Montana – The Northern Reaches of the Great Plains Trail

I recently returned from Montana after having participated (all too briefly) in American Prairie Reserve’s Transect2015.  The Transect involved a group of APR staff and some guests traveling over 200 miles and camping out along the way in search of beauty, wildlife, conversation, and friendship.

The hike in the open country

The hike in the open country

Although I wish I could’ve stayed longer (I only really experienced one full day), the concept of the Transect is one that I support whole-heartedly.  It has always been my belief that recreation is the key to appreciation, and the more people that are out there experiencing the plains, the more they will come to love it.  It’s really what the Great Plains Trail is all about:  Experience through recreation, whether it’s a bike ride, a short hike, or a full thru hike.  Seeing this part of the country up

For some reason, I was in to taking pictures of rocks.

For some reason, I was in to taking pictures of rocks.

close and personal is the only way to gain an appreciation for it.

It is also my belief that appreciation is only the start.  Eventually, you’ll fall head-over-heels for the beauty of the Great Plains!






Here's another one!

Here’s another one!






Ascending the ridge

Ascending the ridge







The landscapes and cloudscapes of the Great Plains!

The landscapes and cloudscapes of the Great Plains!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Road Less Traveled

Even the road sections are pretty

A pleasant GPT road section in Nebraska

We posted this topic recently on Facebook, but I also wanted to open up a wider discussion to any and all potential GPT hikers out there.  Like the North Country Trail, The American Discovery Trail, and the Ice Age Trail, The GPT will incorporate a fair amount of road in order to connect with existing trails.  The goal will always be more trail and less road, and there is plenty of time for that evolution to occur.  However, the simple fact is that roads will need to be used.

Great care has been taken to select the most scenic and least used roads possible.  They are generally dirt roads, and having traveled many of them personally, I find them about as enjoyable as a road can possibly be.  Many of them in the plains region are extremely lightly traveled by vehicles, and at times, many hours passed between cars or trucks.

That said, what are some thoughts out there on road hiking?  Have you taken a long road hike before?  What are the disadvantages, and are there any advantages?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Trail Continues in South Dakota

Just got back from a highly successful scouting mission for the Great Plains Trail in South Dakota and North Dakota, the details of which I will describe in  a later post highlighting a few sections.

Below are some of the highlights from Custer National Forest, South Dakota:

The road toward the Cave Hills portion of Custer National Forest

The road toward the Cave Hills portion of Custer National Forest

The author enjoying his time on the aforementioned road

The author enjoying his time on the aforementioned road

A closer view of the surrounding buttes

A closer view of the surrounding buttes

The sticker on the truck begins to gather dust

The sticker on the truck begins to gather dust

On the GPT!  A two track "road" through the grass

On the GPT! A two track “road” through the grass.  I biked this section and got lost a few times following trails that eventually petered out.

Now that's some dust!

Now that’s some Great Plains dust!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The Pampas and the Gauchos

119330-120-78394B6FThe Pampas

Continuing our review of the world’s major grasslands, we have what is commonly referred to as the Pampas in South America.  The Pampas is a relatively level region extending from the Atlantic Ocean in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.  At roughly 300,000 square miles, it qualifies as a major grassland.  It is drier in some areas than others, but is generally something of the ‘breadbasket” of South America with good soils for agriculture.  Not unlike the Great Plains of North America, much of the original wild character has been plowed under.  It has a much milder climate than the Great Plains, but interestingly, also produces tornadoes as cool air from Patagonia and warm tropical air from the north collide.

200px-Gaucho1868bThe Pampas in South American Popular Culture

Once again, it is the grasslands that gives so much to the character and culture of regions and nations.  Like the cowboy in North America, we have the gaucho in South America.  They were celebrated for their horsemanship and rustic, outdoors way of life.  Even though the gaucho way of life has largely disappeared, it remains a romantic notion.  Sound familiar?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Tantalizing Horizon

ABE1Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post about the importance of grasslands in American history and culture.  It’s a fascinating topic.  A number of people pointed out that Europe does indeed have a major grassland – the vast central Asian Steppes do extend into parts of Europe, a bit west of the Black Sea.  It definitely helps explain why when the American plains were “settled,” it was often by people with roots in those areas of Europe.

So in honor of the world’s grasslands, let’s devote the next few posts to highlighting the plains, prairies, pampas, llanos, cerrados, steppes, savannas, and velds of the earth.

The Central Asian Steppes

400px-Eurasian_steppe_beltFrom the Black Sea in the west, to China and nearly to the Pacific in the east, are the steppes of Asia.  It includes at least parts of China, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, and several of the “stans.”  The region has been incredibly important in history as a trade route between Europe and Asia for everything from spices to horses.  Much of the trade was along the famous Silk Road.  Of course, not only were goods traded – ideas, traditions, art, religions, and all other aspects of culture were also traded as Europe and Asia grew up together through the ages.

Marco Polo


One famous example of this was Marco Polo.  A wealthy merchant from Venice, Marco traveled east with his father and uncle all the way to China, and served the great Kublai Khan for years.  He returned to Europe, was imprisoned, but wrote his tales of wonder from the wild open lands of Asia.  These stories helped fuel the European desire for exploration, not only as a means of gathering wealth, but also as a grand adventure to see foreign lands and cultures very different from those found in Europe.



Grasslands and Travel

Bikes are a great way to travel this longer section.

I think it’s clear from history that like the sea, grasslands inspire travel and adventure.  Forests tend to invite us to stay and settle and build a home.  The open lands of the steppes and plains dare us to find out what lies beyond that tantalizing horizon.  The Great Plains Trail strides (and rides) proudly along with that tradition!




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Grasslands – The Most American Landscape

Grasslands!  There are no major grasslands in Europe.

Grasslands! There are no major grasslands in Europe.

Yes, you’ve read this before, but maybe I’m going to make this an annual post on this holiday . . . because it’s still true.

Happy 4th of July from the Great Plains Trail!  On this most American of holidays, it’s time to recognize (and brag just a bit) that the most American of landscapes is indeed the Great Plains.  I will expand on this idea briefly so you can get back to grillin’ and chillin’ in your neighbor’s backyard.

In the varied and intricate history of the country we call America, with its many cultural influences and stories, it can be argued that the dominant cultural thread is a European one.  From the time of Columbus onward, the creation of what was to become America was, by and large, a grand European project.  Yes, I know, there are countless other influences, and yes, I know, we signed the Declaration of Independence and then overthrew our European oppressors in the Revolutionary War, but that was hardly the end of European influence.

Evidence that Europeans have had trouble adapting to the grasslands

Evidence that Europeans have had difficulty adapting to the grasslands

One of the reasons why Europeans took to the place so readily was that it reminded them of Europe.  The coasts, the forests, the mountains, the lakes – they all reminded Europeans of some place they had left behind in “the old country.”  All of them except the Great Plains – there is simply no equivalent landscape in Europe to compare with the Great Plains.  Europe has mountains, hills, valleys, coasts, forests, and even deserts, but there are no major grasslands in Europe.  It is most likely this fact that leaves the Great Plains relatively empty even today despite a nation of over 300,000,000 people.  The Europeans that “settled” the nation stuck to what they knew, and they knew nothing of the grasslands, and so they were generally avoided, or passed through as quickly as possible.  They remain, if not unspoiled, at least unpopulated today.

The Windmill - another American icon from the Great Plains

The Windmill – another American icon from the Great Plains

The Great Plains, as the only truly American landscape, gave rise to such true American icons as “the cowboy,” “the buffalo,” “the teepee,” “the covered wagon,” and “the ranch.”  The Great Plains also created the unique American value of self reliance and independence.  These things were not seen as virtues until Americans ventured beyond the well watered landscapes of the east.

So there you have it, and you are welcome to disagree, but I declare that as far as landscapes are concerned, the most American is the vast open country of the Great Plains!  Not only is it the largest single landscape we have (covering at least 1/4 of the country, depending on how you define it), but it also gave rise to who we are, and how we define ourselves as a people and a nation.

Happy Independence Day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Limitations Imposed by the Earth’s Curvature

I’m reviving an old theme here:  Quotations relating the the Great Plains by authors famous and not famous.  Enjoy!


It is a stern, formidable land that invites no dalliance with the viewer, no light hearted love affair with persons who visit or inhabit it.  Yet for those who are willing to accept it on its own terms, to battle its storms and fight its droughts, it offers incredible beauty – buttes that turn purple in the fading twilight, pinnacles of rock as delicate as anything designed by a human architect, broad horizons that stretch as far as the limitations imposed by the earth’s curvature, deep canyons and broad rivers, all covered by a sky unequaled for grandeur except on the ocean.            

Alexander B. Adams, from Sunlight and Storm The Great American Plains

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment