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Backpacker Magazine – March 2010

Rip & Go: Soldier Creek Loop - Fort Robinson State Park, NE

Explore an unknown Nebraska wilderness for a surprising dose of rolling hills, wildlife, and solitude.

by: Ben Fullerton

Near the Soldier Creek Trailhead (Ben Fullerton)
Near the Soldier Creek Trailhead (Ben Fullerton)
Golden Eagle (Tom & Pat Leeson)
Golden Eagle (Tom & Pat Leeson)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.
Key Gear Sun Protection Despite the lush grasses and wildflowers, hiking through Fort Robinson is strikingly similar to desert hiking: There’s precious little shade. Here are four key pieces of gear for staying unbaked.

Key Gear
Sun Protection

Sun hat
Choose one that protects the top of your dome, ears, and the back and sides of your neck. The Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap ($30, outdoorresearch.com) provides complete coverage, but it’s more versatile than most: Remove the skirt, and it’s a normal lightweight cap.

Long-sleeve shirt A lightweight, loose-fitting nylon with
SPF protection shields your skin and helps minimize
convective moisture loss from hot wind. REI’s new Sahara Shirt ($50, rei.com) is featherlight and sports multiple, well-hidden vents.  

Bandanna It has myriad uses. Turn any cap into a sun hat. Keep sweat out of your eyes. Shade your neck. Dunk it in a creek and use it to cool your head and neck.

Sunscreen
  Go for a cream instead of gel-based lotions or sprays. Creams moisturize; gels often have skin-drying alcohol as an ingredient. Our longtime choice: A one-ounce tube of Dermatone Skin Protection Creme with Zinc Oxide, SPF 36 ($5, dermatone.com).

See This
Golden eagle

Soldier Creek’s remote, grassy plains provide ideal hunting grounds for predatory birds. The shrill call you’ll hear is likely a red-tailed hawk (look for them high in trees). But the real prize here is the golden eagle, which is dark brown with golden accents on the neck and wingtips. A golden uses its huge wingspan (up to eight feet) to ride thermals upward for a high-and-wide view of its vast hunting grounds. A master of soaring, it can go hours without flapping its wings. After spotting prey, it can tuck its wings and swoop in for the kill at speeds up to 200 mph.

Locals Know
Fort Robinson, now a state park, was first built as a temporary frontier outpost in 1874 to monitor Indian activity. It grew to be the largest military base on the northern Plains and was used as a U.S. Army training ground through World War II. It once held a herd of 12,000 horses, a K-9 Corps training center, and a weapons-testing field where soldiers put experimental cannons, like the multibarreled Hotchkiss Gun, through their paces. “It’s a historical treasure,” says Dave Nixon, retired 25-year curator of the on-site Trailside Museum. “And the best view is from Red Cloud Buttes to the north. Bighorn sheep were introduced to this area in the 1970s, and they huddle on the north side.” To gain this vantage and spot sheep, hike a six-mile out-and-back on an unmarked but well-worn trail from where Soldier Creek Road turns to dirt.

Camp Chat
In 1989, a wildfire sparked by a single lightning bolt torched 48,000 acres in the Soldier Creek Wilderness and neighboring Fort Lewis State Park. It denuded the landscape of grasses and trees and burned so hot that even minerals in the soil were destroyed, thus delaying regrowth. Previous programs to suppress fires jacked up the level of destruction by creating more fuel: The overgrown forest canopy burned longer and hotter than if the trees had been allowed to blaze over the years. Discuss: Should the park work to balance prescribed burns and fire suppression, or just let Mother Nature handle it?



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