Sicangu Village, South Dakota. Across Highway 83 from the Rosebud Casino, this small housing development is nine miles north of Valentine, Nebraska, just on the South Dakota side of the border. It's another 20 miles north to Mission, South Dakota, the main town on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Cultures, incomes and ways of life vary greatly between Rosebud and Valentine, despite their proximity. But they aren't without similarities – people around here almost universally care deeply for the land they live on: this vast empty space.
A wedding party takes over the stage at the Skylite Bar in Valentine, Nebraska. The pole is not just for show – in summer months Skylite would have strippers perform multiple nights a week, indicated daily by the neon "Entertainment tonight" sign above the door. It was not the only bar to do so in Valentine, population 2,800. Most of the dancers came from bigger cities in the 4-hour driving radius, like Yankton, Sioux Falls, or Rapid City. Skylite is now closed.
Caleb Miles' horse rears while he and his dad Craig separate a few cattle for vaccinations. Craig claims that his land south of Valentine has a hill that is the tallest in all of Cherry County's 6,000 square miles.
Valentine High School football players during the national anthem before their game against Chadron Senior High School in Chadron, Nebraska. Valentine lost 40-0.
Jeremy runs between his two favorite hills near his relatives' house on the Rosebud Indian Reservation during a break in a summer rodeo camp.
Tubers float by Brewer Bridge on the Niobrara National Scenic River east of Valentine. Tourism is big business – about 30,000 people float the river every year. That's more than 10 times the population of Valentine, and five times the population of Cherry County. Groups are of all varieties, from out-of-town church youth groups, to annual Niobrara beer-guzzlers from Lincoln and Omaha, to locals, some of whom prefer the quieter days and some of whom are there for the party.
A man and woman dance at the Vet's Club on Main Street in Valentine, where there is free popcorn, $0.75 games of pool, and a 98-year-old regular.
Molly, a tourist from Kansas City, walks back toward the river from one of the many smaller, more hidden waterfalls that dot the Niobrara.
Children play musical chairs during a Lakota youth cultural education class on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, led by William Spotted Tail.
TJ Swift Hawk, 7, walks by graffiti on the upper level of the Rosebud fair grounds viewing deck for rodeo events. Swift Hawk was attending the nonprofit Buffalo Jump’s Ride Across Rosebud camp, which taught youth ages 12-22 skills required for horse riding, bull riding and camping.
A man runs the Brownlee road during the 2013 Sandhills Marathon, a small annual race that has a cap of about 150 participants. The thin road most often serves as a diagonal shortcut for anyone south of Valentine headed for Merritt Reservoir. The race was conceived when Andy Pollock, a lawyer in Lincoln and a runner, was driving on that road and thought of an idea. The next year, with a friend, Pollock reset the odometer on the car just as they turned on the road. 25.7 miles. A quick half-mile jaunt into and out of the unincorporated town of Brownlee would make it 26.2.
A rancher helps at a friend's ranch during a branding, shrouded in smoke from the branding of the calf.
At Smith Falls, a common stopping point along the Niobrara National Scenic River and the tallest waterfall in Nebraska, Gerry Riflov, right, and Grant Sundall soak in the cool air and water.
Trucks new and old sit unused while ranchers work to brand the second of three pastures' worth of calves for the day.
George Sherman, who ran George's Corner Bar in Valentine, plays pool with the few patrons he has on an autumn night. The bar was sold and is now much cleaner, brighter and renamed "The Corner Pub."