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A visit to one of the newer public lands in western Nebraska

April 7, 2011

Over the last several years, an organization called Platte River Basin Environments (PRBE, which I pronounce “purr-bee” and others pronounce “pree-bee”) has been coordinating with a number of partner organizations, buying up land in targeted areas in the Wildcat Hills and North Platte River basin from willing ranchers, and opening that land to public access for hunting, hiking, and the like.

That additional public-access land is very welcome.

According to data from the National Wilderness Institute, in 1995 Nebraska had just 1.6% of its land in federal or state ownership (presumably public access), placing it 48th among the states, ahead of only Iowa and Kansas. (I think the percentage is better now. I’ve heard a 3% figure bandied about lately.)

I have written about how PRBE is linking contiguous properties. (The governor has praised the project.) I have written about taking a plant identification class that visited a PRBE property. I have written about how rotational cattle grazing is being used to enhance the ecosystem (couldn’t find the Star-Herald article, but the North Platte Telegraph picked up the story, too.)

With all this writing I’ve been doing about these great public lands, I still hadn’t managed to go explore them on my own! I think not many people have, perhaps with the exception of hunters or people connected with PRBE or partner organizations. It’s a little unclear sometimes exactly where the property boundaries are, and there are no developed trails on the parcels (as yet).

Soo, husband and I took advantage of the near-record 80-degree temperatures last Saturday to visit one of the properties. We relied on the maps PRBE has posted online. We chose Carter Canyon, in part because I already knew where the parking area was, having scouted it before.

Here is the map we had of Carter Canyon. We drove in on the white squiggle at the top (Carter Canyon Road), which bends 90 degrees to the south, and parked at the first lot we came to. I forgot to get a picture of it – it’s just some signs in the grass off the south side of the road.

Oh, and just to make the turkey hunters jealous, here’s what we saw on our way in on Carter Canyon Road:

There were eight of 'em, relaxing and dust bathing until we disturbed them.

Back to the hike from the parking lot. We struck out vaguely southeast, and soon encountered this:

Yup. A “bobwore” fence. We checked our location on husband’s GPS-enabled phone to confirm that we were, indeed, still on PRBE property. We were, so we wiggled under the fence, rather less gracefully than an antelope would have.

Here is the landscape we saw:

Good bighorn sheep habitat around there, but we didn't see any that day.

Husband, being his excitable entomological self, immediately set to work finding critters.

Aha! A grasshopper!

Check the wing to identify the species.

Taste the grasshopper to confirm the species identification.

Kidding! Husband isn’t really into entomophagy. Instead, he like to photograph the insects.

Taa-daaaaa! Photographing the grasshopper. I guess the blue sky made a better contrast-y background than the grasses for the hopper photo, but I laughed when I saw the photo. It looked like "grasshopper descended form heaven" or something.

To the people who are asking “Grasshoppers? Really? In early April?” I say “Oh, yes! Grasshoppers!”

When we climbed a hill into the wind, we were pummeled by grasshoppers attempting to escape our footsteps. Husband found at least five species of grasshopper. (Hang onto your gardens this summer, folks!)

Grasshopper 2

Grasshopper 3: orange wings instead of pink - different species.

Grasshopper 4. Looks armor-plated, doesn't he?

While hubby was documenting the insect life, I was poking around nearby. Check out this cool lichen-covered tree stump:

I like lichens!

Totally found a troll abode!

Here is a photo illustration of a wildfire problem I’ve learned about in my writings about Wildcat Hills lands.

Cedar under Ponderosa

See that little bush-like greenery at the base of the Ponderosa pine? That’s a cedar tree, planted there by a bird who sat in the Ponderosa and pooped some cedar seed onto the ground. Problem is, those cedars are über flammable. If a wildfire gets going in that area, the Ponderosa, which is normally fairly fire resistant, will get scorched by the hot flames that climb up from the ground into the cedar. The cedars are “ladder fuel.”

Okay. Enough of the seriousness. Now for some more fun stuff. Search “wildflower” on this blog, and you’ll know what I look for when I’m out hiking. My April 2nd hike did not disappoint!

Plains springparsley

Nuttall's violet

Hood's phlox

Heck, even the grass was blooming. (Sorry, hayfever sufferers.)

I don’t know what the grass is, but I was able to identify the flowers quickly with the help of Connie McKinney’s wildflower guide (available at fine local bookstores/gift shops). Hurry and get your copy! More flowers will be blooming soon!

After spending so much time looking down, husband and I decided to look up for awhile and try to figure out what was tweeting in the trees. Turned out to be red crossbills. Cool! I’d never seen those before!

I managed to get a semi-decent photo of one by aiming my camera through my binoculars:

On the way home, we took the Robidoux Pass route and had an African-safari experience with a springtime-in-the-high-plains twist.

Hey! Look! Something’s in the borrow pit, about to cross the road! Better slow down!

Momma and her brand-new baby.

Awwwwww!

Just a reminder: you are in cattle country. Drive and hike with care!

Buh-bye!

Copyright 2011 by Katie Bradshaw

13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2011 10:37 pm

    Notably delightful!

  2. Rick Myers permalink
    April 8, 2011 5:43 am

    Nice outing, great photos and thank you for sharing. That is truly a great part of WeNe and a place that many people can’t believe exists in our state. The adjacent Cedar Canyon Wildlife Area and Buffalo Creek area south of Melbeta are also gems. Of course, there is still Bead Mountain and Montz Ranch for you and Jeff to discover if you already haven’t been there.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      April 8, 2011 7:18 am

      Haven’t been to any of those places yet, Rick. They are on the agenda! (Though I hope to get out to most of them before the rattlesnakes wake up.)

  3. April 8, 2011 7:01 am

    not even going to comment about the grasshoppers…

  4. April 8, 2011 10:14 am

    Great blog Katie! PREBE has been doing a great job of creating a corridor of wild space. I hope with all of my heart that they’ll continue to gain new ground and partners with similar goals. Be sure to check out Bead Mountain which is rather stark and beautiful in its own way. Better hurry tho, if you want to avoid the rattlers. I’ve seen mountain bluebirds on their way through. BTY, some of those fenceposts are older than dirt and have a history all their own. Settlers pretty much cut every cedar they could find and there are at least a few of those posts still standing.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      April 8, 2011 6:49 pm

      Yeah – I sure hope PRBE keeps rolling, too. They pay taxes on the land, from what I understand, so it must be a tough balance.
      Do rattlers come out at the time the mountain bluebirds arrive?
      I’ve really enjoyed some of the stories I’ve read about fixing fences. It’s not so much a cultural touchstone where I grew up.

  5. Dan Ramsey permalink
    April 8, 2011 9:15 pm

    Thanks to you Katie for an eye-opener unto the land I love but have not appreciated enough – or as much as you have! You are an inspiration to us to get off the couch…

  6. Matt Salomon permalink
    April 8, 2012 8:29 pm

    Looks like a great place to go hike. Thanks for the information you gathered.

Trackbacks

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