Pawnee National Grassland | Colorado | 07/23/19

On the 21st, my husband Kyle and I attempted 14er Mount Bross (new for him but a repeat for me). About a mile in, nausea overcame me and I made the decision to turn back so I could lay down for a while, but not after vomiting off the side of the mountain, fun! (Altitude sickness is no joke, people. If I pushed it, I could have become VERY sick!) Kyle continued on for a while but eventually turned back as well, unmotivated without his summit partner.

I don’t know why, but every now and then, maybe only once every few years, I get a bout of altitude sickness. What did I do different that day to get sick? Obviously I’m acclimated so what the heck!? Well anyways, I was feeling pretty crappy about a whopping 2 miles hiked that ENTIRE weekend, so I was looking forward to my brother Nicholas arriving from Wisconsin for a 2 week visit. I had off work the entire time and we were going to be hiking and traveling all over Colorado! YES! Finally I’d have a chance to snag a bunch of easier hikes that I knew I’d be able to finish. Time to get out of my funk!

Trail of the Mourning Dove | Crow Valley Recreation Area

Briggsdale, CO | 07/23/19 | 1.08 miles | 9′ gain

First stop on the agenda was the Pawnee National Grassland. Nicholas fell in love with the prairie after his visit last year and wanted to go back! Plus this would act like a sort of acclimation day before heading to the mountains, as he had just arrived from sea level. I found a new recreation area (new to us at least) that supposedly had a few short nature trails and an outdoor museum. I couldn’t find much info online so I had no idea what to expect but it was on the way to our actual destination (the Pawnee Buttes) so even if it sucked, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

We pulled into the Crow Valley Recreation Area, which is basically just a campground. Am I even allowed to be here if I haven’t paid to camp? The place was nearly empty, so I figured it didn’t matter much either way and we eventually found a trailhead sign for the Trail of the Mourning Dove. Still unsure what to expect as I never did find a map, we set off on the very flat trail.

Bob walking Uncle Nicholas up the trail.

We walked through cottonwoods and then into the shortgrass prairie. The mountains are a part of me, but the prairie is pretty special too. Years of vegetation monitoring and soil sampling on reclaimed coal mines and oil & gas sites has burned the prairie into my soul whether it wanted it there or not.

Prairie Coneflower add some yellow to the sea of green.
A feathery sea of green.

We passed a small pond or two and a few groves of trees. As we continued farther, the trail became more and more overgrown. We eventually tired of battling the weeds and turned around. It may have been short and flat, but it was nice to walk through the prairie again.

A grove of trees along a fence row.

Lee & Dorothy Rhoads Farm Museum | Crow Valley Recreation Area

Briggsdale, CO | 07/23/19

Outdoor museum

As the outdoor museum was right next to the Mourning Dove Trailhead, it was our logical next stop. What I assumed would be more like a museum, with signage and information, was essentially a collection of antique farming implements. I wandered through, wondering what everything was used for, and left no wiser.


Nicholas was very interested, so he spent a few extra minutes photographing individual machinery while I took pictures of Bob and a nearby sunflower.

A bad picture of Bob has never been taken.
Common Sunflower

We had originally intended on finding the second nature trail within the campground/recreation area, but at this point we were kind of over it, so we decided to leave early and head straight to Pawnee Buttes!

Pawnee Buttes Loop | Pawnee National Grassland

Grover, CO | 07/23/19 | 3.78 miles | 319′ gain

Now in familiar territory, we set off on the Pawnee Buttes Trail toward our prominent destination.

I like seeing where I’m going!

Last year, we visited during the nesting season closure for birds of prey, so we couldn’t take the Lips Bluff alternate route. But this year we were about a month later and the trail was open! It always feels good to explore a new trail.

Lips Bluff

We took a right at the junction and headed towards Lips Bluff. A hop, skip, and a jump away, we summitted just minutes after we started. Easy summits are fun.

Pawnee Buttes from Lips Bluff
Bluff walks are fun

We’d been following a great trail but it seemed to dead end at a narrow rock bridge. But of course, this was where we were supposed to be!

Crossing the narrow rock bridge.

I wasn’t expecting to find exposure and sheer drop offs on the plains, but I don’t suppose it would have been as fun without them.

Bob models a cool rock formation on Lips Bluff.
Rounding an outcrop, the last exposed section.

We soon found our way off Lips Bluff and back to the prairie, ever closer to our destination.

Pawnee Buttes

Flat walking always goes by quickly and before we knew it, we were there. The trail bypasses the buttes, so we didn’t get too close. Climbing is not allowed.

West Butte

Bob was getting overheated (it was HOT out!) so we stopped to rest in the shade of a boulder. Nicholas continued on to the East Butte. The trail does go all the way, but you eventually cross onto private property.

East Butte from our boulder.
Bob eventually got tired of waiting and climbed up on the boulder.

After a short while, Nicholas returned and we headed back to the trailhead for our picnic lunch.

Heading back towards Lips Bluff.
A trail dog named Bob

We decided to take the standard route on the way back, to form a sort of loop. The standard route descends into the wash at the base of Lips Bluff instead of climbing up onto the bluff itself.

Lips Bluff and the wash.

Ghost Town of Keota | Keota, CO \ 07/23/19

After devouring our sandwiches in one of the numerous picnic shelters at the Pawnee Buttes Trailhead, we made our way back to Greeley. But it wouldn’t be a trip to the Pawnee Buttes without a stop at the ghost town of Keota. (If you’ve ever read James Michener’s Centennial, Keota is where he spent some time writing and researching this novel.)

The General Store
Postmaster’s House
Streets of Keota
Eerie fabric flapped in the wind


22 thoughts on “Pawnee National Grassland | Colorado | 07/23/19

  1. Anonymous

    Love this and now have a new place to hike when I go to Greeley to visit granddaughter at School. Thanks for sharing all the beauty of Pawnee and Colorado.


  2. I’m sorry you got sick. The grasslands are beautiful!

    Question: we are actually visiting Colorado next month and staying in Pagosa Springs. Are there any hikes you suggest?


    1. Pagosa Springs is one area I’ve NEVER explored! But a quick search on AllTrails turned up dozens of waterfalls, lakes, and other neat spots so I’m sure you’ll be able to find something super beautiful! Sorry I couldn’t be more help!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good for you and your brother, Chelsea.
    While we did not know about Keota, we have camped at Crow Valley and have hiked to the Pawnee Buttes. My appreciation and love for the prairie have grown exponentially since I started to be interested in birds and wildflowers. The high plains are incredibly rich in both.


  4. Lauren

    I live in southern Idaho, and I feel the same way about the desert! I love the mountains, but the desert is just as beautiful in its own way.


  5. MontaraManDan

    Colorado Chelsea: We expect to drive through Colorado on Highway 40 or Highway 50 during the first week of October. Any thoughts on fall color hikes? MontaraManDan


    1. If you can get into the west side of RMNP, you should have much luck with fall color hikes! Others along/near Hwy 40 that I can think of is anything off Berthoud Pass, and St. Mary’s Glacier (though probably no fall colors there, just gorgeous scenery!)

      I’m not familiar with hikes near Highway 50, but I’d recommend heading up onto the Grand Mesa, it’s beautiful up there! I was up there for work, not hiking, so can’t make any hike recommendations but the drive will be gorgeous!


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