If you appreciate great photography, from nature photography to candid portraits, chances are you’ve seen National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore’s work in his 20 years at the magazine. Once I met him while just walking by him on a street in Boston in the ’90s. He was on assignment and the news geek in me was thrilled to meet an actual National Geographic photog. But after all these years, no matter where in the world he ‘s on assignment, he always returns to Nebraska.
It seems like in March-April Nebraska’s sandhill crane migration is where it’s at, if you want an unusual experience here in the states and you might catch Joel here, as well as other luminaries there to watch the cranes. Joel is also wriing the blog “Field Test” for National Geographic for the month of January. For more info on his photography please visit joelsartore.com. Joel has traversed the planet many times over, from the High Artic to the Antarctic, so he knows some good places. Here are some of Joel Sartore’s favorites in America, including his favorite restaurant in America…
My favorite place in the U.S. to visit is…the Nebraska Sandhills. It’s rolling, treeless hills that look pretty much the same way as when the pioneers came through. Lots of virgin prairie and wildlife out there, as well as cowboys and cowgirls who have been great stewards over the years and maintained the place well.
The first thing I do when I go to the Nebraska Sandhills is…I usually stop in at Calamus Outfitters and the 4D Rush Lake Reserve. Both of these places offer unmatched bird viewing (including the mating dance of the greater prairie-chicken), wide-open spaces, and very friendly hosts because they’re owned and operated by Nebraska ranch families. At Calamus Outfitters, they’ll even cook up steaks on pitchforks while reciting cowboy poetry. It’s the real American West, alive and well.
Everyone should visit…First, the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary near Gibbon, NE. Located right on the Platte River, this is ground zero for the annual migratory stopover of some half million sandhill cranes. Of all the wildlife spectacles I’ve been privileged to witness, nothing beats this. Go anytime in the month of March. Second would be the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. They’ve got huge murals of scenes from the Great Plains there, all made of corn! It’s really weird, but beautifully done, and totally unexpected.
The Lake Country of Northern Minnesota…is a pleasant surprise. I’m talking about the area around Walker to be exact. I’ve been going up there for years and staying in cabins. There’s no better light than sunset on Leech Lake.
My favorite restaurant in the U.S. is…Vintage 338 at 338 W. Armitage Ave., in Chicago/LIncoln Park. I always get treated extremely well there, and the food and wine are fabulous, of course.
The best place to find…First of all, let me say that many of my favorite restaurants are in Nebraska. This is where I live and I like to publicize the local talent, as they say. So, let me give you my little eclectic list of a few of my favorites:
For steaks…Texas Roadhouse. It’s a national chain but I’ve never had a bad meal there. Their rolls are especially fantastic.
For all meats at once…Boi Na Braza is located at the base of Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati. Absolutely delicious.
For BBQ…Skeeter Barnes, in Lincoln, Kearney and Columbus, NE. Nebraska owned and operated. Try out their peanut cole slaw.
For Nebraska fast food…Runza. The meal in the bunza’ is the Runza. I take every out of town guest to this place when they come to my home state. Delicious.
For sushi…I like Matsu Sushi at 1009 Farnam St., in Omaha for delicious sushi that’s really inexpensive.
For cupcakes…it’s PJ’s Baby Cakes at 2808 N. 48th St., Lincoln, NE.
For ice cream…it’s Ivana Cone, in Lincoln’s Haymarket. They make all their ice cream right on site. Is it good? Let me put it this way; even when it’s 10 below zero here, we go anyway. Also, when my kids have been good, it’s the one place we go to each and every time to reward them.
Some great towns people may not know about that they should visit are…
I like cities and towns that have remained true to themselves and haven’t become homogenized to the point that they look and feel like every other city I’ve ever been to. My favorites: Anchorage, AK, New Orleans, LA, San Francisco, CA, Washington, DC.
Of all these places, my favorites are the Smithsonian Institution Museums on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Free, open to the public, and with the greatest collections of everything, period.
Shoemaker’s…is a great truck stop. There are two but I like the newer one on the west side of Lincoln along I-80. It’s called Shoemaker’s Truck Stop and Gasoline Museum. On its walls and shelves are every piece of auto memorabilia ever made, or so it seems.
My favorite airport in the U.S. is…I like Sky Harbor in Phoenix because it’s shiny, new and has free wireless internet. Also, General Mitchell airport in Milwaukee. Renaissance Books is located there, an amazing used book store. What a treat. I almost missed my flight!
For more things to do, buy and support in Nebraska, check out the accompanying blog posts: