Celebrate National Grasslands Week with a trip to the Pawnee

Come celebrate National Grasslands Week, June 21-27, by experiencing all Pawnee National Grassland has to offer.

From hiking to birding to stargazing, there is something on the grassland for everyone. The Pawnee National Grassland is one of 20 national grasslands, located in 13 states. These 193,060 acres of prairie are located in northern Weld County.

The Pawnee National Grassland is often identified by the Pawnee Buttes that jut out more than 200 feet from the prairie floor. The Pawnee Buttes Trailhead is a four-mile, round-trip trail that introduces visitors to this geological find that is located on the eastern side of the grassland. Foot or animal traffic is welcomed, but mountain bikes are prohibited. Use caution on the dirt and gravel roads that lead you there because they are especially slick after rain.

Wildflower viewing is great in spring and early summer on the Pawnee. The prickly pear cactus is just starting to show its vibrant colors.

People travel to the Pawnee from all over the globe to experience first-class birding. More than 300 bird species have been seen on the grassland. Although the time has passed for most migrating birds, many nesting birds are still making the grasslands their home. Swainson, red-tailed and ferruginous hawks, as well as Lark Buntings and burrowing owls, are just a few birds visitors may spot. Get out early in the morning or later in the afternoon for the best viewing. There is also a bird tour with interpretive signs on the Pawnee.

In addition, shooting enthusiasts have the chance to go to the Baker Draw Designated Shooting Area, which is located near the intersections of Weld County roads 96 and 63. The area provides 25-, 50- and 100-yard shooting opportunities. More information is online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/bakerdraw.

Other opportunities for enjoying this local gem include driving the Pawnee Pioneer Trail Scenic and Historic Byway and camping under the starry sky. The byway takes a traveler north of Briggsdale, off State Highway 14, through much of the Pawnee, and back down to Highway 14. Those choosing to head off the main routes should know many of these roads can become virtually impassable if it recently rained.

Before heading out, everyone should stop by the Visitor Information Office at 660 O St. in Greeley, call 970-346-5000 or visit the website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/arp/home. Be sure to have a map, as land ownership is very mixed on the grasslands.

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