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Counting Down ‘Pics of the Year’

Each day in western Nebraska brings beauty for those who seek it.

JH20131024_1752.tifTo go along with the many countdowns this time of year, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most popular images from 2015 from my “Pic of the Day” postings on social media. Of course, they were judged by my friends and followers — most who happen to be clicking the like button from my home region of northwestern Nebraska. Not sure if their regional bias has anything to do with the result, but I believe there were some equally nice images from other parts of the state that didn’t make the cut. I’m also a little baffled that people tend to like photos from spring, summer and fall better than those of winter. What’s up with that?

Anyway, each photo was a joy to shoot. From my home office in Chadron, Nebraska, here’s the list:

10. “Rising and Shining” from Chadron State Park in September

Haag, 2015. Copyright NEBRASKAland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

I’ve enjoyed many sweet sunrises at Chadron State Park and this one was certainly no exception.

9. “Over the Banks and Through the Fences” from north of Chadron in May


It was a wet spring in northwestern Nebraska and the little ol’ White River was roaring more loudly than the Platte.

8. “Smoke and Fire” from Crawford in July


This scene was captured the previous year after the Old West Trails Rodeo. I don’t usually like to include people in selections for the nature-oriented “Pic of the Day,” but I let this one pass in the spirit of the holiday. It’s all about independence.

7. “The Way to the Milky Way” from south of Whitney in September

Haag, 2015. Copyright NEBRASKAland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

This scene was shot on the night of the highly publicized “blood moon.” I was hiking back to the truck after photographing the moon and stars hanging over Trunk Butte and noticed the Milky Way creating this surreal scene in the pasture. In a year that “Star Wars” and “The Martian” were big hits at the box office, it’s not surprising this one made the list.

6. “Where the Geese and the Antelope Play” from north of Chadron in March


I was en route to Rapid City, South Dakota, for a meeting before sunrise and was not even planning to shoot photos. As my predecessor Bob Grier told me, “Always have the camera by your side.” Saw the pronghorn on the horizon and had to stop. Then, I heard geese in the distance. “Sure do wish those geese would fly this way,” I told myself. And, they did. Great advice, Bob.

5. “Little School on the Prairie” from near Crawford in October

Haag, 2015. Copyright NEBRASKAland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Both the old Pine Top School building and the clouds caught my eye as I was driving past this quaint scene. Glad they did.

4. “Ghillie Suit” from near Whitney in September


I’m really surprised this one ranked so high. The late morning light was terrible, but I guess a guy’s attire can make up for it.

3. “Big Enough for Both Ends of the Rainbow” from Fort Robinson State Park in July


On this evening my son and I were looking for a piece of equipment I’d misplaced during a shoot at sunrise. I was quite upset with myself for the mishap, but became thankful it happened when this scene at Smiley Canyon presented itself after a brief thunderstorm. And we even found the item we were seeking. Lucky charms.

2. “A Moose-see Scene” from Bridgeport State Recreation Area in May


Better moose photos are frequently shot in other states. But, hey, it’s a moose swimming in Nebraska.

1. “Good Moon Rising” from near Crawford in September

Haag, 2015. Copyright NEBRASKAland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

My most popular photo of the year comes from the same evening that No. 7 was shot. Capturing the “blood moon” rising over Trunk Butte was my plan that evening, but as nightfall neared I could tell it just wasn’t going to work. So, I headed west because Crow Butte rarely disappoints a photographer. And it sure didn’t.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any success I have as a photographer is less the result of my skills and more the product of where I live. This job takes me to some amazing places and I’m certain the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle will greet me with countless photo opportunities in 2016. Here’s to the New Year!

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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