Photo of the Week – December 31, 2015

My wife and I have a tradition of spending part of our holiday break up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  It’s only a two year old tradition, but nevertheless…

This year, the weather was great for hiking, so we spent quite a bit of time exploring.  Here are a few photos from our trip.  Think of them as a Happy New Year gift from me.  (Sorry, it’s all you get.)

Happy New Year!


Kim and I spent a long afternoon on the north side of the river, exploring the former pine woodland (now grassland).


Evan Suhr (land manager) took us out to look at some of last year’s management results, and on the way back we came upon a couple big bison bulls.

rose hip

Rose hips provided some rare color in the winter landscape.


While almost all the ponderosa pines on the north side of the river (on Preserve property, at least) were killed by the 2012 wildfire, there are still numerous pines alive elsewhere on the Preserve, including this one.


A very light snow fell while we were at the Preserve, and it made for a very pretty Christmas Eve morning.

snow cup

This hoary vervain (Verbena stricta) leaf turned into a cup of snow.


On Christmas Day, we found several small springs and followed the stream they created all the way to the Niobrara River.  There were several great waterfalls along the way.


On Christmas Eve, a big full moon rose over the river not long after sunset.


This entry was posted in Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

13 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – December 31, 2015

  1. Thanks for sharing Chris, and thanks for all of your hard work out there this past year – – same to your staff, volunteers, and interns. All the best to everyone in 2016 from Toledo, Illinois!!

  2. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy, appreciate and learn from your blog. Since another Deer Grove Natural Areas Volunteer (Illinois – Cook County Forest Preserves ) recommended your site, I have never skipped a post because your photos are gorgeous, your insights are valuable, and you write really well! (So concise, focused, direct, spare –do you have a journalism background?) I refer back often to your posts about what you look for when you walk thru your prairie and what questions you have about prairie restoration to inform my walks/ work at Deer Grove. Thank you for sharing your work, insights and photos.

  3. Your term Holiday break up was of interest to me. The last time I heard a similar term was when spending the Christmas Holiday in Australia. The term was breaking up parties such a we call Holiday party. Were did you learn to use that term and what do you think the term means, I suggest visiting the grassland of Victoria in December buy the way.

    • By “up” Chris just meant to the North. We in the Northern Hemisphere have a habit of thinking that the North Pole is the top of the world primarily because that is how it is shown on all our maps.

  4. Not many things I could enjoy or appreciate more than a shot of “the old country.” The north side of the river at TNC is not far from my grandad’s place, Turkey Creek (about 1900 through about 1965, when he died grading a road just west of Turkey Creek). Thank you for relieving some of the loneliness and nostalgia I feel for this beautiful part of the world. Happy New Year to you, too.

  5. I am curious what is going to happen to all those dead trees. In the Cook County Forest Preserves they would be cut down and hauled away or piled and burned. Cook County cuts down dead trees near trails because they have fallen on people during wind storms resulting in multi-million dollar lawsuits. Unfortunately our preserves have trails just about everywhere. If standing dead trees catch on fire during a prescribed burn they are cut down to prevent embers from blowing in the wind and starting fires outside breaks. Dead trees on the ground are piled and burned to reduce the effort of those conducting prescribed burns. Burning logs often must be extinguished because people will call the fire department. It will be interesting to see what happens to all those dead ponderosa pines. Will they burn up in the next fire or will they decompose? I think, depending on the topography, some of both will occur.

    p.s. The bison photo is epic.

    • At this point, we plan to just leave the trees. I expect they will stand through a number of future fires but will eventually be consumed after they fall. We don’t have trails through the area right now so visitation is limited in that area.

      • I wish Cook County could leave more dead trees. The challenge of living is a densely populated area makes this difficult. The upside of letting nature take its course is you might be able to get some good pictures of woodpeckers to share.


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