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September 7, 2007 9:43 AM   Subscribe

The Nebraska Sandhills [wiki] make up the largest vegetated sand dune in the Western Hemisphere-- almost 20,000 square miles of rolling dunes covered with prairie grass. The region is sparsely populated-- dotted with tiny towns, and contains the only man-made National Forest in the US and one of the best golf courses in the world. All told, the area's pretty damn photogenic. Just ask NASA.
posted by dersins (38 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
sorry if this is too travel brochure-y, but there's a lot of pretty pictures to look at.
posted by dersins at 9:45 AM on September 7, 2007


Ted Turner owns something like 200,000 acres of the sandhills, using it for bison herds.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:52 AM on September 7, 2007


"sorry if this is too travel brochure-y, but there's a lot of pretty pictures to look at."

How could anyone be critical after such a charming disclaimer?

The pictures are indeed lovely (even if a bit like the duller bits of New Zealand...).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2007


And if you want to go a bit north of the Sandhills, you can visit the Ashfall Fossil beds ^. Or on the way out west to the hills, check out the Strategic Air and Space Museum, featuring a few dozen bombers in indoor hangars. was just in Nebraska myself
posted by Burhanistan at 10:00 AM on September 7, 2007


Fantastic post, thanks dersins.
posted by saladin at 10:00 AM on September 7, 2007


And corn. So much damn corn!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:01 AM on September 7, 2007


Carhenge is right nearby, too.
posted by cog_nate at 10:03 AM on September 7, 2007


And corn. So much damn corn!

Not so much corn in the sandhills. It's more cattle country, actually.

Most of the corn is in southern Nebraska. It's what you see from the interstate, is why most people think Nebraska's all corn all the time.
posted by dersins at 10:05 AM on September 7, 2007


Yeah, no corn out west really. But if driving through the eastern part of the state can induce a cornfield psychosis.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:07 AM on September 7, 2007


The Nebraska sandhills also host the Loup & Dismal Rivers, beautiful places to canoe, along with boiling sand springs.

And unfortunately, recently a fire in the Nebraska National Forest near Chadron burned a great deal of it.
posted by barchan at 10:17 AM on September 7, 2007


Cool post, dersins. The man-made forest was an experiment by botanist Charles Bessey to see if trees would grow in the fragile soils of the Sand Hills.

The Sand Hills were also home to DeWitty, the largest Black township in Nebraska.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2007


Carhenge is the most perfectly contrived piece of kitsch in the world. It's so far away from the interstate that only the most dedicated are willing to make the trek. It's the only thing other than Chimney Rock out there. It's not on the way to anywhere. Yet it is so uniquely an American cultural artifact that it should be required viewing. This coming, of course, from a native Nebraskan who finally drove across the state just to see it this summer.

As for the Sandhills, they really are kind of magical. The rest of the state is boring and being carved up as a suburban dystopia wherever you find more than a thousand people but the Sandhills will always feel like all the romantic elements of a cattle drive. I'd move out there if only there was anything approaching web or software development work to be had. Thanks for the post.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:26 AM on September 7, 2007


Man-made national forest -- who knew? Nice post.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:30 AM on September 7, 2007


Esoteric, obscure and very interesting. All told, I'd say that's a pretty exemplary post. Thanks.
posted by rhymer at 10:31 AM on September 7, 2007


Awesome, seriously.
posted by danb at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2007


The Nebraskan sandhills are also not just pretty but are intensely studied as indicators of recent climate changes. There is some evidence they were de-vegetated and moving just 900 years ago, and there is lots and lots of interest in where, exactly, the sand in this area came from. Lots of theories but no clear explanations.

Ditto on the post! I love this area.
posted by barchan at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2007


Oh, dear god. This is inducing terrible flashbacks of being driven six hours (round-trip) to see the sandhill cranes on a family visit some years back. Very edifying, I'm sure, but really not the sort of thing you want to do when you've spent the entirety of the previous day on a plane. Plus, at the time of year the cranes are migrating, the landscape isn't green and pretty (as seen here) so much as brown and barren.

That said, nice post.
posted by Vervain at 10:43 AM on September 7, 2007


I just drove through the sandhills on Highway 2 with my wife on our honeymoon back in June and it is just beautiful.

To bad that Interstate 80 goes through some of the most boring parts of the state. The whole Missouri River and Niobrara rivers are amazing.

Also the SAC museum is on the complete opposite side of the state: 30 miles from Omaha. But it is awesome!
posted by benk at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2007


sorry if this is too travel brochure-y, but there's a lot of pretty pictures to look at.

Sorry? This sort of post is why I love metafilter. Fascinating to me, as a kind of amateur geologist. Well-gathered, sir.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:52 AM on September 7, 2007


I just drove through the sandhills on Highway 2

Oh, man, I love Highway 2. I should have put it in the post. Duh.

The historic museums in Mullen (pop. 550) and Thedford (pop. 180) are really cool, and I don't even like that sort of thing.

In Mullen, I had the pleasure of meeting the older gentleman (whose name, embarrassingly enough, I've forgotten) who was instrumental in setting up their museum.

He told me that the first time he'd been out of Hooker County was when he served in the Pacific during WWII.

In 1955, a decade after he got home from the Pacific, he finally got "the electric on the home place."

(This was twenty years AFTER Roosevelt's rural electrification program began.)

And I found that just stunning-- a kid from the middle of nowhere, no electricity, never seen a body of water much larger than the Dismal River-- finding himself on a Navy ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
posted by dersins at 11:04 AM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great post, and great story, dersins.
posted by notsnot at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2007


i am from nebraska. it is boring.
posted by camdan at 12:22 PM on September 7, 2007


That golf course looks like fun.
posted by diastematic at 12:35 PM on September 7, 2007


I'm glad the interstate goes through the most boring parts of the state. It 's only the most boring people who travel on it, leaving the treasures of the backroads to those who really love them. The sandhills are beautiful -- I love the wide open spaces and the QUIET. There is a lot of good birding to be done out there and some good geology and history. Great post! Thanks for reminding me how wonderful the Great Plains are.
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 12:40 PM on September 7, 2007


It seems like everyone I know thinks Nebraska is the I-80 Nebraska, and when they choose to opine obnoxiously on the state's boringness, they get my obnoxious travel guide about the Sandhills and other points away from the Platte River floodplain. I do have to credit my aunt and uncle to opening my eyes. Of course western Nebraska is about the coolest place ever when you're marching around on a butte, looking for Miocene bones with your paleontologist relatives.

One of the best things about driving through that part of the US is the little two-finger wave you get from drivers in oncoming cars/trucks. (NB: two fingers.)

Maybe Matt "Flyover States" Haughey would be interested in a visit someday.
posted by tss at 2:26 PM on September 7, 2007


NB: two fingers

Sometimes only one, at least in the sandhills; but always the forefinger, just lifted slightly off the steering wheel, as if to say "yep."
posted by dersins at 2:48 PM on September 7, 2007


According to my pops, who grew up in various locales between Grand Island and the Wyoming border, one finger is "you're heading towards a speed trap" while two is "howdy. everything is clear your way." My dad has always been a one man anti-Snopes though.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2007


Grand Island, meanwhile, is a town with two lies in its name.
posted by tss at 2:56 PM on September 7, 2007


*snicker* I've heard that one from him ever since I can remember, yet it remains one that elicits a chuckle automatically. It's so funny because it's so damn true!

Even moreso since the Platte has been basically bone dry the last few years. The sandbars are covered with vegetation and becoming permanently fixed, eliminating much of the habitat that makes the place such a draw for migrating birds.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:05 PM on September 7, 2007


As I was reading the links, I was thinking "That looks like a great place to go out and look at the stars." Looks like a lot of other people have had the same idea.
posted by jiawen at 3:19 PM on September 7, 2007


Arapaho Indians
Arikara Indians
Assiniboine Indians
Atsina Indians
Brule Indians
Cheyenne Indians
Chipewyan Indians
Cree Indians
Crow Indians
Dakota Indians
Hidatsa Indians
Kainah Indians
Mandan Indians
Oglala Indians
Osage Indians
Oto Indians
Piegan Indians
Ponca Indians
Quapaw Indians
Sarsi Indians
Siksika Indians
Teton Indians
Wichita Indians
Yanktonai Indians
were rather fond of the region also.
posted by hortense at 5:37 PM on September 7, 2007


Arapaho Indians
[snip various and sundry tribes]
were rather fond of the region also.


Um.

Yes.
posted by dersins at 5:42 PM on September 7, 2007


Pawnee Grassland in nearby Colorado.
posted by hortense at 5:56 PM on September 7, 2007


I love the Sandhills. They are the epitome of beautiful desolation.

Great post.
posted by Ostara at 7:46 PM on September 7, 2007


were rather fond of the region also.

Nebraska seems strange like that. Omaha has a bunch of oversized life-like sculptures of American settlers in wagons and bison running around downtown, with plaques on the ground stating the heroics of the settlers discovering the land. Nary a mention of Native Americans. This in a city named after an indigenous tribe.


"That looks like a great place to go out and look at the stars."

Thought that myself tooling around the NE countryside. Seems that if UNL had more things on its collective mind (think small town Texans have it bad?) than footbal they might've secured a world class observatory somewhere out in the Sandhills.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:52 PM on September 7, 2007


Thought that myself tooling around the NE countryside. Seems that if UNL had more things on its collective mind (think small town Texans have it bad?) than footbal they might've secured a world class observatory somewhere out in the Sandhills.

go big red!
posted by camdan at 8:42 PM on September 7, 2007


What a fun post. Thanks!
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:55 PM on September 7, 2007


My favorite thing about Nebraska besides Carhenge which I enjoyed tremendously was seeing the world's largest ball of postage stamps in Boys Town. Nebraska was the last of the continental US states that I visited and I was sorry I hadn't started out there sooner. Despite the sand hills being there, the worlds largest sandhill crane is in North Dakota (self link!). I've been reading the Worst Hard Time this week which I guess everyone in Lincoln Nebraska is reading this year and was just watching the Plow that Broke the Plains.

Which is all just a way of saying, great post, and so timely!
posted by jessamyn at 4:22 PM on September 9, 2007


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