One of the few things I enjoy is getting outside with my DSLR for a little bit and doing some photography. I don’t always aim for a beautiful shot, or a shot that makes you go “Oh, thats pretty!” Instead I try to shoot what I see and feel at the time. I also try to remember this and to incorporate it into my post processing steps to ensure the photos represent what I was thinking and seeing.
Having moved out and entered the world of university dorm life sadly hasn’t given me much of an opportunity to get out into the fields and take many photos, simply because much of my free time lies in the time frame of midnight to 5am, the time which I prefer to use for sleep. However a few weeks ago I had a day off, and so I, along with a friend, journeyed from the beautiful rolling hills of Fort Collins, to the flat lands of eastern Colorado. If one hops on I-25 and follows it to highway 14 and then proceeds to drive a very very far distance east, one would come upon a sign stating “Pawnee National Grasslands.”
Now at this point, unless you’ve been to the Grasslands before, you may be asking yourself why anyone would want to go to a large plain full of grass to get photos. Well, the answer is: It’s not flat, and theres a whole lot more than grass out there. I’ve been out to places like Kansas, which many people consider a flat and boring world, and I’ve driven through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, but I have not been to a place quite like Pawnee. It’s unique and yet so well hidden at times that it’s often hard to imagine that it belongs to the north eastern corner of Colorado. rich in various hidden treasures. It’s large open dirt roads wind through the soft rolling hills, covered with browning grass. I’ve been to places such as Kansas with their rich rolling plains of wheat and corn and other such plants, and I’ve been the barren, dry deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, with their scorching heat, but I have never been to a place quite like Pawnee before.
The biggest features of Pawnee are two Buttes, East and West Pawnee Buttes. But in between these are oil fields and wells, old windmills which have long since been used. There are a number of abandoned structures and utilities. Signs riddled with bullet holes and the town of Grover skirting the border of the Grasslands. Small furry animals may, on occasion scurry past your foot, or a lone bird may fly overhead, but the true beauty of Pawnee lies in it’s geological features. From the top of hills you can see into Wyoming, and potentially the Kansas border. There are exposed rock formations which catch your eye, and numbers of small cliffs and hills each featuring a spectacular 360 degree view of the flat plains of Colorado which lie beyond the Grassland borders.
Getting out to Pawnee however, might require some thought. There are only two small towns on the way from Fort Collins to Pawnee, and the last gas station we found closest to Pawnee was a small two pump station with a sign that reads “No gas – Next 60 miles.” To be honest, I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to get gas because I had forgotten cash and the station looked so old that I doubted there was going to be a credit card processor, however luck prevailed and the pumps have the ability to take credit cards. The price here was however, slightly high, compared to downtown FoCo (Was around high $2.80 range from what I saw that day) at the time of the first adventure out to Pawnee earlier in January, the price was $3.00 a gallon.
After getting out there, we started off by looking for the trail head however quickly got lost on the back roads, but that was okay with me because it showed a whole side to Colorado which I didn’t even know existed. The only area that I got fairly good photos from was a small, abandoned watering hole, complete with a jammed windmill and a rusting tank. Here’s the resulting few photos that made it through my processing queue:
A plane happened to be flying past and I took the chance to align the broken tank wall with the contrail.
Over all, it wasn’t very exciting to be out here, with literally just the windmill and my Subaru, but it brought a new sense of perspective to my urbanized view of the world. It is empty and bleak. Dry and dead. Not much lives out in most of the grassland, except for, you guessed it, grass.
It couldn’t have gotten much more bleak than this. Small Subaru station wagon and flat land covered with a fine dust.
Next time I head out to Pawnee I’ll be sure to bring with an extra tank of gas, along with some better amounts of cash in case, but this won’t stop me. Pawnee was beautiful. I can’t imagine what it must have looked like, hundreds of years ago before all the oil rigs and gravel roads. Was it fairly similar, or more lush? Was it always this dry, or does it get better in the summer? Non the less, I can’t wait to go back…