The far western end of Nebraska bears little resemblance to the visual image most people have of Nebraska. A combination of geologic forces and climate have joined to create a landscape that appears desolate and/or beautiful, depending upon one’s individual aesthetic. I’ve always been drawn to that kind of wide open space, maybe because I lived there for part of my childhood. As is true across the state, the panhandle is mostly privately-owned, though there are some prominent exceptions within the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills landscapes, as well as the Oglala National Grassland.
The Nature Conservancy’s Cherry Ranch, south of Harrison, Nebraska, is a prime example of the beauty and remoteness of the panhandle. The roughly 7,000 acre site supports populations of swift foxes, lark buntings, burrowing owls, and many other wildlife species. Plant communities include sedge meadows and mesic prairie down low and western mixed-grass prairie at higher elevation, much of which is dominated by threadleaf sedge, aka blackroot sedge (Carex filifolia), along with a strong diversity of grasses and wildflowers.
The site is also bisected by the upper reaches of the Niobrara River, which is considerably smaller there than it is as it passes through our Niobrara Valley Preserve, nearly 200 miles downstream. Most spectacularly, the ranch is characterized by a number of rocky escarpments, which provide both stunning views and distinct plant communities. The site is not currently open to public access, but hosts a number of research projects, as well as a working cattle operation.
A small group of staff visited Cherry Ranch this week to discuss management with our lessee and explore/photograph the various habitats of the site. We had a great trip, full of wildlife and plant observations, the highlight of which was two gallivanting badger cubs that let us watch them for a few minutes. I was disappointed that we didn’t find a prairie rattlesnake, but that sentiment wasn’t unanimous. We spent part of an early evening on the site and then returned the next morning to catch the sunrise. The Fellows will likely have stories and photos to share in the near future, but here are a few of the photos I took during the visit…
The lichens were very beautiful too. Too bad you didn’t get a few up close pictures of them…or did you?
Of course I did! But not as many as I sometimes have
What an incredibly stunning piece of the world! Thanks for sharing that Chris. Detail photos next trip!
So beautiful! You make me want to visit!!
I’m glad you got a picture of Tetraneuris. I grew the alpine variety of this species in my rock garden twice. They grew, flowered, then died both times. I should try growing the variety from the plains next time to see if I have any better luck.
I have had one Tetraneuris torreyana that I grew from seed for many years now. It blooms every year. I am surprised it has lasted so well in my northern Illinois garden since the seed came from Utah.
People have told me the federally threatened Tetraneuris herbacea is the one that does the best in gardens. The owners of the last population in my state used the site as a place to store coal. Although, a cross with plants from another state has subsequently been reintroduced into other locations in Illinois. I have not tried growing this species, mostly because it is larger than more western species in the genus. I think the whole point of a rock garden is to grow things that tend to stay short. I also make a point of avoiding federally listed species, although I have seen nurseries selling it.
Gorgeous landscapes-not what I would expect from Nebraska! Thanks for opening my eyes :)
Beautiful images, Chris. And, it’s good to know that TNC has an enlightened partner in landscape management on the ranch.
Those are some wonderful pictures Chris. Didn’t we visit this property after our board meeting at Fort Robinson a few years ago?
Sent from my iPhone
we did, yes, and thanks!
Great landscape photos. Really enjoy seeing the such unsuspected sites, and yes, who would think in Nebraska! The same can be said for Kansas. Good to see you last week at NAPC and great job.
Beautiful photography! I wish I had the chance to explore western Nebraska before I got so old I couldn’t travel. Your photographs help me appreciate the beauty of the area. Thanks, Marge Smith
That’s a beautiful property, Chris. I’m very glad TNC owns it. Thanks for sharing your photos.
My heart yearns forever and always to return. And your beautiful work keeps it so alive in my soul.
Looks a lot like the Coloradan prairies out here! Very similar flora too. Great photos!
Beautiful area beautifully captured!
Cool. Been to the Wildcat Hills and Pawnee Buttes, but I’d love to visit Cherry Ranch sometime.
SO beautiful – and badgers! Bucket List!
A couple of these photos remind me of western Kansas, particularly the Monument Rocks area. I found the phrase “Niobrara chalk,” in an article or two, which suggests there is a relationship.This certainly isn’t what I’ve imagined when I think of Nebraska; the photos are beautiful and the urge to travel is strong.