Nebraska

_C1_3166.JPGI was born in Missouri, but I’m from Nebraska. It was home from third grade to college graduation. I wrote my first essay, took my first photo on a digital camera, spent hours after school in quiz bowl practice, picked up a trombone for the first time, went to prom and grew up, mostly in a town right outside Omaha with cornfields down the street from my house. But I never saw the state’s Sandhills like this, splashed with millions of yellow flowers.

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_C1_3157.JPGOne-fourth of the state, or around 20,000 square miles, is covered with sand dunes held in place by a blanket of grass. These Sandhills are probably most widely known for their cranes and their ground water: The political fight over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, which has gone on since my college days, raged the loudest here thanks at least partly to the hills’ high water tables. The hills, as I found out, also erupt with native plains sunflowers when conditions are right.

Gentle hills and fields might what many people imagine when they think of Nebraska, but I spent most of my Nebraska years in the more urban east near Omaha and Lincoln. Almost two-thirds of the state’s 2 million people live in or around those two cities. Lincoln, home of good friends, my alma mater and the state’s towering limestone and marble capitol, was my first stop this trip.

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IMG_2613.JPGThe photographic star of this leg, though — besides the eclipse — was Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. It’s been called the world’s best zoo, and I was always thrilled as a kid when I got to visit its aquarium and huge, living indoor rainforest. I’ve missed its vivid colors and relatively spacious exhibits since my visit to Tulsa’s zoo three years ago. I’ll never get tired of going.

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_C1_2779.JPGNext I swung by Omaha’s historic Old Market. Shops, restaurants and breweries line its cobblestone streets, including in one of my favorite spots, the Passageway.

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After that, it was back to Lincoln for a bit, then west and north through those old Sandhills. Much more rugged scenery in the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota was up next.

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The old backyard

IMG_2525.JPGThere’s no mistaking a southwestern Missouri creek. I’ll always recognize the high-pitched clink the fist-sized rocks make when I walk on them. Many of them bear tiny round or cylindrical fossils — some rocks are essentially nothing but fossil. Crawdads and snails and fish flit or crawl over the creek bed. The water itself, cool and clear, gleams golden and reflected green. I’ve known these creeks, like Bull Creek above, since my earliest memories, and my dad has known them even longer. It was good to get back a couple of weekends ago.

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IMG_2490.JPGI’m heading up north again in a couple weeks for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse that will sweep from coast to coast. Click that link for detailed maps on where to see the total blockage of the sun by the moon — you can bet I’ll have about 1,000 photos to share, but it sounds like photos won’t do this cosmic event nearly the justice it deserves. If you can go and decide to do it, watch out for tens of thousands of others doing the same. If you don’t, you’ll at least get a partial eclipse no matter where you are in the country. But there’s no way I’m missing this thing; I’ve been looking forward to it for more than a year.

See you on the other side!

Dan

Between the storms

_C1_8531.JPGThis month has brought a whole lot of rain: more than 7 inches so far this month, with another 8 (!) possible between now and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Yesterday’s storm swept away a homeless camp in Fayetteville, caused other flash flooding and caught houses on fire with its lightning, and that was with only 3 inches of rain. The ground is almost completely saturated, so be careful of all the runoff this weekend, and especially don’t drive through it.

The pauses in the mayhem, on the other hand, have brought great chances to see local waterfalls at their full power. The one above is a cascade at one end of Lake Wedington, which sits in a nearby patch of the Ozark National Forest. I took an early morning hike on the trail along the lake’s edge Sunday, my first time there.

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_C1_8524.JPGThe waterfall drains the lake around the trail’s halfway point and was absolutely gushing, tumbling 50 or so feet and throwing off curtains of mist. The torrent blocked me from going any further — the trail continues somewhere on the other side of this mist. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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_C1_8642.JPGToday brought another break in the rain, so I hurried down to Devil’s Den State Park this evening. Some of the waterfalls there are going as strong as I’ve seen.

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By this weekend, the falls might look more like this. Stay dry, everyone.

And at the risk of being way too presumptuous or commercial, if you all like any images in this or other posts, you can get prints of some of them (in much higher resolution) here. It might take a few days after a post for the photos to appear, but I keep it pretty up to date. Feel free to tell me which, if any, you’d like to have available.

Thanks for looking,

Dan