On our last road trip across America before leaving for Portugal, we took a slight detour north to head to Nebraska to visit a good friend and wonderful photographer, Tracy. Tracy was going to show us around the gorgeous prairie and then take us up to the Platte River where we'd watch the migrating cranes.
We headed west from our motel, the Budget Host Inn in Hebron, to Red Cloud, where Tracy showed us the 612 acres of prairie that is protected by the Willa Cather Foundation. The original prairie spread far and wide across many states, but over the decades it has been chipped away, to be cultivated for farm land, forcing the flora and fauna out as industry moves in.
We visited the prairie last March right before the weather started to warm up, but according to the website one of the best times to come is when the flowers are blooming, from about April to October. It was still jaw-droppingly beautiful though: gentle slopes of grasses stretching far into the distance and silence all around with only the sound of the wind rushing through the grass to break it. I've always loved the desert, but seeing the prairie filled me with appreciation for nature in yet another of its many forms; one I'd never taken the time to experience until now.
Once we'd gotten our fill of wandering through the grasses of the prairie, we got back into Tracy's truck and headed for the Platte River. We had come at the perfect time to witness the migrating of the cranes, who were usually around from February through April. You can book crane-watching tours through the Crane Trust starting at $25/person for about 2.5 hours, but there was an event on the day we had wanted to book that made it impossible to get tickets, so we went without an official guide (which is totally legal) and joined about 100 other people photographing the birds down by the Platte.
Most of the birds were pretty far off in the distance, though we did have the opportunity to see them fly overhead several times and hear their birdy squawks. Despite the crowd of people, no one got in anyone's way and everyone was pretty quiet. We spent about an hour or two there, until the sun began to set and it got even colder.
Sometimes I'm just blown away by the beautiful places I've encountered during my journeys across America. There is something magical about nature devoid of any signs or sounds of humanity. There are so few of these places left - these silent, majestic locations - and I hope we continue to find ways to protect them from ourselves and keep their beauty for future generations.