An eclipse weekend adventure

When I bought tickets many months ago to see Lady Gaga in concert in Omaha, I didn’t notice that the concert was just two days before the North American total solar eclipse – the Aug. 21 mega-event that would delight (and frustrate) millions of people and lead to epic traffic jams.

But there you go: Concert on the 19th, eclipse on the 21st. An adventure in the making.

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We got to Omaha on Saturday afternoon and decided to visit the National Park Service’s Lewis & Clark Visitor Center and Trail Headquarters on Riverfront Drive. This place is worth visiting for several reasons: There’s a cool Lewis & Clark trail map on the wall, you can pick up a gazillion National Park brochures, and there’s a cool bridge nearby – the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge – that spans the Missouri River.

And then it was time for dinner and drinks in the super-crowded but always fun Old Market area. Then on to the concert at the CenturyLink Center, which is an easy walk from the Old Market. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of big stadium-style concerts. I’d much prefer to go to a little arthouse concert or hear live blues in a dive bar. That’s more my style. But I think Lady Gaga is a formidable talent, and I thought it would be worth braving the crowds to see her.

I wasn’t disappointed. Even though the concert started an irritating hour-and-a-half late (seriously, if you’re not going to start the concert until 9 p.m., say it starts at 8:30 and then we all can sit on a sweet little patio somewhere sipping wine instead of being smooshed into uncomfortable seats with 15,000 of our closest friends at the CenturyLink Center.)

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Once she took the stage, Lady Gaga played every song you’d expect her to play, blazing through her playlist and wowing the crowd with eye-popping costumes and dazzling special effects. Our seats were decent but a long way from the stage, so we were pretty excited when bridges were lowered from the ceiling and mini-stages came up out of the floor, allowing Gaga to leave the main stage and move above the crowd gathered on the floor, dancing her way to a secondary stage set up right in front of us, where she danced and played several numbers on an elaborate translucent grand piano. That was cool.

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My cell phone photos are not good, sorry. Here’s a way better one from the Omaha World-Herald website:

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Anyway, the concert was pretty awesome and didn’t end until 11:30 p.m., so I guess we got our money’s worth.

We spent Saturday night in Omaha and got up the next morning and went to the Henry Doorly Zoo. I’ve been to this zoo many, many times, but it never disappoints. In fact, the zoo is getting better all the time. I thought it was at its peak when it finished building the Lied Jungle (below), Desert Dome/Kingdoms of the Night, and Scott Aquarium – these are three world-class indoor exhibits.

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Then they added the Hubbard Orangutan Forest, Gorilla Valley (above), and Expedition Madagascar, three more terrific animal habitats.

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Now there’s Scott African Grasslands, a $73 million, 28-acre section that opened last summer. It’s really spectacular. Here are a few photos of the indoor and open-air African Grasslands exhibits:

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Coming soon is the $20 million Asian Highlands project – eight acres said to “transport zoo guests on an immersive journey through Asia, ranging from the grasslands of Northern India, through the Himalayan Mountains, to the boreal forests of northeastern China.” Can’t wait to go back! I just think Henry Doorly Zoo is one of the best zoos in the country, and we’re so lucky to have it close to Iowa. Here are a few more zoo photos:

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After our day-long visit to the zoo, we drove to Kansas City to spend the night. We viewed the eclipse the next day on a cattle farm in Lathrop, a town said to be one of the better viewing locations in the path of totality. It might have been, had it not rained much of the morning and been overcast during the eclipse.

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We still had a great experience, as the sun peeked out every few minutes during the partial eclipse. We did get to view the total eclipse, albeit shrouded in cloud cover. The 360-degree “sunrise” was the best part.

And then we sat on I-35 in a massive traffic jam with people from Iowa and Minnesota heading home – even longer than we sat waiting for Lady Gaga to go onstage!

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