Post Topics100th meridian 500 nations agate fossil beds national monument American Prairie Reserve arikaree breaks atlas of the great plains badlands national park bakken oil field bear butte bear butte state park bents old fort black hills black hills of south dakota black kettle black mesa buffalo gap national grassland buttes capulin national monument charles m russell national wildlife refuge city of boulder comanche national grassland crazy horse dakota prairie national grasslands eastern colorado gpt grasslands national park great plains great plains trail great plains trail alliance guadalupe mountains national park guadalupe peak harney peak hudson meng irs form 1023 kiowa national grassland lewis and clark little missouri national grassland mickelson trail missouri river Montana national historic trails nebraska non-profit start-up north american continent north dakota northern plains oglala national grassland oregon trail outdoors pawnee national grassland pedal the plains pioneers pony express trail Red Cloud sand creek massacre national historic site sandhill cranes santa fe trail scenic south dakota score scotts bluff national monument scottsbluff nebraska south dakota teddy roosevelt ted turner the black hills theodore roosevelt theodore roosevelt national park toadstool geologic park travel university of nebraska press walt whitman western North Dakota white butte white river trail wind cave 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!
In the previous two blogs, we have looked at all the various places of national interest that the Great Plains Trail will cross. I believe we’re currently at a hefty 29 places of significant interest. In this post, we will look at some areas of significant state interest that the GPT will connect with, namely state parks and state high points.
The GPT will cross three state parks:
Bear Butte State Park, South Dakota – This gem is on the northern fringes of the Black Hills and the main highlight is its namesake butte – sacred to the Lakota Sioux and more of a mountain than a butte, it rises approximately 1400 feet above the surrounding plains. The park includes a trail to the top of the butte, a campground, and visitor center. On a personal note, Bear Butte State Park has become one of my absolute favorite places to visit when I’m anywhere near. I have climbed the butte several times, and would do so again in a heartbeat.
Custer State Park, South Dakota – This state park is perhaps one of the best state parks in the U.S. for wildlife. It’s more like a mini version of Yellowstone than a typical state park. There are elk, coyote, bison, hawks, eagles, deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and even mountain lions! Custer State Park is big at over 70,000 acres, and it made Adventure Journal’s list of the 20 best state parks in the U.S.
Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska – This is another outstanding state park that amazes on two distinct levels. First there is the historical aspect of the park with its military fort buildings and accounts of life in the army in the late 1800s. This is also the place where Crazy Horse was killed. Then there is the natural piece of the park, which is an incredible mix of open plains and high cliff landforms that ring the interior valley. There are endless possibilities for exploration, and Fort Robinson State Park also borders Nebraska’s only wilderness area, Soldier Creek Wilderness.
The GPT will also connect with four (and possibly five) State High Points:
This was discussed at length in earlier blog posts (search the blog to find the full entries), so I’ll be brief. The list of state high points is as follows:
White Butte, North Dakota (3,506 feet)
Harney Peak, South Dakota (7, 242 feet)
Panorama Point, Nebraska (5,426 feet)
Black Mesa, Oklahoma (4,973 feet) – This one is a maybe, but the chances are looking good!
Guadalupe Peak, Texas (8, 749 feet)
OK, so let’s add these eight items to our previous total of 29, and we now have 37 places of amazingness along the Great Plains Trail – WOW!!!
Last week, we listed all of the National Historic Trails that the GPT will cross and added them to the list of National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests, and National Grasslands that will also be crossed by the trail as it is currently envisioned. This week, we’re going to add a few more places of national interest that the trail will connect with.
The GPT will pass through four National Wildlife Refuges:
The National Wildlife Refuge System is run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and exists to protect and restore critical habitat for a variety of plant and animal species. Many of the refuges offer recreational opportunities as well. Currently, the refuge system manages over 150,000,000 acres. In Montana, the GPT will cross two small NWRs (Bowdoin NWR and Hewit Lake NWR, which is managed by Bowdoin NWR) and one huge NWR (Charles M. Russell NWR). At almost 1,000,000 ares, the Charles M. Russell NWR is the second largest NWR in the lower 48 states!
In New Mexico, it is likely (though not certain) that the GPT will also connect with Bitter Lake NWR near the city of Roswell.
The GPT will pass through one Wilderness Area:
Unlike the Rockies to the west, the Great Plains does not have many officially designated Wilderness Areas. The following definition is taken from Wikipedia:
The term wilderness is defined as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” and “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” There are currently 757 designated wilderness areas, totaling 109,511,966 acres (44,317,920 ha), or about 4.5% of the area of the United States.
The GPT will cross Black Elk Wilderness in the Black Hills National Forest.
(I will mention this in a later blog post, but it is likely that one day there will be one more wilderness area that the GPT will cross – Soldier Creek Wilderness in Nebraska.)
The American Prairie Reserve:
The GPT will run through the huge (and getting ever huger) American Prairie Reserve in eastern Montana. APR is not a national park, but it will one day be bigger than most national parks, and its principles for conservation and recreation are similar to the national park system. American Prairie Reserve is kind of like a de facto national park.
Grasslands National Park (Canada):
In fairness, I did say areas of national interest. I did not specify which nation ;-) . . . The northern terminus of the GPT is the southern border of Grasslands National Park in Canada. It is possible that one day, the GPT could be an international trail and continue into Canada, but that remains to be seen . . .
If we add these seven areas to the previous total of 22, that gives us a current tally of 29 places with national prestige, and the list continues to grow!
The previous post was all about the various National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests, and National Grasslands that the Great Plains Trail (GPT) will pass through. In addition to those area of national interest, the GPT will also cross no fewer than six National Historic Trails. These “trails” are usually not really trails at all (except in some places), but they are there to mark the path where a significant journey (or journeys) in the nation’s history took place. See the links below for more information on them.
In the north, along the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the GPT will cross the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
Further south, at Scottsbluff, Nebraska, the GPT crosses no fewer than four National Historic Trails: the Oregon National Historic Trail, the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the California National Historic Trail, and the Pony Express National Historic Trail.
In southern Colorado as well as New Mexico, the GPT will also cross the Santa Fe National Historic Trail.
If you’re keeping track, we can add these six National Historic Trails to the 16 National Parks and National Monuments etc. mentioned earlier for a current total (there will be more . . . ) of 22 places of national interest that the GPT will directly connect with. It’s starting to look like a pretty impressive list!
The subject came up recently about how many sites of national significance the Great Plains Trail will pass through (in its currently envisioned state, which is subject to variations). For the sake of this blog post, I will consider only National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests, and National Grasslands. This leaves many other important places off the list such as National Wildlife Refuges, State Parks, and other significant areas of interest, but I will return to those at a later time and we will be able to get a final tally for the Great Plains Trail.
The short answer for the four entities mentioned earlier is a whopping 16!
I will list them below and provide a link for each of them, but it should be mentioned that this total beats the Appalachian Trail’s total of 12 (and for that, I included its one National Historic Park, and one National Recreation Area).
It also beats the Florida National Scenic Trail which has a total of 5 (and for that, I included Everglades National Park, which it doesn’t really quite go through).
It beats the North Country National Scenic Trail which has a total of 7 (In fairness, the NCNST does go through a multitude of state parks and state forests to be sure).
It beats the Arizona National Scenic Trail’s total of 6 (In fairness, the National Forests it goes through are pretty big).
In fact, the proposed Great Plains National Scenic Trail beats all other National Scenic Trails in this category except the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Wow! Who would’ve thought the Great Plains had so much to offer? . . . we did.
Here is a list (with links) to the 16 nationally significant areas on the GPT:
Back to books briefly . . . a new book recently caught my attention at the bookstore. Yes, I live in a place where there is still a bookstore. It’s called Zen of the Plains – Experiencing Wild Western Places by Tyra Olstad. The book is about one woman’s travels and adventures in the open spaces of the West. She recalls her first sense of this when she was just a youngster traveling with her dad in Nebraska:
“No, what I remember best is the feel of space in Scottsbluff – the simple sweep of the horizon; the rich color of the air. My first glimpse of Zen out on the plains.”
Despite being an easterner by birth, Olstad spent many years in various places around the West following that initial trip to Nebraska. She is a good writer with an enthusiasm as boundless as the plains she writes about. It seems as if she wants to jump off the page, grab you by the face, and make you see what she sees. She wants people to stop and appreciate the plains for their own vastness and beauty – for their own sake, and not as something to pass through on your way to someplace else.
Come to think of it, I can relate. Well done Tyra!