
This exhibit at the Strategic Air and Space Museum was called Tie Towers. This sculpture was designed and constructed in the months following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers. It is a memorial to lives lost that day. 1,452 neckties are hung from a steel wire frame, representing the number of lives lost in the collapse of the North Tower. The artist is Gregory J. Laasko. He works as an artist in the Omaha area, and has also served in the U.S. Army and the Nebraska National Guard, completing two tours of duty in Iraq.
In addition to the SR-71 (which they first put into place when building the museum, and then constructed the glass atrium walls around it), the facility displays a B-1, B-52, B-36, MiG-21, FB-111, Vulcan, and Apollo 009.
Mike, Cessna and Piper collaborated on one of the pumpkins we decorated as part of the state park’s Halloween Festival which took place on the second Saturday we were there. I can’t stand Donald Trump, and wanted no part of the Trumpkin… so I carved my own separate pumpkin.
I went on a horse trail ride at the state park one gorgeous Friday afternoon. Mike wasn’t interested so he stayed at the camp with the dogs. My horse was Scout, the brown and white horse on the far right side of the photo. He had allergies, so he sneezed and coughed through the entire outing. Poor baby.
A drive-through Wildlife Safari was located down the road from the state park. The 50-acre elk exhibit was pretty active during our late afternoon visit.
All God’s creatures: deer, turkey and squirrels.
Most of the other bison we have seen during the Lower 48 in 48 Tour have been in state or national parks. These were in an outdoor zoo. I was trying to get a picture of the white one in the back. White buffalo were considered sacred by the Indians.
Two eagles had their own “tent” at the wildlife safari. I’m guessing they were injured and unable to thrive in the wild.
A selfie at Round the Bend Steakhouse, Home of the Testical Festival! Really.
If we were going to eat dinner at the Home of the Testical Festival… we certainly had to order beef fries as an appetizer.
Just so you know we didn’t make this up.
Our nod to the site decorating contest.
These campers put a little more effort into their campsite decorations than we did.
I never found out which campers won the site decorating contest, but I think the decision would have been a difficult one to come by.
The Halloween festivities at the state park also included a pumpkin carving contest.
The park staff had a tram operating all day that Saturday. They circled both campgrounds at the park so campers could see all of the decorations.
After a campground clears out on a Sunday afternoon, we usually walk through and look for firewood that campers have left behind. When we find some we scrounge it up and bring it back to our campsite. We got really lucky at one spot… I think these campers left behind an entire tree. There was so much wood, Mike had to walk back to our campsite and drive the Honda over to transport our bounty.
They stocked the Lake at the state park with trout on the last full day we were there. Mike was there waiting. He had his limit of 5 in no time after that.
Some local turkeys checking out our campsite as we prepared to depart.