Despite all our bucket-list ambitions, the fact is that most of us won’t ever make it out on an African safari. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never witness one of the planet’s last great wildlife spectacles. In fact, there’s one waiting right now in central Nebraska.
It always happens this way. You're zooming along the interstate in a cornfield-induced haze, a visual playlist of silos, gas stations and Subway signs flashing by on repeat, when suddenly, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait, wait! What is that?" I bolted upright from the backseat and (probably dangerously) thumped my window loudly to catch my brother's attention. Within spitting distance of I-74 southeast of Indy, a giant organic ice sculpture rose above rooftops.
1) Detroit Historical Society With so much to see and do, it’s surprising this recently revamped 80-year-old downtown museum doesn’t charge admission. (You will, however, pay $5 to park in the adjacent lot.) Although most displays focus on local history and nostalgia—a Motown tribute, a Lionel Trains exhibit, an Underground Railroad vignette and a re-created 20th-century Detroit streetscape—additions like the interactive Kid Rock music lab are sure to build a new fan base among younger generations.
1) Branson Landing Shopping, dining and entertainment venues line Lake Taneycomo, but the showstopper is the 120-foot fountain show with fire cannons, special effects lighting and music. The free spectacle starts at noon each day (weather permitting), then runs every hour on the hour. A concert series adds live music to the mix, and the Landing also hosts outdoor Monday Night Movies during summer. (417) 239-3002; bransonlanding.com
I’m sitting cross-legged on my dented blue metal saucer, frozen in place not by fear of the plummeting snow track in front of me or by the chill of the wind, but by the view. Lake Michigan stretches out to the horizon, huge and heaving, dotted with ice. Waves wedge and fuse the ice together at the shore, creating the jagged floating sculpture known as shelf ice.
This is winter at its best in Indiana: Thrills at Devil's Slide at Indiana Dunes State Park and a stunning tundra-scape.
1) Fenelon Place Elevator For just $3, you'll get a round-trip ride on wooden cable cars to a panoramic view of three states, the Mississippi River and Dubuque’s historical business district. Billed as the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway, the elevator rises and descends 189 feet along its 300-foot journey. The railway dates to the 1880s. Open April through November. (563) 582-6496; dbq.com/fenplco/
On the arm of his wife, Chaz, Roger Ebert slowly made his way to the wood podium. The 1,500 film buffs filling the Virginia Theatre in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, surged to their feet, their clapping momentarily drowning out his mechanical whisper, the only voice left to him by cancer.
While I'm browsing a timeline of Nebraska history at Omaha's Durham Museum, random events catch my eye. "1874: Grasshopper plague hits Nebraska." Really? Cool! But before I think to ask where an exhibit might be—or search "1874 grasshopper plague" on my phone—my restless mind is already moving on.
1) Findlay Market Anchoring the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Ohio’s oldest continuously running public market brims with reasonably priced finds. Snag take-away crepes, tacos, waffles, sandwiches and more, then help yourself to a seat at an open table. The place gets crazy busy in the mornings and early afternoons on weekends; shoot for a midweek visit if your schedule allows. Bonus: Parking’s free for the first hour. (513) 665-4839; findlaymarket.org
The February morning in South Dakota’s Black Hills dawned clear and cold. I had two options for the day: Peer into a hole on Pactola Lake alongside some buddies on an ice-fishing mission or check a hike to Harney Peak off my bucket list. The fishing had been slow to this point, so I headed for the Sylvan Lake trailhead and set out.