Chasing Light on the Nebraska Panhandle

The Nebraska Panhandle is wind-swept mixture of sand hills, buttes, prairie and farms. In the winter, there's a lot of brown, still frozen earth and a lot of sky. We entered Nebraska at it's highest point, just over two hours from Denver via the Pawnee National Grassland. Sadly the resident buffalo herd was shy and stayed in the distance.

With the change in pavement at the border of Colorado, the wind farms give way to open land, dirt roads and abandoned dust bowl era homesteads. I hadn't any idea as to how many abandoned places we'd see. There were mid-century motels, gas stations, western wear stores - all, now, nothing but light and shadows.

I was lucky enough to have my friend Katie join me for my first road trip chasing light. The small town centers we visited (Kimball, Alliance, Hemingsford & Sidney) were all alive, despite more than a few empty storefronts. There were more independent restaurants and businesses than national chains and, for the most part people were friendly and very welcoming to us, who were clearly passing through. As an adult, I've only lived in cities - Manhattan, then Brooklyn and now Denver. While the towns were still functioning, very little was modern or contemporary. There's a certain retro charm to some of it, but a lot just felt disconnected.

Carhenge is roadside Americana in its purest form. Just outside of Alliance and modeled after England's Stonehenge. We heard from a few people that Alliance will be perfectly aligned with the full solar eclipse of August 2017. The town of 8,500 is anticipating nearly 40,000 visitors.

A selfie from Carhenge resulted in an invitation to visit a farm down an unpaved county road in Hemingsford. The Smith's live on a small wheat farm about 3 miles from where Gordon was born. It was a delightful visit with very kind people who greeted us with a pot of coffee and offered us a jar of honey. They're part of a network of "pollinator farms" - they host the hives another company tends to. I was in awe of the quantity of very worn out, dusty hats, meticulously lined up in the garage.

Weather still controls life here more than in other places, certainly the North East. We passed through in late February and had to alter our plans due to an approaching storm. When it snows on the prairie and the wind kicks up, life stops. The wind never stops and there's nowhere for the snow to pile up. You simply can't see, so you don't go anywhere. We had planned to continue on to South Dakota, but decided to head back to Denver instead.

This was the first trip chasing light of, I hope, many. The next trip will hopefully be more planned in terms of people or organizations to meet. As always, if you know someone who shines brightly in a tough place, please put me in touch with them.