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Panhandle Passages with Justin Haag – Hidden Treasures

Whitney Lake  Building
An old building at the edge of Whitney Lake was among our destinations Sunday.

As one who loves the outdoors and also embraces technology, I may be a bit of an anomaly. I certainly do love to get “off the grid” to places the phone doesn’t ring, but, generally speaking, I enjoy the ways technology can enhance outdoor experiences. Whether it’s the digital camera that allows me to share the neat things I see, the GPS unit that usually keeps me from getting lost or the smartphone fishing app that allows me to record my meager catch with ease, it seems technology has increasingly become a big part of my adventures.

On that note, GPS technology is the driver behind what’s been a favorite outdoor activity of mine for several years. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, geocaching employs GPS to lead people to small containers of items hidden in public spaces. The hub of the sport is geocaching.com, where people can get location data and hints for caches that have been hidden and register those they’ve created.

Whitney Lake Bridge
Kiera crosses the plank at the Whitney Lake inlet.

The blizzard that had been predicted this weekend didn’t materialize in our neck of the woods and the bit of snow we did receive quickly melted, so my wife Cricket and I decided Sunday to take the kids in pursuit of geocaches.

Geocaching was introduced to my son, now 10, about five years ago as “treasure hunting.” The label carries a great deal of allure to a 6-year-old mind, and it’s one that my daughter of that age now uses with excitement.

After the four of us scored a few caches in town, I took Sawyer and Kiera to Whitney Lake Wildlife Management Area to seek what appeared to be some easy finds.

What I most love about geocaching is the way it can get you to places that you may otherwise not visit. After crossing a plank over the lake’s inlet and walking four-tenths of a mile, the kids and I found ourselves at a run-down shanty near the water’s edge. I had seen the structure while fishing from a boat but had never closely examined it. It appears to be the remains of an old marina or bait shop. My daughter had another idea. “Dad, this must be a fishing spot. There’s beer everywhere,” she said, while referring to a spent Rolling Rock bottle and a few stray Busch Light cans nearby … and triggering a chuckle from her dad.

Logging a Geocache
Sawyer adds our name to the log of a geocache.
Haag kids on old merry-go-round
The kids and Cookie pause for a photo on an old merry-go-round near a geocache site at Whitney Lake.

Dilapidated playground equipment just west of the structure conjured up mental imagery of children playing by the lake shore on days gone by. A stairway leads to a railed deck at the top, which I’m sure was excellent for sunbathing, wildlife viewing or boat watching before the roof collapsed.

I’m sure the history of this place is common knowledge to long-time Dawes County residents. If any of you can tell me more about the old Whitney Lake “marina-bait shop-Rolling-Rocking-fishing-spot,” I’d love to hear the stories. Just drop your comments at the end of this post, or shoot me an email at justin.haag@nebraska.gov.

Throughout Sunday, we tallied six caches. Similar to others who have posted on geocaching.com lately, though, we were unable to find the “Deadliest Cache” — the name cleverly assigned to the container hidden at the run-down structure at Whitney Lake. We did, however, breathe some fresh air, stretch our legs over some “new” country and observe numerous species of wildlife on the way. Collectively speaking, we’ll call the day a priceless treasure.

Pintails at Whitney Lake
Pintails fly over Whitney Lake.

Whitney Lake Pronghorns
Pronghorns watch us as we walk along the bank of Whitney Lake.
Rooster ring-necked pheasant
Seems one rarely leaves Whitney Lake without seeing a rooster ring-necked pheasant.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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