Full Passports Without Leaving Nebraska
Apr 10, 2000 02:56PM
By Kate Smith
In 2018, 749 people visited all 70 sites of the Nebraska Passport Program. Of those travelers, 150 came from Omaha. Three of the intrepid local families share with Omaha Magazine how they accomplished the feat.
Amanda Chung and Family
After completing all the stops in the Nebraska Passport program in the summer of 2017, Amanda and Chris Chung, both 34, started 2018 with a new baby and no plans of completing it a second time.
“We started off saying, ‘There’s no way we’ll do that all again with the baby,’” Amanda says. “Then we just got going and couldn’t stop.”
Between their love for the outdoors and camping and their knowledge of Nebraska, they were able to complete the program a second time by starting with the local stops and mapping out weekend trips to northeast, southeast, and western Nebraska.
“After we’re cooped up here in the middle of winter, we have something to look forward to in the summer,” Amanda says.
Chris works at Blue Cross Blue Shield and Amanda stays home with their three children: Jackson, 7, Benjamin, 4, and 1-year-old Melanie.
“Some might say we are just driving around Nebraska,” Amanda says, “But it’s time with the family so it doesn’t matter how we’re spending it.”
Amanda is originally from Ashland and Chris is from Grand Island—which makes for convenient landing spots on their westward trips; their kids can stay overnight with his parents while Amanda and Chris collect their passport stamps.
Camping has also helped when securing stamps in remote corners of the state.
Some of their most memorable Passport memories come from camping at Lake McConaughy during the Fourth of July weekend and the time they camped through a tornado.
Although they are both Nebraska-born, many of the stops were new to Amanda and Chris. Some exceptions are the stops in Omaha, like the Durham Museum, which she says they visit frequently.
Between the prizes and fun locations, Amanda says the passport program has a way of getting you hooked.
“Even without going to every single spot, it’s a really unique way of visiting your state and learning about what’s in your state,” Amanda says.
Leah and Doug Hubbard
Leah and Doug Hubbard, both 60, have perfected their passport technique over the last four years participating in the program. They completed all 70 stops for the first time in 2018.
Doug, a financial analyst, drives. Leah, a paraprofessional for Omaha Public Schools, reads her color-coded map from the passenger seat.
“We like spending time together,” Leah says. “I’m his co-pilot and we laugh and have fun.”
After hearing about the Nebraska Passport from friends and seeing it in ads, Leah and Doug tried it out and were hooked. Leah spends days planning routes to get the most out of their trips.
“It’s nice to be able to spend more quality time together,” she says.
In their trips across Nebraska, the Hubbards came across places they had never heard of before. At the top of their list was Rock Creek Station, a former stagecoach and Pony Express station in southern Nebraska, and Barnstormers, a restaurant converted from the former airport terminal building in Norfolk.
Some of the most memorable prizes for Leah included a mug, a selfie stick, and a calendar with tearaway postcards.
After their two dogs were put down last June, the Hubbards are now pet-free for the first time in 17 years. Travel will help with the family’s emotional healing. Without the dogs, Leah says they can “just get up and go whenever we want to. If we decide one weekend we want to go to Grand Island or North Platte, or wherever, we can just get up and go.”
Leah is already planning their 2019 summer travels across Nebraska, and she appreciates how the passport sites change every year to give travelers a different experience.
“We are just really excited to see what places we get to go to this year,” Leah says. “I can’t wait to get out my maps and get everything written down.”
Jennifer Sampson and Family
“Four generations with three little dogs” is how great-grandmother Pat Sullivan describes her Nebraska Passport experience.
Sullivan has participated in the Nebraska Passport program for the last six years with daughter Linda Hopkins, granddaughter Jennifer Sampson, and their three poodle mixes. They have completed the program five times.
During the 2018 season, the three were joined by their fourth generation, Avery Sampson, who is now almost 1 year old.
Sullivan and Hopkins moved to Omaha from California in 1979 and have lived here ever since. After reading about the passport program in the newspaper in 2013, they decided it would be a good way to better get to know their state.
They have learned about towns and counties across Nebraska and have even found some new favorite destinations in Omaha, including the riverboat River City Star.
“Even if you can only do a couple stops around where you live, it’s still worth it to see what’s around,” Sampson says.
Once the passport list is released in March, Sampson begins planning trips so they can first complete the stops farthest from Omaha.
Except for one overnight in western Nebraska, Sullivan, Hopkins, and Sampson visited the 70 stops using only day trips in 2018. Their strategy is to leave Omaha as early as 3 a.m. to get to their destination with enough time to hit as many stops as they can.
Some of their favorite destinations from past passports include Mac’s Creek Winery in Lexington, Bassett Lodge & Range Café in northern Nebraska, and the UNL Dairy Store in Lincoln.
Sampson says they kill time in the car by counting the number of U-turns they make each trip, keeping track of license plates they see, and stopping if they see something interesting along the road.
“Usually we have at least one time per trip where we’re laughing so hard we’re crying and our sides hurt,” Sampson says.
They also have a Nebraska Passport mascot: a stuffed animal frog they bought at Fontenelle Forest their first year. They take its photo at each location they visit.
For a family that loves to travel and try new restaurants, the passport program has offered a way for them to visit lesser known places all across the state.
“I can’t wait to get going on this year’s,” Sampson says. “I’ve got that itch, it’s been too long.”
2018 Nebraska Passport Highlights
According to Amanda Chung and Leah Hubbard
Amanda Chung and Leah Hubbard visited all 70 sites of the Nebraska Passport Program in 2018. They share some of their families’ memorable highlights from the year with Omaha Magazine.
Favorite nature or outdoors-related destination?
Amanda Chung: “Indian Cave State Park. My husband and I had a day date, plus our youngest baby, and it was just a nice scenic day with him.”
Favorite history-related historical site?
Amanda Chung: “Chimney Rock. It’s such an iconic image that you picture hand-in-hand with Nebraska. Every time you see it, it’s surreal to think about those pioneers who passed in on their long journey, and here we are zipping by in our cars.”
Leah Hubbard: “We liked Rock Creek Station. While we were walking around the area, the blacksmith made me a horseshoe. I got to help, it was very cool. Then while reading some of the information about the station, we found out that it was where the very first toll booth was located and we walked across the bridge where we think it was built. Since we had never seen Chimney Rock, that was a site to see.”
Favorite arts and culture destination?
Amanda Chung: “Petrified Wood and Art Gallery. This was for a couple reasons. We had been in the car for a long time with three kids and it was a nice break. The twins who opened the museum took time to show the kids their bendable rock, and it was just so genuine and interesting.”
Leah Hubbard: “The Plainsman Museum in Aurora was a cool place to see. We were short on time and they were getting ready to close, so we only saw what was in the main building.”
Favorite destinations for young kids?
Amanda Chung: “Mahoney State Park. There are so many different attractions offered for young kids, and my kids have done them all. In addition to activities, [they can be] outdoors and use their energy on the trails or playgrounds. Plus, [there is] a brand new restaurant that my kids love. This is probably overall our favorite place.”
Leah Hubbard: “We like going to Indian Cave State Park because my husband’s grandmother went to St. Deroin school there when she was little. We have a membership to Fontenelle Forest and have taken the grandchildren there to walk around. Any place that has animals or a park is always a good destination for children. UNL Dairy Store was great also. [We] just wish we had been there when they were making ice cream as there are windows for the kids to look through.”
Favorite adult beverage destination in Nebraska (ages 21+)?
Amanda Chung: “Mac’s Creek Winery. The scenery was beautiful and the inside tasting area was very appealing as well. [The] wine was great. We happened to hit it at a perfect time on a beautiful day and I can’t say enough good things about how relaxing it was and a good break in our travels.”
Leah Hubbard: “We do not drink alcohol so we did not visit these areas. We stopped and took some pictures of the vineyards, but did not go in.”
Favorite food/drink-related destination?
Amanda Chung: “Restaurant: Windbreak Bar and Grill. [It] sounds random, but to us it was a beacon of hope that we were close to the end of our destination all the way on the other side of Nebraska. We were all feeling “hangry” if you know what I mean, and it was Mexican night and that quesadilla and margarita had never tasted better. [It] was fun to be on the golf course and see the scenic views of western Nebraska.”
“Sweets: UNL Dairy Store. We just love stopping here and getting a fun flavor of ice cream and then sitting and watching the squirrels chase each other outside.”
Leah Hubbard: “Our favorite so far is Barnstormers in Norfolk. They had some very good food.”
Most surprising destination within the Omaha metro?
Amanda Chung: “The Garden Gallery. It was a really cute and unique nursery. The owner gave my boys each a little plant to take home—a sensitive plant that moved to physical touch. Although we have long killed off the poor thing, my kids still talk about it.”
Leah Hubbard: “River City Star Riverboat. We did not actually think that you could ride on it. Now that we know, this summer [it] will definitely be a place for the family to take a trip.”
Most out-of-the-way destination in Nebraska?
Amanda Chung: “Loop Brewing Co. Absolutely nothing against this little western Nebraska town, and I do hold a very special place in my heart for this part of Nebraska, but for us, the answer of most out-of-the-way destination seems like it will always be McCook. It’s just not on a good route for making a convenient stop. You go do western Nebraska and you take I-80 for the most part. You do northeast Nebraska, you go do southeast Nebraska as a trip. And then there’s just McCook hanging all the way out there in the southwest corner.”
Leah Hubbard: “My husband says the High Plains Homestead. It was the most ridiculous place to have to get to. Out of the way is an understatement. We drove for what seemed like 10 miles and we never actually got to it. We finally got close enough to catch it on the app and then turned around. I think we drove for at least 30 minutes. My car was so filthy by the time we got out of there. Every time we open our car doors, we still see the sand-like stuff that the car wash did not get off. If that happens to be on the passport stop again, we will not get to all the destinations this year.”
Favorite memory or anecdote from visiting every site on the Nebraska passport program in 2018?
Amanda Chung: “We did a big family trip out to western Nebraska and broke up the trip with a stay out at Fort Robinson. I know that’s not one of the destinations [for 2018], but we had such a good time getting there and then our actual visit there was so much fun. It’s really just about getting people out there on the road to visit places they might not have gone otherwise.”
Leah Hubbard: “We loved traveling together and keeping each other company, communicating with each other, laughing and enjoying the countryside. [I] can't wait for another trip to see if we can do it again. Just seeing what Nebraska has to offer. We didn't realize that there were so many smaller places that have a huge part in creating Nebraska. Seeing places we never heard of or did not know existed. Seeing places that we always hear about but never got a chance to see, [like] Chimney Rock. For us, seeing anything west of North Platte and the northern part of Nebraska. We even visited places that were not on the passport: Smith Falls, Carhenge, and Chadron State Park.”
For more information about the Nebraska Passport Program, visit nebraskapassport.com.Read more about the 10th anniversary of the Nebraska Passport Program in the May 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine.