In the Wild with Greg Wagner

FALL FOR COLORS by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
September 29, 2009, 11:48 am
Filed under: State Parks, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,
I could honestly never live any other place in this world than Nebraska. The autumn colors of nature is one of the many reasons why.     
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Indian Cave State Park. Copyright: NEBRASKAland Magazine.


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Niobrara River near Valentine. Photo courtesy of Doug Graham, Graham Canoe Outfitters.

 As we enter October, nature’s fall palette of colorful foliage in Nebraska is just beginning to emerge. The first major appearance of fall colors is now happening in the Niobrara River valley east of Valentine. You cannot beat a float trip on that river there this time of year! The splurge of colors is just starting to show up elsewhere in Nebraska landscapes. The peak of fall color varies here in Nebraska, but generally, mid-October is a nice time to experience them.  

 C’mon now,  who the heck needs to a make a costly trip to the east coast of the U.S. to see fall colors, when we have some top-notch fall color viewing right here in Nebraska!   

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Indian Cave State Park. Copyright: NEBRASKAland Magazine.

 That said one of my all-time favorite scenic, backroad excursions to view fall colors is a 50-mile route that runs from Nebraska City southward to Indian Cave State Park near Shubert. See this link for specific directions on that route: Be certain to include a visit to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park before making the trek.

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Indian Cave State Park. Copyright: NEBRASKAland Magazine.

Another one of my preferred fall color drives begins at Ponca State Park and then goes onto Highway 12 at Ponca all the way over  to Niobrara State Park. From there, the drive continues westward to Smith Falls State Park south of Sparks. After stretching your legs at Smith Falls to take a gander at the state’s highest waterfall amid the tapestry of color, hop back in your vehicle. Take that bottom river road from the park heading east to the Rocky Ford Outfitters Camp on the river, exquisite, just exquisite!  

My daughter asked me the other day, “So Dad, why do leaves change color in the fall?” Interestingly, most people believe that fall colors are totally weather-connected and that’s not true. It’s the steadily increasing length of nights that triggers leaves and foliage to biochemically change color in the fall. Don’t get me wrong though, weather plays a part in fall colors. For instance, a succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to really spur the most spectacular color displays. That’s because during these days lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from leaving it. Soil moisture enters the picture too.     

You know folks, you can find fall color in any number of places here in the Husker State – parks, woodlands, in cities, rural areas – virtually anywhere you find broadleaved trees that drop their leaves in the fall such as oaks, maples, cottonwoods,  dogwoods, hickories, etc.  You’ll also see the foliage on shrubs like Sumac turn brilliant red and the foliage on vines like Poison Ivy turn bright yellow.  

I know that fall can be a hectic time on the calendar with lots of obligations and activities. But do set some time aside to go out and encounter the splendor of the season. You’ll be glad you did! It’ll be a nice mental health break and furthermore it’ll remind you that there is no place like Nebraska!

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Niobrara River near Valentine. Photo courtesy of Doug Graham, Graham Canoe Outfitters.


6 Comments so far
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I love this time of year for all the beautiful colors and a lot more. I got to thinking of other back-road scenic excursions, there are a ton of them across the state. One of my favorites has a sandhill’s flavor. That would be to swing up to Purdum, north of Halsey and drive the county road that runs from Purdum to Brewster. That road runs along the North Loup River and is one of the prettiest drives in the state. Go slow, look around, lots of “genuine Nebraska” to see on that drive! Oh, and the last I knew there was a pretty good place to eat at Brewster too (wouldn’t want you to lose your figure, Greg. Ha).

Oh, and you are right about one other thing . . .

There is no place like Nebraska!

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

Hey Daryl,

So right my friend, about that drive from Purdum to Brewster along the North Loup River. I’ve driven that stretch of road in spring when everything was greening up several years ago, and the scenery and foliage were stunning with turkeys gobbling throughout the valley! I can imagine how beautiful it would be now in fall. About the great restaurant in Brewster … Yeah, I’ve been there (a time or two or three or four). The name of the place is Uncle Bucks Lodge. I’ve also had home-cooked meals at the nearby Sandhills Guest Ranch. See, I am doing well maintaining my semi-rotund figure, now if I could only see my feet better … Then, I wouldn’t stumble as much fishing in waders with you …

“Wags” — Greg Wagner

Comment by Daryl Bauer

Fall colors are beautiful anywhere, but as a native of NE Pennsylvania the colors here, unfortunately, leave a lot to be desired.

Comment by Linda Maue

Hi Linda,

Hey, thanks for reading my blog and the comment, most appreciated. I beg to differ with you though. No question your home state of Pennsylvania is really beautiful this time of year and fall colors can be neat to see anywhere, but I firmly believe that Nebraska offers a nicer variety. The Husker State has such a diversity of trees, shrubs, vines, plants, etc. in its various regions that actually exhibit more of an array of fall foliage colors than you could see out east, or in other places, without having to contend with lots of people and traffic. I think our small town, rural hospitality in this state is second to none as well! I encourage you to take a drive along or a float trip on one of our rivers in the next few weeks to experience the great Nebraska countryside in fall. You’ll see a number of different wildlife species, too! Have an enjoyable autumn and take care!

“Wags” — Greg Wagner

Comment by Daryl Bauer


You will find that anytime you talk down Nebraska you are going to have Greg and I both responding. Ha. Nebraska is home to us and neither of us can think of anyplace else we would rather be.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I just returned from a weekend out in Nebraska’s sandhills and it just don’t get any better than that! There is a special fall beauty in all of that native prairie; I love the colors of the grasses, especially the redness of the bluestem in the fall. Throw in the a few yellow cottonwood trees here and there, some ash along the rivers, “Nebraska red” sumac on the hillsides and I cannot imagine anything much prettier.

I appreciate forests and timbered regions as well, but anytime I am in those places, beautiful as they may be, I find myself eventually wanting to get home to the prairie; back where all the trees do not get in the way of some of the prettiest sights that I know.

But I am biased (wink),

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

Hi Greg

These photos are absolutely beautiful!!
The photographers deserve much credit. That is
exactly as it looks. They would be perfect for framing. Thanks, keep them coming.

Comment by Mother

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