This was always a land to be crossed as quickly as possible. Both for 19th century pioneers and for 21th century road trippers. The reasons might be different. Pioneers going West to Oregon and California thought of the prairie as a desert. No timber, no water, no soil good for farming. Little did they know that the land sits on top of the Ogallala Aquifer. Which happens to be the largest in the word.
Technology seemingly conquers everything. It can pump the underground water. It can manufacture the plow sturdy enough to cut the hard prairie soil. It can replace the millions of bison with millions of cattle. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory. The water will run out soon, maybe in as little as 25 years. The plowed soil will dry out and wind will blow it away. As for the cattle - don’t get me started on the feedlot idea: you can smell one long before you can see it. And it’s one of those smells that stays with you much longer than you ever thought possible. I am a carnivore to the bone and even I have fleeting thoughts about becoming a vegetarian.
So we follow in the steps of the pioneers and try to cross the land as quickly as possible. Which is easy. The roads are straight, every curve is an event worthy of a short conversation and there are really no other cars. The speed limits on the backroads are slightly above what you see on other state’s freeways. And even if asphalts ends suddenly you slow down just a little so that you can see something from beneath the dust.
Early travelers had to carry provisions as there were no food supplies along the route. Unless one wanted to hunt bison. Bisons are long gone but otherwise food situation hasn’t improved: so far we haven’t chanced upon a decent restaurant. When a draft beer list rattled off by a waiter starts with bud light and continues through miller and coors, light versions of course, we know we have a problem.
There is really no connection between the food that is grown here and the food that one can eat. We strongly suspect that all the biomass raised in the state of Nebraska is loaded into containers and transported somewhere only to return in a ready to digest tasteless packages reinforced with chemicals and artificial coloring. When we stumble upon Hoffhaus Gardens in Alliance the owner confines in us: they do not really serve a food like ours here. And we are talking about soup and cheese sandwiches.
All that aside, prairie can be an immensely beautiful place. There are still stretches of grasslands protected from agriculture. If you are lucky, like we are, you’ll see the impossibly blue skies, the prairie grasses turning yellow. There are no trees in sight, nor any other features preventing you from seeing the entire horizon. It’s like being on the calm yellow ocean. The air is sweet and you feel like the king of creation, which, I guess, is exactly how it started.