Pawnee Buttes in Grover, Colorado

West Butte (left), with East Butte in the distance to the right.

The Pawnee Buttes don’t fit the usual Colorado stereotypes. You won’t find towering mountains or deep canyons here, but a different landscape with its own charms and history. The buttes are the remnants of a higher plain that has mostly been eroded away here, but to the north is still a continuous plain known as the Chalk Bluffs.

The buttes rise some 300 feet (91 meters) above the surrounding plains, where large herds of bison once grazed and were hunted by Native Americans. Some trappers came through in the early 19th century, but the first major Euro-American influx was from the cattle drives out of Texas; at first from Texas into Colorado, but later along the Texas-Montana trail just to the east. Homesteaders arrived in the latter 19th century as barbed wire shut off the cattle drives, and they prospered for some decades. Falling prices and droughts, however, culminating in the infamous Dust Bowl, led to the abandonment of most agriculture aside from some ranching.

In the 1930s, the federal government took over most of the ruined farms, and today the area largely lies in the Pawnee National Grasslands. Native grasses have been replanted and the area is now an excellent example of a recovered shortgrass prairie.

Energy is another traditional industry in the area. Some producing oil wells still exist, but more recently construction of wind farms has boomed. The Chalk Bluffs in particular are the site of a large turbine installation.

Posted by Contributor