Monday, April 04, 2005

Touring The Great American Desert

Some two score years ago the state of Nebraska started an advertising campaign to increase tourism. Our slogan, "NebraskaLand: Where the West Begins," was quickly transformed into "NebraskaLand: Where the East Peters Out."

It was a tough sell. After all, Nebraska history is mostly the history of people passing through on their way to somewhere else. What we have for natural landmarks are mainly limited to things that let the anxious settlers know they were almost done crossing The Great American Desert. Not that these weren't important. Imagine the poor pioneer dad trying to keep the wheels of his Conestoga in the ruts, listening to the kids chanting for 3 weeks, "Are we there yet?"

What a sense of relief it must have given him to be able to say, "Look. There's Chimney Rock; only a few more days 'til we get to Wyoming. Now will you just shut up!" Now, of course, we dad's have it much easier, and you can cross the entire state in just a couple of days via Amtrak.

But we American Bedouin are a resourceful people. Lacking natural wonders or ancient artifacts, we created our own. One such place is Carhenge. Nestled in the northwest corner of the state, far from everywhere, the site attracts dozens of visitors every year.

Legend has it that this ancient ruin, bearing an eerie resemblence to Stonehenge, was once a desert temple, constructed by local Bedouin Druids on a single Thanksgiving Weekend so long ago. No one knows how they chose these shapes, so strangely reminiscent of automobiles, or how they came to chose a layout so like that of Stonehenge, thousands of miles and an ocean away. Likewise, their construction technique remains a mystery, 'though we can't help but marvel at what they accomplished with such simple tools.

Who were these nameless, faceless artisans? We will probably never know.

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