The first Europeans to visit Nebraska were the Spaniards, but the area was not fully explored until French missionaries, fur traders, and voyageurs came in 1673 and claimed it. In 1803, Nebraska was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. For much of the 18th and 19th century, Nebraska was left uncultivated and unsettled, used only as a crossroad for westward travel. Native Americans, Oregon Trail pioneers, Mormons, and fur traders and trappers alike treated it much the same way. This changed however in the 1860s when the federal government began giving away free land to homesteaders. With the influx of settlers, Nebraska was admitted as a state soon afterwards in 1867.
Today, Nebraska is land of recreational and cultural attractions. Numerous parks and recreation areas grace this state, providing anglers with fishing streams and lakes, and hunters with game birds, deer, antelope, and bison. Nebraska also has a number of notable parks. The Scotts Bluff National Monument near Gering features prominent bluffs and rock formations, and was a historic passing point for early pioneers and settlers traveling with their wagon trains. The Niobrara National Scenic River near Valentine is traversed by the Niobrara River, and is considered one of the best destinations for canoeing and kayaking. The national park encompasses the Smith Falls, the tallest waterfall in Nebraska which drops more than 60 feet into a valley.
Nebraska also offers visitors the opportunity to learn and experience Native American culture. The Omaha, Santee, and Winnebago reservations in Nebraska host annual powwows, ceremonies, and festivals.
Other parts of Nebraska’s history can also be experienced. The Chimney Rock National Historic Site, for example, is the famous 4,265 feet peak landmark along the Oregon Trail, California Gold Rush Trail, and the Mormon Trail, passed by Lewis and Clark. And the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument near Harrison brings visitors in touch with prehistoric Miocene fossils of ancient animals like the Miohippus (ancestor of the modern horse), Amphicyon (a bear dog), and Menoceras (a pony-sized rhinoceros). The museum at Agate Fossil Beds not only exhibits collections of prehistoric fossils, but also ancient artifacts from the Plains Indians.
The main cities in Nebraska are Omaha, the largest city, and Lincoln, the state capital. Omaha has received acclaim for its historic and cultural attractions, while Lincoln features stunning government buildings like the State Capitol Building, which has been referred to as the “Tower on the Plains”.