The natural beauty of the Sandhills area was one of the highlights I was told to expect. Indeed, as I spoke with people in the Valentine area, one of the factors in its success as a small rural town is the natural environment and outdoor opportunities that Mother Nature has bestowed uniquely in this region. Anyone that enjoys the outdoor life, from hunters to hikers, and those that appreciate its visual wonder, from authors to artists, find inspiration and excitement here.
Traveling between Valentine and Chadron, I decided to make an overnight RV stop at Merritt Reservoir SRA. I hadn’t expected it to be as delightful. Just three miles north of the recreation area is Snake River Falls. While Smith Falls are the highest waterfall in Nebraska, Snake River Falls are the largest by water volume. Invisible from the road, the pounding noise of water tumbling onto rock greets you first as you walk towards them, before you clamber down into the river’s ravine and see them head on. They are quite a surprise in a landscape so expansive with sand and grass, yet they are emblematic of the wonder that is the Sandhills.
At the reservoir, the Sunday afternoon pleasure seekers on the lake had dwindled in number. The buzz of boat engines and the hooting and hollering of those at leisure became faint. One of my indulgences for this trip (gifted insightfully to me by Craig and Emily Moody as I departed) is Hendricks gin with some tonic and a slice of cucumber. And so I sat, looking out over the lake with cocktail in hand and the sun melting like butter into the cliffs the other side of this horizontal vista.
I felt suspended between planes, neither here nor there, without chronology or geography. My iPhone had flipped into Mountain Time and my laptop had stayed in Central Time. I lay somewhere between and happily so. The lake itself bent life to its pace. Boats became ghosts known only by their wake rolling onto shore; waves breaking upon the sand and scattered rocks long after the boat disappeared.
The morning was no less sublime. The lake was still save for fish gulping air with noisy muscularity. Cows lowed in the far distance. Woodpeckers hammered at trees while gulls skimmed the water. Agile swifts chased each other among scented pines and the sun doubled brightly upon the water.