In the middle of nowhere in Northern Nebraska and nine miles from the South Dakota border lies the town of Valentine. We stayed here for three nights and I could have happily stayed longer. I need to confess though, that during my first trip to Nebraska many years ago during a family cross country road trip, I was not very impressed with what I saw. We were only in the western part of the state a few days visiting several historical sights and therefore too little time to make much of a judgment. At that time, I had no plans to come back to Nebraska for future visits, but this time I found myself wanting to explore the state further. As I write this post we have come and gone from Nebraska after spending close to two weeks there. During our last day in Nebraska and approaching the Kansas border, I felt some sadness at leaving a state I had come to appreciate and enjoyed visiting.
Arriving in Valentine, a cute town of approximately 3,000 people I was delighted to notice that visitors are welcomed with large painted red hearts all along the sidewalks on the Main Street as well as hearts on the lamp posts. This is cattle and ranching country (the cowboy poetry festival was happening the weekend after we left), many of the people we saw during our stay were attired in Western wear. After awhile, Mark started feeling self conscious wearing his signature Hawaiian shirts and noted we never saw another male with long hair. We popped into the Western Wearhouse store on Main Street to look for something else for him to wear. I was amazed at how large this store was in a town of this size. The smell of leather was intoxicating and worth a visit for the smell alone. I guess I have not been in a western store in a very long time because I had no idea that there were so many varieties of cowboy boots. Apparently, the store carries over 1,000 pairs of boots in stock. Different boots lined wall after wall, along with numerous leather belts, hats, western clothing and tack.
In the summer Valentine becomes a tourist center. The Niobrara, a National Scenic River is very popular with canoeists and noted as one of the best places to canoe in the United States. Rafters, kayakers and fisherman also enjoy the river. We visited Smith Falls State Park, located along the Niobrara and found the river to be just beautiful. It is lined with an abundance of trees and foliage I would not expect in the State of Nebraska. The main feature in the park besides the river is the highest waterfall in Nebraska. It is a lovely walk across a bridge and along a boardwalk through the trees to the base of the falls. I loved standing next to the 70 foot falls feeling the spray of water. The falls flow well all year long since they are spring fed. I read that there are actually 200 waterfalls that fall into the Niobrara River in this area, although most are quite small and seasonal.
After our waterfall jaunt, we drove to the nearby Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge which has a herd of bison and elk living in the wild. The week we were there was bison roundup which occurs every year at the end of September. To preserve the herd, only 250 bison are allowed to stay on the refuge. During the roundup they are separated and a surplus sold based on DNA in order to preserve the herd’s genetic variety.
The roundup was a fascinating event open to the public and a novel experience for Mark and I. We watched as a number of Fish and Game personnel and biologists herded adult bison through a series of separating pens. New calves were tagged and blood samples taken for identification and evaluation. It was interesting watching the staff try to hold the calves (often in vain) during the process.
We then took a drive through the countryside outside of Valentine and visited another waterfall, Snake River Falls. The falls are 54 feet wide and are considered the largest of Nebraska’s falls by water volume. Visitors are not allowed to get close as they are located in a deep canyon and on private property owned by a hunting club, so we enjoyed these falls from two different overlooks.
Valentine is located in the Sandhills, a picturesque region of mixed-grass prairie on stabilized dunes that covers one quarter of Nebraska. It is regarded as the largest sand dune formation in the Western Hemisphere. Below is a picture from our back country drive to the Valentine Wildlife Refuge.
This large wildlife refuge has a number of ponds and lakes within the Sandhills that attract many waterfowl. Since I love birding we had to come check this place out. The refuge was beautiful to see but it was too early in the fall for migrating ducks, geese and shorebirds.
On our last day in Valentine I had to check out the Cowboy Trail, another wonderful feature in the Valentine area. A recreational trail converted from an old railway corridor for biking/walking/horseback riding is currently 195 miles in length across Northern Nebraska. There are plans to increase to 321 miles. As one who likes to bike and walk, I would love to live near this trail. One of the most spectacular parts of the trail is the old train trestle that crosses the Niobrara River just outside Valentine. It is a quarter of a mile long and 150 feet above the river. Yikes, a little high for me!
Here I am walking on the Cowboy Trail Trestle bridge.
I will close with an evening view from our campsite in Valentine. We really liked the RV park here. It is located outside of town and surrounded by farmlands. The owners created it from their ranching property which is just down a long driveway from the park. There is lots of green grass surrounding the campsites as well as a small pond. But my favorite thing about the campground is this windmill. I just love windmills and I discovered Nebraska has many, another reason to appreciate this lovely state!