Adventure 2020: Pawnee Buttes (April 26)

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This is the first of a series of posts about trips and excursions we made during 2020.

One of our first real adventures of the year was a hike at the Pawnee Buttes. To the east of Fort Collins, the Pawnee Buttes rise up out of the Pawnee National Grassland. When we first visited, the buttes were empty and lonely, but in the intervening decades the area has seen a significant increase in visitors. Parking lots have become more sophisticated, and the horizon is now marked by a forest of windmills. There is still plenty of solitude to be found.

As is usual for our trips there, we quickly went off the trail and explored the prairie. We followed a miniature slot canyon, a gully carved into the soft clay and mudstone.

By far our most interesting find was a lonely porcupine. There are a handful of trees growing in the occasional gully, but the nearest forest is probably a hundred miles away. We briefly followed the critter as it scurried across the prairie.

Leaving the gully behind, we crossed the open prairie to the westernmost of the two buttes. The buttes themselves are made from a soft rock called the Brule formation, topped and protected by a harder sandstone and conglomerate rock. With the protective layer, the softer rock underneath weathers and erodes rapidly.

Clouds gathered around the bluffs as we made our way back to the car. It was a fun day of prairie exploration.

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