Your monotonous drive through the Platte River Valley makes your first glimpse of the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument all the more astonishing.
Soaring three stories above the superhighway just east of Kearney (185 miles west of Omaha), the massive arch nearly obscures the sky. Huge steel girders support the 1,500-ton structure, cloaked in stainless steel panels that shimmer with a gasoline-on-water tint mimicking the state's grand prairie sunrises and sunsets.
Stockade-like log towers support the arch, built to resemble frontier forts that once dotted this region. Glittering winged sculptures cap the green-roofed towers. The figures symbolize the speed with which the route west that the highway now follows helped transform America. Commemorating this corridor's role in that metamorphosis is the real purpose of the $60 million arch, which opened in June 2000.
An escalator rises through a doorway cutout in a movie screen displaying Conestoga wagons and into a two-level museum. Interactive exhibits and dioramas chronicle the Platte River Valley's rich history as the gateway to the West. The parade of characters from the past includes fur trappers, Native Americans and mountain men, Oregon Trail pioneers, Pony Express riders, the "gandy dancers" who built America's first transcontinental railroad, and the daring motorists who ventured forth on the nation's first coast-to-coast highway. For modern pioneers, the arch includes restaurants and a gift shop. Admission charged.