Pawnee Pioneer Trails

This, in the massive tallgrass prairie, to quote the song, is where the deer and the antelope play. No trees grow here, because it’s in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains. All the rain is wrung out when the clouds pass over the mountains. The Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic and Historic Byway traces the steps of Native American and pioneer trails across the open grassland plains of Northwest Colorado. Once sprinkled with Plains Indians and buffalo, frontiersmen, ranchers and homesteaders settled in the 19th century.  Life here was hard, It still mostly is, challenged every day by isolation, droughts, high winds and blazing sun. Railroad towns grew up, but few flourished. The Pawnee Buttes, two 350-foot sandstone wonders that author James Michener called “the sentinels of the plains” stand proudly looming over it all. In spite of the harsh conditions, the wind-swept region is known internationally for birding. The lark bunting, the Colorado State Bird, is common in the spring and summer. Other species include the long-billed curlew, mountain plover and burrowing owls. As you drive, watch for pronghorn, mule deer, coyote, swift fox, snakes and prairie dogs. At the end of your Pawnee Pioneer Trail Byway, we’ve extended the trip with a drive on the South Platte River Trail, the shortest Byway in Colorado.