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Panhandle’s natural beauty abundant in 2017

Concealed beneath a grass blind as the sun rises. Camping beneath a star-filled sky on a rocky ridge. Trekking with snowshoes into a forest blanketed by white. Soaring above the buttes while riding shotgun in a Cessna. Stirring up dust with a four-wheel drive on winding backroads. Those are just some of the many ways I witnessed beauty of the western Nebraska with camera in hand during 2017.

A look back at the nature images I post to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter throughout the year makes me realize how fortunate I am to be an outdoor writer-photographer in the Panhandle — a land so rich with eye candy.

May you enjoy looking at this countdown of images that generated the most social media reactions in 2017 as much as I enjoyed capturing those images and compiling this list.

Honorable Mention

These images did not tally as many total social engagements as those in the top 10 list, but I think they deserve some love because they ranked high in shares and retweets.

Serenity and Stars, Walgren Lake State Recreation Area in July

The Morning Show, Dawes County in November

Protrusions and Plains, Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area in July

C’ing the Show, Chadron in July

Snowscrapers, Pine Ridge Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest in November

Top o’ the Topo, Scotts Bluff County in October

The Top 10

  1. Galactic Forest, Chadron Creek Ranch Wildlife Management Area in June

Chadron Creek Ranch was among several WMAs that I photographed at night this year. When I saw how the Milky Way was lined up with the pines high on this cliff wall, I knew it was a scene worthy of capturing.

  1. Ridge Rising, Dawes County in October

The landforms of the Pine Ridge almost always look good at sunrise. They might even look a little better when shot from an airplane at that hour.

  1. White on White, Metcalf Wildlife Management Area in January

Even on the grayest of coldest of days, there is much beauty to be witnessed by those who seek it. I witnessed this scene from snowshoes while checking a camera trap.

  1. Mirror, Mirror, on the Pond, from near Hay Springs in March

I had just called it a day after an afternoon in a blind photographing waterfowl and other pond-loving wildlife. While hiking back to the truck, this scene jumped out at me and I knew my shooting wasn’t done.

  1. Dressed in White, from Chadron State Park in January

Chadron Creek is among Nebraska’s beautiful coldwater streams. It was certainly living up to that designation on this day, with surroundings to match.

  1. Above the Crowd, from north of Crawford in September

Considering all of the wildlife photos I have taken and shared throughout the year, you would think there would be more critters on this list. Represent, elk. Represent.

  1. Brilliant Buttes, from Fort Robinson State Park in October

One of two scenes from Fort Rob that made the top 10 this year. Many visitors throughout the summer tourism season photograph the Red Cloud Buttes. They look nice then, but they seem to take on a special beauty when adorned by the fall colors of the White River valley below.

  1. Towering Over the Moon, from Fort Robinson State Park in February

It usually pays to get up early. I was on my way to set up for a sunrise shot when this scene jumped out at me.

  1. Elks Meeting, from north of Crawford in September

Same herd of elk as No. 5, only a little better. Charismatic mega fauna, indeed.

  1. Finding Center, from Bighorn Wildlife Management Area in August

Ah, the Great American Eclipse. People liked and shared this composite image showing the eclipse’s progression not only the most of any image I posted during the past year, but more than any other post I have ever made to social media. Too bad it’s a scene that won’t be easy to duplicate.

That’s a wrap, folks. Bring on 2018.

See also:

2016 Top 10

2015 Top 10


About justin haag

Justin Haag serves the Panhandle as a public information officer for the Commission, also 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 enjoy introducing their two children to the many outdoor recreational opportunities of the Pine Ridge region.

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