State Grasses – Montana

Bluebunch Wheatgrass

Bluebunch Wheatgrass

All 50 states have a whole grocery list of official state somethings – state flowers, state trees, state birds, etc.  Not all of the states, however, have official state grasses.  This is disappointing, but not unexpected.  It’s the usual slight delivered to grasses in general, despite the fact that grasses exist not only in all 50 sates, obviously, but also exist in every known climate zone on land (plus a few in the ocean) except extreme polar-type climates.  There is not a single tree in Antarctica, but there are some hearty species of grasses in the warmer coastal places.  Apart from the Sun, and the Earth itself, grasses are probably the most important things in terms of food production.  Grasses give us most of our food, either directly (rice, corn, etc), or indirectly (feed for livestock).  As you might’ve guessed by now, I’m a grass-man, and I’m not ashamed of it.  ;-)

Anyway, some states, including most of the Great Plains states, with one notable exception which I’ll get to in a later blog, have adopted a state grass.  As is my usual route, I will start in the north and work my way south through the Great Plains States, starting with Montana.

Montana’s State GrassBluebunch Wheatgrass a.k.a. Pseudoroegneria Spicata

This is a wide ranging grass found throughout much of western North America, and it also happens to be the state grass of Washington and Iowa.  It grows taller in wetter climates and can be quite stubby in drier ones.  It adapts well to lots of climates and as a result can be found from Alaska all the way to Texas, so if you live somewhere in its habitat, get out there and hug some bluebunch wheatgrass today!

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Restoring Ancestral Lands

Fort Belknap, Montana

From the Good News Department:  A recent article in the New York Times by Nate Schweber points to a small, but possibly growing movement on Native American ancestral lands to help restore prairie habitat.  Native lands are in a particularly good position to be able to succeed in this endeavor because the percentage of unplowed land on tribal land is greater than that of other private lands.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign, however, beyond the success they’ve had in protecting habitat and wildlife, is that a new generation is starting to take charge.  Native American men and women in their 20s and 30s are taking an interest in protecting and restoring their ancestral lands, and that can only be good for the incredible place we call the Great Plains!

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Books – A Pronghorn Year

bindata.phpThe pronghorn is the fastest land animal in North America, and the second fastest in the world.  Only the African cheetah can run faster, but even then, the cheetah is only faster for the first 100 meters or so, after that, the big cat flags a bit, but the pronghorn can sustain its fast pace for much longer distances.

Pronghorn evolved for speed way back in pre-glacial North America when a whole host of other animals existed here.  Believe it or not, there was actually a North American version of the cheetah, which is probably what the pronghorn was doing its best to run away from.  Interestingly, in terms of long term survival, it turns out that the pronghorn outlasts the cheetah once again.  The North American cheetah did not survive the glacial periods of the late pleistocene, but the pronghorn did.

A new book, A Pronghorn Year – A Visual Tribute to North America’s Pronghorn by Dick Kettlewell tells the story of the pronghorn with a host of wonderful photos.  The book serves as an excellent overview of this fascinating animal that is truly a joy to see running out there on the plains and the larger valleys of the West.

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Photo of the Week – October 10, 2014


Excellent photos of a fantastic part of Nebraska, which will one day be an integral part of the Great Plains Trail!

Originally posted on The Prairie Ecologist:

For the second time in two weeks, I got to travel west into drier, shorter prairie.  This week, our crew attended the Nebraska Natural Legacy Conference in Gering, Nebraska – at the far western end of the state.  While there, we explored both Scotts Bluff National Monument and the other parts of the Wildcat Hills.  A significant portion of this beautiful rocky landscape has been conserved and opened to public access by a partnership called Wildcat Hills Wildlands, a partnership between Platte River Basin Environment, The Nature Conservancy, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  It is a spectactular and under-visited part of the world.

I caught the sunrise at Scotts Bluff National Monument yesterday, and then joined a tour of the Bead Mountain Ranch in the afternoon.  Here are some photos from those two places.

As the sun turned the sky pink to the east, the moon was dropping in the west.  Scotts Bluff National Monument. As the sun turned the sky pink in the east, the moon was…

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Buffalo buffalo buffalo?

baffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo???

Ran across a gem the other day (even though it’s a head-scratcher) that I’d like to share with all you buffalo (not bison in this case) aficionados out there.  It involves the word “buffalo,” and all of its permutations in terms of meaning and usage.  First, here are all of the various ways that “buffalo” can be used:

Noun:  The big hairy beast we all know.

Noun:  The city of Buffalo. (There are lots of them, and as a side note, my personal favorite happens to be Buffalo, Wyoming on the very western edge of the Great Plains at the base of the Bighorn Mountains.)

Verb:  To intimidate or bewilder.

Adjective (proper):  Describing someone or something from the city of Buffalo.

Knowing this, apparently, we can create the following sentence:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Got it?  Me neither, but I like it.  Here’s an explanation from Mental Floss, and if there’s anyone out there who can wrap their head around it, and then explain it to me, please comment on this post!  Have fun and don’t be buffaloed!



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This is September


Amazing photos of western North Dakota.

Originally posted on Meanwhile, back at the ranch...:


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Missed it by That Much . . .

The desert above the caves at Carlsbad Caverns.

The desert above the caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

I’ve been listing all of the places of significant national or state level interest along the Great Plains Trail as it is currently envisioned.  To wrap it up, here are a few more that the trail just misses – usually by only a few miles.  It some cases, it may be possible to connect with these important places, but it remains to be seen how easily that can be accomplished.  Nonetheless, the intrepid and determined thru hiker would be just a very short jaunt away from . . .

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota – Need I say anything about this icon of our nation? I reckon anyone who has been alive during the last 75 years or so knows it pretty well.

Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota – This little gem (or jewel) is not so well known as Mt. Rushmore (few things are), but is pretty amazing in its own right.  It is the 3rd longest cave in the world with over 170 miles of passageways that have been mapped and explored!

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, Colorado – Built in 1833, this was once a very busy trading post along the old Santa Fe Trail in what is now southeast Colorado, but at the time it was operating, it was part of Mexico.  In fact, it straddled the border of Mexico and the United States as it occupied both sides of the Arkansas River, which formed the international border from the 1820s to the 1840s.  I think I have the rudimentary basics here, but if someone knows their Mexican history better than me, I’d be happy to learn more!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico – Just to the north and east of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, this cave system is not as long as Jewel Cave, but is no less spectacular.  The park includes the cave (of course) as well as thousands of acres of protected desert above the cave.

OK, why not?  They’re soooooo close.  Let’s add these four to our current total of 37 to arrive at a whopping grand total of 41 priceless treasures along the Great Plains Trail!



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