When I was a kid, I attended Boy Scout and 4-H campouts at the Nebraska National Forest near the tiny community of Halsey (pop. 76). At nearly 20,000 acres, the forest within the Bessey Ranger District is the largest hand-planted forest in the United States, established in 1902 by visionary botanist and professor Charles E. Bessey. I didn't grasp the significance of all these trees in the middle of the naturally treeless Nebraska Sandhills. And though I grew up in Broken Bow, barely an hour's drive away, it was hardly a regular weekend destination.
In the last few years, however, it's become a source of continual fascination for me, and for months now I've been pining (pun definitely intended) to revisit the forest with Mel and Costello. We finally made it happen a few weeks ago, in mid-October. It had rained for most of the day before we arrived, and the Sandhills felt dewy and fresh. The fall foliage snapped orange and yellow and red under a cloudless blue sky. The campground was only half-full, and the whole park felt low-key and relaxed, free from the bustle of summer recreation. We spent Saturday hiking with Costello, and wondering at the unsupervised Scott Lookout Tower. We hope these photos spark your interest. The Nebraska National Forest is well worth the departure from I-80.