West-bound travelers will leave the prairie regions of eastern Nebraska and enter the Great Plains within the next fifty miles. This semi-arid region stretching from Canada to Mexico and westward toward the Rockies was long known as the Great American Desert. Most early explorers and travelers thought the region to be of little value except to Indians and ranchers. Thousands of overland travelers followed this, the Great Platte River Road, to the Golden West, but it was not until the establishment of Nebraska Territory in 1854 that pioneers could legally settle here.
Even so, it was more than a decade later, after the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, that settlement of the Plains could succeed economically. Since the Interstate highway follows the verdant Platte River Valley, travelers will recognize the change in geography only gradually. Valley farmers were among the first to recognize the importance of irrigation, which has now spread to the upland Plains. Today this is one of the richest and most productive areas in the Great Plains.
Department of Roads
Nebraska State Historical Society
Kearney Rest Area, I-80 W