Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Paddling Lake Minatare State Recreation Area

With warm temperatures forecast for today, we decided to cool off for a bit at Lake Minatare. We packed up our gear, loaded the canoe, and made the short drive northeast to Lake Minatare State Recreation Area. We pulled in at a lakeside campsite in the shade of some cottonwood trees and readied our gear for our exploration.

We immediately entered into a grove of cottonwood trees, their bases under water.
It was really fun to weave through all the trees and pass under the arches of their branches.
 We slowly made our way southeast along the shoreline, past some private homes to a camping area towards the dam. Here we beached the canoe
and got out for lunch. We tried eating at a picnic table in the campground, but the bugs were bothersome, even if they didn't bite. After lunch we waded in the water for a bit,
then Sierra stripped down to her swimsuit for a cold refreshing dip.
After watching Sierra swim for about 20 minutes, we got back in the canoe for the return paddle. This time we cut across the open water and headed towards "the Point",
which is the site of the "lighthouse" that was built as a jobs program during the Great Depression. We floated the shoreline past the lighthouse
and back into some cottonwoods on our way back to the car. We all really enjoyed being able to paddle through the trees, it made a day on the water much more pleasant than if we had been paddling out in the open sun all day.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Scotts Bluff National Monument: Prairie View Trail and the Oregon Trail Pathway

Today we made the short drive over to U Street to hike the Prairie View Trail in Scotts Bluff National Monument. The weather was about as good as it gets; blue sky, warm temperatures and little wind!
We hiked past the scenic bluffs
through a wonderland of prairie flowers. Blooming flowers included Western wallflower,
death camass,
 narrow-leaved musineon,
and white penstemon.
All those blooms attracted a large number of butterflies.
As we made our way west along the trail, not only were we treated to views of plentiful wildflowers, we also spotted some wildlife including a bullsnake that nearly scared Sierra to death.
We also spotted a toad, Woodhouse's perhaps,
along with an ornate box turtle.

Once we had arrived at the visitor center parking area, we were all feeling ready to extend our hike, so we continued west on the Oregon Trail Pathway, passing the wagons.
Sierra rested at the Merrill Mattes Memorial bench for a bit
and then we continued on into the deep ruts of the wagon trail.
As we moved west, we spotted more blooming wildflowers, all very interesting. There was tufted evening primrose,
purplespot fritillary,
and cleft gromwell.
We stopped at William Henry Jackson's 1866 campsite
for a short break and then travelled back the way we had come.
One interesting find on the walk back to the car was a bird's egg that appears to have been blown out of its nest, probably in last night's high winds. It was cracked and covered in ants.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

North Platte National Wildlife Refuge: Stateline Island

Today was Sierra's last day of first grade. What a strange school year it's been! She started out at Falls Elementary in International Falls, Minnesota. After Christmas break she and Noelle moved to Gering, Nebraska with me and Sierra started attending Geil Elementary. Then Coronavirus and school has been mostly at home for the past 2 months. Anyway, we decided to get out of the house for a little adventure close to home, and so we opted to head to Henry, Nebraska on the Wyoming border to check out the Stateline Island unit of the North Platte National Wildlife Refuge.

We arrived to the parking area
and it was colder and windier than I had expected. We opted to hike the trail along the North Platte River first.
The hike along the river was pleasant, if unexciting. We followed the river trail to the point where we lost it. We searched in vain for a few minutes to see if we could find where the trail connected to another to form a loop, but instead all we found was high grass, the first ticks of the season, and a witness post marker.
We turned around and followed the river back to the start of the trail. By now the sun was coming out and the temperature was warming up.
Along the way we saw some birds. All pretty common species including magpies, red-winged blackbrids and Canada geese. When we were at the start of the trail we headed out on the two track road section of trail that traversed the lands a little ways from the river.
We passed a pretty little creek where we saw some yellow warblers and continued on to the point where our trail ended at an old bridge abutment.
Besides the warblers, we saw a wild turkey, hairy woodpeckers, northern flickers and some other birds. Sierra picked a bouquet of flowers that included fragrant sage and mint.
We ended our visit with a walk in the section of the refuge on the west side of the highway. It was a short walk and nothing too spectacular. While we enjoyed our walk at Stateline Island, it is definitely not the type of place worth going out of your way to visit.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Panorama Point: The Highest Point in Nebraska

After our hike at the Pawnee Buttes, we headed north back into Nebraska (after inadvertently heading further west than we had intended) to visit the highest point in our new home state. Noelle and I had been there before, nearly 18 years earlier during my first season at Wind Cave National Park.
This time we would return with Sierra. We crossed from Colorado into Nebraska and almost immediately found ourselves at the High Point Bison Ranch. I paid the entrance fee ($3 per person) and we made the short drive to the summit area.
We took a family photo at the summit,
Note, I'm wearing the same fleece sweatshirt to both my visits to Panorama Point, 18 years apart!
signed the register,
and rested at the bench there for a short time.
Then we got back in the car for a failed trip to the tri-state (Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado) monument where the 3 states' borders intersect. Unfortunately, there was a pipe blocking the drive to the monument and so we turned around and started our drive back to Gering. I'm guessing all the wind turbine development has something to do with the closure. 

Pawnee National Grassland: Pawnee Buttes Trail

We got out of the state of Nebraska for the first time in weeks today. We made the drive just south of the border to the Pawnee National Grassland near Grover, Colorado. It's a weekday and not the most popular part of Colorado for outdoor recreation, and so I figured we would have plenty of space for social distancing.

I packed lunch and snack stuff, so when we arrived at the trailhead, we got out our camp chairs and ate lunch in the parking lot, using the car as a windbreak as best we could.
The nearby picnic tables were closed and off limits.
Once lunch was eaten and packed away, we hit the trail with immediate views out to our destination: the Pawnee Buttes.

The first section of trail follows a rim top that overlooks a valley and the distant buttes.
There were lots of wildflowers in bloom in this section.
Then the trail started to descend via a drainage.
Once at the bottom the trail made a right turn and started to make its way to the westernmost of the two buttes.
The cliffs and rim tops off to the sides of the trail are currently off-limits for raptor nesting, specifically peregrine falcons.
We did not see any falcons on our hike today. Slowly we made our way closer to the west butte.
As we passed the west butte,
Sierra found a nice rock to climb and take a break on.
Then we started to make our way towards the east butte, entering into private property.

We ascended to the base of the east butte,
took another break on another rock, and then started to retrace our steps back to the car.
It was a pleasant hike, though a bit windy. Altogether I would say we hiked just over 3 miles round-trip. As we left the Pawnee Buttes Trailhead area, we noted that there are a lot of dispersed camping sites on the loop road that leads to the trail. Something to note for the future.