One of the most prominent and successful photographic pioneers was John Carbutt of Chicago, who made major advances in the materials used to create and develop film. But decades before he did that, Carbutt journeyed to Nebraska and the Platte Valley as the official photographer for an amazingly large publicity stunt by the Union Pacific Rail Company as it rushed to complete the transcontinental railroad.

In the predawn hours of an early Saturday in April, cars creep quietly along a gravel road south of the Platte River’s main channel. For the last half hour, the dark sky has nibbled away at the edge of the full moon above, the lucky occurrence of a rare lunar eclipse.

The barn is dusty. And cold. It’s winter at The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Platte River Prairies near Alda, Neb. Chris Helzer orients a group of staff and volunteers to the day’s task: mixing seed for grassland restoration.

Few modern species can lay claim to older origins than the sandhill crane. Each spring, 80 percent of the mid-continent population spends a few weeks along the central stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska. But this unprecedented concentration of birds on the Platte represents a challenged ecosystem.

While surface water development led the early history of irrigation in Nebraska, it became common for farmers to tap the wealth of water below ground beginning in the 1930s.

Many early bridge builders constructed embankments out into the Platte River, shortening the total length of the bridge and reducing construction costs and labor. The constrained banks make the river more narrow, creating faster currents and deeper channels.

Today we may think nothing of driving over a bridge. One hundred and fifty years ago, it wasn’t so easy. Some of the first bridges across the Platte were made of sod.

For two decades Fort Kearny served as a symbol of American westward expansion, an outpost on the frontier as settlers headed west.

Twice a year, the world’s largest remaining wild population of endangered whooping cranes makes the 2,500-mile journey between breeding grounds in Canada’s Northwest Territories and wintering grounds on the Texas Gulf Coast, using the Great Plains as their migratory corridor. Biologist are tracking these rare birds to learn more about their migration.

From the time of the first agricultural societies, farmers have experimented with various ways to get enough water to their crops.