Looking for a lot of Colorado history? Then try the South Platte River Trail Scenic and Historic Byway in the northeast corner of state. In just 19 miles, you will find a wealth of Colorado history. From William F. Cody’s early beginnings to history of the Transcontinental Railroad and sugar; all of which dot the landscape of the South Platte River Trail with markers, museums and abandoned buildings.
I began my tour of this byway by picking up my mother-in-law in Sterling, Colorado after completing my tour of the Pawnee Pioneer Trail byway that same day. It was still morning, since I began my tour much before the sun rose. I liked having her along, not only because she was delightful company, but she had some insight to some of the history in this part of the state…oh and she has a good sense of direction, too. Not that I don’t but I never had to pick up my map with her along.
The byway does not begin in Sterling though; we had to drive northeast for about 30 some-odd miles to Ovid to begin our tour. Along the way, I got a little taste of Colorado history as we passed through a few of the small towns that are part of eastern Colorado’s agriculture. When we passed through the town called Crook, I had to stop and snap a few photos….mostly because of the unique look of the architecture along the main road. After the fact, I learned that Crook was named for Civil War and Indian War General George Crook. I love what he’s wearing on his feet in his pose for the photo which later became this bronze sculpture.
The Byway Towns
Ovid: From Sterling, Connie (my mother-in-law) suggested we take hwy138 leaving Sterling and head northeast. As we arrived in the first town on the byway, I came upon the now defunct Amalgamated Sugar Company factory, which sits on the eastern edge of the town of Ovid. The first thing we noticed wasn’t the signage that depicted much of the history of the area, but rather the amount of old farming equipment which neatly lined the field in front of the factory…row after row of it. The signs also noted much of the history of the area in the early, mid and late 1800’s from Fort Sedgwick to sugar beets.
After shooting a few photos and while Connie and I were chatting about the factory and sugar beets, we were startled by loud and very noisy braying. We turned to see this little donkey in a field across the road running after several much larger horses. He seemed to be letting them know where he stood and seemed quite perturbed with them. After a while, he stopped his yammering and settled down, but then just stood in the field and stared back across the road at us. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to take a few more shots of the little guy…er, feisty little guy.
Connie and I giggled as we got back into my car and continued our journey northeast.
Julesburg: From Ovid, we drove a short distance (less than 10 miles) to the town of Julesburg. By this time, we were feeling our pangs of hunger, which had begun in Sterling. So, as we wandered around Julesburg, we searched for a nice place to sit down and eat. We figured that we would stay on the main road of town, since that’s typically where you find restaurants in small towns. We didn’t find any, but we did find the town theater, which had some neat architecture going on. Across from the theater was the local grocery store, so we stopped inside to find out if someone could point us in the right direction. We found out that there were a couple of places, but one of them was outside of town and into Nebraska…still along the same road, but not along the South Platte River Trail. We thought we’d try anyway, because the urge to eat was pretty strong. After not having any luck in Nebraska, we headed back to Julesburg and began to think that we would have to settle for fast food at Subway.
But, before we ate, I had found yet another piece of history to shoot along the byway.
South Platte River: Despite the fact that it’s called the “South” Platte River, this particular river actually runs north. It has its start in the Rocky Mountains close to the South Park area. As it meanders across the plains, the river widens a bit and flattens out, making it not too deep in many spots. As it crosses the plains, you will find many small towns dotted along its banks, mostly because it means life. Also dotting the landscape in this part of the state, you will find many windmills. Just before Connie and I reached our lunch destination, we noticed a train caboose and a windmill neatly posing in a field along the road outside of Julesburg. Yep, again I just had to take a few photos.
Platte Valley Inn: This little hotel that sits off the main highway just outside of Julesburg also includes a nice little restaurant with a typical small town lunch menu. Ah, but it was nice to have a sit down meal with good conversation all for the same price of a fast food joint. At the Platte Valley Inn, I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, while Connie ordered a cheeseburger. The chicken was pretty tasty. It didn’t seem to have that frozen sort of taste, but was quite fresh. I was pleasantly surprised.
Pony Express: I missed the Pony Express station. From Julesburg, if you want to continue on the South Platte River Trail, which now heads south to County Road 28, you need to take hwy385 south and then go west onto CR28. This turn is just a tad deceptive, because the byway sign tells you to turn west, but this sign is also close to the I-76 hwy entrance. So, if you want to stay on the South Platte River Trail byway, take an immediate right just after the Platte Valley Inn and you will first come to the Colorado Welcome Center which also boasts a very nice bronze statue of a Pony Express rider.
Close by the Colorado Welcome Center in Julesburg, you will find a free campsite named for the Pony Express. After this point, you can continue on CR28 and find other historic sites, such as:
- Devil’s Dive
- Julesburg #2 (there were four Julesburg town sites)
- The original Julesburg site
- Fort Sedgwick (named for Major General John Sedgwick)
Back home in Sterling: I was feeling quite exhausted by the time I got Connie back home in Sterling. So, I stayed a while and chatted and she made a huge pot of coffee, loading me up for my long drive home. And because I’m newly married to her second son, it was a great chance to get to know one another a little more. We talked about the typical things…life, living on the plains, family, history and our dreams.
Denver bound: After about an hour and a half of good conversation and strong coffee, I was ready for my drive home to Denver, which took me about two and a half hours. I finally arrived home around 6:30 p.m. and after my 2:30 a.m. start much earlier in the day, I had about 300 photos, 481 total miles across the Colorado high plains and many more memories to live on neatly tucked away in my mind.
Sitting here and typing away, I smile as I relive the day and all the little moments that took my breath away and put a smile on my face.
The South Platte River Trail Scenic and Historic Byway photo gallery…