Saturday, 14 March 2015


Nebraska; it's not a place I think about a lot, if at all. If you had asked me, before yesterday, to describe Nebraska, it would have been as one of those Great Plains states, like the Dakotas, Kansas or even Oklahoma, where the corn grows as high as an elephant's eye.

Yesterday was educational; Nebraska is part of the Great Plains, at least in the east. The western part of the state, however, starts in the High Plains, the setting for many a great western, the type where Clint Eastwood rides into town to the sound of iconic music, the sight of dust swirling, the rattle of buckboard wagon wheels, the snap of chained dogs lunging and barking.

We started our day on the edge of those High Plains, having come in from the north, missing the far west of the stated. Our drive found us slithering through the Sand Hills, like a rattler making its way around the dunes. This land is, as the name says, hills of sand barely covered by bunch grass, the widespread roots of which hold the thin sand in place. This land is not arable, at least not without ample irrigation, even though it sits upon one of the largest aquifers in the world, the Oglala. Our drive took us through these hills, to the edge of the rolling prairie, then down the Glen Miller Memorial Highway, of all things, to a town called North Platte.

I already knew about the Platte River. It is famous as the merger point, or jumping off point, for all the major settlement trails of the west. From here, settlers in wagon trains headed out the California Trail to the gold fields, the Mormon Trail to religious freedom in Utah, the Black Hills Trail to ranching and mining country, or the Oregon Trail to the rich farmlands of the west. It is a region steeped in settlement history, wars on the Native American tribes, railway greed and cattle battles.

What I didn't know was the scope of the forest in this area, stretching along the broad river valleys and beyond, edging the plains for mile upon mile, filled with now barren ash and oak, ready for the spring to come and leaves to spread their green. This vast forest, starting in the far north of the state with the Nebraska National Forest, seems to continue on forever, flanking the edge of the open prairie, rising high on the distant hills.

Then, suddenly, without warning, the forest ends and the plains once again take hold. Here in Nebraska the spring planting has begun, some fields already showing the brilliant green of new shoots. Spring is coming to Nebraska. Unfortunately, we are leaving it for Oklahoma.

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