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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States of Interest

Fort Robinson State Park in Nebraska is one of three amazing state parks that the GPT will cross.

Fort Robinson State Park in Nebraska is one of three amazing state parks that the GPT will cross.

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!!!



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