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Nebraska is situated in the Great Plains of the American Midwest, where agriculture is a way of life. The level land of the east is ideal for farming, while the western area of high dunes and small, shallow lakes is dotted with ranches. This divide is evident to some degree in personality as well as in physical terrain.
The hub of Omaha ties one half of Nebraska to the Midwest, while many in the western half staunchly identify with the more rugged Old West heritage. Most travellers to Nebraska are probably not after big-city action. Those who are have only two options: Omaha, the state's largest city; and the nearby capital of Lincoln.
Famous as the home of financial genius Warren Buffett as well as really great steaks, Omaha may be a far cultural cry from New York but it has a world-renowned zoo and a buzzing arts and entertainment district. Lincoln is a small and fairly sleepy state capital but is transformed from small-city peace to football-fan pandemonium with every University of Nebraska Huskers game.
The attraction of Nebraska lies in its natural beauty to the west of the commercial centres and flatlands. Early each spring, the Platte River in south-central Nebraska is a stopover in the massive migration of the sandhill cranes, the largest gathering of this kind in the world. Watching the ritual dancing of the cranes as the sun sets over the water is a breathtaking sight. Further west are the Nebraska Sandhills, a remote, rippling area of grass-covered dunes and isolated ranches.
But it is in the far panhandle region of Nebraska that the landscape truly becomes remarkable, jutting up into rocky columns, sheer buttes, and pine-covered canyons. This is wilder land, where skirmishes with Native Americans continued long after the east was settled, where Crazy Horse, leader of the Lakota, was killed at a lonely frontier outpost.
The geography culminates in Scotts Bluff and Chimney Rock, unusual limestone formations that tower above the surrounding land. Both were major landmarks for pioneers on the Oregon Trail, the wagon roadbed of which is still visible. This is not the only lasting impression man has left on this landscape, however. When the thrill of the natural environment wears off, having come this far west, travellers might as well visit one extremely odd man-made addition: Carhenge, a life-size replica of Stonehenge constructed entirely of old cars.
At Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, visitors can also explore exhibits such as the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, Desert Dome and Cat Complex, as well as Hubbard Gorilla Valley, Orangutan Forest and Lied Jungle, America's largest indoor rainforest. The zoo offers train and tram rides, the TreeTops Restaurant overlooking the rainforest and a variety of other fun activities, attractions and refreshment options. For those who don't want to visit the restaurants, there are lovely picnic areas at the zoo and plenty of snack kiosks. The zoo is widely acknowledged as being one of the best in the USA and should delight visitors of all ages. It can easily fill a whole day with family entertainment if explored thoroughly.
The Strategic Air and Space Museum in Omaha, regarded as the nation's foremost facility of its kind, showcases World War II and Cold War era aircraft and artefacts to illustrate the historical role of strategic air command in securing peace. The museum's exhibits, multimedia displays and educational programmes are also forward-looking, generating excitement among the next generation about the future of aviation, aerospace and engineering. The whole family should enjoy a visit to this interesting attraction, which is both educational and entertaining. Many special events and exhibitions are also hosted by the museum so check the official website for information on what is showing during your visit.
The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, just south of the Old Market district, was founded on the principle that exceptional talent deserves to be celebrated. Artists from around the world apply to participate in the centre's residency program, in which they are given studios and accommodation, freeing them to focus on creative growth and experimentation. The centre presents more than 20 exhibitions annually in its three main galleries, featuring emerging and established artists and spanning all visual media. Check the official website listed below to see what's showing at the Bemis Center during your stay in Omaha.
This fun-filled and award-winning interactive museum is designed to educate and engage kids of all ages. The various exhibits and activities include the ever popular Imagination Playground and Sandy's Splish-Splash Garden. The Charlie Campbell Science and Technology Center features the Inventor's Workshop, the amazing whirligig station and live science presentations like Whiz Bang Super Science and The Amazing Bubble Show. At the Creative Arts Center children can release their inner artist and create their own masterpieces in whatever medium takes their fancy. Although the exact diversions on offer may change from time to time, the Omaha Children's Museum guarantees a great day out for kids and adults alike.
Omaha has a humid continental climate, with hot, humid summers and cold winters. Violent thunderstorms and even tornadoes are possible in the summer months. In July, the hottest month of summer, temperatures frequently reach 90°F (32°C) and can rise significantly higher. In January, the coldest month of winter, temperatures regularly drop as low as 0°F (-18°C), though the daily average temperature is 23°F (-5°C). Snow is common in winter, and can range from a light dusting to heavy blizzards. Many visitors prefer the milder weather of spring and autumn in Omaha.
Nebraska's climate is mostly continental, with distinct seasons and temperatures that vary greatly from season to season. The western third of the state has a semi-arid climate. Generally, summers are hot and humid, averaging 76°F (24°C) in July, but hot winds often push summer temperatures above 90°F (32°C). Winters are cold and snowy with temperatures of around 23°F (-5°C) in January. The state is prone to severe weather patterns such as blizzards, droughts, and windstorms. Thunderstorms are common in spring and summer.
Omaha is a Midwestern city and is therefore no stranger to urban sprawl, being designed primarily to be navigated by car. Thus, a rental car is the most convenient option for getting around. A fairly comprehensive fixed-route bus service is provided by Metro Transit, however, travellers should note that many bus routes only operate on weekdays. In the central downtown area, walking is a pleasant option when shopping and dining in the Old Market area, attractions like the riverfront and the Convention Center and Arena can be reached on foot. However, taxi availability can be erratic, and for sightseeing outside this downtown area, a car is best.
With its indie music scene and various arts initiatives, including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts residency programme, Omaha is becoming a beacon for progressive creatives. Rooted in the Midwest, however, it is also a great place for families, who will enjoy the zoo, Omaha Children's Museum, and Fun Plex, Nebraska's largest water park.
Old Market is the undisputed tourist hub of the city with numerous wonderful shops, restaurants, and historic buildings. When pounding Old Market's charmingly uneven pavements becomes tiring, the Heartland of America Park next door is perfect for leisurely strolls along the mighty Missouri River and a rest in the shade.
Visitors can also explore the largest indoor rainforest in the US at the famous Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium; historic aircraft and missiles at the Strategic Air and Space Command, the foremost museum of its kind; and perhaps catch a glimpse of one of America's richest men and lifelong Omaha resident, Warren Buffett, dining at Gorat's, his favourite local steakhouse.
For financial gurus, the only time to visit is in the spring, during the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting, when Omaha becomes the centre of the financial universe for one weekend. Even for the less stock-savvy, spring is a good choice, as is autumn, when the weather is milder than in summer and winter.
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