Hubbard Alumni Blog: Platte Meditations

This post was written by Evan Barrientos, a Hubbard fellow during 2015 and 2016.  Evan is currently working for The Nature Conservancy in Oregon.

(This is a post that I wrote in January 2016 while during my Fellowship but didn’t get around to publishing before winter passed.) On a sub-zero Saturday morning I got up early to catch some photos of the sunrise. I had planned to go to a prairie, but as I was driving I noticed a line of steam rising on the horizon like the trail of dust a pickup makes as it races down a dry gravel road. Curious, I headed towards the steam and realized that it was coming off of the Platte River. When I arrived at the bridge I was stunned; all along the river, vapor was rising from the surface and glowing in the sunrise. An endless procession of ice chunks slowly floated by, quietly scraping against the snow on the bank. I spent almost two hours photographing, filming, and recording audio, and I never even felt cold (which is saying a lot for me). There was something special about that morning, something about the stillness that made me feel content and peaceful. I wanted to share that feeling with other people, so I created a short video of how I saw the Platte that morning:

There’s really something special about the Platte and I don’t know if I can explain it. Maybe it’s my instinctive attraction to water. Maybe it’s the languid pace of the Platte that relaxes me. Maybe it’s simply the change in scenery and stark contrast between river and prairie. Or maybe I’m surprised by how beautiful it is each time I make a visit because no one ever seems to talk about it. It’s hard to take a trip in Nebraska without driving over the Platte, yet how often do we stop and explore what’s below those bridges?


Part of the problem is that there’s so little public access to the Platte. I know of a few observation decks and one tiny trail along it, but the vast majority is private property. Even if you set foot on the middle of the riverbed you’re trespassing! This is such a shame because in my opinion the Platte is one of the greatest recreation opportunities in southern Nebraska. On a sunny weekend it is my favorite place to sit and read, and every time a friend visits I make sure to bring him or her to a sandbar for a picnic. As an employee of The Nature Conservancy, I have the luxury of being able to access a couple sections that we manage.


Fortunately, even if you don’t have access to a section of the Platte the best option is still available to you: kayaking. I did this with a friend twice during the summer and it remains one of my favorite Nebraskan memories. When there’s enough water for a decent flow you can cover 20 miles in an afternoon while hardly paddling. And boy was I surprised how beautiful the scenery was! I expected the river to be bordered on both sides by corn fields, but the section between Minden and Wood River is actually surrounded by trees, creating the feeling that you are far, far away from it all. No place other than the Sandhills has given me that feeling of isolation in Nebraska. Kayaking the Platte requires two cars to shuttle and renting kayaks if you don’t own them, but it is well worth the trouble.


The Platte River has a long history of abuse, and now it is often taken for granted, in my opinion. But if more people had a meaningful connection to it maybe we would treat it better. I challenge you to find your own special place or activity on the river, if you haven’t yet; get to know this wonderful feature if you haven’t yet. The Platte deserves it.


Public Access to the Platte:

  • Platte River State Park, Louisville
  • Louisville State Recreation Area, Louisville
  • Two Rivers State Recreation Area, Waterloo
  • The Crane Trust Visitor Center, Alda
  • Alda Rd. and Shoemaker Island Rd. (observation deck), Alda
  • Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, Gibbon
  • Lowell Road and Elm Island road (observation deck), Gibbo
  • Riverside Park, Sottsbluff
  • Platte River Landing, Valley

Photo of the Week – May 12, 2016

Being a nature photographer sometimes means I can plan trips to interesting places and spend extended periods of time focusing on nothing but photography.  More often, however, my photography comes in short opportunistic bursts in the middle of other activities.  Fortunately, my family and coworkers are (mostly) patient with me when these opportunities arise and I briefly break away from whatever we’re doing.

Spider on a foggy morning. The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Spider in foggy prairie. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

This week, two of my coworkers and I spent a couple days at our Niobrara Valley Preserve working on some strategic planning.  Our time together was really productive, but we were in one of the most scenic places in the world with almost no time to get outside and enjoy it.  When I woke up Tuesday morning, it was foggy outside, but bright enough that the sun was just barely visible through the fog.  My two coworkers were nowhere to be seen, so I made an executive decision that it was a great time for photography and slipped out the door and up the hill to a beautiful prairie ridgetop.

This web seemed to be uninhabited except by hundreds of water droplets.

This web seemed to be uninhabited except by hundreds of water droplets.

Water droplet at the tip of a grass leaf.

A single water droplet at the tip of a grass leaf.

I spent about 20 minutes photographing spiderwebs and other dew-covered natural wonders before slipping back into our cabin, ready to resume the meeting.  Fortunately, the other two – including my boss – hadn’t started without me.  Throughout the rest of the morning, I only sighed aloud a few times as I watched the fog slowly break up over the river and bluffs just outside our cabin, and I’m pretty sure I only pointed out the beautiful photography light seven or eight times.  Other than that I was completely focused and productive…

The same spider as shown in the first photo, but from a different angle. As long as my knees were wet from the dewy grass and the spider seemed ok with my presence, I figured I'd better shoot as many angles as I could...

The same spider as shown in the first photo, but from a different angle. As long as my knees were wet from the dewy grass and the spider seemed ok with my presence, I figured I’d better shoot as many angles as I could…