This story originally ran in The Denver Post on February 28, 2012.
I have purposefully made my way to the prairies of North Dakota, driven the wide-open expanses of West Texas and journeyed to the southern reaches of the world .
I much prefer looking for the odd nuggets and hitting the out-of-the-way stops that are so frequently overlooked instead of being one more of a bazillion tourists to see the Grand Canyon from the rim.
Many places like the Grand Canyon are simply being loved to death. The same is true in Colorado.
People continually head to the mountains and ignore other parts of this great state. There is so much more to see in the infrequently traveled places than one realizes, and it is a shame to ignore them.
That is why, when I first moved to Colorado 12 years ago, it was a surprise to everyone but me that I turned my interest to the high plains of the east rather than to the Rocky Mountains.
Many places like the plains of Colorado are underappreciated.
Where others see flat, dull and empty, I see a big-sky country dotted with historic towns and enough to keep even the most seasoned and cynical travelers engaged.
For instance, once ground zero for the Dust Bowl, Baca County is home to one of my favorite hikes anywhere in Colorado.
Picture Canyon — yes, there are canyons in the plains — is a peaceful plot of rolling hills cut apart by canyons decorated with Plains Indians rock art and etchings.
A short distance north is the rich history of Bent’s Old Fort, the Sand Creek Massacre, and everything around Lamar, like the Santa Fe Trail and Camp Amache — a World War II Japanese internment camp.
Kids of all ages, for only a quarter, can twirl around on the historic Kit Carson County Carousel, which is one of fewer than 150 carved-wood merry-go-rounds still in existence.
The high plains are too precious to ignore. There is so much to see and do that it would be a shame just to look to the west.
And too many Coloradans do, thus wasting precious hours of their weekends or vacations on the clogged-up arteries leading into the mountains.
Don’t get me wrong — I understand why we all go to the mountains. I’m occasionally included in that traffic mess. And in full disclosure, I have even been to the Grand Canyon — twice.
It’s near-impossible to ignore the attraction. The scenery is some of the best in the United States, and there is enough to do to enjoy it for several lifetimes.
But on occasion, it is good to look in another direction.
From the historic Santa Fe Trail stretching across southeastern Colorado to Julesburg, a town Mark Twain described as “the very paradise of outlaws and desperadoes,” there is plenty to see. And it is more than most people realize.
It is there, hiding right in plain sight. You just need to open your eyes and your mind, to see what you might find. I have been pleasantly surprised with my discoveries.
As my mother said to me as a child: “You won’t know if you don’t like it if you don’t try it.” And there certainly is some proven wisdom behind that.