Pawnee Buttes Trail
Location: Pawnee National Grasslands
Website: Pawnee National Grasslands
Elevation: 5,230 feet
Distance: 4-5 miles roundtrip
Hours: Always open
For Easter, we had a three day weekend and lots of snow in the mountains…up to four feet in four days. This snowy event was very exciting to skiers and snowboarders who have suffered through a rather warm March (which I loved). So, for two of three days, David took advantage of the fresh powder, while I locked myself in the house and waited for sun.
Staying home on a three day weekend is almost unheard of in this family, so on Easter with a sunny day on hand, we opted for a short road trip. Tired of the snow, I picked Pawnee National Grassland in Northeast, Colorado. It is about a 2 hour drive from Denver. Within about one hour, we were out of civilization. The Google Maps route took by ranches, dairy farms, and several oil and gas wells. We passed one small town, Briggsdale with a post office and gas station (the only one to be found in the next 60 miles), but otherwise we were surrounded by fields. The last 30 minutes of our drive were on dirt roads which we shared with several speeding gas tankers.
Given the flatlands, we thought we would have seen the two buttes that rise 300 feet above the ground, but they didn’t come into view until we reached the parking lot. We were the only car in the lot with the nice covered picnic tables and bathroom facilities nearby, when within minutes two other cars arrived. Given how far we drove, we found it funny that the only other people at the Pawnee Buttes Trail the entire time we were there arrived at the same time we did!
We actually drove for longer than we hiked, so I can’t say this hike would be for everyone, but it was a bit unique and rather peaceful. From the trailhead, the buttes don’t look that far away and they looked relatively close together. The hike, however, was two miles to the westerly butte and another half mile to the butte to the east.
We followed the trail along the highlands and then down into some badlands around Lips Bluff where raptors nest. From March-June visitors are not allowed to hike into this bluff as to protect the birds. I had hope to see some of the hawks, eagles and falcons for which the grasslands are known, but I suppose they were all protecting their young. We did spot one pronghorn and a few prairie dogs along our drive. It’s always a treat to see wildlife. The grasslands are also known for its fossils, but we didn’t find any (not that we were looking too hard). We were more entertained by Molli who is a very well-minded dog we have been caring for over Spring Break.
After two miles, we reached the first butte. Its base of crumbling sandstone is capped with limestone. It is what is left of the eroded, windswept plains. We followed the footpath another half mile to the second butte. This path had a little snow remaining from our big storm a few days and Molli loved it. She ran back and forth on the snow while trying to eat it at the same time!
Somewhat high on the second butte, is a small narrow path which circles it. We climbed up and enjoyed a lovely view as we strolled around the butte before heading back to the car. It was a nice leisurely day beneath sunny skies with a cool breeze. I don’t think we hiked enough to keep the pounds off from our Easter dinner feast at Linger with some friends that came in town from Canada, but we loved it. It was a perfect way to cap off the evening. ETB