Hey Haw! The Cowboy Trail is a rail trail in northern Nebraska. It currently runs 195 miles across northern Nebraska, following the old Chicago & Northwestern rail route from Norfolk in the east to Valentine in the west being one of the largest Rails to Trails projects in the United States. The railroad called this the “Cowboy Line”. And here, you will immerse yourself in nature and wildlife.
It is a multi-use recreational trail suitable for bicycling, walking and horseback riding. It occupies an abandoned Chicago and North Western Railway corridor. Very cool! The trail runs across the Outback area of Nebraska.
Completed sections of the trail are crushed limestone. There are 221 bridges on the trail; all bridges have been converted for recreational use. The bridge across the Niobrara River east of Valentine is a quarter-mile long and 148 feet high; the bridge across Long Pine Creek at Long Pine is 595 feet long and 145 feet high.
The trail parallels US 20 and US 275 for almost its entire length. A variety of landscapes are found along the trail: the Pine Ridge, the Sandhills, and the valleys of the Niobrara River, Long Pine Creek and the Elkhorn River.
The every popular Western Meadowlark. The western meadowlark has distinctive calls described as watery or flute-like, which distinguish it from the closely related eastern meadowlark. The western meadowlark is the state bird of six states: Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.
The Hooded and Common Merganser. In most places, the common merganser is as much a frequenter of salt water as fresh water. In larger streams and rivers, they float down with the stream for a few miles, and either fly back again or more commonly fish their way back, diving incessantly the whole way. In smaller streams, they are present in pairs or smaller groups, and they float down, twisting round and round in the rapids, or fishing vigorously in a deep pool near the foot of a waterfall or rapid. When floating leisurely, they position themselves in water similar to ducks, but they also swim deep in water like cormorants, especially when swimming upstream. They often sit on a rock in the middle of the water, similar to cormorants, often half-opening their wings to the sun. To rise from water, they flap along the surface for many yards. Once they are airborne, the flight is strong and rapid. They often fish in a group forming a semicircle and driving the fish into shallow water, where they are captured easily. Their ordinary voice is a low, harsh croak, but during the breeding season, they (including the young) make a plaintive, soft whistle. Generally, they are wary, and one or more birds stay on sentry duty to warn the flock of approaching danger. When disturbed, they often disgorge food before moving. Though they move clumsily on land, they resort to running when pressed, assuming a very upright position similar to penguins, and falling and stumbling frequently.
The Ruffed Grouse. Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs: grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end (“subterminal”). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general.
The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band, while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male.
The red-necked grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.
The red-necked grebe is a nondescript dusky-grey bird in winter. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive red neck plumage, black cap and contrasting pale grey face from which its name was derived. It also has an elaborate courtship display and a variety of loud mating calls. Once paired, it builds a nest from water plants on top of floating vegetation in a shallow lake or bog.
The barred owl, also known as northern barred owl or hoot owl, is a true owl native to eastern North America. Adults are large, and are brown to grey with barring on the chest. Barred owls have expanded their range to the west coast of North America, where they are considered invasive.
The common loon or great northern diver is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. Breeding adults have a plumage that includes a broad black head and neck with a greenish, purplish, or bluish sheen, blackish or blackish-grey upperparts, and pure white underparts except some black on the undertail coverts and vent. Non-breeding adults are brownish with a dark neck and head marked with dark grey-brown. Their upperparts are dark brownish-grey with an unclear pattern of squares on the shoulders, and the underparts, lower face, chin, and throat are whitish. The sexes look alike, though males are significantly heavier than females.
Looking for premier hiking in the Midwest. Look no furture….The Ice Age Trail is a National Scenic Trail located in Wisconsin. The trail is also one of 42 designated Wisconsin state trails and the only one specifically designated as a “State Scenic Trail.” From Interstate State Park on the Minnesota border to Potawatomi State Park on Lake Michigan, the Ice Age Trail winds for more than 1,000 miles, following the edge of the last continental glacier in Wisconsin.
One of only 11 National Scenic Trails, the Ice Age Trail is intended to be a premier hiking trail and conservation resource for silent sport and outdoor enthusiasts. The trail traverses some of Wisconsin’s most scenic landscapes and helps tell the story of the last Ice Age by highlighting Wisconsin’s unique glacial features.
Primary attractions include topography left by glaciation in the Last Ice Age. Glacial features along the trail include kettles, potholes, eskers, and glacial erratics. Many of the best examples of glacial features in Wisconsin are exhibited in units of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, most of which lie along the trail.
The Ice Age Trail is primarily an off-road hiking and backpacking trail that provides excellent opportunities for sightseeing, wildlife viewing and bird watching. In winter, some sections of the trail are open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Opportunities are available for camping along the Ice Age Trail in national, state and county forests and in many state and county parks, including some private campgrounds. Campgrounds can vary from primitive walk-in campsites to facilities complete with electric hookups. When planning a trip, it is best to check ahead of time for camping locations and availability. The Ice Age Trail Atlas and Guidebook, which are available for sale from the Ice Age Trail Alliance, provide camping and lodging details for all segments of the trail.
The Ice Age Trail travels through 30 counties on state, federal, county and private lands, connecting dozens of communities. There are hundreds of trailheads and access points located along the trail route. More than 600 miles of trail are open. The completed sections of the trail are connected by less-traveled roadways and other temporary routes.
Stone steps lead the way up the bluff trails at Devil’s Lake State Park.
The Ice Age Trail goes through several state and federal lands in Wisconsin, including traveling many miles through county and private lands. In addition to the state parks and forests listed below (from west to east along the trail), the Ice Age Trail travels through many state wildlife and fishery areas and some state natural areas.
Interstate State Park, Saint Croix Falls
Straight Lake State Park, near Frederic
Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area, near New Auburn
Brunet Island State Park, Cornell
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
Hartman Creek State Park, near Waupaca
Devil’s Lake State Park, near Baraboo
Kettle Moraine State Forest
Southern Unit, Eagle
Lapham Peak Unit, near Delafield
Loew Lake Unit, near Monches
Pike Lake Unit, near Hartford
Northern Unit, near Campbellsport
Point Beach State Forest, near Two Rivers
Potawatomi State Park, near Sturgeon Bay
The Ice Age Trail includes parts of other Wisconsin state trails.
Dedicated in 1919, Backbone State park is Iowa’s oldest state park. It is extremely geologically unique. It is named for a narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a loop of the Maquoketa River originally known as the Devil’s Backbone. It is approximately three miles long and was built back in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps who constructed a majority of the trails and buildings which make up the park.
There are three distinct areas to the park: Cabin area, hiking area and Richmond Springs. The cabin area is located at the southern end of the park and runs around the 125 acre Backbone Lake on the Makoqueta River. Its historic buildings and structures include 17 cabins, pump house, two sets of trail steps, soil erosion dams, six parking areas, paved road, the site of CCC Camp 1756, bathhouse, boathouse, a wall, the beach, a sundial and bench, dam, and the sand filter bed. The lake was created by the dam and spillways back in 1933. The hiking area is located near the center of the park and its historic buildings and structures include a picnic/shelter concession, two more picnic shelters, the east entrance entryways and gate, two trailside benches, six parking lots, a vehicle bridge, trail steps and the Backbone trail.
Richmond Springs is located on the north end of the park and its historic structures include the springs which are a natural feature enclosed by the CCC back in June of 1934. It created a new channel from the area to prevent overflow into the springs.
Twenty-one miles of multi-use trails support year-round recreational activities including hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in winter. The lake is noted for its swimming, boating and fishing. Backbone Creek is known to support a good stock of Rainbow and Brown Trout and is regularly stocked by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Campsites and rental cabins are available along with shower buildings and a playground for the children.
Local wildlife such as fox, turkey and deer can be seen in the park and surrounding area and the Backbone State Forest is immediately adjacent to the park. This Iowa forest consists of 186 acres of pine forest. (wiki)
Oh, the many (often unrealized) benefits to birding. Did you know birding:
Bird watching develops patience. …
Bird watching will get your children to go outside. …
Bird watching allows for introspection and contemplation. …
Bird watching can improve cardiovascular health. …
Bird watching gives you an excuse to travel. …
Bird watching builds a sense of community. …
Bird watching quickens reflexes.
One of my favorites, The mourning dove is a member of the dove family, Columbidae. The bird is also known as the American mourning dove or the rain dove, and erroneously as the turtle dove, and was once known as the Carolina pigeon or Carolina turtledove.
It is one of the most abundant and widespread of all North American birds. It is also a leading gamebird, with more than 20 million birds (up to 70 million in some years) shot annually in the U.S., both for sport and for meat. Its ability to sustain its population under such pressure is due to its prolific breeding; in warm areas, one pair may raise up to six broods of two young each in a single year. The wings make an unusual whistling sound upon take-off and landing, a form of sonation. The bird is a strong flier, capable of speeds up to 88 km/h (55 mph). It is the national bird of the British Virgin Islands.
Mourning doves are light grey and brown and generally muted in color. Males and females are similar in appearance. The species is generally monogamous, with two squabs (young) per brood. Both parents incubate and care for the young. Mourning doves eat almost exclusively seeds, but the young are fed crop milk by their parents.
Yellow rail adults have brown upperparts streaked with black, a yellowish-brown breast, a light belly and barred flanks. The short thick dark bill turns yellow in males during the breeding season. The feathers on the back are edged with white. There is a yellow-brown band over the eye and the legs are greenish-yellow.
Love the Sandhill Crane! A species of large cranes of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills on the American Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the lesser sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually. (wiki)
Think there is not much wilderness left in the United States…think again. And while much of it is in such states as California, Arizona, Washington and Alaska, we have a gem right here in the Midwest – Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota!
Bordering the Arrowhead Region of the Canadian Board, the combined region of the BWCAW, Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park, and Ontario’s Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks make up a large area of contiguous wilderness lakes and forests called the “Quetico-Superior country”, or simply the Boundary Waters. Lake Superior lies to the south and east of the Boundary Waters.
190,000 acres, nearly 20% of the BWCAW’s total area is water. Within the borders of the area are over 1,100 lakes and hundreds of miles of rivers and streams. Much of the other 80% of the area is forest. The BWCAW contains the largest remaining area of uncut forest in the eastern portion of the United States.
The Boundary Waters area is within the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province (commonly called the “North Woods”), a transitional zone between the boreal forest to the north and the temperate hardwood forest to the south that contains characteristics of each. Trees found within the wilderness area include conifers such as red pine, eastern white pine, birch, ash and even raspberries can be found in cleared areas.
The BWCAW contains a variety of hiking trails. Shorter hikes include the trail to Eagle Mountain (7 miles) Loop trails include the Pow Wow Trail, the Snowbank Trail, and the Sioux-Hustler Trail. The Border Route Trail and Kekekabic Trail are the two longest trails running through the BWCAW. The Border Route Trail runs east-west for over 65 miles through the eastern BWCAW, beginning at the northern end of the Superior Hiking Trail and following ridges and cliffs west until it connects with the Kekekabic Trail. The Kekekabic Trail continues for another 41 miles (66 km), beginning near the Gunflint Trail and passing through the center of the BWCAW before exiting it near Snowbank Lake. Both the Border Route and the Kekekabic Trail are part of the longer North Country National Scenic Trail.
Junction of the Eagle Mountain and Brule Lake Trails
Looking for spectacular views with a short hike among some of the most unique rock formations in the United States? Look no further than Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois. The most popular hike in the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods gives tourists amazing insight into the geologic structure of Southern Illinois and a view that stretches for miles high over the pristine hills of Shawnee Forest.
More than 320 million years ago, the wind and rain patiently started to chisel away at large deposits of sedimentary rock located in what is now, Shawnee National Forest . Over the years, the elements have sculpted some of the most stunning and extraordinary rock formations known to man. There are also plenty of trails for backpacking and horseback riding, allowing nature lovers a welcome tour of what the lively environment has to offer.
There are many miles of diverse hiking and backpacking trails in the Shawnee National Forest including the 160-mile River to River Trail.
One of the most photographed locations in the state, Garden of the Gods’ scenic beauty is extraordinary. In the recreation area you can hike, camp, nature watch or picnic.
The Observation Trail features unique sandstone rock formations and panoramic views of the surrounding Garden of the God Wilderness. Interpretive signs explain the geological history. The 1/4-mile trail is made of natural sandstone and takes about an hour to walk. It contains short, steep grades and steps; benches are located along the trail and as a whole the trail is not tiring. Caution should be used due to the high cliffs in the area.
Prairie dogs are herbivorous burrowing rodents native to the grasslands of North America. The five species are: black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah, and Mexican prairie dogs. They are a type of ground squirrel, found in North America. In Mexico, prairie dogs are found primarily in the northern states, which lie at the southern end of the Great Plains: northeastern Sonora, north and northeastern Chihuahua, northern Coahuila, northern Nuevo León, and northern Tamaulipas. In the United States, they range primarily to the west of the Mississippi River, though they have also been introduced in a few eastern locales. They are also found in the Canadian Prairies. Despite the name, they are not actually canines. These two that I took a picture of are from South Dakota.
Highly social, prairie dogs live in large colonies or “towns” and collections of prairie dog families that can span hundreds of acres. The prairie dog family groups are the most basic units of its society. Members of a family group inhabit the same territory. Family groups of black-tailed and Mexican prairie dogs are called “coteries”, while “clans” are used to describe family groups of white-tailed, Gunnison’s, and Utah prairie dogs. Although these two family groups are similar, coteries tend to be more closely knit than clans. Members of a family group interact through oral contact or “kissing” and grooming one another. They do not perform these behaviors with prairie dogs from other family groups. (wiki/prairie_dog)