Your journey begins in Greeley, the center of agriculture and farming in northeast Colorado. From there, you’ll travel up to Ault, the beginning of the Byway and the gateway to the Pawnee National Grasslands. From there, it’s on to Briggsdale and to Grover, where the Grover Depot Museum introduces you to early life in the region. Just beyond Grover, you’ll see the Pawnee Buttes. Then drop down to Fort Morgan, for an overnight stay. Back up at New Raymer, you’ll be on your way to Sterling and then to Julesburg and the South Platte River Trail. Unlike many of Colorado’s Byways in the mountains, the roads here are straight and the drive goes fast.
The Pawnee National Grasslands preserves a part of the windswept plains that evolved from the “Dust Bowl” to a massive grassland. A network of numbered US Forest Service and country roads take you within walking distance of almost all parts of the grassland. The 21-mile Pawnee National Grassland Bird Tour moves through a variety of bird habitats, old homesteads, abundant wildlife, wildflowers and the peaceful serenity of the prairie. The tour begins at the Crow Valley Recreation area and follows county roads to ultimate meet up with Highway 14. The birds you will see depends on the season you are visiting.
The museum in Fort Morgan has many historical displays that reflect the community as it once was. They include a complete Soda Shop from the 1930s, school desks, details of the challenging days of farming in northeastern Colorado, exhibits of Native American life on the Great Plains including an impressive collection of their stone tools and arrowheads. A scale model of the town’s first train station and sugar processing plant illustrate the critical role the industry played in Fort Morgan as an agricultural center in the early 1900s. The lower gallery has five different art shows each year and the museum also has a section about the life of favorite son and jazz bandmaster Glenn Miller.
Between 1862 and 1868, the Overland Trail took more than 250,000 settlers, prospectors, explorers, and trappers, plus goods and mail across the Great Plains. The original museum building was designed after early forts and constructed of native rock. It is now complemented by a turn of the century village, including the Stoney Buttes one room school house, the Dailey Cash General Store, and the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Church. The granary barn holds a collection of branding irons and other farm and ranch equipment. The blacksmith shop is authentic. The grounds also display an extensive array of farm machinery. The Dave Hamil R. E. A. (Rural Electric Administration) building illustrates how electricity changed life in rural America. A 1900s barbershop with original furnishings and a back room furnished for Saturday night baths has recently been moved to the property, along with a historic print shop, an old filling station, the Herford Depot, and an old box car.
The South Platte River Trail Scenic and Historic Byway follows the main route westward between Julesburg and Ovid. The 19-mile loop features interpretive signage at the location of Colorado’s only Pony Express station and Fort Sedgwick established in 1864 to protect the trail and the telegraph line. Other markers commemorate the Transcontinental Railroad and the Lincoln Highway, the first coast to coast automobile road in the United States.
Barns are a normal part of any farming community. Barns painted with quilts are special. Morgan County has no less than 119 barns painted with quilts, making for a great tour (pdf included with the detailed itinerary) through the area. At that same time you’re viewing quilts, you’re also absorbing the timeless farming landscape so famous in this area.
The living history experience at Centennial Village Museum includes exploring over 35 historic buildings, interpreters in period dress and heritage farm animals on eight landscaped acres. Visit to learn about early pioneer life on the high plains, when grand houses, growing businesses, extensive prairies and farming were all part of life. Check out living history demonstrations of the High Plains Post print shop, blacksmithing, rope making, chuckwagon cooking, scrub board laundry, corn shucking and grinding, cooking on a cast iron stove and more.
Two-story railroad depots are rare, and the depot which houses the Grover Depot Museum is the only surviving example of its type in Colorado. It represents the important role played by the railroad in the founding, growth, and long-term survival of many Colorado agricultural towns. Exhibits here weave together Grover’s tales of boom and bust.
The 1870 Meeker House Museum was the original family home of Greeley’s founder that has been restored with furnishings original to the home and used by the family. Special items include a 10 foot diamond dust mirror, a tall case clock and Meeker’s cherry desk. As you tour the home, you’ll learn the story of Meeker’s life as the agricultural editor, his founding of the town, and ultimately becoming an agent of the White River Ute tribe. The landscaped grounds include interpretive panels, historical facts, maps and images of the town and its history.