Project Remote is working to precisely calculate and travel to the remotest locations in each of the 50 United States. Below is a written account of our 9.3 mile hiking expedition to document the Nebraska Remote Spot. This is our 34th state Remote Spot documented as part of Project Remote.
In Ryan’s Words….
November 22, 2017. The Remote Spotters arrive in the Nebraska Sandhills overnight. The next morning, we delight to discover a relatively wild intact grassland ecosystem here in north central NE. These sandhills reportedly cover one-quarter of Nebraska. The grass-cloaked sandy dunes are believed to have formed relatively recently, at the very end of the Pliestocene. The vast Laurentide ice sheet shrunk northward and relinquished the northern Plains. At this time, sand-sized particles are thought to have been wind driven from exposed South Dakota badlands, and redeposited here as dunes. It’s a very scenic area. When it rains on sandy soil, water easily percolates into the ground, creating a sustaining aquifer. The Ogallala aquifer occupies the ground underneath these sandhills. This area holds a wealth of groundwater-fed ponds, lakes, and streams. An estimated 90 percent of the continent’s sandhill cranes stop over in this region during migration. As I ponder, it clicks in my mind that the term “sandhill” crane may (upon confirmation) derive from this region! I love making those kind of natural connections.
As we make our way across this landscape, a fairly large, dark mammal lies dead on the road. Instictively, as biologists, we stop to inspect. It’s a large porcupine (Erythizon dorsatum). What a formerly beautiful animal. And a tragic loss to the landscape. We painfully are reminded about one of the most important reasons why we crusade across America on Project Remote. It’s to elevate awareness about such ecological impacts of roads and the shocking extent of the U.S. roads system. All these roads in our country not only cause direct mortality of millions of animals, but impact ecological systems in at least two dozen other ways. And lastly, true wilderness cannot exist with so many roads.
A few minutes later, we spot something uplifting. An old road corridor lies in ruins on the prairie. Grasses and plants spring up all over it from within cracks. Erosion and plant growth over time are reclaiming this corridor for the prairie. The earth is probably more resilient than we think–but we have to back off of all the development pressure in order to reach some sort of sustainable equilibrium between human occupation and landscape ecology. We can start by restoring unnecessary roads back to wildlands. It’s possible. And here’s a reminder.
We arrive at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. A large patch of NE sandhills community is preserved forever (we hope) within this refuge. Our calculated remotest location in all of NE resides within. First thing, we locate the refuge biologist, Mel, to check in and gain much needed intelligence on the best approach from which to embark to the Nebraska Remote Spot. Mel and the refuge manager, Juancarlos, are extremely helpful and supportive. They provide us the local knowledge base that we need before tomorrow starting our wilderness trip. Thank you! By late afternoon, we score a perfect nearby spot in the sandhills to camp just outside the refuge.
November 24, 2017. Thanksgiving Day. We awaken on the ground from a night spent directly under the stars. We pack up and drive to the nearest road approach within the refuge where Mel recommended we start.
Weather today is exceptionally favorable. It’s a record warm late November spell for the northern Great Plains…30’s this morning in camp, and it should reach near 70 this afternoon. It’s been like this for days. We are tasked with hiking in, documenting, then hiking out of the NE Remote Spot all in one day. That will prove to be almost 10 miles hiking–all off trail. Adding to the challenge, we must move at the pace of our youngest companion, Skyla, who is 8 yrs old. It helps that she has literally grown up remote spotting across America since being just 10 months old. After having expeditioned into 34 state Remote Spots, she possesses more outdoor experience as most well-seasoned, outdoor-loving adults we know! Skyla always packs her favorite dolls and stuffed critters while going remote…
An isolated ephemeral wetland sits within a circular depression in the sandhills. Water is present. This is precisely where much of the local amphibian fauna would breed. I wonder if any larvae are present. It could be too late in the season. Wish we had enough time to check! Small, isolated wetlands that are cyclically wet and dry–like this–are incredibly important features within healthy diverse ecosystems. As biologists, Rebecca and I study these types of wetlands back home in north Florida, and we can’t help but notice them all over the country during our Project Remote travels.
Suddenly Skyla erupts into a scream of pain. I fling my head around to see her kneeling directly on a prickly pear cactus pad that lurks underneath the grass. She is frozen in fear and pain. We leap to her aid, lifting her slowly off the cactus. This is her first severe run-in with cactus in her young life. I pull out the duct tape and tweezers and go to work.
Several dozen tiny, hair-like spines, called glochids, are embedded in here knee. These tiny spines belong to cacti of the prickly pear genus Opuntia. You almost can’t see them. But you can feel them. I’d rather have to deal with large spines. After thirty minutes of painstaking glochid removal from our daughter’s knee, we declare complete spine removal success! Needless to say, Skyla proceeds with caution for the rest of the day in cactus country.
We push on through the diverse grasses that cloak the Nebraska sandhills…Apprehension grows because the sun is getting low, and we must hike all the way back out much faster than we came in–in order to get out before nightfall.
After nearly 5 hours and 5.0 miles hiking across the sandhills to get here–we reach the remotest location from a road in the entire state of Nebraska. We are east of the marsh lakes within the refuge, in view of the water. The mild weather and light are spectacular. After all, it could easily be blizzard conditions this time of year. Nonetheless, nightfall is coming soon, and we must make it out much faster than we arrived. We get to our work in a frenzy…
We conduct our standard Remote Spot Assessment. This is the 15 minute period that we measure the extent to which human civilization can be detected from a given state remote spot–along with making documentary photo and video. For Nebraska, we observe planes overhead, record the presence of multiple towers on the horizon, and view a fence line south and east of our location spanning our entire viewable horizon. Of course, our sense of wilderness takes a blow, but we rejoice that this remote location is presently a functioning, relatively wild, undeveloped prairie ecosystem. On today’s American Great Plains, finding wild patches that escape agriculture or the oil industry is a rare feat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge system is to be commended for preserving yet another American state remote spot.
We pack up and roll after a record short time spent on the Nebraska Remote Spot in order to make the 5 mile hike off-trail back before nightfall…In the beginning of Project Remote, we naively thought we might just camp out on each state remote spot…but wild lands regulations and family reality kicked in. We’ll take whatever time we can get on these wonderful superlative places.
As we hurry back to beat sunset, we discover the shell of an ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) peeking from the grass…Skyla finds pleasure in this. Better yet, it takes her mind off of her ailing feet.
The sandhills glow in the magic light of sunset….Skyla digs down deep to push her walking pace as fast as her young body will allow. Momma deploys many different conversational exercises to help take her mind off the drudgery of what must seem like a never ending day’s hike for an eight-year-old. After nearly 8 hours spent in constant motion hiking across the wild sandhills preserved within the Valentine NWR, we make it back to our parked car at pitch black. Today’s hike is the second longest off-trail hike (behind only Alabama) thus far taken for Project Remote. It is Skyla’s second longest off-trail hike ever and tied with her longest day hiking mileage. As we return from documentation of yet another state remote spot–that’s one small step for Project Remote, and another giant leap for an eight-year-old.
After reading this website, you might be surprised at just how hard it is to get away from a road or a town nowadays–and instantly understand that we must now as a nation speak out to protect remaining public roadless areas from further roads development. Project Remote is now over half-way done! Our goal is to raise enough funding simply to offset the cost of traveling frugally, completing the documentary field work, maintaining this website , and bringing this information to you. Click here to make a donation to support Project Remote today. Thank you so very much for helping us to document and preserve Remote America…
–The Remote Spotters