Celebrate National Grasslands Week, June 19-25, by experiencing all the natural wonders Pawnee National Grassland has to offer.
From hiking to birding to stargazing and more, 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. It features Crow Valley Recreation Area, which has a volleyball court and baseball diamond that is perfect for group activities. There are also a handful of museums and cemeteries that are in the area that explain and document its rich history.
The Pawnee National Grassland is often identified by the Pawnee Buttes jutting out over 200 feet from the prairie floor. The Pawnee Buttes Trail is a four-mile, round-trip trail that introduces visitors to this geological find located on the eastern side of the grassland. Foot or animal traffic is welcome, but mountain bikes are prohibited. Use caution on the dirt and gravel roads that lead you there, especially when slick after rain.
People travel to the Pawnee from around the globe to experience first-class birding. Over 300 bird species have been seen on the grassland. Swainson, red-tailed, and ferruginous hawks, as well as Lark Buntings (the Colorado state bird) 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 a bird tour with interpretive signs on the Pawnee. Other species of wildlife like pronghorn, mule deer, foxes and snakes all call the grassland home as well.
For recreational shooting enthusiasts, there is the Baker Draw Designated Shooting Area, which is located near the intersections of Weld County 96 and 63. The area provides 25, 50 and 100-yard shooting opportunities. Shotguns were recently restricted from Baker Draw. More information is available at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/bakerdraw.
Other opportunities for 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. Those choosing to head off the main routes should know many of these roads can become virtually impassable if the area has received recent rain. Wildflower viewing is also great in spring and early summer on the Pawnee. The prickly pear cactus is just starting to show its vibrant colors.
Everyone should stop by the Pawnee National Grasslands Visitor Information Center’s new location at 115 North 2nd Avenue in Ault or visit our website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/arp/home. Be sure to have a map, as land ownership is very mixed on the grassland. Remember, facilities are limited so bring plenty of water and have a full tank of gas before heading out.