Friday, October 27, 2006

The Sand Hills

On September 25 I crossed the heart of Nebraska on State Route 2. This is a highway of full service gas stations and more cattle than people. Plowed fields gave way and I saw I was in a remarkable grassland. The mixed grass prairie of the Sand Hills cover a full quarter of the state. The dunes were formed around 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age when the loose sand blew off the newly exposed Rocky Mountains. The lonely green hills undulated on for mile after mile with only a rare ranch house huddled in a narrow basin along with a couple struggling cottonwood trees.

Running parallel to Route 2 for quite some time was a rail line. Long trains of dozens of coal cars from Wyoming passed by. Wyoming is the #1 coal producing state in America. And half the electricity in the US is generated by coal-fired power plants. I think I saw all the coal needed by a small city for a year in all the coal I saw rolling by, in just one afternoon on a sunny early autumn day.

And the treeless sand hills kept rolling by too. Once the home to bison, now producing beef for a hungry nation. Seemingly untouched. A bare land. But not barren.

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