Nebraska Sand Hills
South of Valentine are two fine natural areas, preserving and highlighting the unique ecosystems of the Nebraska Sand Hills. South along US-83 is the large Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, which, thanks to water seeped from the world’s biggest aquifer, the Ogalala Aquifer, is home to both native rolling dune prairie and lowlands of lake, marsh, and sub-irrigated meadow. Lots of curlews, sandpipers, terns, and mule deer are found on the drives and hikes through the vaulted hills and long spiny grasses, and along the lakeshores.
Farther south, the Sand Hills occasionally flatten out into simple, absolutely open range, with perhaps a ridge jutting out. Cows fleck the land, as do a few windmills: great, stark, American Gothic windmills, not the pseudo-efficient energy spinners seen elsewhere.
US-83 joins with Hwy-2 approximately 30 miles after leaving the Valentine Wildlife Refuge. Swinging east will take you to one of the three huge districts of the Nebraska National Forest, among the largest man-made forest tracts in the world (20,000 acres total), all planted by hand more than a century ago.