The clouds parted as we continued south, the sun licking pools from the asphalt. A meadowlark resting on a mile marker recited a Ted Kooser poem from memory—Scout’s honor. The Sandhills beg for poetry. “It is without a doubt the most mysterious landscape in the United States,” the late Jim Harrison once wrote in The New York Times. “… The vastness and waving of the hilly grasslands in the wind make you smell salt.” More cows than people. A loneliness endemic to this terrain, one of the largest grassland ecosystems in North America.

Carson Vaughn’s account of canoeing in Nebraska highlights the mystery of this sad, beautiful place