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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Watching Wildlife on the Niobrara

I’ve driven through Nebraska so many times to get back to Minnesota since moving to Denver almost ten years ago that I feel like I have Interstate 80 memorized. It’s quite sad really too considering my dislike of interstate freeways, but it is the quickest way to get through the barren landscape named “Nebraska.” Recently I took a different way though and found an oasis in the north known as the Ft. Niobrara National Scenic River.


There are several ways to enjoy the river, including boating and tubing, that it seems like a shame not to do so when in the area. Unfortunately time wasn’t on my side though, so I was only able to make a quick stop at the Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, which sits on the banks of the river.


I always believed Nebraska to be desolate plains, but the area around Valentine, home to the Ft. Niobrara sites, is really quite beautiful. Rolling hills, a beautiful river, and a great opportunity for some wildlife viewing all right there. It’s a little bastion of natural beauty just north of an area that I always believed to be the most boring stretch of land in all of America.


The area isn’t well sign posted, so I was a bit unsure of where I was going when I headed out of Valentine. I came across a nice overlook area though with not a soul around to interrupt my moment of Zen as I peacefully took in the landscape. It was a surprisingly beautiful view and one that made me realize I over shot the park; I turned around and headed back west to what I supposed was the proper turn and made my way across the river.


I realized I had arrived at the wildlife refuge as I saw a big heard of bison blocking the gravel road ahead. This was a pleasant delay in my trip and one that I was happy to turn the car off for to snap a few photos. Of course, knowing better, I never got out of the vehicle. I may be a big guy, but something tells me that even one of the little babies could give me a good run for my money.


I made my way to the visitor’s center, after the herd allowed me through, only to find it closed. The sun was shining high in the sky so I had lost all concept of time and didn’t realize it was as late in the day as it was. A Fish & Wildlife employee heading home for the night came out of the office as I was about to leave the park, thinking it was closed and not right to stay, but told me that I was welcome to spend as much time there as I liked and that there was no closing time.


This opportunity was just what I wanted to hear, having read about some great waterfalls in the area, so I made my way into the refuge to see what I could find. I followed the signs for the Fort Falls and shortly arrived at the head of a nice trail that lead down towards the base of the river. I was all too happy to enjoy the remaining sunlight and made my way down, not even realizing I was walking over the very waterfall I wanted to see.


The water slid down the rocks from a small creek above as I admired the small falls from the trail. It was serene to stand there and admire it, fully knowing I had the trail to myself and that there probably wasn’t a soul any nearer to me than the town some miles away. With the river only a short distance away I pushed on though. I had read about the picturesque nature of the river and I wanted to see it before darkness fell; I wasn’t disappointed.


I headed south on Highway 83 towards North Platte thinking about the area and how it made me recall the movie Dances With Wolves. It had a great frontier feeling to it that I would’ve loved to see experienced more. And after being here once and appreciating the beauty, I definitely know I’ll go again and get off the freeway of boredom as I make my way to Minnesota.

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