Monday, January 16, 2012

Once Upon a Time in the Pawnee National Grasslands West

After a few weeks staying local, and one trip up Rabbit Mtn where I was stuffed by a private road sign, I finally had a nice adventure ride. I debated scoping out part of the AntiEpic route with Ben (the organizer) but changed plans since I didn’t want to roll out of bed at 5am. It sounds like Ben had some “fun” with mud and wind that I was happy to skip.

Stuffed only 1/2 mile from a paved public road. 

Instead I headed North to the Pawnee National Grasslands. The Grasslands encompass just under 200,000 acres split into two large parcels. I was looking for a 5 hour ride so I did a tour of the West side. I stashed the Outback  in the post office of Carr, CO. While I planned to park in Carr there really wasn’t much for options and there are no services there. I appreciate the service provided by the USPO but I doubt I could have purchased a tasty beverage. Still it was a safe place to park and probably the only place.

I rolled out of Carr headed East for a few paved miles towards the grasslands. A brief jog to the North provided some stellar views of the chalk cliffs on the Wyoming border. The northern portion of the route was certainly the most scenic as it afforded lovely views of these cliffs.

The gravel begins.

Looking North to the Wyoming border.

The Grasslands are not really populated per se, but there are a farmhouses, albeit few and far between. It’s important to note that there are NO services for the entire route. This a wild land full of stark beauty. If you go, be prepared.

More horses than people out here.

I ended up using my spare tube and two patch kits from encounters with pesky thorns. I’m just thankful that they happened in the front where I run an EDGE rim. Changing the Ritchey Speedmax tires is easy there, but an extreme PITA on the Stan’s I run in the rear. I had my first flat at mile 47 on Co Rd 104. This is one of the more desolate roads I was on. It happened in a low lying area about 200 yards from an old windmill. These rusted sculptures dot the landscape like lonely sentinels – frozen and forgotten. As if to emphasize the consequences of my location should I experience an epic failure, this one decided to creak and moan its eerie song. The scene reminded me of the opening sequence from Once Upon a Time in the West. This windmill’s song was not quite as friendly and impartial as the windmill in this sequence; rather it sounded more like harmonica’s foreboding tune.

The numbered roads in the Pawnee National Grasslands are open to vehicle traffic, which meant that I never ran into a dead end. However, there are a few private roads in the area which do appear on a map. Some of the numbered roads turn or become almost wagon tracks unexpectedly, which lead to a couple of very minor detours. There also appears to be at least one lesser road that may be more of a trail now (Co Rd 61). Co Rd 104 on the other hand was a blast. While nearly all of the other roads are well maintained hard packed gravel with some loose and only a little washboard, the first few miles of Co Rd 104 was hard packed dirt – you’re classic “B” road. In these conditions it might have been a bit faster and less jarring on a 29er, but the tradeoff would not be worth it for the rest of the route. However, if this “road” was wet or muddy it would be a nightmare on any ride.

Co Rd 104

Finally headed back toward the mountains

The benefit of a sunset finish.

This was a fantastic place to explore and I’m really looking forward to heading back. The eastern portion of the grasslands should be just as desolate but more scenic given the interesting geologic formations – the Pawnee Buttes. I’ve already planned a route that takes in the best of this and links up to North Sterling Reservoir for a different view and a resupply. Since it's a wee bit longer (140) I’ll wait for longer days to do this one. If you’re keen to go just let me know.  


  1. I've driven through the east section and have been planning to get out there for a ride at some point. It's nice to have some beta on the area, because as you mention there's nothing out there but lonely.

  2. Looks amazing, I'll check it out with you the next time you roll that way again.

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