Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Pawnee Buttes

It has been a long time since Zack and I have been out for a hike. The last hike we took was our trip down in the Grand Canyon on April 1st. So though I don’t have any recent hikes to talk about I thought I would write about a hike we took in the fall. During Zack’s fall break I was off of work the entire week. His fall break occurred during the last week of October. We spent part of the break at our mountain house in Silverthorne. We did some great hikes during that part of the week in Monte Christo Gulch above Breckinridge and around Lake Dillon. At that point the snow had not yet started to fall except above 10,000 feet. We came down from the high country on Tuesday of that week because we had a Cub Scout event at the Federal Court House in Denver. Zack’s den was getting to spend time in a Federal Court Room and got to talk to a Federal Appellate Court judge. So though it cut our time in the mountains short, it was definitely worth it. Since we came down from the mountains I decided that we were going to take a hike at the Pawnee Buttes in the Pawnee National Grasslands. The Pawnee Buttes are about 15 miles south of the Colorado/Wyoming State Line. To reach them you must first travel all the way north on I-25 to Fort Collins. Once you reach Fort Collins you head out onto the plains (heading east and north) for another 40 – 50 miles. For a while you follow a state route, but then you get off the state route and begin meandering through countless miles of prairie on all these dirt roads. Once on these dirt roads you are totally and complete lost and you are only relying upon the signs pointing to the Pawnee Buttes to get there. We left our house around 7:30AM so that we could miss some of the rush hour traffic but yet still make to the Buttes in a reasonable amount of time. On the way there we stopped in Thornton and picked up a friend to go with us. The ride up to the Buttes was LONG. It was much longer than I expected. It took on the order of 2.5 hours just to get there. We finally arrived at the Buttes around 10:30AM. The trailhead for the Pawnee Buttes is about 1.5 miles to the west of the first Butte. At the trail head you really can’t even see the Buttes as they are hidden by a series of low hills. From the trailhead the trail leads over these hills and then descends downward in a dramatic fashion. Much of these eastern edge of these hills are actually a cliff and you have to pick your way down a very steep slope to reach the point where you can head out towards the Buttes.
The Buttes rise in a very stately fashion from the plains around them. They stand alone in the midst of hundreds of miles of flatness. How exactly them formed and have weather the thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years is a mystery to me. I can only imagine the events that lead to their birth and formation so many millennium ago. We spent about 1 hour walking around the first Butte and exploring the mystery of its existence. You can tell there are many different layers of rock that were involved in it’s creation. But you have to wonder why did those layers remain standing while the plains around them eroded down to nothing. I am sure a geologist could provide us with some easy answers but then the mystery would be gone.
Our hike back to the trailhead parking lot was rougher than the hike in. Of course the fact that the temperature had risen by 30 degrees didn’t make things any easier! Our ride out was just as long as the ride in. However, I am determined to do this hike again and I am determined to do it when the sun is rising so that I can see the dramatic color of the sunrise set against these unique and mysterious geological landmarks! Our day was a pretty good one. There was a lot going on. I have made several updates to the Caringbridge site today because of something that I found. Please check them out at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/pattykromer. As always – thanks and peace to all! – J.

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