Rocky Mountain Weekender: Top five plains journeys
As the spring gets serious about being spring, our beloved mountain getaways slip into a state of mud. Which makes it the perfect time of year to check out some of the over looked gems on Colorado’s eastern plains. My top picks for the low country:
Northeast on I-76
On your way to dinner in Ovid – the Rocky Mountain oyster capital of the world – stop in Fort Morgan.Two icons have endpoints of their lives here. Big band legend Glen Miller went to high school here and sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick was buried here alongside his stillborn twin Jane. The annual Glenn Miller Dancin’ on the Plains Festival is slated to take place June 24-27. Pay respects to Dick at Riverside Cemetery, 601 W. 8th Ave. Further up the interstate in Sterling, you’ll find compelling public art in Columbine Park: Dozens of trees-turned-sculptures carved by Bradford Rhea, including the giraffes dubbed “Skygrazers.” Finally the main event: fried Rocky Mountain oysters and cold draft beer at Kodi’s Kafe in Ovid (217 Main St.; 970-463-9963). The proprietors, the Koesters, are the largest RMO supplier in the industry.
Hike the 1.5-mile trail around these monoliths east of Greeley – you won’t encounter many other human beings and the views of hulking geologic anomalies and the seemingly endless surrounding plains are both remarkable. The namesake feature of the 190,000-acre Pawnee National Grassland, home to pronghorn, fox, and myriad bird species, the sedimentary Buttes jut 300 feet out of the soft surrounding clay and define the landscape. While the Pawnee Buttes Trail is open year-round, connecting trails are closed until June 30 to protect nesting birds. For more information on the trail, visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/arnf/recreation/trails/png/index.shtml or call 970-295-6600.
East on I-70
Get up, get going, and drive east on I-70. First, stop at Wonder View Tower in Genoa, 100 miles east of Denver at exit 371. Climb the serpentine staircase up the ramshackle tower (a Prohibition-era getaway turned roadside attraction/junk shop) – check out the two-headed calf before you go up – and take a gander at six states at once: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. The ill-placed Four Corners Monument has nothing on that. Call 719-763-2309 for additional information. Next stop at Grandpa Jerry’s Clown Museum a dozen miles east in Arriba, featuring 3,000 clowns of all descriptions. Call 719-768-3257 for an appointment. Here you can turn back west – or spend the night in style in dinky Stratton at the Claremont Inn (888-291-8910; www.claremontinncolorado.com).
With century-old vaquero tombstones, ancient rock art, and the continent’s largest collection of fossilized dinosaur footprints, this canyon complex southeast of Rocky Ford showcases numerous layers of Colorado’s history. Named for a butchering of the pronunciation of the Purgatoire River – whose flows shaped the canyon over the eons – the trail runs nearly nine miles to its endpoint at the old Rourke Ranch, sold off in 1971. A 10-mile round trip will get you to the dinosaur tracksite on a riverside bed of limestone left 150 million years ago by brontosauruses and allosauruses. For more information, visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/coma/main/picketwireguide.shtml or call 719-384-2181.