Distance from Nearest Road: 2.2 miles
Distance from Nearest Trail: 2.2 miles
Travel Method: Hiking
Hiking Distance One-Way: 4.7 miles
Cell Phone Coverage: Yes
Public Land: Yes, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
Something We Learned: North central Nebraska is an expansive,wild, rolling Great Plains landscape referred to as the Nebraska Sandhills. AND: Don’t ever forget to pacck your young daughter’s lunch before setting out on an expedition–especially on Thanksgiving Day!
Project Remote is working to precisely calculate and travel to the remotest locations in each of the 50 United States. Below is a written account of our 9.3 mile hiking expedition to document the Nebraska Remote Spot. This is our 34th state Remote Spot documented as part of Project Remote.
In Ryan’s Words….
November 22, 2017. The Remote Spotters arrive in the Nebraska Sandhills overnight. The next morning, we delight to discover a relatively wild intact grassland ecosystem here in north central NE. These sandhills reportedly cover one-quarter of Nebraska. The grass-cloaked sandy dunes are believed to have formed relatively recently, at the very end of the Pliestocene. The vast Laurentide ice sheet shrunk northward and relinquished the northern Plains. At this time, sand-sized particles are thought to have been wind driven from exposed South Dakota badlands, and redeposited here as dunes. It’s a very scenic area. When it rains on sandy soil, water easily percolates into the ground, creating a sustaining aquifer. The Ogallala aquifer occupies the ground underneath these sandhills. This area holds a wealth of groundwater-fed ponds, lakes, and streams. An estimated 90 percent of the continent’s sandhill cranes stop over in this region during migration. As I ponder, it clicks in my mind that the term “sandhill” crane may (upon confirmation) derive from this region! I love making those kind of natural connections.
ecologic and physiographic region of Nebraska
As we make our way across this landscape, a fairly large, dark mammal lies dead on the road. Instictively, as biologists, we stop to inspect. It’s a large porcupine (Erythizon dorsatum). What a formerly beautiful animal. And a tragic loss to the landscape. We painfully are reminded about one of the most important reasons why we crusade across America on Project Remote. It’s to elevate awareness about such ecological impacts of roads and the shocking extent of the U.S. roads system. All these roads in our country not only cause direct mortality of millions of animals, but impact ecological systems in at least two dozen other ways. And lastly, true wilderness cannot exist with so many roads.
A large porcupine lies dead on the road near the Nebraska Remote
A few minutes later, we spot something uplifting. An old road corridor lies in ruins on the prairie. Grasses and plants spring up all over it from within cracks. Erosion and plant growth over time are reclaiming this corridor for the prairie. The earth is probably more resilient than we think–but we have to back off of all the development pressure in order to reach some sort of sustainable equilibrium between human occupation and landscape ecology. We can start by restoring unnecessary roads back to wildlands. It’s possible. And here’s a reminder.
Old road corridor restoring back to grassland near the Nebraska Remote Spot
We arrive at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. A large patch of NE sandhills community is preserved forever (we hope) within this refuge. Our calculated remotest location in all of NE resides within. First thing, we locate the refuge biologist, Mel, to check in and gain much needed intelligence on the best approach from which to embark to the Nebraska Remote Spot. Mel and the refuge manager, Juancarlos, are extremely helpful and supportive. They provide us the local knowledge base that we need before tomorrow starting our wilderness trip. Thank you! By late afternoon, we score a perfect nearby spot in the sandhills to camp just outside the refuge.
Remote Spotters camp on the ground near the Nebraska Remote Spot the night before going remote…
November 24, 2017. Thanksgiving Day. We awaken on the ground from a night spent directly under the stars. We pack up and drive to the nearest road approach within the refuge where Mel recommended we start.
Project Remote embarks to the Nebraska Remote Spot-Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
Weather today is exceptionally favorable. It’s a record warm late November spell for the northern Great Plains…30’s this morning in camp, and it should reach near 70 this afternoon. It’s been like this for days. We are tasked with hiking in, documenting, then hiking out of the NE Remote Spot all in one day. That will prove to be almost 10 miles hiking–all off trail. Adding to the challenge, we must move at the pace of our youngest companion, Skyla, who is 8 yrs old. It helps that she has literally grown up remote spotting across America since being just 10 months old. After having expeditioned into 34 state Remote Spots, she possesses more outdoor experience as most well-seasoned, outdoor-loving adults we know! Skyla always packs her favorite dolls and stuffed critters while going remote…
Skyla and Rebecca set out ahead into the wild Nebraska Sandhills toward the Nebraska Remote Spot
An isolated ephemeral wetland sits within a circular depression in the sandhills. Water is present. This is precisely where much of the local amphibian fauna would breed. I wonder if any larvae are present. It could be too late in the season. Wish we had enough time to check! Small, isolated wetlands that are cyclically wet and dry–like this–are incredibly important features within healthy diverse ecosystems. As biologists, Rebecca and I study these types of wetlands back home in north Florida, and we can’t help but notice them all over the country during our Project Remote travels.
Ephemeral wetland in the Nebraska Sandhills within the Valentine NWR&n
Suddenly Skyla erupts into a scream of pain. I fling my head around to see her kneeling directly on a prickly pear cactus pad that lurks underneath the grass. She is frozen in fear and pain. We leap to her aid, lifting her slowly off the cactus. This is her first severe run-in with cactus in her young life. I pull out the duct tape and tweezers and go to work.
Daddy removes cactus spines from Skyla’s knee near Nebraska Remote Spot
Several dozen tiny, hair-like spines, called glochids, are embedded in here knee. These tiny spines belong to cacti of the prickly pear genus Opuntia. You almost can’t see them. But you can feel them. I’d rather have to deal with large spines. After thirty minutes of painstaking glochid removal from our daughter’s knee, we declare complete spine removal success! Needless to say, Skyla proceeds with caution for the rest of the day in cactus country.
Glochid spines in Skyla’s knee
We push on through the diverse grasses that cloak the Nebraska sandhills… Apprehension grows because the sun is getting low, and we must hike all the way back out much faster than we came in–in order to get out before nightfall.
Skyla and Rebecca navigate to the Nebraska Remote Spot through sandhill prairie