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Western Sandhills


Tony Dzik

Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge at Fort Robinson State Park

Pine Ridge is characterized by sandstone and siltstone bluffs, escarpments, areas of exposed bedrock, and Ponderosa pine woodlands.  The Escarpment differs greatly from the gently undulating  short-grass and mixed-grass prairie nearby. Ponderosa pine, in association with mixed-grass prairie, is seen throughout the escarpment area on ridge tops, especially on the moister north-facing and east-facing slopes. 

Belmont Tunnel

Belmont Tunnel

As far as I can determine, this is the only railroad tunnel in Nebraska. Located on the Pine Ridge Escarpment  near the “ghost town” of Belmont in Dawes County, the tunnel was constructed in 1889-89 on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy RR and widened in the 1920s. The tunnel was abandoned in 1982 when a new double-track mainline bypassed the tunnel. The Pine Ridge Escarpment is a geological boundary between two sub-regions of the Great Plains, the Missouri Plateau to the north and the High Plains to the south.

potash ruins

Potash Ruins, Antioch, NE

During the First World War when potash supplies from Europe were unattainable, Antioch in Sheridan County became a boom town because of potash processing. In a short time Antioch’s population increased from 175 to almost 3,000 people. Production petered out a few years after the war ended and cheaper European potash sources became reliable again. Antioch ten reverted back to a sleepy Sandhills town.

sandhills

Sandhills of Nebraska

Stretching 265 miles across Nebraska and sifting into South Dakota is the largest expanse of sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere and one of the most extensive grass-stabilized sand dune regions in the world. The dunes of the Sandhills come in all shapes and sizes.  Many are transverse dunes, but barchan (crescent-shaped) and parabolic dunes are also found as shown in the photo.  

carhenge

Carhenge, Alliance, NE

Six miles from Alliance is an intrepid tourist attraction. Carhenge was created in June, 1987 by Jim Reinders. The sculpture was inspired by England’s Stonehenge. 38 American vehicles are placed in roughly the same relationships as the rocks of Stonehenge. 

toadstool

Toadstool Geologic Park

Few realize that in western Nebraska’s Oglala National Grasslands there is a little preserve drained by Big Cottonwood Creek where one can have a very personal encounter with a “subsidiary” of the White River Badlands.  That place is Toadstool Geologic Park. In geologic terms, the dramatically eroded buttes and ridges here are comprised of sedimentary rocks belonging to the White River Group. The features in the park share much of the geologic history of the better known South Dakota badlands. Toadstool, which is administered by the National Forest Service, preserves unusual sedimentary formations and valuable fossil deposits and also contains the longest-known mammal trackway of the Oligocene epoch. 

train

Sandhills Train

Today the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe line that connects Wyoming’s Powder River coal fields with power plants to the east passes through the Sandhills. This unit train was photographed along Nebraska Highway 2 near Bingham.

panhandle homestead

High Plains Homestead

Outside of the diversions offered by Fort Robinson and Chadron State Parks, there are very few conventional tourist businesses in the region.  Along Toadstool Road, there are several guest ranches such as Our Heritage Guest Ranch off of Toadstool Road and a quaint western-themed “town” and restaurant called High Plains Homestead nestled amid the rugged badlands in the shadow of Pine Ridge.

sugar beets

Sugar Beets

Alliance, Nebraska is located on the western Edge of the Sandhills. While the main agricultural activity in the region is cattle ranching, irrigated sugar beet farming is important locally.  During the fall harvest trucks like this one are common sights on Nebraska Highway 87 and US 385 as they deliver the beets to Western Sugar’s refinery outside of Scottsbluff.