Kevin Zelaya

Last summer, I found it. It was the remedy to my summer woes. As a self-described townie, going to the lake to burn my skin isn’t my ideal summer day. Neither is camping or fishing.

As a single person, I don’t automatically have a ton of games or family outings or projects to work on during those long summer weekends. It just so happened, the remedy, as is often the case in our consumer society, came in the form of brown box from the mail. Last summer the Nebraska Tourism department sent me, at the newspaper office, a box filled with Nebraska Tourism’s passport program booklets.

The booklets, known as passports, are basically a color-coded book where different colors show different tours – lists of places you can go visit. For example one tour might list eight places to go around the state to see unique Nebraska gift shops or eight Nebraska state parks to go visit.

After listing in the newspaper that these passports would be available at the office, I studied them and kept one on my desk. Traveling across the state to little-itty bitty towns for stamps and fun, me? No way!

But wait, I thought to myself, isn’t this why I bought my 2012 Chevy Malibu, to have a dependable car to travel around in? Yes, I admitted to myself. And traveling around the state was way more affordable than driving to Denver or Kansas City,Mo., to see a Rockies or Royals game.

But what will I do during those long drives to McCook,Grand Island or even, Lincoln? I’ll be driving by myself, I thought. Then an inner voice, possibly my heart/soul said, “Oh Kevin, don’t you always relax and enjoy listing to BOT radio in your car when you drive around? Imagine driving for hours listening to Pastor Erwin Lutzer, June Hunt, Robbie Zacariah and yes, your favorite, the guy who likes to say, precious friend, Adrian Rogers!

Oh boy, I thought, I better give this thing a try.

Turning up the air conditioning, BOT radio playing and flying on Interstate 80, I thought, “Hmm, I could get used to this.” I thought, maybe this is how those boater guys felt flying across Johnson Lake with beers in the cooler and burgers in their bellies?

One of the first trips I took last summer was to Grand Island and Holdrege. I visited the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island and a café in Holdrege.

Driving and pulling off Interstate 80, the Stuhr Museum is very easy to find. Staff at the Stuhr Museum were very helpful, and as soon as I showed them the passport, they smiled and were instantly ready to offer tips, directions and so on.

I walked out of the visitor center office, and thought, this is what living history is. The old town was like a main street of wooden storefronts from Willa Cather’s Nebraska prairie. I saw embroidered girly linen dresses, copper or tin cups and amazing vintage jewelry, oh my!

Walking down to the workshop area, I saw a carpenter making wooden horses and toys. I quickly spotted a wooden pencil/pen holder in the exact shape of the State of Nebraska!

I bought the wooden Nebraska; it now sits on my desk at the Clipper-Herald, holding two pencils and an American flag on a stick.

Next, I walked and saw an old church building (there actually was a wedding taking place  inside that day), a clay hut and a white tepee.

You’ve probably already guessed that my trip to the Stuhr Museum got me hooked. Afterwards, I was an addicted Nebraska Passport traveler. Collecting stamps is a rewarding challenge that has allowed me to visit unique businesses and locations filled with Nebraska history.

But the biggest draw for many participants of the Nebraska Passport program are the wine, food and café tours. According to the Nebraska Passport program’s website, the most popular tour last year was the Yummy Yummy Tour and five of the most visited places were food and drink businesses.

This year I have already visited Mac’s Drive-In, a hamburger joint in McCook that grinds its beef and makes its patties fresh each day. This business is one of the eight places to visit in the Order Up! Tour for summer of 2016.

Wow, the burger patty melted in my mouth and was so soft it didn’t really taste like a beef patty. Maybe it was so fresh and old-fashioned my taste buds refused to register it as fastfood burger meat.

This double cheeseburger I had was the best hamburger I’ve had in Nebraska; dare I say a Nebraska style In-and-Out Burger?

Also last year, I ate the most delicious apple strudel at Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Café in downtown McCook. The café area has a row of bison sculptures painted different colors, while the eating area has lots of musician photographs on the wall.

The past couple of years I have fallen in love with the food, coffee and warm people of McCook thanks to the Nebraska Passport program. If you are looking for a good time of exploring, try the passport program, who knows you may discover your own type of McCook-like town that draws you in, treats you well, feeds you well and makes you want to come back.

If you are looking for easy-to-plan summer outings not too far from home, visit http://nebraskapassport.com/ to read more about this summer’s tours and destinations on the passport program.

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