Ogallala was the “Gomorrah of the cattle trail,” wrote Andy Adams, a trail driver who first saw the community in 1875. In the 1870s and 1880s, Ogallala was the end of the trail as cowboys drove herds of longhorns up from Texas to be shipped east on the Union Pacific Railroad. After several long, hard months in the saddle, cowboys were ready for a rip-roaring good time when they reached town.
Visitors to Nebraska’s “Cowboy Capital” can enjoy Wild West entertainment at Front Street. The Crystal Palace Revue and Shoot Out is Nebraska’s longest-running summer theater, a musical comedy family show where dance hall girls kick up their heels and shots ring out. Adjacent attractions are the Front Street Steakhouse and the Cowboy Museum, a free museum that includes a jail, barbershop, funeral parlor and authentic cowboy and Native American artifacts. (308) 284-6000.
The renowned Petrified Wood Gallery is at 481 E. First St. It features the petrified wood art of twin brothers Howard and Harvey Kenfield, as well as fossils, gemstones, geodes, Western sculpture and Native American artifacts collected locally. (308) 284-9996.
The Mansion on the Hill was Ogallala’s finest home when it was built in 1887. It is open Memorial Day through mid-September at the corner of Spruce and 10th streets.
Three blocks west of the mansion on 10th Street is the original Ogallala cemetery, long known as Boot Hill for the cowboys who were “buried with their boots on.”
Seventeen miles northeast of town, Haythorn Land & Cattle Co. is a fifth-generation ranch offering wagon rides and chuck wagon dinners. (308) 355-4000.
What the old-time cowboys needed, but didn’t have, was a really big lake in which to cool off. Eight miles northeast of Ogallala, Lake McConaughy is Nebraska’s largest reservoir. At full capacity, McConaughy is four miles wide, 22 miles long and 142 feet deep at the dam with more than 100 miles of shoreline. When irrigation season is in full swing, miles of white sand beaches provide the perfect perch for a summer vacation.
Just below Kingsley Dam is Lake Ogallala. It covers half a square mile and offers excellent fishing for rainbow trout and yellow perch.
South of Ogallala, at Meadowlark Hill, one might expect to see birds. What people come here to see, and smell, are lilacs in full bloom. More than 40 years in the making, Max and Darlene Peterson’s passion has grown to fill 14 acres with the flower, and it’s the world’s largest private collection of lilacs. (308) 284-2524.
For more information about Ogallala and Lake McConaughy, contact the Ogallala/Keith County Chamber of Commerce. (800) 658-4390.