The Niobrara: A River Running through Time

The Niobrara: A River Running through Time

The Niobrara: A River Running through Time

The Niobrara: A River Running through Time


Although its history is etched on canyon walls reaching back twenty million years, the Niobrara is very much a river of today. Stretching 535 miles from its headwaters to the Missouri River, it is one of Nebraska's least altered waterways and is designated as a national scenic river. Its waterfalls and wildlife make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, but pressures from development still threaten its scenic and ecological wonders. This first book-length study of the Niobrara is a comprehensive look at an ecological treasure. Paul A. Johnsgard reviews the river's history from its geologic past through prehistoric settlement to the present and highlights its historical and biological features. Writing from this crossroads of eastern and western species, Johnsgard also describes the Niobrara's varied plants and animals, providing extensive information on bird populations. He offers portraits of sixteen species of special conservation concern, such as the black-tailed prairie dog and the olive-backed pocket mouse. Drawings by Johnsgard, information tables on various species, plus site lists make the book an invaluable reference. It conveys the Niobrara's value as a recreational and scientific resource to help visitors better appreciate this riparian paradise while offering specialists an unimpeachable guide to its scientific riches. The Niobrara includes chapters by Jon Farrar and Duane Gudgel.


The face of the earth is a graveyard, and so it has always been.

—PAUL sears

Like the rest of the world, the Niobrara River region is indeed a gigantic graveyard. a prodigious diversity of life forms has occupied its land surface ever since the region slowly emerged from the great Cretaceous sea that covered central North America until about 70 million years ago. These plants and animals left scattered mementos of their transient presence in the form of fossils and other permanent impressions upon the landscape.

Although today we can easily travel the Niobrara Valley and enjoy its vistas for their sheer beauty alone, we cannot really appreciate it without some sense of the vast amount of geologic time that is writ large on its surface and especially is made evident along roadcuts and the steep bluffs that line the river itself. Here decades, centuries, and millennia are compressed into paper-thin horizontal layers, and the transient significance of individual lives and collective human history shrinks into insignificance. Based on this sobering fact alone, it is important to know something of the true age of the Niobrara region and its geologic underpinnings (see maps 1 and 2).

The Cretaceous Period

Before emerging as land near the end of the Mesozoic era, much of interior North America was covered by a shallow Cretaceous ocean. Before . . .

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