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Updated: 9/23/2014

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Distance (one way): 128 miles
Estimated Driving Time: 3 hours
Beginning/Ending Points: Ault, Fort Morgan, Sterling

Ault

The tiny town of Ault is the western entrance to the Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic and Historic Byway. Ault has held on to its deeply seeded agricultural roots, and remnants of the past are evident as you drive this town of quaint building facades and the laid-back pace of the townsfolk.

Pawnee National Grassland

The Overland Trail was one of the main thoroughfares pioneers used to cross the vast expanse of the rolling plains, and thousands took to this dusty trail. Even today, the imprint of these people can be seen on the land. Wagon ruts are still visible along much of the prairie here, and drivers along the Pawnee Pioneer Trail Scenic and Historic Byway are treated to views of the paths pioneers took across the plains hundreds of years ago.

Shortgrass prairie in Pawnee National Grassland, northeast Colorado
Pawnee Buttes in northeast Colorado

You’ll recognize these tracks just off the road by the juniper-lined paths in the prairie — the trees grow from the indentations wagon wheels once made. Dozens of these parallel lines can be seen running along the landscape like dark green rays on a landscape of taupe.

Keep a sharp eye out for wildlife. Hawks and other birds of prey are common sights, as are pronghorn antelope (the fastest land mammal in North America).

Pawnee Buttes

Within the grassland are the sandstone Pawnee Buttes, which rise above the plains at a height of 5,500 feet above sea level. They're a little tricky to find, but these pinnacles rising straight out of the flat grassland will be obvious once you see them. And if the landscape seems stark at first, don’t fret — there’s really a lot to do here. A 1.5-mile hiking and horseback trail leads from the parking lot to an overlook. Look closely along your journey for fossils. It's been said that the buttes are one of the world's best sites for vertebrate fossils. Some 100 species have been located near here. Hawks, falcons and swallows nest in the surrounding cliffs, which are open to the public from July through February.

Fort Morgan

An exploration of Fort Morgan immerses travelers in a rich military, agricultural and industrial heritage. The Fort Morgan Museum provides additional information on area history, including a display on the town’s most famous resident, Big Band leader Glenn Miller.

Sterling

The largest city in the northeastern plains, Sterling is a farm/ranch community with deep roots in the Colorado prairie. The Overland Trail Museum is a must visit where you'll learn about the town's history — you can even visit an old one-room schoolhouse.

Downtown’s Columbine Park is an ideal spot for a break. While relaxing in the shade, note two of the town's living-tree sculptures: trees carved into shapes representing, among other things, a mermaid, a golfer and a herd of giraffes.

North Sterling State Park

If you're an angler at heart, break out your fishing rod and visit nearby North Sterling State Park or Prewitt Reservoir, where you can catch your dinner of walleye, bass or muskie. This state park has nearly 100 RV-ready campsites with electrical hookups. If you’re a stargazer, you’ve found the perfect place. It seems as if there are twice as many stars in the sky over North Sterling State Park, thanks to the lack of competing city lights.