The North Central Region
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Just east of the Nebraska Panhandle is the North Central Region of Nebraska, which comprises roughly one quarter of the state. Much of the area is a designated ecoregion, unlike most other grasslands in the Great Plains, because it has never been plowed. Early homesteaders found it more suitable for grazing than agriculture, and today it remains productive ranch land for cattle.
The beautiful mixed-grass prairie of the Sandhills sit atop the massive Ogallala Aquifer, making the region one of the largest and intricate wetlands in the country. The grasses stabilize the sandhills, which range in size from approximately 1800 feet in the east to 3600 feet in the west. Hundreds of permanent and temporary lakes and ponds throughout the region replenish the Ogallala Aquifer and drain into the Niobrara and Loup Rivers. Nonetheless, the area is considered semi-arid because it receives only approximately 20 inches of rainfall each year.
Numerous museums throughout the Sandhills region depict the life of early ranchers and pioneers. The Butte Community Historical Center and Museum in Butte, the Arthur Bowing Sandhills Ranch State Historical Park in Merriman, and the Custer County Historical Museum all richly detail the experience of early Nebraska pioneers. The Dowse Riverview Homestead and Dowse Sod House in Comstock are particularly fascinating. Listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places, the sod house is full of period pieces, including the original plow used to cut the sod. For a different glimpse into the past, visit Fort Hartstuff State Historical Park, a restored 1870's plains infantry post.
Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine is a unique attraction near Scotia, NE. Hike, picnic, and enjoy fabulous views of the North Loup Valley, then head underground to view more than 6,000 feet of incredible honeycombed caverns. This is the only publicly accessible chalk room and pillar mine in the country - it is definitely worth the drive to Scotia.
On the eastern edge of the Sandhills region, near Lynch, is Old Baldy; this "tower" along the Missouri River was mentioned in the journals of Lewis and Clark. While here, visitors will enjoy spotting eagles and black-tailed prairie dogs. Nearby attractions include an Indian Village Site, Niobrara House, and the White Horse Ranch Museum. The Niobrara National Scenic River near Valentine is one of the nation's best canoeing rivers. Float down river surrounded by ponderosa pine forests and deep canyons; and share the river with wild turkeys, turtles and great blue herons.