One of America's Newest National Byways
There are very few places left in America that are so pristine that they have been virtually untouched by man. Nebraska Highway 2, AKA Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway, is one such place. Located in the north-central section of Nebraska, the Sandhills cover a little more than a quarter of the state. This 272-mile long National Byway starts in Grand Island and ends in Alliance, passing through the middle of an area of world-class natural wonders. It’s home to the completely hand-planted Nebraska National Forest, the Loup River, abundant wetlands created by the Ogallala Aquifer, and brilliant night skies. Being in the Central Flyway for migratory birds, it’s teeming with wildlife, and you can’t forget the Spring Migration of the Sandhill Cranes.
The Nebraska Sandhills is a place of wide-open spaces where undulating windswept dunes have been stabilized by a sea of prairie grass that only has a fragile hold on the land, and where cowboy hats and cowboy boots are a way of life and not just a fashion statement.
Areas where the land is bare, are called blowouts. Blowouts in various sizes occur throughout the Sandhills. They can be anywhere from a few feet in circumference to a few hundred feet. These spots are where the plants and their stabilizing roots have become depleted. The wind eventually exposes the sandy soil.
Having spent quite a bit of time in the Sandhills, I was thrilled to learn that Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway received the National Byway designation in 2021 for its natural beauty and unique geography. So, finally, it seems that one of my greatest secrets is out, and people unfamiliar with the state will no longer sit in disbelief as I wax lyrical about the beauty of the Sandhills. But, of course, most still think I am talking about the Sandhill Crane, not the land for which they were named.
I can't stress this enough...
You have most likely never been somewhere this rural. Once you leave Broken Bow, not every town has a gas station or restaurant, let alone a motel, and if you need a tow truck, you have a very long wait. Also, if you are out past dark, it's very very dark, as it is one of the largest "dark spots' left in the continental United States.
If you are a birdwatcher, this is a MUST SEE, and even if you aren't, the Sandhill Cranes are guaranteed to steal your heart. Making It the perfect time to plan a trip to visit the Sandhills -- both the hills and the birds.
As a photographer, it's the Sandhill Cranes that keep me coming back to Nebraska over and over again.
In my opinion, what makes a good living history museum is how well the interiors have been furnished and accessorized. These homes and businesses feel like the owners just walked out over a hundred years ago and left them this way. It's a true gem!
When Jesse Gandy platted Broken Bow, Nebraska, in 1882, he donated the lots to people to build homes and establish businesses, but he reserved the center of the town square for a park landscaped with trees, walkways, and a bandstand.
The town square was the town's first park. They broke ground for the park in 1885 and planted the trees on Arbor Day 1886.
In 1874, intrigued by news of a mineral spring in the area, Oscar Smith and Custer County judge Charles Matthews came from Loup City to check it out. When they arrived, the valley was teeming with bison and elk.
Judge Matthews immediately staked a claim and built two log cabins on the land. One was his storehouse, and the other was his home and the first Custer County post office.
Back then, "taking the waters" and mineral spas were all the rage. Victoria Springs water became renowned for its therapeutic
The New Helena one-room schoolhouse, built in 1888-89, held classes until 1964. That year, the school closed when the Anselmo-Merna Consolidated district was formed.
New Helena was the first town in the area. They began organizing a school district in 1876 and were the first district in Custer County to file organization papers. However, for some reason, a protest was filed against the district's formation, which delayed the action. As a result, New Helena became Custer County District #2, missing out on becoming the first district in the county.
After a little research, I discovered this was the home of Flip Licking's Stable Productions Exotic Animal Ranch. Unfortunately, it was after hours, so I wasn't able to visit.
Their reviews are all five stars, and their mission statement is something near and dear to my heart. Check them out. They have ranch tours, a petting zoo, and a four-room B&B in the barn.
Smith Lake is fed by a spring and is one of the few lakes in the area you can fish. Unfortunately, most of the other lakes in the Sandhills are too shallow or alkaline to support fishlife. A wildlife management area surrounds the 290-acre lake making it a popular birding area as well.
The Sandhills are at the heart of the Central Flyway, a critical habitat for millions of migratory birds.
Bird watching in the wetlands right alongside the Byway between Lakeside and Alliance is fantastic, especially in the early morning and a couple of hours before sunset!
Here's a few of my images of commonly found birds in the Sandhills to watch for...
Alliance exists because of the railroad. Burlington and Missouri River Railroad came to the area in 1888 and town of Alliance grew up around the railroad right of way.
Today, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway is still a significant employer in Alliance.
Be sure to take a quick drive through the downtown business district, they have some interesting historic buildings.
Susan Rissi Tregoning is the 8th photographer in the past four generations of professional photographers in her family. After a long career as an art buyer and interior designer, she put her career on hold in 2006 to travel with her husband and his job. In the process, she found her roots again, developing a photography obsession far beyond casual
Wonderful detailed write up on the Nebraska Sandhills area. Stunning photography as well. I may have to add a trip to this scenic by-way to my bucket list.
Bob, thanks so much for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave me a note. Get back with me it you get around to making the trip, I'll be happy to give you tips for other Nebraska sites that I have not had time to blog about.
I loved reading about your experience in Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. So happy you enjoyed the post!
My wife and I drive across Nebraska at least once a year on Hwy 2 on our way to visit family in the Scottsbluff area. We pick up Hwy 2 at Dunning having come in from the east on Hwy 91. We don't even think about driving Interstate 80. We love driving through the hills regardless of season. Thank you for the background info on the various cities on the Hwy 2 route!
I'm so happy you enjoyed my post. Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note!
Great story and photos! Thanks for sharing!
I'm so happy you enjoyed it. Thanks for leaving me a note!
Thank you for the many interesting and beautiful pictures of Nebraska!😃
Thanks so much! I'm so happy you enjoyed them.
I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling, and I jumped at the chance to go with him.
I blog about long scenic drives and places that I find interesting around the United States.
A Travelers Musings
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