Tag Archives: destinations

September/October 2018 Destinations

September 10, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Aksarben Village

Run, don’t walk, to Aksarben Village this September and October. Then run. Or walk. At last count there were SEVEN run/walk fundraisers scheduled for the Village this fall. The lineup:

Sept. 8, 9-11 a.m.—Siena Francis House 5K Walk/Run.

Sept. 9, 8-11 a.m.—38th Omaha Corporate Cup 10K Run and 2 Mile Walk benefiting the American Lung Association.

Sept. 22, 5:30-8:30 p.m.—Light The Night benefit for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Sept. 29, 8-10 p.m.—Glow N’ Go 5K fundraiser for St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Oct. 6, 3 a.m. to 12 p.m.—Market to Market Relay, the largest day-long relay in the nation. Aksarben Village is the starting point—with 19 exchanges and 76 miles to follow.

Oct. 7, 7-11 a.m.—Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at Baxter Arena honors those lost to breast cancer.

aksarbenvillage.com/calendar

Benson

Dying to take the stage and sing or strum…or both at the same time if you’re so talented? You can do this every Monday night starting at 7 p.m. at the 402 Arts Collective (6051 Maple St.). Amateur musicians can bring their instrument of choice, sign up, and play to an audience for up to 15 minutes. Who knows where that quarter-hour will take you? As 402 blogger Camryn Bowers wrote, “They are the bridge that fills the gap between playing alone in your bedroom and playing a sold-out show in a respected venue.” So get out of your bedroom and cross that bridge.

402artscollective.org  

Blackstone

Noli’s sister has moved into the Blackstone. Noli’s Pizzeria, that is. And we’re talking sister restaurant Ansel’s Pastrami & Bagels. Taking residence at Noli’s former residence, 4007 Farnam St., Ansel’s boasts bagels and bread made using the same filtration system that delivers the mineral content of New York water. The suggested pairing, as you might guess, is with the pastrami, though a half-dozen other sandwiches are also on the menu. In it for the bagels? Try one with lox and plain cream cheese for a true NYC experience.

anselsomaha.com  

Capitol District

More growth at the Capitol District is music to Omaha’s ears—literally. In May, developers announced more new businesses coming in 2018, including two that are musically inclined—Moe & Curley’s karaoke venue and The Jewell jazz club. Moe & Curly’s has already made a name for itself with its original West Omaha location where in-house DJs spin requests seven nights a week. It opened its Capitol location this summer. Owner Ben Heairet also is bringing Howard & Fine, a speakeasy featuring craft cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, to the Capitol District. Meanwhile, the high-end Jewell will bring major national acts to the district, as well as featuring local, emerging artists in an intimate setting. A cocktail lounge and fine dining will be available at The Jewell, accessible from the Marriott. It opens this fall. Also coming to Capitol in 2018 are eateries Época Cantina, a local venture, and national chain Burgerim.

capitoldistrictomaha.com  

Dundee

You think you know Dundee? You might think again after taking a walk with a history expert from the Nebraska Tour Co. through Omaha’s first suburb. The company’s Dundee District Walks begin at Memorial Park for the early birds, or at Pitch for the official start of the tour. From there, ramble through the district that boasts roots dating to 1880. Be sure to wear your walking shoes, as the tour can cover a total of 10 city blocks. Prices vary by group size and can be booked 24 hours in advance. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with Omaha
and its numerous unique neighborhoods. 

nebraskatourcompany.com  

Midtown

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is known for keeping things quiet during movies, but it’s hard to keep quiet about its big news—Alamo is coming to the heart of Midtown Crossing with its second Omaha location. Known for having a strict no-cell phone and no-talking policy when flicks are on the screen, Alamo will replace Marcus Cinema at 3201 Farnam St., Suite 6111, putting the previous digs under a $2.5 million renovation by the time of its expected opening in late 2018. Alamo will feature five screens, recliner seats, in-seat dining, and beers from local craft breweries. Based in Austin, Texas and heralded by Entertainment Weekly as “the best theater in the world,” Alamo opened its first metro-area theater in La Vista.

drafthouse.com/omaha  

NoDo

It’s been 35 years of scaring the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks out of people at Mystery Manor, which opens another scream-filled season Friday, Sept. 14. The haunted house (716 N. 18th St.), built in 1887, is said to be the site of three gruesome murders soon after the stock market crash of 1929. Owner William Hall, it’s claimed, axed his wife, Greta. Her brother, John Martin, then killed William with the same axe a week later. Soon thereafter, on Halloween, Martin was found dead with the axe embedded in his skull. Ghosts are said to reside at the manor to this day. Still want to go? If you’re still reading this, that’s probably a yes.

mysterymanoromaha.org  

Old Market

We didn’t think it was possible, but First Fridays in the Old Market have gotten better. First Fridays offers tours of Old Market galleries and artists and are held—surprise!—the first Friday of each month from 6-9 p.m. This round, that’s Sept. 7 and Oct. 5. But FFs are even better now with free parking (southwest corner of 13th & Leavenworth) and free Ollie the Trolley rides throughout the historic streets and district.

firstfridayoldmarket.com

Vinton Street

It’s a hop, skip, and a jump from the historic Vinton Street District, but you just might be hopping, skipping, and jumping with joy that you went the extra distance to visit nearby Bancroft Street Market. Located at 2702 S. 10th St., the one-time neighborhood grocery store is now a venue for art exhibitions, specialty markets, music, and performances. There’s plenty of room, too, with a 4,500-square-foot main gallery and a 15,000 square foot outdoor festival area.

bancroftstreetmarket.com 

24th and Lake

Lofty heights are being reached in the 24th and Lake District. And we’re literally talking lofts (and heights). In April, the Union for Contemporary Art revealed plans for its arts-based community development project, the Artist Lofts at Lake Street. The project is one of 89 National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” projects selected nationwide and is being developed in collaboration with the Omaha Economic Development Corporation and the City of Omaha. The lofts, to be built on a vacant lot at 2221 Lake Street, would offer live/work spaces for artists.

u-ca.org/artist-lofts  


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Encounter Destinations

July 18, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Maha Music Festival (Aug. 17-18 at Stinson Park) marks 10 years in 2018, but the all-day, all-night music cornucopia is anything but stale and wheezy. In fact, it’s fresher than ever—and getting Weezer, who will just be coming off their summer tour. The popular band that cut its chops in the 1990s headlines Saturday night. Also taking the stage will be Father John Misty, TV on the Radio, The Kills, and more than a dozen other acts.

mahamusicfestival.com/2018 

Meanwhile, just getting its start in Aksarben Village is the High Vibe Festival, now on its second year. Omaha’s premier yoga, music, and plant-based food festival happens on Saturday, Aug. 11, and features a 5K run, live music, all-day yoga, conscious workshops, and “good vibes.”

highvibefestival.com 

BENSON

It’s back—but you’ll have to go yourself to see if it’s better than ever. We’re talking about Benson Days, the annual get down in downtown B-town set this year for July 28 and 29. The family-friendly summer festival will feature a pancake breakfast, parade, dozens of vendors, art, live music, children’s activities, and more. And back after a year off is The Indie: Scale the Benson Alps, a 5K/10K road race that takes runners past some of Benson’s hot spots. Perhaps best of all, you can feel good giving your green for all that fun—Benson Days proceeds support neighborhood projects.

bensondays.com 

BLACKSTONE

Know any Nebraska bars certified as a tequileria? If you said Mula in the Blackstone District (40th & Farnam streets), give yourself a pat on the back. Give yourself another if you know what a tequileria is. According to their website, such certification means at least 80 percent of a bar’s staff has studied the history, production, and regulation of tequila—from harvesting the agave plant in Jalisco fields to its fermentation and distillation. That means tequila tastiness for patrons in Old and New World styles. The dedication to perfection extends to Mula’s “street style” menu for lunch and dinner.

mulaomaha.com 

CAPITOL

Got an hour? Good. Use it to get to know your body—or really, everybody’s body—at the nationally touring exhibition Our Body: The Universe Within. The exhibit runs through
July 31 at 225 N. 12th St. Visitors get a look at the inner workings of human anatomy by presentation of actual human specimens, anatomical displays, reproductions of historic anatomical artwork, and more. If you’ve got the guts, you also have the opportunity to touch a human heart, kidney, liver, and brain. The self-guided tour is $15 per person, with discounts for
seniors, students, children, and military personnel.

ourbodyomaha.com  

DUNDEE

Like live music? What about a beer garden? Running? Food? Fun? Then the 18th annual Dundee Day is calling your name. This year’s Dundee Day is set for Saturday, Aug. 25, and begins with the traditional pancake breakfast, early morning Rundee 5K (undies encouraged), and a parade. There’s also an art fair, the Dundee Bank Street Olympics for kids, music from local bands, and a Memorial Park beer garden. Plenty of chow and vendors will be on hand, along with a farmers market.

dundee-memorialpark.org 

MIDTOWN

If no news is good news, does that mean some news is bad news? Not at Midtown Crossing, where there’s been lots of news. The good news is there’s a new place to please your palate, 5168 Brewing Taproom, now open at 3201 Farnam St. (Suite No. 6107). There’s a full lunch and dinner menu to complement 5168’s brews, long popular at the outfit’s original location in Lincoln.

5168brewing.com  

Other good news comes with the announcement of the lineup for Playing with Fire, Midtown’s free summer concert series. The 2018 lineup mixes local and international talent, rocking Turner Park with blues-rock, soul, funk, and R&B. The July 14 jam features five bands, including headliner Jack de Keyzer. On Aug. 25 another five bands kick it, with Paul Reddick Band bringing things to a crescendo.

playingwithfireomaha.net  

NODO

Typically, the Hot Shops Art Center has an open-door policy. The NoDo studio center is closed in June for repairs. But it’s open for business again beginning in July, with at least three events worthy of getting you down to 1301 Nicholas St.—the Mike Godek and Susan Woodford sculpture show, the Claire Caswell exhibit, and Interpretation, (a group show). Be patient, and you will be rewarded.

hotshopsartcenter.com 

OLD MARKET

Looking for something fresh to do in the Old Market? It doesn’t get much fresher than the Omaha Farmer’s Market. With roots going back nearly 100 years, its current incarnation is now celebrating its 25th year. They’ve been offering fresh, locally grown produce, baked goods, and flowers every year since 1994, doing so on 11th Street from Jackson to Howard streets, with nearly 100 vendors in attendance. Keep an eye out for new additions, including a biscuits-and-gravy booth. This market runs 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday through Oct. 13.

omahafarmersmarket.com  

VINTON STREET

Chances are, the name Louis Marcuzzo doesn’t ring a bell. Chances are, Louie M’s Burger Lust does. Consider this entry us ringing the dinner bell—and breakfast and lunch bells—for the iconic Vinton Street restaurant that dates it roots to the catering service Marcuzzo began in 1980. Today they serve breakfast and lunch seven days a week and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. The menu is extensive, showcasing, of course, burgers—nearly two dozen options are listed. But there are also starters, salads, and sandwiches, daily lunch specials, and a plethora of breakfast offerings guaranteed to start your day with a smile.

louiemsburgerlust.com 

24TH AND LAKE

All your future adventures in the 24th and Lake district should include a consideration of the past. And there’s no better place to do so than at the Great Plains Black History Museum at 2221 N. 24th St. For more than 40 years the museum has been preserving, celebrating, and educating visitors about the contributions and achievements of the region’s vibrant African-American heritage. Recent offerings include displays on the Tuskegee Airmen who called Nebraska home, a history of the Omaha chapter of the NAACP, and an exhibit on Nebraska football great Johnny Rodgers. More great looks into the past are coming…in the future.

gpblackhistorymuseum.org 


This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Monarch Prime & Bar

December 22, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Perhaps it’s fitting that downtown’s newest dining establishment, Monarch Prime & Bar, opened on Halloween weekend.

First, there was a trick—flipping the space used by the two previous restaurants with the event space to call Hotel Deco XV home.

Then when the doors opened, there definitely was a treat. Lots of them, in fact. But perhaps none so tantalizing as the 60-day-aged, 45-ounce Wagyu tomahawk chop cut of beef encompassing the ribeye and filet served still on a “flintstone.” It will feed a whole table, and even at $150 its sales are brisk.

“We sell out of them every day,” says Monarch partner Ethan Bondelid. “It’s very popular.”

Just as the steakhouse is becoming in its brief tenure. “The opening has been good,” Bondelid says. “We have been slowly ramping up night by night. The reviews have been positive.”

That hasn’t come easy. Monarch occupies space in Hotel Deco (316 S. 15th St.) once filled by other tenants. Bondelid and his team along with Aparium Hotel Group reimagined the space and “flipped the whole property around.” The kitchen was completed first, earlier in 2017, to serve hotel needs.

When Monarch opened, the kitchen served up Chef Patrick Micheels’ eclectic menu focused on dry-aged “meats from the grasslands” procured through Micheels’ relationships with Midwest farmers. The tomahawk stars, of course. But there’s also a 14-day aged duck breast, a 30-day-aged, 8-ounce bison strip loin, and elk.

“The chef and his team are doing great,” Bondelid says. “Knocking it out of the park.”

From the dining room, customers can see it all aging in the finishing locker. There’s lots more to the menu, which features two pricing tiers (the tomahawk being the top level). Also available is the Monarch Burger topped with lamb bacon, short rib meatloaf, striped bass, pork shoulder, and starters, including chicken pate, potato and trout, seasonal soups, seared maitake mushrooms, and more.

Bondelid—who owns Victor Victoria, Laka Lono Rum Club, and Maven Social—helped create Berry & Rye, Wicked Rabbit, and Via Farina. He says Monarch is his most ambitious project to date.

“We’ve been working on it a long time,” he says. “It’s good to see it come to fruition.”

A real treat, you might say.

monarchprimeandbar.com 

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Encounter.

 

Encounter Destinations

Photography by Joshua Foo

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

When a building gets its own Twitter account, you know it’s big news. So it is with @newHDRhq—handle for the new global headquarters being built for HDR. The building was “topped out” in October with all its beams, then enclosed with 95,000 square feet of glass. Now work carries on inside—as it will do so throughout 2018—and on the parking garage. “Things are progressing well, and we’re on schedule to move in early 2019,” says HDR Chairman and CEO George A. Little. “We’re getting more excited every day about getting all of our staff into one building in such a great location.”
aksarbenvillage.com 

BENSON

Benson Lights Apartments didn’t just bring something new to Benson—it brought something old, too. Something that says “Benson”—only it’s spelled “L-O-U-I-S.” The iconic, red neon sign that once stood above Louis Market was refurbished and installed atop the apartment building in September. The sign is blocks from where it once served as a Benson landmark from 1957 until Louis was demolished in 2015. Like many other parts of Benson, though, the sign was resurrected with the summer opening of Benson Lights (lightsapartments.com) at 3030 N. 60th St. The 99-unit complex touts itself as Benson’s newest “handcrafted community” and features two-story lofts, a fitness center, community room with shuffleboard, and more. Not sure where it stands? Look for the big red sign.
facebook.com/BensonNebraska 

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

Want it fine—but fast? Your food, that is. Good, because that’s what Blackstone denizens are enjoying now that Dante Pizzeria opened a second location, on the corner of 38th and Farnam streets. The restaurant—a West Omaha favorite in its original pad at the Shops of Legacy—has brought wood-fired pizzas, a static and “hyperseasonal” menu, sandwiches, and more to the BD with its “Fast-Fine” concept, an emerging trend in the food industry. Dante’s website describes it as a hybrid of the assembly-line fast-casual format and traditional fine dining. “Fine dining on your terms, without the fuss,” notes the restaurant.
blackstonedistrict.com 

CAPITOL

It’s not every day that the Mona Lisa and a T-Rex take spots in the same art exhibition. But when both are made from Lego bricks, exceptions are made. Through Feb. 19 the Capitol District hosts the Art of the Brick, a global touring exhibition rated by CNN as one of the world’s “Must See Exhibitions.” It features the mind-blowing work of award-winning artist Nathan Sawaya, who creates art solely from standard Lego pieces — including new works that debuted in Omaha. The show runs daily at 225 N. 12th St. For more information, and to purchase tickets, see artofthebrickomaha.com
capitoldistrictomaha.com 

DUNDEE

President Harry Truman famously said “The buck stops here.” Thanks to the Omaha City Council, the bucks are going to stop at Memorial Park, where time has taken a toll on the monuments that honor men and women of the armed forces killed or missing during service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Last fall, the council unanimously approved Councilman Pete Festersen’s amendment for the city to provide $100,000 to a $350,000 project to upgrade the park, dedicated by Truman in 1948. The other $250,000 would be privately raised with a goal to complete the project in 2018.
dundee-memorialpark.org 

MIDTOWN

Has this world started getting you down? Skate your way through it at The Rink on Farnam at Midtown Crossing, happening now through Feb. 28. Located at 3409 Farnam St., the 60-by-80-foot synthetic rink is fun for all ages. Admission includes skate rental and is a minimum of $5. All proceeds benefit presenting sponsor The Salvation Army. “This is our answer to the winter blahs,” says Molly Skold, Midtown Crossing’s vice president of marketing and communications. The rink is open Thursday through Sunday. For hours and more information, visit therinkonfarnam.com

midtowncrossing.com  

NODO

More than movies is coming to NoDo’s Film Streams beginning in January. There will be plenty of music, too. The theater begins seven presentations of The Met: Live in HD on Jan. 27 and 31 with a showing of Puccini’s Tosca. Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore gets screen time Feb. 10 and 14 while Puccini’s La Bohéme shows Feb. 24 and 28. The series, produced in partnership with Opera Omaha, continues through May.
filmstreams.org 

OLD MARKET

Compared to the phone calls Ann Mellen was taking at the start of 2016, the phone calls in October 2017 no doubt sounded heaven-sent. The calls nearly two years ago bore news of the horrific fire that destroyed the iconic Old Market eatery M’s Pub and the four-story building it called home at 11th and Howard streets. By late fall 2017, M’s began taking almost non-stop reservation calls for its much-anticipated Nov. 1 grand reopening. So much is new—plates, furniture, décor, uniforms, and more. There’s even more space (yes!). But Bobby Mekiney is back as executive chef, as are other familiar faces among the staff. And the food and service? Just as good as what made M’s Pub an Omaha favorite since 1972. Experience the new M’s by making your own reservation call — 402-342-2550.

Also happening downtown, you won’t want to miss out on experiencing the Encounter launch party going down at Brickway Brewery and Distillery Wednesday, Jan. 10. Check out page 45 for more info.

facebook.com/OmahaOldMarket 

24TH AND LAKE DISTRICT

The Union for Contemporary Art begins 2018 with a running start, offering visitors the Caroline Kent exhibition from Jan. 12 through Feb. 24. A practicing artist from the Twin Cities, Kent “believes in art as a platform to discuss and address issues within communities,” as noted on the website for Intermedia Arts, from whose Creative CityMaking program Kent graduated. Visit the Union at 2423 N. 24th St.

u-ca.org 

VINTON STREET

Let there be light? Yes, and a lot more in the Vinton Street Historic District, according to a report by KETV. Thanks to a combination of public and private dollars through the Sherwood Foundation, the city will install 60 new acorn lights along V-street. Money also is being made available for business facades—new windows and new paint—plus benches and bike racks. That—and those lights—ought to keep things shining brightly.

sherwoodfoundation.org

This article was originally printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Encounter.

Destinations

May 5, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Every spring, everyone in Aksarben Village gets a spring in their step. No wonder, given all the walks and runs that take place there in spring and summer. Beginning in May that includes the Aim for the Cure Melanoma Walk (May 6), Great Strides Cystic Fibrosis Walk (May 20), Glow ‘N Go 5K (June 2) and Relay for Life (July 15). Walk—or run—to aksarbenvillage.com for details. Oh, and get ready for lots of fresh veggies. Aksarben hosts its first every-Saturday Omaha Farmers Market of the season May 7.

BENSON

The second annual all-ages Memorial Day Massive music festival will be held May 27 outside The Waiting Room (6212 Maple St.) MDM showcases national acts specializing in danceable, electronic music, ranging from hip-hop to trap to “vomitstep,” an EDM subgenre created by Snails, the headliner of the event, which also features performances by Boombox Cartel, ARMNHMR, and PRXZM. The outdoor show will be followed by after-parties at The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge (6121 Military Ave.). Space Jesus, a psychedelic hip-hop producer/performer out of Brooklyn, will be at The Waiting Room’s all-ages show. Reverb is 21 and over only. The outdoor show is all-ages, unless you want to be a VIP, then you must be 21 to play. But no matter your age, you’d better bring your dancing shoes, because there’s no messing around here. These acts are here to make you move.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

What’s new in Blackstone? What isn’t. There are new hours at the Nite Owl, 3902 Farnam St. (5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday ), a new tenant at 3906 Farnam St. (TSP Architects) and a new website for the district (blackstonedistrict.com).

CAPITOL DISTRICT

Shamrock Development is closer to making a reality of the Capitol District, an expanse stretching from the Riverfront west and north-south from NoDo to Leavenworth. The space, anchored by the Omaha Marriott Downtown, will feature mixed-use buildings and lots of open space. It’s a concept similar to Lincoln’s Railyard—including, Shamrock hopes, open-carry alcohol wherever visitors go.

DUNDEE

The future still looks bright for a public-private partnership that will bring the past back to Dundee—a $1.6 million project to restore the historic Sunken Gardens along Happy Hollow Boulevard. What is known to locals as “The Sunks” is envisioned to be a safe community green space with a formal garden in the center, a sledding zone, open sports field, and more. Organizers say they’ve met all their quarterly fundraising goals. See drawings and more at omahasunkengardens.org.

MIDTOWN CROSSING

Nature hates a void—and it didn’t go over so well in Midtown Crossing, either. Fortunately for Midtowners, the void left by the sudden closing of Brix didn’t take long to get filled. Longtime Omaha restaurateur Ron Samuelson indicated the spot will be filled by Della Costa, a seafood-inspired Mediterranean concept featuring dishes from the coasts of Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, and Greece. “It opens up a whole new range of opportunity for oysters, clams, and whole-grilled fish,” Samuelson
told midtowncrossing.com.

NODO

This is Omaha, right? Yup. But soon, a taste of Lincoln is coming NoDo’s way. Lincoln-based Zipline Brewing Co. is expected to open a tap room where the Saddle Creek Shop once was, between Film Streams and Slowdown. And it will be bigger than either of the places they have down in Huskerville. Boo-yah.

OLD MARKET

You know those little baby carrots don’t grow that way, right? Get the good stuff— and gobs of other fresh, locally grown produce — when the 23rd annual Omaha Farmers Market kicks off May 6. Hosted 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday through Oct. 14, OFM includes baked goods, flowers, and more as nearly 100 vendors fill 11th Street from Jackson to Howard streets. See the lineup at omahafarmersmarket.com/old-market.

SOUTH OMAHA/
VINTON STREET

Project Project might be a nonprofit, but in February it was all about the green stuff for the independent, DIY contemporary arts space in the historic Vinton Street Business District. Green slime, that is. Project Project was host to Omaha Slime Fest, a fundraiser for Omaha Zine Fest. The former featured several unique competitions, the winners of which were dumped with buckets of slime a la Nickelodeon. Find out more about Project Project on Facebook or at projectprojectomaha.com.

NORTH OMAHA/
24TH & LAKE DISTRICT

Many of Nebraska’s best athletes began their dreams in and around “The Street of Dreams,” Omaha’s 24th and Lake Street area. Now, many of those famous athletes can be seen at the Omaha Rockets Kanteen Restaurant, named after a one-time Omaha baseball squad. The eatery (2401 Lizzie Robinson Ave.) pays homage to the Negro Leagues and is home to the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame. Owner Donald Curry partnered with Black Hall co-founders Robert Faulkner and Ernest Britt so that the Kanteen now showcases memorabilia of Omaha greats like Bob Gibson and Marlin Briscoe alongside Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

Southwest Escape

April 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We’re creatures of habit. We live and breathe routine, and for the most part, we are comfortable in our ways. We’re busy. We think ahead. We worry. We wonder. We drive to work and run errands. Once in a while, however, we stop for a moment and realize that we need a break.

What happens when we decide to escape from routine? If only for two weeks? The possibilities are infinite. Omaha Magazine’s creative director, Bill Sitzmann, and his family of four know this firsthand. Sitzmann, his wife, and their two kids (ages 5 and 9) packed up their Subaru Outback in early June 2016 and hit the road with no specific destination in mind, rather a region: the Great American Southwest.

“We knew when we needed to leave and we knew when we needed to be back,” Sitzmann says. “My dad lives in Tucson, so we knew we wanted to go there and see him. But other than that, we just picked the general areas we wanted to hit.”

The Sitzmann family rolled out of Omaha, looking forward to the two-week camping adventure ahead. Sitzmann says that the trip was exciting from a parental standpoint because, while he was accustomed to teaching his kids things that he already knew, they were headed into uncharted territory for the whole family.

“For all four of us to experience it for the first time, all at the same time, was pretty cool,” Sitzmann says, recalling their two weeks of close quarters on the road.

Driving from Omaha, their stops ranged from Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

They discovered beautiful, lightly populated trails and campsites by venturing off the beaten path. The family decided to stop by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, chosen by Sitzmann on a whim, based solely on pictures that he’d seen of the place.

Surrounded by trees with no spectacular view in sight, the drive into the park had them questioning their sanity. But the side trip turned out to be one of the more rewarding outdoor destinations for the family when they walked along a trail at sunset and stumbled upon a massive canyon nearly 100 yards away from their campsite. As they looked around, they realized that they had the hidden gem all to themselves. Sitzmann made a point to wake up at sunrise the next morning for coffee with a view.

They hit a total of 10 national parks over the course of their 3,200-mile journey across the rugged Southwest of the United States. The region is home to countless national parks, along with myriad monuments and historic sites, offering unlimited variations to the ultimate family road trip.

In the Southwest, several National Parks are located in close enough proximity that more than one could be visited in a single day. The natural formations of the land might be close in location, but tend to differ greatly when it comes to their visual appeal.

In Utah, the impressive forest of tall, narrow eroded rock at Bryce Canyon National Park is less than 90 minutes from Zion National Park—where massive cliffs, gaping canyons, sparkling streams, and waterfalls can be seen. Those two parks alone could make a day of adventure (or a week of discovery) for visitors.

 “I think it’s important to have that long-term period with your family,” Sitzmann says. “Most of us, we talk about providing for our family—and that’s what we think our main job is. You teach [your kids] that you can provide and work hard, but there are other things in life that we miss and that we kind of lose touch with over the years.”

The family was able to disconnect from social media, spend the evenings under the stars, and chase the sunrise each morning.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Not every moment was saturated with unexpected beauty. One night, they couldn’t find an open campground, so they camped directly under a fluorescent light in an RV park. But that was a learning experience, in its own way.

Sitzmann’s son turned 9 on the road and received a pocketknife from his father as a right of passage into the world of responsibility.

Road trips to the Southwest have occupied a pivotal point in the lives of many. For my own family, the Southwest was the basis for two unforgettable road trips. The first journey, my parents took in their 20s before having kids. The second, they undertook with seven children in tow (four years ago).

Unlike the Sitzmanns, the Smith crew rolled out of Omaha in 15-passenger rental van. Our approach to the itinerary was more regimented and less laissez faire. We hit the road with all lodging booked. While the Sitzmanns cooked on campfires all along the way, we munched on endless amounts of processed snacks packed into the van.

My dad drove, my mom blogged, and the seven of us kids—ages 5 to 19—bonded in the backseats singing songs, playing games, and marveling at the changing colors and landscapes that we had never seen before.

Over the course of the 3,259 miles that we drove, we spent 10 days in five different states. We grew closer as we conquered new territories. We mastered packing and unpacking the car in a matter of minutes; white-water rafted in Colorado; played cards by the campfire at night in Utah; and came up with silly inside jokes that we remember today.

While there are countless ways to make a road trip through the Southwest, the adventure is unlike any other. Experiencing the purity and the simplicity of the landscape, joined by the people you love, is an indescribable experience. It is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.

My parents had wanted to go on family road trip to the Southwest ever since their own trip some 20 years prior. It was a right of passage for our family as a unit, because my eldest sister had just graduated high school and the youngest was about to start kindergarten.

As we begin graduating from college, these sorts of road trips will become increasingly difficult to coordinate. So, to seize the moment, we are now in the midst of planning another massive family road trip.

The Smith Family’s Southwest Itinerary (10 days):

From Omaha, we drove through Colorado and landed in Utah where we visited: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. We then continued to head south where we hit Arizona and visited the Grand Canyon National Park and Lake Powell. We headed back up north where we made an impulsive stop at the Four Corners, then carried onto Mesa Verde National Park and the city of Durango in Colorado. Then, we returned to Omaha.

The Sitzmann Family’s Southwest Itinerary (14 days): 

From Omaha, they headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. From there, they went to New Mexico where they visited Carson National Forest and White Sands National Monument. They continued onward to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and then went back up to Utah to hit Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The family made their way back through Colorado, where they visited the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park before they returned to Omaha.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Omaha CVB

February 24, 2017 by

This year Boys Town celebrates its 100th year. The Los Angeles Times recently ranked Boys Town’s anniversary as one of the top-10 milestones of 2017, encouraging people to visit the historic landmark and “add cultural and historical heft to your 2017 travels.”

In 1917 Father Edward J. Flanagan, a 31-year old priest, borrowed $90 to rent a boarding house to take care of troubled and neglected children here in Omaha. Since then, Boys Town has grown into an international treasure. It now helps millions of people from across the globe. It is also one of Omaha’s best-known attractions, welcoming thousands of visitors—including presidents, first ladies, sports legends, and actors—each year.  And while the celebrity of Boys Town has certainly helped put it and Omaha on the map, it is the everyday visitor who is the constant. Visitors can explore chapels and gardens, tour Father Flanagan’s home, visit his tomb at Dowd Chapel, walk through the Hall of History, and even see the world’s largest ball of stamps. That’s right—Boys Town is home to a ball of stamps that weighs more than 600 pounds (talk about selfie gold). Boys Town offers daily tours, step-on guided tours for bus groups, and interactive tours where all you need is your smartphone. QR codes are strategically placed outside Boys Town attractions; scan the codes with your phone and instantly access facts, photos, and videos at each attraction.

With the canonization process underway, the prospect of Father Flanagan being named a saint has wide-ranging implications on Boys Town’s future and on Omaha as a visitor destination. In addition to the current $1.2 billion development being planned nearby, sainthood would mean even more growth on and around the Boys Town campus. Father Flanagan’s tomb would be honored in a new structure that would need to accommodate thousands of visitors a day.  Other developments may include a museum, shops, and possibly one or more hotels. With sainthood comes enhanced international awareness of this historic campus in the middle of the country and would make it and Omaha one of the newest destinations for religious pilgrimages.

It is an exciting time for this Omaha gem that will certainly leave lasting impressions well beyond the next 100 years.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.