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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Escape Into Willa Cather's Prairie Landscapes

Escape Into Willa Cather's Prairie Landscapes

A visit to the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
"...sunflower-bordered roads always seem to me the roads to freedom.” ― My Ántonia
Sunset on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Visit Red Cloud and immerse yourself in the settings and landscapes that inspired so much of Willa Cather's writing. Late summer and early autumn are perfect times of the year to plan your weekend escape into the prairie and to get acquainted with the rural areas surrounding Red Cloud. The weather is typically dry, the dirt and gravel roads are at their most accessible, and the fields are full of corn and soybeans as farmers prepare for fall harvest. For much of August you will find "sunflower-bordered roads"—just as Willa Cather described them in My Ántonia.

One of the best ways to lose yourself in Cather's world is to take our Country Tour which highlights twenty historic sites related to the life and writing of Willa Cather. You may schedule a guided tour of these sites by contacting Education Specialist Rachel Olsen at or you may purchase a detailed "Country Tour" guide at the National Willa Cather Center Bookstore for a self-guided experience. The Country Tour takes visitors through roughly fifty miles deep into the Webster County countryside, and includes settings from Lucy Gayheart, My Ántonia, O Pioneers!, One of Ours, short stories "Neighbour Rosicky" and "Peter," and others, as well as many settings from Cather's own life. The tour includes Cather homesteads and related cemeteries, prairie settings, churches, the Pavelka Farm made famous in My Ántonia, and the Republican River where the Cather children played and explored. Tours are $50 for adults [$20 for students K-12 and free under 5] and you should plan on scheduling your tour well in advance of your arrival.

If you're searching for the best location for a spectacular Nebraska sunset, sunrise, or even to view the clear darkness of the night sky, look no further than the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. Located five miles south of Red Cloud on the Kansas border, it consists of 612 acres of never-been-plowed prairie and is just north of the geographic center of the contiguous United States (located just down Highway 281 near Lebanon, Kansas). Before you go to the prairie, be sure to stop at the National Willa Cather Center Bookstore and borrow a free Prairie Exploration Backpack. If you visit Red Cloud in summer or early fall, you can also catch the spectacular light display put on by fireflies at the prairie and in surrounding meadows.

Arrive the weekend of August 9 -11 and you can attend the reception for British photographer and artist-in-residence Richard Dickson. His Beauty in the Ordinary exhibit at the Red Cloud Opera House Gallery will be at 5pm on Friday, August 9. Throughout his stay in Red Cloud this summer, Dickson has been creating a body of photographic artwork pertaining to the Cather sites and the scenic landscapes in Webster County.

Consider visiting during the weekend of September 20 - 22 and check out BARNFEST 2019 on September 21 at the historic Starke Round Barn just east of Red Cloud on scenic Heritage Highway 136 — and along which the Trail of Treasures annual yard sale event will go right through Red Cloud and Webster County during the weekend of October 4 - 6.

On Sunday, September 29, there will be a free screening of Ocean of Grass: Life on a Nebraska Sandhills Ranch at the Red Cloud Opera House at 5:00 p.m. The documentary examines life on a 130-year-old Custer County ranch over the course of two years. Entirely Nebraska-made, the film chronicles the McGinn family and their ranching ethos — and is a perfect way to end a weekend on the Nebraska prairie.

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Check our Events page throughout the year for ideas on how to integrate upcoming performances, programs, and exhibits — held at the Red Cloud Opera House and National Willa Cather Center — into your Red Cloud experience.

For more ideas about how to spend a weekend in Red Cloud and where to find lodging or other activities, contact:

Jarrod McCartney, Director of Red Cloud Tourism & Commerce, at, or visit Red Cloud Tourism & Commerce