Colorado’s Eastern Plains are part of the wide open expanse that is the Great Plains – shared with Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It’s an area that covers 500,000 square miles.
In Colorado, the changes are striking between the sparsely developed plains, the mountainous west and the population centers strung along the transition between the two.
The Colorado plains enter the state at the border with Kansas at about 3,500 feet above sea level and gradually rise to 6,000 feet when Denver rises on the horizon.
This is where thunderstorms, tornadoes and drought strike most brutally.
Still, it has been home to several tribes of Plains Indians – Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Sioux, Cheyenne, Ute, Comanche and Jicarilla Apache. Bison, the keystone species of the region, sustained these tribes.
They were followed by hardy German immigrants, who managed to coax a living from their dry-land farms. But the disastrous effects of the Dust Bowl and the beckoning lights to the west depopulated the region to the point of making it one of the least populous regions in the country.
The Dust Bowl convinced the federal government of the wisdom in letting nature demonstrate a way to survive in the driest parts of this unforgiving area. The Pawnee National Grasslands and Comanche National Grasslands were created from struggling farms that have been allowed to return to their natural state. The two make up 850,000 acres of the Colorado plains.
Which doesn’t mean that farmers have given up on the region. Dotted with small farming communities, the plains produce corn, wheat, oats, soybeans, hay and livestock on predominantly family farms. A new industry popping up on the plains are wind farms, enormous white windmills twirling on the horizon, harvesting power from the near-constant wind.
In celebration of the natural and agricultural roots in the Eastern Plains, the state, Viaero Wireless and the Denver Post have joined to create a flatland bicycle trek, inaugurated in September 2012. Pedal the Plains, “A race for the rest of us,” would be a counterpoint to the rigorous 26-year-old Ride the Rockies through Colorado’s mountains. The plains ride, Sept. 21-23, would cover between 30 and 100 miles a day with riders stopping in host towns Yuma, Wray and Burlington to enjoy local food, hospitality and entertainment each night and pausing to learn more about the region throughout the days. Proceeds from the ride will benefit the Denver Post Community Foundation, Future Farmers of America, 4-H and Rural Solutions.
• Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
• Boggsville National Historic District
• Comanche National Grassland
• Jackson Lake State Wildlife Area
• John Martin Reservoir State Park
• North Sterling State Park
• Pawnee National Grassland
• Picketwire Canyon
• Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
• Santa Fe National Historic Trail
• Wild Animal Sanctuary