Twilight over Pawnee Buttes. Photo: Bryce Bradford
Colorado is known for its towering mountain peaks, golden aspen groves, and some of the best skiing in the country. But what about the other half of Colorado? The eastern plains are an integral part of Colorado’s culture and history. Covering almost a third of the state this region offers unique terrain and historical perspective that is unknown to most.
The list below is by no means a complete compendium of places to see and things to do in eastern Colorado but simply a few destinations that are worthy of a visit. So, pin these five destinations to your map and read why a road trip through Colorado’s Eastern Plains might surprise you.
1st pin: Pawnee National Grasslands
Located about 110 miles northeast of Denver lies the Pawnee Buttes Trail, located within the Pawnee National Grassland. An iconic Colorado landmark often seen in pictures but not often seen in person, sits as a stoic reminder of how this earth is ever changing.
Two buttes rise 300 feet above the prairie grass that extends for miles and miles; seemingly to the edge of the ends of the earth. Nestled amongst these contrasting landscapes is a 4.1-mile out and back trail for hikers to explore both the east and west buttes up close. Additional activities include; birding, horseback riding, and camping.
While the trek out here might seem like you are being led to the middle of nowhere – you are – but there is a distinctive piece of the Colorado landscape that sits in the shadows of the Rockies that is waiting to be explored.
2nd pin: The Inn at the Feed Store
Roughly 45 miles directly east of Denver sits the town of Byers, CO., where silos soar high and American flags are hung with pride. There is not too much to see here except some old buildings, farmland and a historic church nestled amongst residences’ homes.
The real draw is the Inn at the Feed Store. You won’t find a website for this bed and breakfast, in fact the only way they take reservations are through personal referrals over the phone (be sure to say we sent you). Accommodations are comfortable and quaint with small-town charm to complete the experience.
This being the true gem of the town, The Inn is the ideal place to escape for some peace and quiet without a huge price tag.
3rd pin: Last Chance Module Array
Located in the tiny town of Last Chance, identifiable only by a collection of abandoned homes and the dilapidated Last Chance Motel, is the site of M12 Studio’s most recognizable projects. Take I-70 to the intersection of US-36 and US-71, then head south a few miles down US-71 and to the left stands the Last Chance Module Array.
The M12 studio is group of artists, researchers and writers based in Colorado. They are known for their projects that explore the aesthetics of rural culture and landscapes.
The Last Chance Module Array is an eight-piece wooden structure, perched high on the plains of Colorado. It is best seen early in the morning with the rising sun casting a beautiful glow across the wooden framework.
There are no signs telling you what it is, or “turn left for M12 project,” you must know it is there. Visitors can approach the display by wading through the tall grass to see the perfectly crafted space between the pieces. It is an impressive site, a real treat you would not expect to find in this part of Colorado.
4th pin: Burlington, CO
Further east, about 13 miles west of the Kansas/Colorado border, is the town of Burlington. A modest cow-town that boasts an unexpected national historic landmark; the Kit Carson County Carousel. The carousel is one of fewer than 150 wooden carousels that remain in operation still today.
Splurge and buy a ticket for the reasonable price of $0.25. Yes, for only $0.25, the price you paid to ride when the it first opened in 1928, you get access to the museum and a ride on the carousel.
Gaining speeds of up to twelve miles an hour, even with the original motor, this antique can really get moving. Creepy carnival music plays in the background as charmed locals and tourists spin around on gold leaf horses and other various animals. For five whole minutes you can feel like a kid again.
5th pin: Granada, CO
South of Burlington is the sleepy town of Granada. By itself, Granada really isn’t much to look at for the curious traveler, except for one not so well-known piece of history. Tucked away from the main part of town is a National Historic Landmark: the Amache Japanese-American Relocation Center.
During World War II this site was one of ten Japanese American internment camps in the U.S. Visitors can drive (or walk) throughout the property that housed over 10,000 internees; making it at one point the 7th largest city in Colorado.
The site today consists of a cemetery, the original water tower, a model of the barracks and original building foundations, evidence of life as it once was in this isolated part of the world.
Just as the mountains shape the west, these hidden treasures shape the eastern plains. Add these perfect pins to your next road trip adventure for a unique twist on a classic choice.