National Geographic : 1998 Nov
want you to know about their state's geography. The first is that when the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers are playing a home game, Memorial Stadium in Lincoln becomes the third largest city in the state. There hasn't been an empty seat there since a game against Missouri on November 3, 1962-a string of 220 consecutive full houses. The second is that Nebraska ain't flat. "Any time I hear somebody say Nebraska's like a pool table, I know they've zipped across on 1-80 and haven't seen a thing," says Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board. Certainly they haven't tried to put a car into first on the surprisingly hilly streets of Omaha. Or stopped to admire the view of the North Platte River Valley from the top of Windlass Hill, a pitiless grade on the Oregon Trail that broke the backs and spirits of a gener ation of pioneers. Or bicycled across Nebraska, as I did in the summer of 1980. That trek left me with both a working knowledge that Nebraska's eastern edge is at an elevation of 840 feet while its western is just over 5,400 feet and a lingering fascination for the way horizons fall away on the plains. Nebraska is a land to be taken slowly, imagi natively. There are no mountain ranges in the distance to lure you on, as there are on the prairies in Colorado. Nebraska's character is more subtle, closer to hand: sunflowers drowsy with summer heat, the glow of a cornfield against the purplish backdrop of a storm, a flock of sandhill cranes rising from the marshes of the Platte River. A lot of corn? Sure. More in fact than any foreign country except China and Brazil. But Nebraska is also a computing and telecom munications hub, part of an emerging "silicon prairie." Wholesome? Nebraska defines the word. But just as you can meet Miss "Middle of Nowhere" at the annual children's pageant in Ainsworth, you can also run afoul of big-city style street gangs in Omaha. Speed through Nebraska's 19 million acres of cropland and read: homogeneity. Go slowly enough to make out the names on the farm gates-Zitterkopf, Foos, Swanson-and read the story of Amer ica's great melting-pot migration westward. Yet for every person who chose to put down roots in Nebraska, countless more have used it as a doormat to somewhere else. In the mid-1800s more than 400,000 pioneers passed .Frem t us1' maha >ANS ,oBelevue Valton Lincoln SORGHUM .Beatrice DAIRY . m . AREA: 77,358 sq mi. Corn and cattlegive way to strip malls and CAPITAL: Lincoln. Si .POPULATION: 1,652,093. sprawl near Omaha and Lincoln. But west- RACIAL/ETHNIC: 93.8% white, ern Nebraska still looks like home to cowboy 3.6% black, 2.3% Hispanic. ECONOMY: Agri Mark Vinton (right), who grew up in the culture (cattle, corn, hogs), manufacturing, telecommunications. PER CAPITA INCOME: Sand Hills on a 14,000-acre ranch. $23,047. UNEMPLOYMENT: 2.9%.