Ms. Erin of Tesori Trovati is hosting her 2nd Annual Challenge of Travel today and I'm insanely excited about the whole thing. Last year we were assigned countries, and I had a ton of fun learning about and being inspired by Senegal (read about it here). This year's theme is "Staycation" and we were encouraged to explore our own hometowns. I live in North Platte, Nebraska and have for over 25 years now, but it still isn't what I think of as my hometown. My heart will always belong to Valentine, Nebraska (see what I did there?). I was born and raised in Valentine, spent my formative years there. It's where I met and married my husband. I still have family there and have spent time showing my children all my favorite places. Today, I'd like to share "my" Valentine with you! (Many, many thanks to my "niece", Audrey Bellew, for taking these photos for me.)
As can be expected of a town named Valentine (named for Congressman E. K. Valentine, by the way), the heart theme comes up a lot. People from all of the world have sent their Valentine's Day cards to Valentine to have them postmarked from Valentine before being sent on their way to loved ones. February 14th is a big deal (check out this post if you want to see my humiliating photo of my teenage self dressed as a tree and find out how that relates to Valentine's Day!). But that's only a small part of Valentine's appeal.
The town is tucked in the middle of the Nebraska Sandhills and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery you could ask for. The area is full of rolling hills and canyons. The Niobrara River and the Minnechaduza Creek wind through the area. A good sized lake, Merritt Reservoir, is just 30 miles from town and formed by a dam on yet another river, the Snake. There are natural springs and waterfalls all over the place. Not what you think of when you think "Sandhills", is it? I spent a lot of time around water growing up. As a mater of fact, my father worked for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and we lived in a house in the fish hatchery, located in a valley a mile outside of town.
See that white house behind the pond? That was our house. If you get to Valentine, you'll want to take a minute to drive through the hatchery. The views are worth it. And be sure to go to one of the local restaurants and order a steak. You're in the heart of cattle country here and you can't get a bad steak. Oh, and plan a day for tubing or canoeing the Niobrara - that's a MUST.
My friends and I spent many a summer day floating the river on inner tubes in my teenage years. Back then we had to borrow tubes and haul them ourselves, but now there are outfitters who will rent you what you need, get you there AND pick you up. Sights like this are not uncommon:
If you want rapids, you have to go a bit further down the river, but the part closest to town is very tame. It's calm and relaxing and very scenic. As proof of its safety, I offer this photo of my 79-year-old grandmother floating it with us a few years ago!
If you go, pack a cooler with lots of cold drinks and some sandwiches. You won't believe how good a plain old white bread sandwich will taste on the river!
If you're looking for something to do between going down the river and going out for dinner (steaks, remember?), check out the old haunted schoolhouse (okay, I'll let you decide whether or not it's haunted). Built in 1897, this building was used as an elementary school and was later used as part of the high school. I went to high school there way back when. It was strange, with stairs only about 3" high (made for little tiny folks, apparently) and water fountains only a couple of feet off the floor. It was also notoriously cold or hot (depending on where your room was located and the time of the year). And the best part is the memory of the bat flying through our Geometry room during class once. True story.
A new school has since been built and this building is now home to the Centennial Hall Museum. Yes, the oldest standing high school in Nebraska, where I went (groan), is now a museum. I'm pretty sure you qualify for geezerhood when your school is now a museum, but moving right along.... The building is rumored to be haunted and several paranormal investigations have been done there. Go check it out and be sure to come back and tell me if you experience anything other-worldly!
So, let's see... scenic drives, river trips, steaks, haunted high school... that ought to keep you busy for a while. Oh, and the Wildlife Refuge is very cool - you can see buffalo grazing on the prairie! If you still have time, go for a hike, check out a waterfall, go fishing or check out the quaint downtown area with hearts stenciled on the sidewalks.
After much deliberation (read "procrastinating"), I decided to take my inspiration from the heart symbol. (Another insider tip: be sure to drive north on Main Street after dark and go clear to the end where you can see the lit heart up on the hill across from the city park.) I haven't tried actually knotting a heart before and I really wanted to knot it, not just use a heart shaped bead or pendant, so I started playing around with the idea.
My first attempt was pretty rough, but it did help me figure out a few things. My second attempt was much better, I think.
As you can see, I kept the double heart design, but modified the center portion a bit and tidied up the knot work. I switched to a red cord appropriate for the theme and added some beads into the mix.
This piece is far from my comfort zone, but I think it fits the Heart City perfectly. I hope you'll take some time and visit the others involved in this challenge - I know I will! (Find the list here.) And if you'd like to read more about my version of Mayberry, check out this post. Thanks for stopping by!!