Texas Tech University

Howdy From Hub City – Lubbock, TX

Lubbock – a city that is known as the home of Texas Tech University, but also one of the main population centers in rural West Texas. After a great day spent exploring Amarillo, the family and I headed for “Hub City”, located two hours away. This nickname originated from the fact that Lubbock is the economic hub of the South Plains region. This wouldn’t be my first time in town- flying back home from Roswell, New Mexico last year, I stopped at the Lubbock airport for fuel and a quick lunch. Seeing that Texas Tech was one of the few well-known universities in the state that I hadn’t visited, it was an easy decision to swing by to see the school and city.

Leaving Amarillo, we took Interstate 27, which stretches from Amarillo to Lubbock. On the way there, we passed by towns like Canyon, Happy, and Plainview. Canyon is home to West Texas A&M, a small university that focuses pretty heavily on agricultural and equestrian studies.

West Texas A&M
Old Main at WTAMU.

West Texas A&M

West Texas A&M
The bell tower right in front of the “pedestrian mall” – the main walkway of the school with buildings on both sides.

Happy isn’t just some name you’ve heard in a movie – it’s an actual town! With a population of just 667, it is nothing more than a tiny community in the dusty Panhandle. Many of the roads weren’t well-paved, and the downtown area was little more than a few buildings.

Happy, Texas
Happy’s City Hall.

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With light traffic conditions, we entered Lubbock city limits ahead of schedule. After lunch, we began our tour of Hub City, starting with the most well-known place in town – Texas Tech University.

Texas Tech University
The school seal right by the main entrance to Texas Tech.

Established in 1925, the school was originally established as Texas Technological College. The state legislature formally changed the name to Texas Tech in ’69. Today, it is home to over 36,000 students and holds several distinctions including being the only campus in the state to have a university, law school, and medical school. Tech is also very well-known in the athletics department, with its football team competing in the Big 12 and holding status as a Division 1 school.

Doing a walking tour of campus, we explored the various buildings that comprise Red Raider Country. With covered arch walkways and different architectural features around several buildings, the campus looked pretty nice.

Texas Tech University

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Although there wasn’t as much green space as that of Iowa State University, the exterior layout still was well-designed and easy to navigate.

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Since it was Thanksgiving weekend, most of the buildings were closed. However, we did go inside the library, which was open.

Texas Tech University Library

Texas Tech University Library interior

Inside, it was pretty typical, with all the features one would expect for a university of this size. A coffee bar was located in the lobby area, along with computers and meeting areas on the first floor. Smart boards were installed by the little meeting pods, allowing students to collaborate using advanced technology.

Texas Tech Library Interior

The upstairs area was all books. Combined, the Texas Tech library has over 1.7 million volumes in its collection.

Texas Tech University Library Interior

Leaving the library, I came across this pretty neat statue of a walking “book man”.

Texas Tech University
The “Book Man” statue by the library.

The last place we visited here was the Rawls College of Business, located all the way on the other side of campus.

Texas Tech University
The Rawls College of Business.

The doors were locked, but peering inside the building looked pretty modern. This bear and bull piece of public art, representing the stock market with its lines indicative of the ups and downs was unique!

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All in all, I found this visit to Texas Tech to be pretty relaxing. It was neat seeing the campus of a school often discussed in collegiate football and talked about by friends who went here. Leaving Red Raider Country, it was off to our next stop, Prairie Dog Town – perhaps Lubbock’s most unique destination.

Prairie Dog Town

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A part of the city-owned Mackenzie Park, Prairie Dog Town is an enclosed area where prairie dogs live and get spoiled by visitors dropping food. It was started in 1935 by a guy name K.N. Clapp, after being concerned about the possible extinction of this species due to the government’s poisoning program. With two pairs of prairie dogs as its first inhabitants, this habitat flourished. Upon arriving, there were quite a few people, most with bags of carrots in hand.

Prairie Dog Town
It’s afternoon snack time!

Being that we didn’t prepare any food, we headed to the local supermarket and was back before long with several bags of baby carrots. Tossing them to these little creatures, they caught and ate the incoming supply of fresh food around half of the time. Other times, they seemed to be oblivious to the fact that a carrot had landed right next to them(or perhaps they just didn’t care).

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Signs here give the visitor some information about prairie dogs and their burrows. These creatures are pretty ingenious as I learned from this diagram- their underground habitat includes emergency exits, various rooms, and a food storage area!

Prairie Dog Town
Signs here educate visitors on the history and burrowing habits of the prairie dogs.

Birds were swooping in and walking around amongst the prairie dogs, but they didn’t seem to mind or have any sort of conflict at all.

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Between feeding and just observing these creatures in their natural habitat, we spent close to an hour here. Prairie Dog Town is a place I definitely recommend for a fun, family-friendly outdoor activity here in Lubbock. Time slipped on us, but we still headed for the American Wind Power Museum.

American Wind Power Museum
Some of the many windmills on display outside the American Wind Power Museum.

Due to the museum getting ready to close for the day, we opted not to see the exhibits inside, but we did walk around Lineberry Windmill Park, located outside. Many different windmills were represented here, including this Vestas V47 wind turbine. This thing is humongous!

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The huge Vestas V47 wind turbine.

Rising 164 feet into the West Texas sky, this wind turbine generates 660kW of power, enough to power the museum. Excess energy is sold to the local power grid. These modern-day windmills can be seen all over this region, however, it is here that you can get up close and personal with this masterpiece of technology.

American Wind Power Museum
These wind turbines are right at home in windy West Texas.

Leaving the Wind Power Museum, we did a driving tour of downtown. The whole area was deserted; with all the Texas Tech folks gone there just wasn’t any livelihood there. At the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport though, our last stop, it was anything but deserted.  The terminal was pretty crowded, full of folks mostly coming back into town. While their terminal isn’t very modern, it was well-structured(at least from the non-secure side) with rental car counters located in the building; negating the need to hop on a shuttle.

In sum, it was a nice half-day spent seeing Hub City and what makes up the land of the Red Raiders! Being that this school revolves around the university so much, it might be worth stopping back in on game day, or at least when the semester is in session. I’d also like to see the exhibits that make up the American Wind Power Museum. But for now, it’s one more Texas city visited!

 

Hole in the Rock

Two Days Spent in Phoenix

To wrap up October, I set off to explore another state – Arizona. This trip had been in the works since May, when I decided to throw in a mini mid-week fall vacation. Since Southwest had bargain fares for Phoenix, I decided to head for “The Grand Canyon State”. After arriving on my early morning flight, I was ready to start seeing everything that this desert city had to offer!

Arizona is known for its mountains, and so I decided that Dobbins Lookout, a scenic mountaintop observation point, would be my first stop. A part of South Mountain Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country, Dobbins Lookout is the highest publicly-accessible point in South Mountain. The best part is that there is no hiking required – winding mountain roads take you all the way up to the summit, clocking in at an elevation of 2,330 feet. Look at those views!

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A stone ramada made for a great place to hang out, while also providing shelter from  the direct sun in those hot summer months.

dobbins lookout

Due to it being a weekday, there weren’t a lot of other people around. The lack of noise made it a pretty serene place to be, and although the temperatures were slowly starting to climb, the lack of humidity kept it relatively comfortable.

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Dobbins Lookout is one great spot to see Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun.

After enjoying the sights for about an hour or so, it was time to explore the city, starting with the Arizona State Capitol. Located close to downtown, the state capitol complex is unlike any other I’ve seen, with a design similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Unlike D.C. though, there was an abundance of free parking!

Arizona State Capitol
Making up Arizona’s capitol complex is the Bolin Memorial Plaza, with the capitol museum and executive tower in the background.

Starting off with the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, different memorials paid tribute to military veterans, law enforcement, and firefighters, just to name a few. There was also a 9/11 memorial, and other various markers commemorating the different wars the U.S. has been involved in.

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A mast and anchor from the USS Arizona, which was one of the ships bombed during Pearl Harbor, was also on display here.

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Before heading into the capitol museum, I stopped by the House and Senate buildings flanking it. Both were open to the public, and it was pretty neat seeing the legislative chambers where the laws of Arizona are made.

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The House chamber.
Arizona State Capitol
The Senate chamber.

The capitol museum, formerly the working capitol building until 1974, was well laid out and allowed me to get a good understanding of Arizona’s history. Different exhibits on the four different floors talked about various events in the state’s history, ranging from statehood to a boxcar full of gifts received from France. On that day, it was pretty busy, with a few groups of schoolkids coming here for a field trip.

Arizona State Capitol
The Arizona State Capitol Museum.

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The majority of the rooms were open for visitors to explore, including the old legislative chambers, the governor’s office, and Supreme Court chambers once used to keep Arizona running.

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The old House chamber.
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The historic Arizona Supreme Court chambers.

The capitol museum had a rotunda design, like most state capitols. However, I found it to be pretty small. It wasn’t just me, as one of the main factors that caused the state to build the present day Executive Tower was overcrowding of the historic capitol.

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Arizona State Capitol

Before leaving, I briefly looked around the Executive Tower. It really is as plain on the inside as it is on the outside – nothing but state employees walking around a rather un-appealing lobby. Definitely not worth the hassle of having to go thru security.

Arizona State Capitol
The Executive Tower, where the Governor and other state officials office out of.

After lunch was a journey to the days of the Wild West, with a visit to the Wells Fargo History Museum, located in the heart of downtown.

Wells Fargo Phoenix Museum
The Wells Fargo Plaza, which houses the Wells Fargo History Museum.

As the name implies, the museum is owned and run by Wells Fargo. Admission is free, although they are closed on the weekends and bank holidays. Here, you can learn the story of the company’s history, and how they started from hauling gold and other precious metals to being one of the biggest banks in the nation.

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In addition to different artifacts and relics from their early days kept in glass displays, there were also several interactive exhibits, perfect for families with kids. Here, you get to ride on a stage wagon, get your picture taken at two photo booths, and try your hand at Morse code.

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After learning about Wells Fargo’s connection to the American Southwest, I set off to visit another museum, this one talking about the Native American population here in Arizona. At The Heard Museum, all sorts of artifacts related to American Indians are exhibited, from rows and rows of pottery to different pieces of art.

Heard Museum
Due to copyright issues, I barely took any photos. However, this is a museum that’s worth seeing, especially if you are into art or Native American culture!

With two stories and over 40,000 items, the Heard is the largest private museum dedicated to exhibiting all things Native American. All-in-all, it was an interesting hour-and-a-half experiencing the culture and story of the indigenous peoples.

Heard Museum

With the sun setting soon, it was time to head to my last stop of the day, the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park. One true geological marvel, it literally is…a hole in the rock!

Hole in the Rock
The Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park.

One of the most popular places to watch the sunset here in Phoenix, this giant rock formation was created by the forces of erosion over millions of years. Early indigenous inhabitants used this hole to mark the different seasons and positions of the sun. To get up to the hole, a short hike is involved, with different rock formations and man-made stairs leading you all the way to the top.

Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock
The view while hiking up.

The hike up took around 7 minutes, although I’m sure more experienced folks can ascent much faster since it’s not a steep elevation by any means. From there, I joined others watching the Arizona sunset.

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After picking a comfortable spot, I spent around 30 minutes up here, taking in the beautiful scenery.

There was some rain that had begun to fall on the drive to Papago Park, which luckily had stopped by the time I began my ascent. Seeing some dark clouds in the distance, I decided it was time to get back down before the rain moved back in. It took me around five minutes for the descent, and I was ready for dinner and wrapping up the day after that.

Hole in the Rock
The beautiful sunset with downtown Phoenix in the background. It was a successful and fun first day here in Arizona!

After breakfast the next morning, I was ready to start another day’s worth of exploring. Yesterday I had gone to see the stuff within Phoenix, and today I wanted to hit some spots in the suburbs. Universities are someplace I usually visit in every city, and so I stopped by Arizona State University, located in Tempe.

Arizona State University Campus
The entrance to Arizona State University.

Parking my car in one of the pay-per-hour covered garages, I spent close to two hours here, checking out the various buildings that made up one of the largest public universities in the nation by enrollment.

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Most of the buildings were pretty modern, and reminded me of my school, UT Dallas. The exception to that would be Old Main, the first building constructed at ASU back in 1898.

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Arizona State University Campus
Old Main.

Old Main, used by the alumni association, is open to the public and welcomes visitors. The lady that greeted me gave me a brochure, which detailed a self-guided tour thru various rooms like the historic auditorium. Unfortunately, most of these rooms listed were closed off. However, the second-floor balcony was open, providing a great view of University Drive.

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Arizona State University Campus
Photos show different historical milestones here at ASU.

After this short tour was over, I continued exploring the campus. I happened to walk into a random building when I discovered a room with a glass observation window. It turned out that this was the operations center of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, capturing the surface of the Moon in a partnership with NASA.

Arizona State University Campus

There were free posters, postcards, and other small souvenirs that were placed by the guest book for visitors to take. Definitely unique!

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Finishing up at ASU, I stopped by several other places on campus, like the Memorial Union and the W.P. Carey School of Business. Much like what I had seen before, they were new and modern.

Arizona State University Campus
The Memorial Union, ASU’s student union. On a weekday morning, it was pretty busy with students studying, visiting different offices, or grabbing some Starbucks.
Arizona State University Campus
The W.P. Carey School of Business.
Arizona State University Campus
A state-of-the-art video wall located inside the business school.

In the afternoon, it was time to get a real-world look into the lives of Native Americans, with a visit to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, located in Scottsdale. Having watched various documentaries of the living conditions on many of the nation’s Indian reservations, I was curious to see firsthand how good or bad these communities were. After driving around for a few minutes and seeing mostly barren land, this ominous sign greeted me, a reminder of the substance abuse problems present.

Salt River Indian Community
The sign reads “Tradition not Addiction”.

Not all of the roads here were paved, and there were some crops being grown in fields within the reservation.

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Offices used by the tribal government were relatively modern. I didn’t go inside, but they reminded me of my visit to the Choctaw Nation in Durant, Oklahoma.

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On the other hand, a lot of the houses here were in less-than-ideal condition. Unfortunately, the landscape of the community appeared deserted and run-down in general.

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Seeing how the Native Americans live today was a real eye-opener. Problems like alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide are prevalent amongst this group of people, and real change is needed so that conditions improve.

Departing Salt River, I headed for my last destination of the trip, the Hall of Flame Fire Museum, located close to Papago Park. Originally founded in 1961, the Hall of Flame is the world’s largest firefighting museum, containing over 90 fire engines in five galleries. Add in over 10,000 various other artifacts, and you have quite the collection that displays everything in the world of firefighting.

Hall of Flame Museum

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After paying the admission fee, I got handed a binder full of information about each fire apparatus on display, which served as my virtual tour guide. From horse-drawn wagons all the way to modern-day engines, it was super cool seeing how the technology of firefighting has evolved over the years.

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Close to the back of the museum, one particular engine stood out. It was the New York Fire Department’s Rescue #4, which responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11. I learned that none of the 6 people that responded to the scene on this truck made it back.

Another exhibit I found neat at the Hall of Flame was the patch wall. Over 4000 arm patches from fire departments across the world were displayed. I was able to find the ones used by fire departments close to where I live!

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For families, this would be a great place to visit, as there is a small Fire Safety section specifically for kids, with different interactive objects to teach fire safety. On top of that, there is an antique fire engine that everyone can board for photos.

After spending over an hour here checking out all the different pieces of equipment, it was time to head to the airport, since my flight was leaving in a couple of hours. I enjoyed my time at the Hall of Flame, and Phoenix in general. This city wouldn’t have been much fun to visit had it been July, but the relatively temperate fall weather made it nice for all that exploring. Every state that I’ve visited had something unique to offer, and Arizona was certainly no exception. Although “The Grand Canyon State” is now officially off the list of states I have yet to see, I know that since I haven’t visited the Grand Canyon National Park, I will be back!

Seeing a Few Sights of Omaha

After a good night’s sleep from seeing Iowa towns like Des Moines and Ames, I made my way back into Nebraska to see the last place on my Midwest tour – Omaha. Nebraska’s largest city, Omaha is home to close to 447,000 people and sits on the banks of the Missouri River. Although there were cool things I saw in the capital city of Lincoln, Omaha had its own share of visit-worthy places I wanted to check out before heading home.

Upon arriving in town after a two-hour drive, the first stop I went to was the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Spanning 3000 feet long and crossing the Missouri River, this bridge links the cities of Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

One super cool activity that can be done here is standing in both Nebraska and Iowa at the same time – and that I did!

Although it was a weekday morning, there was still a constant stream of foot traffic here. Many folks were getting their morning run in, while others simply came to see this piece of American engineering. This bridge has probably the best view of the Missouri River here in town! Signs placed all around served to educate visitors about the history of the river, the bridge’s origins, and so forth.

Missouri River in Omaha

Bob Kerrey Bridge educational panel

Before heading into downtown Omaha, I stopped briefly at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center, located right next to the Bob Kerrey and run by the National Park Service. As the name suggests, this place is the headquarters of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail system, which stretches through eleven states(with Omaha being a stop!).

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center.
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center.

Although most of the building is office space used by the National Park Service, the first floor had several exhibits that talked about Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Venturing across the United States in an effort to map out and study the west, this journey took over two years back in the early 1800s. Photos and maps displayed here gave me a good clue as to the places the explorers passed through. There were also a few interactive activities that make this a good family-friendly stop. A gift shop sold Lewis and Clark themed merchandise, as well as NPS hats and other souvenirs.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center

When doing my trip planning, I saw that Union Pacific had their headquarters in downtown Omaha, and I stopped there briefly, wanting to see if there were tours available or exhibits on display.

Union Pacific headquarter building
The headquarters of Union Pacific.

My advice: not really worth stopping by unless you know someone there that can show you around. There weren’t tours, and the gift shop was disappointing. Pretty much it was just a typical multi-story office building.

From there, it was off to my next stop, the Durham Museum, a railroad museum located inside the city’s former Union Station.

Durham Museum
The Durham Museum.

Now this place is much more interesting! Built in 1931, Union Station quickly became a hub of activity, with 1.5 million passengers passing thru in its first year. Various rail lines brought people in and out of this station. However, starting in the mid-50s, rail service began to stop running thru Omaha, and the station was shuttered and turned into a museum in the 70s.

Not just any boring museum, the station’s interior has been well preserved, and is now a main focal point of this place! From the still-operating soda fountain bar to the ticket counter now serving as a gift shop, it almost felt as though I stepped back in time.

Durham Museum Great Hall
The great hall inside the Durham Museum. Look at that architecture!

Behind the Great Hall were several exhibits talking about the history of the station.

Durham Museum
Various artifacts from the station’s heyday are displayed.

Downstairs, several train cars were on display. Fully open to climb onboard, it was cool seeing how rail transportation was like back in the day.

rail cars inside a railroad museum
Pretty much all the cars were open, allowing for a glimpse into the days of rail travel.

Honestly, many of the seats inside these cars are much more comfortable than those on today’s commercial airplanes!

Durham Museum

Durham Museum

There was also a steam locomotive as well as an Omaha streetcar on display.

Durham Museum

Durham Museum Streetcar

Although a whole exhibit section and model train display was down here as well, I had to get going since my parking meter was about to run out of time, 10 minutes away back at Union Pacific’s headquarters. When I was writing this post, however, I discovered that there was free parking at the museum, so when you go, don’t make the same mistake that I did!

Durham Museum Great Hall
The Durham Museum is a must-see while in Omaha.

After lunch at Panera Bread was my last stop in town, Nebraska Furniture Mart. Living in Dallas, we have a huge NFM, which is also the biggest store in Texas. However, Nebraska Furniture Mart got their start in..you guessed it, Nebraska. I was curious to see how good(or bad) the home store would be.

Nebraska Furniture Mart
The home store of Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Founded right here in Omaha in 1937, what started as a family business has now grown to four locations in four states. The company is currently owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

This location is made up of three buildings. The main showroom has all sorts of furniture for sale. Everything from lamps to beds can be found here!

Nebraska Furniture Mart interior
Think of a Rooms To Go store and make it several times bigger, and you’ve got NFM Omaha.

Walking around, I was slightly disappointed. With low ceilings, and not as much energy as the Texas store, it would have been easy to mix up the two had it not been for the name that served as the obvious giveaway.

Nebraska Furniture Mart interior
No second floor, but there is a basement!

The appliances and electronics building, right next door, had gizmos like cameras, computers, and dryers. A Subway restaurant here allowed you to take a break when you got a bit tired of looking for a new washer.

Nebraska Furniture Mart interior

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The last place was Mrs. B’s Clearance Center. Also started by Rose Blumkin, the founder of NFM, this is an outlet type store selling floor samples and various clearance items.

Mrs. B's
Mrs. B’s.

There was an ample selection of products, and a constant stream of people coming in and out. One thing to keep in mind about Mrs. B’s – all sales are final.

Mrs. B's
One giant outlet store.

All in all, although it didn’t come close to the Texas location in terms of size or people, the home store still had lots of merchandise and friendly sales associates. It was interesting seeing how this huge store many know of in Texas had humble roots right here in the Midwest.

Nebraska Furniture Mart Logo
Although I didn’t walk out with a new sofa or some rugs, it was still cool seeing NFM’s roots!

From there, it was off to the airport for my flight back home. It had been nice seeing Omaha, and what it had to offer. Although I didn’t get to visit places like the Old Market, an area in downtown filled with dining and shopping options, it was still cool checking out some of the places that make up the “Gateway to the West”.

Until next time, Nebraska!