First-time visitors to Colorado are often surprised to find out that half the state is, well, flat. Even more surprising is that there’s so much to do here. Northeastern Colorado is Great Plains territory, and a large part of the Centennial State’s history was played out in these golden fields — the historical “Home on the Range.”
Having passed through the hands of Spain and France, Colorado was bought by the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. In pursuit of farming opportunities, pioneers flocked to the frontier by the thousands, traveling in covered wagons, finding only the native Plains’ Indians as existing inhabitants.
Today, this quietly friendly part of the state pays tribute to all its former and present inhabitants with myriad festivals, museums and rodeos. The natural history is preserved in Pawnee National Grassland, where it’s possible to see native wildlife, such as pronghorn (antelope), fox and hawks, near the 300-foot-tall Pawnee Buttes.
Imagining buffalo and plains Indians roaming the vast, beautiful grasslands in Colorado’s southeastern corner is easy — partly because much of the terrain looks like it did when the first traders, trappers and pioneers settled here in the mid-1800s. Unblemished plains still exist at the Comanche National Grassland, which features more than 400,000 acres of short-grass prairie, a quickly disappearing environment in the U.S.
The grassland and waterways are home to nearly 400 bird species. Throughout the year, more types of birds can be seen in this region than any other in North America. Each year, thousands of geese descend on the lakes near Lamar, and the John Martin Reservoir State Park is a hotbed for wildlife. There are bald eagles, terns and plovers to be viewed, and bass, walleye and crappie to be caught.
History buffs will appreciate a drive along the Santa Fe Trail, which once connected Missouri to New Mexico’s capital and cut through Colorado near Trinidad. This part of the southeast is an impressive buildup to the Rocky Mountains, which include the Wet Mountains and Spanish Peaks. The area’s hidden jewels? Just to the west is gorgeous Cuchara Pass and to the north is La Veta, a charming town experiencing an artistic renaissance.
For more information about Eastern Colorado check out the Colorado Tourism Office at www.Colorado.com.