The Pawnee Grasslands are a large area of nothing in northeastern Colorado. This is defintely not a climber's destination but the flat plains hold a secret. One unknown fact is that one of Colorado's chossiest summits hides in these lolling hills.
The Pawnee Buttes are two sentinels of mud and capped by a layer of sandstone. They reside in a distant and remote part of northeast Weld County. Over the centuries, the stone cap has sheltered the mud below from the erosion that has lowered the ground around them. The result is two stunning castles protected by sheer walls of horrible crumbling mud nearly 300 feet tall.
Weather varies dramatically by the season. Expect hot/dry rattler country in the summer and windy/freezing in the winter. The formations are made of mud and are extrememly unstable.
This excellent description is courtesy of the summitpost page on the Pawnee Buttes.
"The Pawnee Buttes are literally in the middle of nowhere, so it would be best to come prepared with a detailed map of Weld County roads and a good sense of direction. There are abundant ways to get to the buttes. Listed here are the main three ways, assuming a start point in the Colorado I-25 urban corridor. If you are coming from anywhere else (Cheyenne, Sterling, Scottsbluff, etc.) these directions might not help you much. From any direction except due north, you will use Colorado Hwy 14 as a southern baseline. Coming from the Colorado I-25 corridor, go to Ft. Collins and take the Colorado Hwy 14 turnoff toward Alt. Pass through Ault and continue to Briggsdale.
1) From Briggsdale: Briggsdale is more present on the map than it is in real life. Coming east on Hwy 14, you will see a brown “attraction” sign for Crow Valley Recreation Area, directing you to turn north on WCR 77. If you take this turn, you will be on the Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic Highway, which is signed with blue Scenic Highway signs throughout. Follow the scenic highway north for many miles before the scenic highway begins to take you on many turns leading eventually to a National Forest and Grasslands sign denoting Pawnee Buttes area. Follow the rough trail/road into the area and to the buttes trailhead and overlook. The trail/road is passable in a passenger car.
2) From the Keota turnoff: This is the most popular route for direct access to the buttes, I’m told. The Keota turnoff is WCR 103. You will turn north onto this road from Hwy 14. It will take you through the hamlet of Keota, then on a maze of county roads to Pawnee Buttes. I am told this route is signed with “Pawnee Buttes” arrow signs, but I have not been this way.
3) From New Raymer: From New Raymer on Hwy 14, turn north on WCR 129. This route is also signed with “Pawnee Buttes” arrow signs. Turn left onto WCR 110 at an abandoned (and still standing in Spring 2007) homestead and follow the road as it jags south, then west, then north, then west again, until you see the Pawnee Buttes NF&G area sign. Follow the rough trail/road into the area and to the buttes trailhead and overlook. The trail/road is passable in a passenger car.
I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to have a detailed map, sportsman’s atlas, etc., when roaming the high plains. Many roads in this area are dead-ends and some only serve private ranches. Also, if you have National Geographic Topo! Software, you can use the finder function to search “Pawnee Buttes,” then backtrack from there and print an area map."
These buttes were considered to be a sacred Native American site from what I've been told. The western most butte is thought to be "male," while the eastern one is "female." Even the slightest wind makes them rain debris, the climbing would be terrifying.
No point in going out there anymore…from the moment you leave New Raymer and make your way along the Pioneer Scenic Byway, all you are going to see are gas wells and huge multi-pad wells (on National Land!) and an unbelievable amount of truck traffic going in and out of the wells, so the roads have been made way worse than I have ever seen.
For the first almost 75 miles of our drive up to and past the Buttes, there is hardly a space to stop without looking at wells and traffic. If you (like me) used to take the little side roads and follow the washes…forget it! They are all gas access roads now. I could not find a single place to drive in as we passed through the whole of eastern section going west.
100 miles of driving and we saw two antelope and zero birds of prey. They should start taking down the scenic byway signs soon…it’s just a cruel, sad joke that these companies have been allowed to do this to hundreds of square miles of what was pristine prairie, it's obvious that they (gas & oil) are working 24/7 putting these rigs in place before the environmental impact study can come out (due in 2014). It’s is an absolute disgrace that this has been allowed to happen, this land can never be returned to the condition it was in…it has been for all intent and purpose been defiled and destroyed.
Right on, Evan and Brian. I climbed those horrid stakes and steel spikes years ago. . . great fun! Brian, don't know where you got that cowboy-climber pic, but it rocks!!
Charlie, take a sip of corn-mash and relax. ". . .the condition it was in", was tilled and sown and harvested, blown away and blown back, built and burnt and rebuilt and reburnt, trampled every-which-way, heavily-used, highly-overgrazed, bisected and trisected and quadsected and 5-9sected by roads and trail and paths, and surrounded by windmills and holding ponds and irrigation ditches and fenceline, and acre-upon-acre of invasive weeds. There were wars and massacres and pursuits of every flavor. . . hell, the Jews likely tracked Jesus through here! I believe Moroni was created via a bison antiquus rib and a shard of calcite just south of Briggsdale. Before all that, T-rex tore the throat out of a giant sloth and then skull-f***ed an Allosaurus at the exact confluence of Wild Horse Crk and S. Pawnee Crk. . . . The place has a past.
The rigs will come and go, their holes sealed up, and their temp roads graded and sown. Next time you drive your vehicle all the way out there, it will be "cured" - and you'll be able to afford the fuel to do so, still. . . er, I hope. Don't get me wrong, I wish we didn't have to see that "industrialized crap" too. Believe me.