From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wild Sandhill Prairie

Out in the hills, the Middle of Nowhere still exists



Sandhill prairie

When I was growing up, we lived about eight miles from a wide-spot on the highway known as Rose, Nebraska (population 2.) Our house was about six miles off the highway and about 32 miles from the nearest real town.

Rock County and surrounding Nebraska counties
I grew up in the Duff Valley, just west of the Middle of Nowhere.
People sometimes remark that I grew up in the middle of nowhere, but actually, there were quite a few neighbors in and around the Duff Valley where we lived. Our nearest neighbor lived about a mile and a half away. Our mailbox was only a mile from our house, where our land met the nearest county road.

The most sparsely-populated area of Rock County was east of where I lived. At that time (1950s and 1960s,) no improved road went through the hills from Rose on U.S. Highway 183 to Nebraska Highway 11, the road to Burwell. You could drive through, but when you came to the end of the maintained road, you had to open gates and follow some very rough and sandy two-track pasture roads. A four-wheel drive pickup truck was recommended.

Times have changed. Nowadays, there's a road all the way through from Highway 11 north of Burwell, Nebraska, to Highway 183 just north of Rose, Nebraska. Along the way, you pass the Sitz Ranch, the Gurney Ranch, and the Rose Church. It's a beautiful drive through Sandhills prairie that is still much as God made it. The road truly does go through the Middle of Nowhere.

I don't recommend the drive if you are a timid driver who is likely to get stuck in a sandy spot (can't slow down, must keep going or you're sunk!) You also need a clear understanding of where you're going and a good inner sense of direction (or a GPS unit.)

It was a great joy to drive my kids through this wild area of southeastern Rock County several times when we went on vacations to Nebraska. I think it gave them a better understanding of what the Sandhills are like and where their mother is from.

The photos in this post were taken along the road somewhere in the hills east of the Rose Church. In the image at the top of this post, the windmill is on top of the hill so it can catch enough wind to provide water for the cattle. The water tank is in the "pocket" down below, between the hills.

The image below is taken from the hill where the windmill stands. You can see the wind-sculpted peaks and pockets of the dune formations. Indeed, the Nebraska Sandhills are grassed-over sand dunes, the largest area of sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere.

One thing I should make clear -- this is not the only Middle of Nowhere. Many other remote, unspoiled, rural areas still exist in the United States -- and I'm glad that they do.

East of Rose, NE

4 comments:

RunAwayImagination said...

I spent the summers of my 14th and 15th years (1959-60) with my granddad in Gordon, which is about 180 miles west of Rose on US Highway 20. It was the otherworldly adventure of a lifetime for a kid raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

I enjoyed finding hilltops where I could gaze in every direction without seeing one sign of human habitation. Another aspect that fascinated me was the large-scale agriculture that sustained the area.

In my hometown, fathers commuted to offices with briefcases and wore business suits and hats. Cowboys were movie characters like Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.

In Nebraska, fathers ran combines, and cowboy boots and hats were a normal part of everyday garb.

Kids my age in Gordon were as fascinated with my city background as I was with their rural upbringing.

I like to return to that area when I have the chance. Something about those wide-open spaces serves as a tonic for city people like me.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Runaway. Thanks for your comment. I can understand the curiosity of the children about your city life. When I was in 6th or 7th grade, we had a new student at our little one-room school. Katie Gibbs was from Chicago, but to us, she was a foreigner from a strange and distant land.

I enjoy the Sandhills tremendously, every time I go. It still feels like home to me -- and yet, I am at home in Kentucky, too, and I love the hills and trees and beautiful farmland here, as well.

Genevieve said...

Here is part of a note my cousin Alta sent to me by e-mail:

"When you lived at Rose, I was with my parents one time and we were going to visit my sister who lived in Thurston, Neb. Dad wanted to stop and see some piece of machinery your dad had invented... (Y)ou are right it did seem like you lived in a no man's land. haha. Dad had directions from some one how to get there and I guess he followed them correctly."

KennethF said...

Hey "G":
Testing my new/used laptop that Santa's son traded me AND I just noticed that Runaway is a keyboard player... like me :) Did you see any new hits from Pittsburgh :) Steeler country? later, ken

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