The focus on the Niobrara River shifted this week to its scenic side, two months after it went wild during Nebraska’s mid-March flooding — breaking bridges, severing communities, sweeping away homes and businesses and likely taking a life.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a dozen first-class Forever stamps honoring the country’s federally designated wild and scenic rivers, including one depicting a tranquil bend in the Niobrara, the sun setting on a distant ridge.
Michael Melford took the picture in 2010. Or it could have been 2011. It’s kind of a blur, the National Geographic photographer said Wednesday from his home in Mystic, Connecticut.
He was on assignment for the magazine, illustrating an upcoming piece on wild and scenic rivers. And he was in a hurry, flying in to Rapid City, South Dakota, and then driving down to Valentine.
“It was a quick trip,” he said. “I was trying to get all the rivers.”
He’d been to Nebraska before, photographing the Sandhills for Life magazine, but this was his first time on the Niobrara.
Medford doesn’t like asking locals for advice about where to shoot. His idea of a good photo is often different from what others think, he said.
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But he does like a good map. And he likes to scout.
“Driving back and forth and back and forth. Looking, looking, looking for light, looking for a good angle.”
He found it between Valentine and Smith Falls, returning the next day in a low-flying small plane but ultimately shooting from the ground. After two nights in Valentine, he had his photo and was headed to another river.
The Niobrara picture didn’t make the magazine, but it would find new life as a 55-cent stamp.
He started negotiating with the Postal Service two years ago. It’s not the most lucrative sale, even though his photos are on five of the 12 stamps, but it’s an honor.
“I just came back from the post office,” he said. “I bought a bunch.”