“Pawnee National Grasslands” 2a

“Pawnee National Grasslands” 2a
Colorado National Forest
Image by DB’s travels
Pawnee National Grasslands in eastern Colorado. Throughout the prairie states there are various National Grasslands — the Grasslands are vast stretches where there are efforts to let the prairie return to its natural state, thus you drive through miles of seemingly empty grasslands seeing only deer and antelope (and buffalo, in North Dakota) and old, apparently abandoned, ranches and towns. Portions of the Grasslands are still used by ranches, thus sections of the Grasslands are fairly accessible by gravel and/or dirt roads.

In the Pawnee Grasslands there is one relatively short trail at Pawnee Butte (this picture), which you get to by driving over about 15 miles of gravel roads. It was at Pawnee Butte that I first discovered the extensiveness and beauty of the bird life in the prairies. The actual buttes were off-limits when I was there due to hatching season for raptors (eagles and hawks) that nested in the buttes. Besides raptors, there were many types of swallows and various songbirds (including mocking birds) in the air around the buttes. The trail at the Buttes goes down a wash between two buttes (the trail is on the lower right corner of the picture, which shows only one of the buttes). When I was coming up the trail, there was one bird sitting in the middle of the wash making a call which echoed off the butte walls, and another bird somewhere higher up answering — in the remoteness of the area with only the sounds of the birds and the wind, it was quite beautiful.

Leaving the buttes one encounters an odd contradiction. When leaving the buttes I started coming across some curious spots that seemed to contradict the remoteness of the grasslands. Headed back towards the main road, I kept passing small squares of land (a little larger than the size of an urban house lot) that were fenced off with barb wire, had a concrete pad with some metal circle in the middle, and had electricity and phone lines running to them. It dawned on me that these might be the silos that had contained Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) during the Cold War. This suspicion was somewhat confirmed when I passed a very small compound (a couple of buildings) out in the middle of nowhere — though the compound was not marked, the presence of Air Force trucks suggested that it was a military base.

In about 40 miles of driving I must have passed 20 or so missile silos. Though the missile program was decommissioned a number of years ago, the presence of the Air Force was disconcerting (an Air Force truck appeared to be following me for about 10 miles) and so I didn’t take any pictures of the silos. A web search using Google (search for "ICBM AND Colorado" turned up a number of websites that discuss the missile silos.

Photo taken in 2002, larger size picture no longer available. Best viewed as part of Prairie 2002 set.View on black, courtesy of B l a c k M a g i c

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