Keep Alliance Beautiful strives to do just that. From education to recycling to facilitating cleanups we want residents to keep Alliance looking its best. No matter how great your hometown looks, however, it is nice to get away sometimes -- even for just a few hours.

Travel has not been encouraged since the Covid 19 Pandemic hit our country. Some popular springtime destinations, such as national parks, have been closed anyway. My goal has been to find a day trip or two within the confines of the Panhandle that does not violate social distancing guidelines. The most recent for my family was a drive east into the Sandhills.

My daughter’s birthday is the day after Mother’s Day so we tend to float that May holiday. This year we decided the Saturday before would be a good day. The plan was a bird watching excursion and takeout from a local Mexican restaurant. The weather turned out to be conducive for the trip on a cloudy, rainy day where the temperature topped out at 55 degrees. My wife, our two children and I loaded up in our Jeep that morning with Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge our planned destination.

That area of the Sandhills had received at least 1.5 inches of rain overnight so it turned out the Jeep’s four-wheel drive was essential as we made the turn off the pavement in Garden County. The road was sloppy enough that it made little sense to slog through to Crescent Lake, especially since we were still driving in a light rain. So, we turned around and went back north to Antioch. In order to get in another good hour or so of bird watching we went to Lakeside, turned left on state highway 250 for a while then traced our route back to Alliance.

Just on our trip there were dozens of ponds and lakes right along the road/highway or within prime viewing distance. Nearly every example of this aquatic habitat was on private property though some of the water extended into the right of way. In one spot the water flowed over Highway 250. Though none of the area we drove through is designated for wildlife habitat the ranchers who own the land are excellent stewards. In managing the land for cattle, their livelihood, birds and other animals also benefit. Over several hours of driving I only saw two instances of where litter had blown onto the range.

Driving south of Antioch I met just one vehicle. These Sandhills roads are prime examples of places to find solitude while enjoying nature. We listed more than two dozen bird species spied from the car. Late April to early May, during spring migration, is an ideal time to view birds on Sandhills lake and in the area in general. At a shelter belt we saw a pair of Swainson’s hawks in the same location we spied two together two years ago. Birds of prey were common this time. A bald eagle was the highlight. Waterfowl proved most prevalent. This group represented mainly waders and ducks. Certain birds that are typically pretty common were elusive. For example, we saw just one long-billed curlew.

It was fun to spend time in the Sandhills if only briefly. As a visitor I appreciate how our rural neighbors care for the environment. When these cattlemen drive to town for something I hope they think the same of Alliance.

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