Photo of the Week – December 29, 2016

Kim and I have made it an annual tradition to spend part of our holiday break at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  Our kids were with other relatives for part of this year’s break, so we had a few days to rest, relax, and explore by ourselves.  The weather was variable during our time there, including fog, rain, snow, hail, strong wind, and warm sunshine.  Perfect.  We watched bald eagles soar effortlessly over the river and bluffs, flushed cottontail rabbits out of the brush, saw white-tailed deer, mule deer, bison, turkeys, and the tracks of many other animals. We enjoyed the diversity of plants we saw as well, even though most of them were brown and dormant.  It was a great trip, although we both wished we’d been serenaded by coyotes at least one evening.  Maybe next year.  Here are some photos from the visit.

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Our first day started out foggy, wet, and cold, and we finished our five mile hike just as a thunderstorm rolled in, bringing icy rain and hail. Visibility was limited, but it was still beautiful.

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I caught Monday’s sunrise on the bluffs north of the river where the 2012 wildfire left abundant pine and cedar skeletons behind.

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Looking up at a burned ponderosa pine.

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The Niobrara River was partially frozen over, but still had channels of open water.

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I wandered around on the ice for a while, looking for interesting patterns.

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This sunflower head was poking out of the ice on a small island in the river.

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We climbed up a ridge we hadn’t explored before and enjoyed the view downstream.

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While the vast majority of pines were killed in the wildfire, there is one steep draw on the very corner of our property where a decent percentage of pines somehow survived. Kim and I christened it “The Canyon of the Living Pines”.

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It was gratifying to see green needles on trees after hiking for hours through burned out skeletons.

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A panoramic view of the Niobrara Valley Preserve.

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This photo includes five photos stitched together to help show the scale of the property.

Trips like this help me realize how fortunate I am.  I’m lucky to have a wife who enjoys winter hiking and remote vacations away from people and noise.  I’m lucky to have a job that allows me access to places like the Niobrara Valley Preserve and the time to explore them.  And I’m lucky to have this platform for sharing photos and stories with people who appreciate them and share their perspectives back with me.  Thank you.  Happy New Year!

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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.
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14 Responses to Photo of the Week – December 29, 2016

  1. Teresa says:

    Happy New Year to you too! I feel fortunate to view your photos. Especially love the one with this caption, “We climbed up a ridge we hadn’t explored before and enjoyed the view downstream.”

  2. Gay Gilbert says:

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity the mid west in winter through your artistic eyes! So glad you enjoyed your vacation, and that you love your job…..it’s folks like you who will help save beautiful places for the future.

  3. Larry Hartzke says:

    Your closing paragraph evidences a feeling of gratitude, which is essential to enJOYing life, whatever that life entails. And practicing gratitude reflects wisdom of that recognition. I have enjoyed your postings for years. I hope to visit some (warmer) day!

  4. Noel Rose says:

    I love your posts and look forward to your photography! Noel

  5. Paul says:

    Happy New Year to you and yours Chris!! Thank you for sharing all of your photographs and knowledge this past year, and it was a pleasure to hear your perspectives at the N.A. Prairie Conference. All the best in 2017 – – you truly are in a wonderful place!!

  6. Teresa says:

    Yes Chris, you are indeed very lucky. You are an inspiration and mentor to us all. Happy New Year to you, your family and your extended Nature Conservancy family!

  7. Ernest Ochsner says:

    Happy New Year to you also, hope 2017 brings many joys, great knowledge and wisdom. Thanks for all the beauty and inspiration you share on this site.

  8. Lovely photo journal, Chris. Happy New Year to you and Kim.

  9. Novalene thurston says:

    Thanks for sharing with us throughout the year.

  10. Jane Papsdorf says:

    A Happy, Healthy and Blessed New Year. Thank you so much for sharing your excellent writings and photos with all of us. I certainly am glad I was told about your blog. I have learned so much!

  11. James McGee says:

    I feel like I have some ownership of the Niobrara Valley because I have visited it. My small claim is nothing compared to yours. It is nice to see a king’s and queen’s view while touring their kingdom.

  12. gcarolynlb says:

    Wonderful photos and beautiful sentiments. Thanks for sharing the wild prairie and detailing interesting bits about its inhabitants. I always enjoy your posts. Best wishes to you and your family this coming year.

  13. avanraaphorst says:

    We are all lucky to have you to remind us of the beauty of life and the wonder of nature. Thank you! And also thank you for reminding us to remember the luckiness in our own individual lives. Happy New Year!

  14. James C. Trager says:

    You are indeed fortunate on all those counts, Chris.
    Beware that “wandering around on ice” thing. We don’t want to lose you!

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