Cowboy culture makes this a place ripe for exploration, with its horses, living heritage, rugged landscape and, at night, a stirring display of stars in gunpowder-black skies. Check out our itinerary for a weekend in western Nebraska.

By Greg Philby
Toadstool Geologic Park

Day One

The archeologically packed Fossil Freeway (fossilfreeway.net) leads to new appreciation of ancient times. Along the route: the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (and
 its bizarre fossilized beardog) (nps.gov) and the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center (visitnebraska.com), where prehistoric people captured and killed countless bison near Crawford.

Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism.

The Toadstool Geologic Park (visitnebraska.com) in Harrison displays otherworldly formations carved by badland erosion.

Toadstool Geologic Park

Toadstool Geologic Park, Harrison. Photo courtesy of Nebraskaland Magazine/Nebraska Games and Parks Commission.

Cowboy cooking rules at Crawford's High Plains Homestead (highplainshomestead.com) and the Drifter Cookshack.

High Plains Homestead. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism.

Day Two

Beads, knives, kettles-even playing cards-illustrate the world of early trade at Museum of the Fur Trade (furtrade.org), built at the site of an 1837 trading post in Chadron.

Museum of the Fur Trade. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism.

The world of exploration awaits as well, with hiking at the western portion of the Nebraska National Forest (fs.usda.gov) near Chadron and the boundless Oglala National Grassland (visitnebraska.com) north of Crawford. Pronghorn deer and prairie dogs make occasional appearances along the way.

A Walk in the Park

Chadron State Park Rugged buttes, stone cliffs and dead-end canyons beckon horseback riders, hikers and mountain bikers to follow winding trails through Nebraska's oldest state park (established in 1921). Back at camp, cabins and swimming pools repay a day's journey (outdoornebraska.gov).

Fort Robinson State Park Why imagine the Old West when you can live it instead? Buildings from as far back as 1874 (when the original fort existed) remain in use, many for lodging. Stagecoaches tour the impressive buttes. Bison and bighorn sheep graze the 22,000 acres. And the mountainous Pine Ridge scenery creates a timeless backdrop for paddling, golfing or gazing into the past (outdoornebraska.gov).

Ranch life With cabins near Crawford, Ponderosa Ranch caters to visitors who hunt wild turkeys and deer. Also, get great photos of trains rumbling across bluffs (ponderosaranch.net).

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