Sandhills, Niobrara River, native species including several large mammels, a complicated natural history...this place is a treasure.
The Niobrara lies at the northern edge of the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest sources of underground water in the world. Water seeps from the aquifer to form the river, highly deserving of the designation National Wild and Scenic River.
The Sandhills is not desert by the grace of a wetter climate today than when it was formed. Surprising, at first sight, are the lakes, water from the aquifer that pools at the surface.
Six distinct ecosystems meet at the Niobrara: Northern Boreal forest (Paper Birch), Rocky Mountain forest (Ponderosa pines), Eastern Diceduous forest (Black Walnut), and three kinds of grasslands.
Think of bison...in numbers without end, now in preserves in managed herds. Think of the Souix people ...many bands moving about on the land with the seasons, now on reservations. Think of paleowater...once inexhaustible, now quickly depleting.
I found this place on a cross-country drive a few years ago and longed to see it again.
The first picture is taken on the way, from a fire tower in the Nebraska National Forest, an experiment in planting a forest for the first time on the Sandhills. The Civilian Conservation Corps was here too (if you read this blog you know I am a big fan of the CCC), employing young Nebraska men during the Great Depression. Most of the Sandhills has no naturally occurring trees except near surface water.
The second picture is the Niobrara River with the the Sandhills to the south.